Using a legal encyclopedia is straightforward: look up your topic in the index volumes at the end of the set, identify the section or sections where your topic is discussed, turn to the volume containing those sections, and read them. At the beginning of each major topic, you will find two outlines of what is covered in the article: first a broad general outline, and second a very detailed outline. These outlines may be useful for placing your specific topic in context. At the beginning of each entry you will also find a note on "scope," indicating what will be covered in the article, and what will be treated elsewhere. This is worth reading, to be sure your particular issue is not covered better in a separate article. Following these preliminary materials is the text of the topical discussion.
The articles and footnotes are updated in pocket parts found in each volume. In addition to these standard features, each encyclopedia has its own unique features. Because of these differences, you may begin to prefer one encyclopedia over the other in certain circumstances. However, when beginning major research, it is a good idea to consider using both.
Am. Jur. Features
American Jurisprudence's methodology is selective, in contrast to C.J.S.'s comprehensiveness. This means that Am. Jur. provides citations only to the cases the editors consider the best or most important. This results in shorter footnotes, adding to the readability of Am. Jur.'s articles. In addition, this set of encyclopedias is more likely to cover important federal statutory material. It is available on both Lexis and Westlaw.
Articles in Corpus Juris Secundum tend to be longer and more detailed than American Jurisprudence articles. Because C.J.S.'s goal is to provide the researcher with every relevant citation, you will see some pages which have more footnotes than actual text. Second, C.J.S. will tend to give you citations to mostly cases, and fewer statutes. If there is an appropriate topic and key number for your subject, C.J.S. will also provide these. Thus, C.J.S. will be helpful in getting you ready to use the various West digests. (See Research Guides: Digests)