A step by step Guide to Legal Research and writing

This is the step-by-step guide to legal research and writing. This guide will help you in the process of conducting legal research and report writing.

It  covers;

  • what is legal research,
  • legal research tools, and methodology,
  • legal research proposal, and paper writing
  • etc,

Let’s go

What is Legal Research?

Legal research is a scientific process for searching specific legal information on a specific legal issue. It may involve doing a critical assessment of a certain provision of the law which in its application is termed to negatively affect individuals or to evaluate certainly the subject of the law like human rights, divorce, and criminal justice and to compare the certain position of the law regarding a certain legal issue in different countries.

Why Conducting a Legal Research (importance of legal research)

Legal research is important because research reports are used in law and policy formation and reformation, the establishment of some programs, fill the existing legal gaps (LACUNA) also, legal research can be conducted to verify the existence of certain facts.

Steps in Conducting a Legal Research

The following are the basic steps in conducting legal research;

Identifying Legal Problem

This is the first thing to consider before conducting legal research. Basically, legal problems trigger legal research.

How to Identify a Legal research Problem

Identifying legal problems might not be simple.

Others may start to look at books, articles, case laws, or past conducted research to identify a legal problem.

This is not the proper approach.

The proper approach one may use to identify a legal problem is to look directly at the society where the problem affects.

For example, in-country A people frequently suffer epidemic diseases like typhoid and cholera.

The problem identified here is epidemic diseases, however, it is not seen to be a legal problem at first instance.

But after identifying it, the legal researcher may take a legal view of this problem by finding whether there are any relevant laws regarding epidemic diseases in Country A, if yes are they properly enforced?

Are there any bylaws addressing the problem in the specific locality?

What is the extent of the implementation of those laws?

The legal researcher must focus on the legal challenges surrounding the problem identified like LACUNA, enforcement mechanism, the efficacy of the law, etc.

N.B the problem identified must be researchable.

Choose a Research Title

You cannot choose a title if you have not properly identified a legal problem.

After identifying the research problem the second step is formulating the title of your research.

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Your title must be specific.  It must be well structured to avoid ambiguity and cover the subject effectively.

A person who read your title must get a clear picture of what is your research all about.

From the example above the following titles may be extracted


Therefore from a single legal problem, several titles may be formulated depending on the focus of the researcher.

NB. In your title, you must mention a specific institution, law, section or regulation.

Prepare a Research Proposal

After the problem identification and Title of your research what follows is the research Proposal.

A research proposal is the roadmap of your research. It contains the framework of why and how you’re going to conduct your research.

This is a must-document. Its preparation requires both art and science.

See: sample of legal research proposal (pdf download)

Basic contents of the Research Proposal


This is a very important part of the research proposal.

It highlights important things about your research, like what is your research dealing with, why are you conducting the research, what is the focus of the research.

it may also contain definitions of important keywords/concepts, it may describe the area where the research will be conducted, and highlights methods that will be used in data collection.

It may show a summary of chapters of your research report. etc. Your introduction must be detailed enough to allow a reader to clearly understand your study.

A good introduction takes 3-4 pages.

Background to the Problem

This part shows the chronological flow of the problem.

It may be from a local or international perspective or both.

It must show different strategies and efforts used to solve the problem; success and challenges emerged during combating the problem.

It must clearly state that, despite those attempts, the problem still exists. Good background to the problem takes 4-6 pages.

Statement of the Problem

This is an important part of the research proposal.

It may be one of the parts which, one may find it hard to draft.

Here the researcher is required to clearly state how the problem is manifest in society.

This party must be molded in a way that convinces the reader that the problem really exists and that the research is required in response to the problem.

It must be backed up by the current data/statistics from reliable sources concerning the problem. It must show the magnitude of the problem.

It must be concluded by expressing the aim of the research toward the problem and how the research will be useful to society.  1-2 pages are enough to state the problem.

Hypotheses/ Research Questions

Hypotheses are the assumptions that the researcher makes regarding the problem.

Hypotheses provide a guide during data collection. In other words, the researcher will collect data to prove or disapprove his hypotheses.

While research questions are questions raised by the researcher for the purpose of find answers in the course of conducting his research.

Research questions are used in lieu of hypotheses. You cannot use both in a single study.

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Example of Hypotheses: The emergence of epidemic disease in Country A is due to the ineffectiveness of environmental laws.

Example of Research question:  Is the Emergence of epidemic disease in Country A caused by the ineffectiveness of environmental laws?

There is no limited number of research hypotheses/questions it solely depends on the nature of your research, however, 3-4 hypotheses are enough.

The objective of the Research

This party shows the objective of your research. It may be general or specific objectives or both.

For example; the general objective of this study is to explore legal challenges in combating epidemic diseases.

Specific objective: 1. to examine the effectiveness of environmental laws in combating epidemic diseases.

Significance of the Research

Every research must have significance.

This part shows the usefulness of your research to different stakeholders like judicial bodies, parliament, executive bodies, and the general public.

You must clearly show the impact of your research.

Literature Review

This part shows how the problem identified has been covered in different books, articles, papers, etc.

On preparing your literature review you must summarize the idea in the literature, analyze it and show the significance of the literature to your research, state what does the literature cover regarding your research and how you will use the literature in relation to your study.

NB: works of literature should be ranked by years in ascending chronological order eg. (1991, 2000, 2002, 2019) and properly formatted (start with sir name of the author, initials of a first and second name followed by the year of publication in brackets.)

The full citation of literature shall be in footnotes.

Example of literature review writing in legal research:

Isack, G.K. (2010) in his book points out that…………………………………………………………………. In his book specifically addresses the issue of……………………………………………………………. but he does not cover……………………………………. This research will use this literature to ………………………………………………………………..

Makendi, A. (2011) in his paper highlights that…………………………………………………………….
This paper reveals……………………………………………………………………… However, the literature does not cover…………………………………………………………………………….. The researcher intends to use this literature since it shows……………………………………………………………………..

See also: citation guidelines in legal research and writing

Research Design and Methodology

Research design entails the plan on how data will be collected and analyzed and research methodology refers to methods of data collection.

In research design, the researcher is required to state which kind of research the design will employ and the reason to employ that design.

For example, this research will employ a Case Study Design, because it is a fairly exhaustive method, thus it will enable the researcher to focus his study deeply and thoroughly on different aspects of a research phenomenon. This design will enable a researcher to board on different relevant methods of collecting data from a specific area………

Library Research

This segment will be included if the researcher intends to collect data from the library. The researcher must show why he/she will use the library research and specifically state the libraries he/she wish to visit and why those libraries.

Field Research

Here the researcher must state that he/she will employ field research and why.

Area of the Study

This refers to the area in which research is going to be conducted. The researcher shows where the research will be conducted it may be one or more geographical locations.

Also, the researcher must state why he/she choose to conduct his research in those areas.

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Sample Population

The sample population refers to the group of people from whom a researcher targets to collect data from. Here the researcher must specifically state people he prefers to collect data from and why he targets that population.

The sample population may include victims of the problem, judicial officers, and enforcement machinery, executive bodies or laws, and policymakers.

Sample Size

Sample size refers to the exact number of people from whom data will be collected.

In this segment, the researcher must state the exact number of individuals, why that number, and factors he considered when selecting that size e.g. time, financial factors, and population size.

Sample Technique

The sampling technique refers to the method of selecting a sample size. Here the researcher must show a type of sample technique he/she will use when selecting sample size and why that technique.

Method of Data Collection

Here the researcher must show methods that will be used to collect data.

The most commonly used methods of collecting data in legal research are observation, interview, questionnaire and Focus group Discussion.

The researcher must state the reasons for using a certain method(s) of data collection in his study.

Data Presentation and Analysis  Techniques

This part reveals how the data collected will be presented and analyzed.

The researcher must show whether the presentation will be by graphs, charts, or descriptive (words only) and how he/she analyze the data.

NB: The language of the research proposal should be in the future tense

Data Collection

This is the actual act of conducting research.

After research the proposal, the researcher must go to the library or field with his method of collecting data and collect data from the sample population.

The researcher must be very careful so he can get authentic data and avoid bias data. During data collection in the field, the researcher must observe all moral and ethical issues of the society, profession, or institution.

Analysis and Interpretation  of Findings

After collecting data, the researcher is required to analyze, and interpret data collected in the manner explained in the Data presentation and analysis techniques in the research proposal.
After that, the researcher must present his data in the research report.

Summary of findings, Observation, Conclusion, and Recommendation

Summary of findings show the general overview of the findings, observations reflect what was found in the course of study, the conclusion reveals how the study was conducted, recommendations address the inadequacy observed in the course of study for the purpose of remedying the situation

Report Writing

The research report is the final document of the research conducted.

Depending on the nature of the research, it may have 4-6 Chapters.

Chapter one is the research proposal titled background and theoretical information, chapter two is legal and institutional the framework of the study, chapter three is analysis and interpretation of findings and chapter four consists of a summary of findings, observations conclusion, and recommendations.

In report writing, each Chapter must start with an introduction and end with a conclusion.

The language of a research report should be in the past tense. Avoid the use of I, we, us, etc. let the research speaks for itself. Observe all citation principles/guidelines to avoid plagiarism.

Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Mzumbe University and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law school of Tanzania. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion.

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