Research Guides

TMLL Research Guide - Chapter 2


Learn how your favorite research engines operate

There are a number of major Internet search engines.  None of them use the same syntax for organizing search requests.  Serious researchers are advised to select several, and familiarize themselves with their syntax.

Use more than one search engine for important projects

The various search engines do not index the Internet the same way and they do not rank the results of their findings the same way and as previously pointed out, no one engine covers more than a fraction of all the web pages.  For this reason, you will want to use more than one.  There are "meta search engines" that will send your search request to more than one search engine simultaneously.

Plan your searches

There is no surer way to waste time on Internet legal research than to cast about without a plan.  Just as you would with Bloomberg Law, Lexis, or Westlaw make sure you:

  1. define your issues;
  2. analyze your facts;
  3. decide how to express your search;
  4. select the most relevant electronic resources to search; and
  5. run your search and evaluate your results.

Evaluate reliability

In drafting a brief, would you cite and rely on the National Enquirer or a high school student's essay to support an important point?  It's not that hard to identify and avoid the Internet equivalents.  To evaluate the quality of an Internet site as a research tool, consider objectivity, expediency, timeliness, accuracy, authenticity, and scope.

Some considerations:  Is the site free or fee-based?  If it costs, are there any guarantees of quality control? Who is the author/publisher, that is government agency, university, organization, company, law firm, a good-hearted individual?  What is the source of the data, who provided it and in what format?  Was the original pagination of paper versions retained?  Is there an electronic signature to confirm authorship?  What is the date of the web site/document?  When was it last modified/updated?  Is the document full text, index or abstracts?  Is it complete or excerpted?  Is the content of the electronic version as accurate as the print?  Are there archives?  How long is data retained at the web site?  Broken links?  Ease of navigation?  Search mechanisms?  How easy is the web site to access?  Slow connections?  Is information on the site stable?  Is there a contact person?  Are broken links quickly fixed?

If you have a choice of publishers for a document, choose the originator of the document such as a government agency, international organization or similar source.  Rely on documents only where it is possible to verify date, authorship, and other indicia of authenticity.

Genie Tyburski, librarian for the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, has written an excellent guide to evaluating the quality of information on the Internet.  This guide is available at  and has been updated each year since its creation.

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