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Research Strategies for Federal Water Law: Creating a Research Strategy


Links to help you build your research plan

Building your research plan

This tab will discuss how you can start mapping out your strategy, breaking down the resources you need, and consulting each of those types of resource in the most constructive and efficient way possible to suit your needs.

Mapping out your strategy:

In order to effectively lay out your approach to researching your seminar paper, it is a good idea to start by gaining a thorough understanding of your problem and the relevant background law.

  • Research via secondary sources
  • Talk to your professors specializing in that area of law
  • Consult your primary law and/or datasets an update them regularly
  • Keep up to date on latest development
  • Keep a research journal to track your strategy.

Breaking down the types of resources you need:

To determine what resources you will likely need, consider the following:

Jurisdiction:  Federal, state, tribal, international? Are there multiple relevant jurisdictions, and if so, how do they relate? 

Secondary, persuasive authority: What suits your issue--academic or practical perspectives? Legislative history? Pending regulations and statutes?

Primary authority: Do you need to identify and explain cases, regulations, administrative opinions, statutes, and/or statistics? 

Availability of resources: If you need resource from outside the library, try to plan on obtaining those early-on. 

One great starting point for your research efforts would be to consult the UNM School of Law library's Natural Resources and Environmental Law guide linked on the left side of this guide.

Research Tips for Each Type of Resource

No matter what database you use to search for periodicals, using indexes and full-test searches will help you yield the most relevant results possible.

Indexes: Some sources of indexes include...

  • Legal Source 
  • Westlaw's Current Index to Legal Periodicals
  • UNMSOL library guide on finding journal articles

Full Text searching: 

  • Lexis and Westlaw both contain the full text of many (but not all) law review and journal articles from all journals.
    • Supplement with online indexes to be more comprehensive in your scope.
    • HeinOnline's Law Journal Library contains the entire history of articles from select law reviews, so this can be used to find older articles as well as more current ones.
  • Google Scholar allows you to search broadly for scholarly literature and includes full-text searching of books.
    • Google Scholar will also 'patch you in' to UNM full text databases if you locate a resource that is accessible through the university. 
    • It lets you view 'cited by' info and lists related articles
    • Drawback--it does not allow you to search only by peer-reviewed articles.

There are many options available for UNMSOL students to find scholarly news sources and subject-specific, non-legal databases.

  • Lexis and Westlaw 
    • both have news databases through which you can find newspaper and magazine articles.
  • The University Libraries website
    • Click "databases" and select the "by subject" dropdown menu to find databases on subjects from "Accounting & Taxation" to "Women & Gender Studies."
    • Select the "by type" dropdown menu to locate databases based on the types of information you are looking for.

As a refresher, a treatise is generally a written work that formally and comprehensively deals with a particular subject. A legal treatise is a category of scholarly publication that contains all of the law relating to particular area, and can include legal encyclopedias.

  •  Check Westlaw and Lexis
    • Try searching under water law, or under broader related categories. For example, you might also try energy and the environment.
    • Other resources like practitioner materials may be useful, too. 
  • Many treatises specific to water law will only be found in print.
    • Try browsing the treatise collection on the upper floor of the law library, the materials there have been carefully selected by librarians and are generally well-regarded and authoritative titles. 
  • Use indexes to hone in on more specific information for your topic.
  • Try a subject search in the library's WorldCat catalog
    • Scroll to the bottom and check the box next to "LIBROS Consortium" to search for materials available through all university libraries.
    • Try to search using the following subject headings:
      • Water -- Law and legislation -- United States
      • Water Law And Legislation United States Cases
      • Water Law And Legislation United States States
      • Water-supply -- Government policy -- United States.
      • Water resources development -- United States.
      • Water resources development -- Environmental aspects -- United States -- Case studies
      • Watersheds -- United States -- Case studies
      • Water-supply -- Management
      • Water-supply -- United States -- Management
      • Water use -- United States

When you are consulting other free online resources, it can often be difficult to determine how truthful, trustworthy, or academically acceptable a resource is. To help you identify better sources, consider the C.A.R.P. test:


How recent is the information? When was the website last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?


Who is the author? Who is the publisher or sponsor? What can you find out about them?


Is the content primarily an opinion? Are there citations for data and/or quotes used in the article or website?

Purpose/Point of View:

Is the source mostly fact or mostly opinion? Does it appear to be biased, does the author seem to be trying to sell you something?

Statistical data databases:

University of New Mexico has a variety of databases through which you can find statistical data. Go to the University Libraries website, click "databases" and then click the "by type" dropdown menu to choose "Statistical data."

Specific databases to try out:

Social science and public policy:

  • Social Services Abstracts
  • PAIS Index

Sustainability Studies:

  • Sociological Abstracts

Public Administration:

  • Sage Stats

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