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Researching the Research Vocabulary: Everybody Researches

Mastering legal research can be quite a daunting task.  Not only do you have to learn about new resources (not many people used A.L.R.s or U.S.S.C.A.N. before law school),  but, as a 1L, you do not know enough about the law itself to develop good searches (admit it, the first time you saw the word “estoppel” you thought it was a typo for stop, didn’t you)?   As you master both the research sources and the information in your substantive classes, the research process does become easier.  However, even as you conquer the books, databases, and the law itself, there may still be one small hitch in your smooth research plan – research vocabulary.  Not your search terms or the legal jargon, but those words, and occasionally symbols, that you notice throughout indexes and in footnotes, but do not quite comprehend.   In this post we we take a look at some  terms that often cause confusion.

The term “et seq.” tends to raise its incomprehensible head when you start researching statutes and code, although it may be used in other resources.  Its translation means “and following” and, when used when citing  statutes, it indicates that the information cited to refers to one or more sections after the code section cited, as in the above illustration where searching “Accounts” –” Carriers” sends the researcher to  Title 28 of  the U.S. Code and to section 2321 and the following sections, 2322, 2324, etc.

Other challenging terms appear when you begin searching in the various indexes, be they in  print or online.  You may encounter terms such as “this index,” “supra,” and “infra.”  Although these are intended to provide directional guidance, they can be as helpful as road signs in ancient Greek.   “This index” can be most confusing when used in a multi-volume index.  You might be looking up “Divorce,”  then the subheading “Alimony,” and you read “this index.”  This is an indication that you should go to the section/volume of the index containing words starting with “A” and look up the work alimony.  If you are using a print index this might require you to search in a different volume, but you will still be in the same index.

The words supra and infra ( meaning “see above” and “see below” respectively) are very similar to ante and post (“see before” and “see after”), and both pairs serve the same function; that is to direct the reader elsewhere within the index or document that they are reading.  Upon first encountering these word it may be a bit confusing, but supra  and infra appear frequently in law review footnotes and will soon become at least somewhat familiar.  If all this seems too much to keep track of, there is some good news for you.  Even the slow to change legal professions is beginning to modify its research vocabulary.  Instead of supras or antes, the  C.J.S. index has begun to use the clearer terms “before and after,”  while  the A.L.R. is using  “in this topic”  in place of “this index.”   Give it another decade or two and perhaps all legal publications will be equally clear.  Until them, don’t forget to research your research vocabulary.