Methods and Types of Legal Research for Writing Research Papers

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Introduction to Research

Research is a term derived from the French word “recherche”, which literally means to go about seeking (for information). Thus, research means to search again or seek again – an intensive search to ascertain something. It is a systematic activity directed towards the discovery and development of an organised body of knowledge. 

  • For example, you come across a newspaper article saying Mr XYZ, who had been in a coma for about 25 years, was rejected the plea of euthanasia. Now the curious you want to find out more about what euthanasia is and whether a person can demand their own death. Thus, you decide to research it. You find out more about euthanasia, find its link with Article 21 of the Constitution and form your own opinion on the court’s decision in Mr XYZ’s case. 

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Here, in the above example, you went from one point of inquiry to multiple other points of inquiry. This, precisely, is research. The process of research is a human activity based on intellectual application in the scholarly investigation of a matter in search of truths, facts, etc. Research can never give you a whole or an absolute answer to a question as the law is constantly evolving due to its dynamic nature.

Methods and Types of Legal Research for Writing Research Papers

Main Methods of Research

The research methodology is akin to a blueprint for constructing a building. The main aim of the research methodology is to find a link between the research question and the research method. It justifies how the research method is appropriate for solving the selected research problem. The main aim of legal research is to regulate human behaviour by studying the relationship between the world of law and the world that the law tries to govern. There are essentially 2 main methods of legal research – doctrinal and non-doctrinal. 

Methods and Types of Legal Research for Writing Research Papers

1. Doctrinal Method

Doctrinal or non-empirical research is a type of research wherein the subject material for the research is found in existing material such as books, articles, statutes, judgements etc.  This research is carried out on a legal proposition by way of analysing the existing statutory provisions and case laws.

In this, no fieldwork is required as information is easily available. There is no need of giving training as to how to collect and analyse the data. 

Methods and Types of Legal Research for Writing Research Papers

Usually, the process of doctrinal research is as follows: 

  • Selection of legal doctrine or proposition. 
  • Collection of data with respect to the area of study. 
  •  Analysis of data collected 
  • Approval or disapproval of the proposition initially set – this happens after you set your hypothesis. The hypothesis is the central point of research. 

For example, before starting my research on euthanasia, I set an initial statement/hypothesis: “Active euthanasia shall be legalised in India”. After that, I start with the research. I collect and analyse the data. With this, I can finally prove or disprove the statement I gave earlier, by giving reasons. 

Conclusions and Suggestions – given based on the hypothesis. The merit of this method is that it is fast and flexible. It helps in providing a solution when there is ambiguity in interpretation. The demerits of this method are that it is limited in its scope as it does not analyse the application of the law in the society, as we are using just existing information. If there is limited information available on a new area or judgement, you may reach the wrong conclusion. 

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2. Non-Doctrinal Method

Non-doctrinal or empirical research is where research is carried out by collecting or gathering information by a first-hand/direct/original study. It relies on experiences or observations rather than theoretical aspects. Thus, it is also known as an experimental type of research. In this type of research, the researcher attempts to investigate the effects of the functioning of law in society.

Fieldwork is an important factor in non-doctrinal research. It is broader in perspective as it is concerned with people and society. The advantage of this method is that it is more accurate and creates real change. 

  • For Example Serum Institute of India trying the vaccine for Covid 19 on frontline warriors. Through this, they try the drug on specific groups to check if the vaccine is working or creating an adverse effect. This is to prove the hypothesis they had proposed related to the working of the vaccine.

Types of Research

While Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal are the methods of research which depend on the kind of sources used to carry out the research, the type of research is the way in which the actual analysis of the research question is done. 

1. Comparative Research

Comparative legal research is when you compare the laws of one country with another country, or from one region to another. The main aim of this is to try to find the most suitable model for your own country in par with the global standards. Even a country’s legal system is the result of comparative research. 

  • For example, our Constitution is a perfect example of how comparative research is done and adopted. The comparison between the laws helps in the adoption of tested laws. Simply put, it is comparative research when you compare your research topic to corresponding research of other organisations/regions/countries or any entity.

Methods and Types of Legal Research for Writing Research Papers

2. Critical Research 

In critical research, the main purpose is to suggest legal reforms in a given subject area. You are basically criticising the law, explaining what it should be and how it can be improved. The necessary material for this type of research is obtained from statutes, judgements and academic writings. Public opinions play a very important rule in this type of research. Non-doctrinal research (explained later in this article) places more emphasis on public opinions so they are more useful in critical research.

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In order to understand the difference between a research method and the type of research once and for all, let us consider an example:

  • For Example: In my research on Euthanasia, let’s suppose my research title is ‘Should Euthanasia be Legal? A people’s perspective in India and Sri Lanka’. Here, since the topic is an inquiry of the people’s perspective, I would have to resort to Non-Doctrinal Method of research in order to carry out surveys and collect data on what people think about euthanasia. However, from the title, it is also clear that I would be comparing the perspective of people of India and Sri Lanka. Thus, the type of research here is Comparative Research.  

So, what do you think the author used to write this article: doctrinal or non-doctrinal method?

About the Author: Anjali Baskar is from School of Law, Christ University. Her interests in law include public policy, ADR/ODR, criminal law, IPR/Entertainment law, etc.

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Lipi Garg

Lipi Garg

Lipi is the Publishing Editor of Memo Pundits. For help in publishing details of any event, please email at lipi.garg@memopundits.com

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