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Researching Statutes: Keyword Searching

This guide serves as an introduction to statutory research. To access the linked databases on Westlaw and Lexis, you should sign on to Westlaw and Lexis before clicking on the links in this guide.

Online Searching

When researching online, use these strategies to make keyword researching more efficient. 

Westlaw: Keyword Search Strategies

When keyword searching on Westlaw, first select the database, United States Code Annotated or New York Statutes & Court Rules. Then run a "Terms & Connectors" search.  Use the substantive document field "SD" to retrieve the most relevant results.  The search should look like this "SD(your keywords)". By restricting your search to this field, only the caption (section number and words that describe a section), the preliminary material (title headings), and the text of the statute will be searched.  If no fields are selected, Westlaw will search the annotations and citing references for the keywords and the result list will be overly inclusive.

Lexis: Keyword Search Strategies

When keyword searching on Lexis, make sure the database United States Code Service (USCS) or New York Consolidated Laws Service is selected.  Recommended search queries include: HEADING (insert statutory title name); SECTION (insert section heading keywords); and UNANNOTATED(insert keywords as they may appear in the text of a statute).  Also, once you select USCS or the New York Consolidated Laws Service as a filter, you can search using a template by clicking on "Advanced Search" above the main search bar.  You can search for your keywords in the segements: Heading, Section, and/or Unannotated.

Government Website: Search Strategies

The major benefit of researching on government websites is the cost.  It is free.  Unfortunately, keyword searching in these websites can be quite cumbersome and inefficient.   The most effective way to research within this database is to find a particular statute's citation.  An efficient way to retrieve a statute's citation is to identify a relevant treatise in a particular field and then browse through the treatise to find the relevant citation.  For example, browse Nimmer on Copyright to retrieve the citation for a particular copyright law in the U.S.C or Segal's New York Practice to identify a relevant section of the C.P.L.R.