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LRAC Legal Research Class Site

Choosing Useful Keywords

To find information in a book or database, you must identify some useful keywords (aka words or phrases) to look for in an index, table of contents, or to use in a search.

You use keywords to locate information on concepts. In this context, a concept is a thing, person, place, cause of action, defense, idea, etc. etc. which can be described using a variety of different words or phrases.

Steps to Identify Useful Keywords

  1. Identify a concept of legal or factual significance from your issue/fact pattern
  2. Think of keywords to express that concept that you can use in a search

Basically, you just ask yourself, what are the different words/phrases that a JUDGE might use when writing an opinion, a LEGISLATOR might use when writing a law, or an AGENCY might use when writing a regulation.


  • Concept: Very short and young person 
  • Keywords to express the concept: child, kid, minor, girl, boy, infant, toddler, baby, rugrat


  • Concept: Police beating up someone for no legitimate reason
  • Keywords to express the concept: police brutality, excessive force, police misconduct


  • Concept: Whatever happened could not have happened without negligence because "the thing speaks for itself"
  • Keywords to express the concept: res ipsa loquitur (Note: Sometimes for very specific terms of art, there is only one way to say it) ​

Choosing Useful Keywords Continued

There are acronyms such as TRAPP to help you think of concepts/keywords of legal or factual significance from your issue/fact pattern.

Things involved

R - Relief sought

- Causes of Action or Defenses

P - Person or Parties involved

P - Places