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Legal Research

This research guide introduces users to the legal research process. If you're new to legal research, it's best to follow this guide step-by-step.

Step 1: Gather and Organize

Before searching in a database or using a searching, engine, conduct a preliminary analysis to identify your search needs and identify words to use when you search. The three most common methods for conducting the preliminary analysis are:

5-W Method: Ask yourself these five questions:
  • WHO is involved in the situation?
  • WHAT objects, acts, instruments, etc. does the situation involve?
  • WHEN did the important acts or incidents take place?
  • WHERE did the facts of your case take place? (e.g, home, Maryland, the library)
  • WHY did the individuals or groups in your case act the way they did? Why did certain things happen?
TAPP Method: Answer these four questions:
  • THINGS: Ask yourself what the relevant objects are (e.g. "gun" in a murder case, "car" in an automobile accident case).
  • ACTIONS What did people do or NOT do in your particular situation?
  • PEOPLE Who were the individuals or groups involved in the situation before you?
  • PLACES Where did the relevant acts take place?
TARP Method: For people who are familiar with the area of law being researched:
  • THINGS Ask yourself what the relevant objects are (e.g. "gun" in a murder case, "car" in an automobile accident case).
  • ACTIONS: What did people do or NOT do in your particular situation?
  • RELIEF SOUGHT: What kind of relief/compensation/"justice" are the parties entitled to?
  • PARTIES: Who is the defendant? Who is the plaintiff? Whose interests are aligned? Whose interests are opposed?

You can choose one of these methods or others. It is essential to do answer these questions. As you go through this exercise, note/list your important words somewhere--you're likely to revisit them later.