APUS ePress

 English |  Español |  Français |  Italiano |  Português |  Русский |  Shqip

APUS Legal Studies Program Writing Guide

Legal Research

Conducting effective legal research is central to supporting your position. Doing so means finding all applicable case law, statutes, and regulations both for and against your argument. The historical evolution of a law or statute is also important. At times this can be a daunting task. 

In order to conduct effective research, you must first identify all relevant issues related to your thesis statement. Once accomplished, research can begin. There are a variety of legal search engines available. The APUS Library provides a Legal Studies Program Guide that allows you access to several important research databases, as well as over 1,000 legal periodicals.

Conducting Legal Research

The most important of legal research databases is LexisNexis. There are two definitive search engines in the legal professionWestlaw and LexisNexisand both are extremely expensive. However, the University makes the LexisNexis database available to you for free through the APUS Library. LexisNexis provides access to over 10,000 news, business, and legal sources, as well as Shepard's Citations® from 1789 to present. Other available legal databases in the library include Loislaw and JSTOR. There are a variety of legal search engines available on the open web too. Examples include Lexisweb, Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII), and Findlaw.

Once you have articulated your legal issue(s) it is time to conduct research. It is important before you begin to note the difference between primary and secondary legal sources:

  1. Primary legal sources consist of statutes (the U.S. Constitution and legislative laws), cases, and administrative agency materials/regulations.

  2. Secondary legal sources include legal encyclopedias and periodicals, treatises, and practice material. Generally, secondary sources are an excellent way to gain a background on the law and they often provide a plethora of references to primary law sources.

Next, you will need to formulate your search terms. Think of key words that directly relate to your issue (i.e. search and seizure, Fourth Amendment, etc.) and any synonyms and related words (for example, the word ”stop” can also mean “halt,” “terminate,” and “check”). It is helpful to use a legal dictionary and thesaurus as you devise your search. Query keyword research tools like Google Suggest can be helpful. If you are experiencing difficulty articulating search terms, seek the advice of your instructor or an Online Librarian (librarian@apus.edu).

Conduct a simple search using either natural/descriptive terms or terms and connectors. Natural language searches are a good place to start when researching conceptual issues. Terms and connectors use words and connectors to limit the search parameters:















Universal Search Term Characters:

! litigat! = litigate, litigator, litigation, litigating, etc.

* wom*n = woman, women

bank*** = bank, banking, banker ( not bankrupt)




OR  Finds one or both terms: doctor OR physician


w/n  Finds two terms within a specified number of words: market w/5 share


w/s  Finds two terms within the same sentence: sanction w/s frivolous


w/p  Finds two terms within the same paragraph: rule 11 w/p sanction


AND  Finds two terms in the same document: bank AND deregulate


Pre/n  Finds two terms – first term must precede second by a specified number: cable PRE/2 television


 Lexis.com, Quick Reference, http://www.lexisnexis.com/documents/20110615015922_small.pdf (last visited July 31, 2015).

Integrating Resources

Once you have familiarized yourself with the information contained within your sources, you should begin to formulate an outline for your paper to better enable you to organize your thoughts in a logical form. Your paper should be comprised of five (5) parts:

  1. Title page

  2. Introduction (the issue(s) presented and purpose of your paper)

  3. Findings of primary/secondary sources

  4. Analysis

  5. Conclusion

You can integrate your sources into your paper by several ways: (1) paraphrasing, and/or (2) direct quotation (partial, short, or long quote). As a general rule, direct quotation in papers should be kept to a minimum, and long quotes should be used sparingly. The preferred method is to paraphrase or summarize information from a source: put the information in your own words. (However, it is important to note that with both methods, you MUST cite your source!)

There has been error in communication with Booktype server. Not sure right now where is the problem.

You should refresh this page.