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Law Library

Introduction to Legal Research

Generating an issue statement

Formulating the issue

The ability to state the issue is very critical.   If you ask the correct question/questions, you will arrive at the correct answer.  If you understand the question, it directs the process of your research. Often, the larger question breaks down into smaller questions.  Analyze as you research.  As you researching a particular question, you begin to formulate answers to your questions.  Your research begins to organize itself. 


Always start with the facts.  The 5 w’s work well:  Who; what; when; where; why.

Not all facts are relevant. Always try to spot relevant legal facts.

You are sleeping all snug in your bed.  Five guys break down your bedroom door (also the front door).  They drag you from your bed into the front yard, screaming at you all the while.  Your neighbor thought you were dealing drugs.  They are busting you.

There is a specific ‘term of art’ not revealed in this fact pattern -- “no knock.” If you use this term you will find a wealth of authority.  If you do not use this term, you may end up wandering in the wilderness for forty years.

When generating an issue statement then remember to select the important facts.  Always consider relevant synonyms and always add possible legal terms of art: legal theory; and relief sought whenever this information is readily available to you.

Using the facts, search terms, and legal terms of art, write out your issue statement.

There are different ways to search for authority.  One is using keywords; a second is using controlled vocabulary.  Keywords can be useful because you can begin with the terms that you have.  Controlled vocabulary is tremendously useful because indexers will place all the content under one defined term.  For example, if you are looking for an ‘Administrative Code,’ there are a huge number of terms by which you might find what you are looking for OR you can search using ‘Controlled Vocabulary,’ ‘Delegated Legislation’ and you will find everything.