Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Managing Your Research with RefWorks

Remember doing research with note cards?  When I started college in 2000, note cards were the standard way of organizing sources for a research paper.  I remember going through stacks of note cards while researching in the library, writing down a citation and paraphrase or quote on each card so that I would not forget what information I planned to use from which source.  Research methods have changed a lot since then.  Some people may still choose to use note cards, but I wrote multiple papers in law school without a single note card.  Instead, I moved my research management onto the computer.

Features like folders in Westlaw and Lexis make managing sources easy.  You can quickly save a case or a law review article, highlight sections you plan to reference in your paper, and add annotations to note the importance of a source.  But these features are limited to use on a single platform.  You cannot add a document from HeinOnline, Lexis, or elsewhere to a Westlaw folder.  This limitation is a problem if your research takes you outside of a single platform.  For instance, you may want to use articles from both Westlaw and Bloomberg, as well as print treatises from the library.  Of you may have a project that requires research outside of legal literature entirely.  When I was in law school, I wrote a paper on plagiarism in legal writing.  While my primary focus was the legal profession, I also looked at other disciplines, such as literature, business, and psychology, to see how each one viewed plagiarism.  In order to keep track of all my sources, I needed something more than Westlaw and Lexis folders.

I managed the research for my paper using a bibliographic management program.  There are several bibliographic management programs available.  In law school, I used Zotero, but in this post, I am going to talk about RefWorks at Western New England University.  Students, faculty, and staff have access to RefWorks through the D'Amour Library's tools and resources.

RefWorks is a program that allows you to store, organize, and share your citations.  When you locate a source, you enter the bibliographic information (title, author, etc.) into RefWorks.  You can include notes about the source, and for electronic sources, you can either link to the source or upload a copy.  Uploading a copy is convenient because it keeps all of your sources accessible from one location, but space on RefWorks is limited to 100MB per user, so you may not be able to upload every document.

Once you enter the information about your source into RefWorks, you can save it to one or more folders.  This allows you to organize your sources into various catagories.  For instance, I use the folders to separate sources into ones that I am citing in my paper, ones that I am only citing in a bibliography, and ones that I do not intend to cite (so that I can keep track of everything I have looked at).   Folders also allow you to share your sources with other RefWorks users.  You can choose any folder and share it with other RefWorks users at Western New England University.  RefWorks let you chose what information about a source to share, so you can share the bibliographic information without sharing your annotations.

When you are ready to cite a source in a footnote or bibliography, RefWorks offers another feature that can save time.  RefWorks will create citations for your sources based on the bibliographic information you entered.  RefWorks supports a large number of citation styles, including the Bluebook.  So RefWorks can create a bibliography or footnotes for you in Bluebook style.  The results are not perfect; you will still need to check the results against the Bluebook.  But checking RefWork's citations is often faster than creating citations from scratch.  I think the automatic citation feature is worth a second look.

From start to finish, RefWorks can save you time and frustration with a research project.  Give it a try.  You can create an account and jump right in, or you can view trainings available on the RefWorks website.  This Thursday, you can also attend a live training session at the D'Amour Library. Join Josh Becker, D’Amour Library Information Literacy Librarian, for a RefWorks workshop on Thursday, September 26, 2013 from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. in the Digital Learning Center on the second floor (Room 215) of D’Amour Library.  Coffee, tea, and cookies will be provided.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Filtering the WILDPAC

 Database filtering is a common way of limiting results on many databases these days, and it's available in WILDPAC as well. In WILDPAC, filters are available on the left, just as they are in many of the legal database providers such as LexisNexis and WestLaw. In the search below, you can see a search done using the phrase “Capital punishment”. At the time, the search returned 586 records in WILDPAC split between the Law Library and the D’Amour Library.

By clicking on the LAW link you can reduce the number to just the 464 of those that are available in the Law Library.

Then clicking on the Format filter you can limit to just those "Printed Materials" available in the Law Library, mostly treatises found on Reserve or on the third floor. Or you could click on the "Computer File" for records which link to online sources such as the HeinOnline , ProQuest U.S. Congressional or others, good for finding legislative history documents. Or you could choose to filter on "Microform" format where there are many other records for finding legislative historical document available from CIS Congressional which include committee and subcommittee hearings and prints, House and Senate reports, documents, and special publications, Senate executive reports and documents, and public laws.

And of course you could limit to the most current materials available.

So when you look for information in WILDPAC using the "Search Now" tab, be sure take advantage of the all the filters that are available.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Research Quick Tip: Westlaw Words and Phrases

Our Westlaw rep is on campus this week training new students on Westlaw search basics.  The week's focus on Westlaw gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of my favorite advanced search techniques: Westlaw's Words and Phrases field search.

The Words and Phrases field identifies definitions to legal terms.  Westlaw's editors take legal terms and locate cases and statutes that define the terms.  So a Words and Phrases field search is a way to find how the courts in a jurisdiction define a term.  For example, if I want to know what constitutes defamation in Massachusetts, I can search Massachusetts cases for "defamation" using the Words and Phrases field, and Westlaw will return only cases that define defamation. A keyword search for defamation will return those cases as well, but it will also return many other cases.  A keyword search for defamation returns more than 1700 Massachusetts cases.  A Words and Phrases field search for defamation returns 13 Massachusetts cases, and the first result offers this definition of defamation: "Defamation is the intentional or reckless publication, without privilege to do so, of a false statement of fact which causes damage to the plaintiff's reputation."  I would be able to find the same information in the results of the keyword search, but the Words and Phrases search led me right to the definition I needed without any distractions.

A Words and Phrases field search is easy to perform.  Simply enter your search term in parentheses following WP, like this: WP(defamation). The syntax is the same in both Westlaw Classic and WestlawNext, so whichever system you are using, all you have to remember is WP().

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Supreme Court Resources

I just completed a display at the Law School having to do with an upcoming case from Massachusetts heading to the United States Supreme Court, McCullen v. Coakley, Docket No. 12-1168. In completing the display I had an opportunity to review some of my favorite Supreme Court resources that I hadn’t visited in a while and thought it might be fun to remind everyone about just what is available at two of them. 

For example, you already know that SCOTUSblog (started by husband and wife team Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe in 2002) has excellent Supreme Court coverage, generally reporting on every merits case before the Court three (or more) times: prior to argument; after argument; and after the decision. But did you also know that it now conducts symposiums on important Supreme Court cases?  In a recent symposium exploring April’s Kiobel v. Dutch Petroleum, lawyers, many of whom participated in the litigation, posted post-mortems on the meaning of Kiobel going forward.  And in addition to being a convenient source for all briefs filed in a matter before the Supreme Court, did you know SCOTUSblog has an interesting collection of videos, including one where Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reveals her secret Supreme Court handshake? There’s also a post on Supreme Court procedure that outlines the various stages a case takes on its journey to the Supreme Court, which is informative – did you know that merits briefs have a fifteen thousand word limit?  One last item I will mention about SCOTUSblog is its very popular StatPack, which slices and dices the performance of the Court in many ways. 

Oyez Oyez has been involved with Supreme Court recordings since the 1980s and defines its mission as aiming “to be a complete and authoritative source for all audio recorded in the Court since the installation of a recording system in October 1955.” This archive will not only be public but searchable. When one considers all the different recording platforms that have existed since 1955, one gets an idea of the size of this task – herculean. At present Oyez makes available recordings from the 1968 Term to the 2010 Term. Although the National Archives has the deepest collection of Supreme Court tapes, much of that collection is not publicly accessible due to problematic discrepancies in formats and recording techniques. Oyez is working to dub the original reel-to-reel tapes to a standard digital archiving format, thereby making previously inaccessible recordings available.

I also find Oyez’s information on Supreme Court Justices to be unique in that the web bios include links to cases argued by the Justices before the Supreme Court in their earlier careers, with accompanying audio. Fascinating. Oyez reports voting details for every Supreme Court case back to 1953, including a visual depiction of each member that sat on the Court for that decision. The researcher can organize the votes on a particular case by ideology, seniority, and voting coalition. 

Finally, for the app-conscious, check out Oyez’s PocketJustice, which focuses on the Supreme Court’s constitutional jurisprudence.