Your first research assessment – whether its an essay, a memorandum or some other task –  can be hard. Not only are you trying conform to new writing conventions unique to law, but you’re also expected to use and navigate legal databases that you may not be familiar with.

Thankfully however, you don’t need to tackle this task completely by yourself. The MLS library not only runs numerous research workshops, but they have also developed a nifty checklist to help guide you through the different steps of planning, writing, editing and ultimately submitting your first paper.

Whilst these steps are by no means comprehensive or a prerequisite to getting a good mark, following them should help you get a feel for what’s required for good legal research. They should also make sure that you don’t miss out on critical sources for your assessment.

In addition to the checklist, you should also check out the MLS Research Guides, which will give you a better grasp on the best resources for the particular area of law you’re researching.


Step 1. Describe your research essay topic in your own words

Step 2. What do you know about your topic and the law in the relevant jurisdiction?

Step 3. List relevant legislation, cases and other references to primary legal authority that you are aware of.

Step 4. List names of prominent authors of commentary in the field

Step 5. List major call number(s) where books about your research topic may be found in the Law Library

Step 6. List major subject headings assigned to useful books and other titles you find in the catalogue

Step 7. In preparation for online searching, list search terms (key words and phrases, terms of art, synonyms, words with variant spelling, irregular plurals, narrower terms and broader terms)

Step 8. Select databases and websites. (Refer to the relevant Law Library research guides if you need guidance.)

Step 9. Consult search tips in databases and on website regarding truncation, syntax and the construction of searches. Different search conventions apply to different databases and websites

Step 10. Record search queries used for each file/source searched in a database or website. Review your results and if necessary modify your searches. Carefully export or copy and paste quotes and citations.

Step 11. Check that citations are in correct AGLC3 format.

To download this checklist in a word document you can fill out yourself, click below

Research Plan Checklist

Referencing Software:

  • Endnote: Endnote is the standard program for academic citation, however it can be difficult to use:
  • Zotero: Zotero is effectively a free version of Endnote. It is a lot easier to use.
    • You will also need to download the AGLC addon for Zotero.