Technology-based tax research.
Currently, most primary and secondary resources are available in three different electronic mediums--modem-based, CD-ROM and Web-based.
Modem-based. The first type of electronic research tools available were modem-based. The players and the products in this medium have changed frequently in the last 10 years. Today, Commerce Clearing House (CCH), Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw are the only key providers of modem-accessed tax research resources.
CD-ROM. Research using CD-ROMs took off several years ago when providers could put most or all of their databases on compact discs and made them available for a price competitive with their hard-copy products. Currently, CCH, Research Institute of America (RIA), Kleinrock and Tax Analysts are the major providers.
Web-based. Recently, Web-based resources have moved to the forefront of electronic tax research. Some of these are available to the general public on a complimentary basis. Comprehensive resources, however, are provided at a cost to users. Each of the major tax publishers now offers some portion of its tax resource database on the Web. The major fee-based Web providers are CCH (http://tax.cch.com), RIA (http:// checkpoint.riag.com) and Lexis/Nexis (http://www.lexis.com).
Technologically based research tools have common elements that set them apart from their paper counterparts. Understanding this enables the researcher to make a more informed choice regarding Internet services. The elements common to all electronic services include:
* Availability of a complete tax library. Electronic libraries provide access to the full text of complete tax libraries without the need for hard copies;
* Search ability. In addition to the more traditional method of finding relevant material (thumbing through topical tables of content), electronic libraries provide the option of searching specific databases using key words or citations;
* Ability to cut and paste. Electronic libraries enable the researcher to quickly incorporate a portion or all of the tax resources into a word-processing document;
* Ability to quickly link to another source. Current hypertext technology allows the researcher to quickly move to other documents simply by clicking on a link, thus speeding up the research process; and
* Portability. The researcher can access the tax library from more than one location, performing research from multiple office sites or from home. The extent of portability depends on the electronic medium used, with the Internet providing total portability.
Given the speed with which technological developments take place, trying to predict what tax research will look like in the future is difficult. However, given its history and the huge advancements in recent years, it is reasonable to predict that most tax research will be Web-based. The CD-ROM will continue to have its place as a supplementary tool, while Web-based products will most likely entirely replace modem-based resources.
The Internet offers primary tax resources, including the full text of the Code, regulations and most case law, available through a variety of free, public Web addresses.
Although these resources can be useful, generally they are not sufficient for most tax research; there are problems with reliability, ease of use and completeness. Primary resource databases are scattered throughout the Web, making them difficult to locate. The most efficient method of accessing them is by using a "gateway" Web site. This type of site organizes the resources and provides direct links. Some excellent gateway sites include:
* Tax and Accounting Sites Directory (http://www.taxsites.com),
* Will Yancey's Home Page (http://www.willyancey.com), and
* ABA Tax Section (www.abanet. org/tax/sites.html), under "Links."
The major providers of fee-based Web tax research databases include CCH, RIA and Lexis/Nexis.
In determining which Web-based database to use, researchers should take into consideration the following factors:
* Extent of database/resources;
* Ease of retrieving a document with a known citation;
* Ease of discovering relevant primary sources (ability to research using the table of contents and additional search capabilities);
* Ability to check cite validity;
* Ability to generate a paper trail; and
* Availability of other features.
All major resource providers have databases that contain all of the primary tax resources (the Code, regulations and case law). In addition, each offers a secondary source that provides editorial and referencing help and also includes a state library and a news library. Some databases have additional useful secondary services (such as journal articles and full-text treatises). Exhibit 1 below presents the general contents of each major service.
Exhibit 1: Major research providers
CCH Tax Research NetWork Primary resources All Reference services CCH Federal Tax Adviser CCH Federal Tax Reporter Other major secondary resources Master Tax Guide Weekly newsletters RIA CHECKPOINT Primary resources All Reference services RIA Federal Tax Coordinator RIA United States Tax Reporter Other major secondary resources Warren, Gorham and Lamont (WG&L) Treatises Master Tax Guide Tax journals--WG&L LEXIS/NEXIS Primary resources All Reference services RIA Federal Tax Coordinator. RIA United States Tax Reporter Other major secondary resources BNA Tax Management Portfolios Newspapers Low reviews
Retrieving a Document with a Known Citation
Each service can retrieve a document for which a citation is known. Each service provides a template in which the researcher types the citation information. However, the ease of this process varies among providers. Lexis/Nexis requires a specific citation and familiarity with the citation's "syntax." On the other hand, CCH and RIA are not as sensitive and can recognize a document if the researcher knows the citation's key elements.
Each service also enables a researcher to retrieve a document referred to in the text of another. Some of these are already hyperlinked, while others require selection.
Discovering Relevant Primary Sources
The most efficient process for performing research usually involves the use of a reference service. Technology-based research introduced a new method for exploring the reference services--keyword searching. However, this involves a risk that search results may inadvertently neglect a key authoritative document. Therefore, searching is useful as a means of saving time. After using a table of contents to find a list of annotations on a particular Code section, the researcher may find it helpful to search that list for a keyword. CCH and RIA emulate the same process a researcher follows when using hard copy, which is a systematic analysis of a reference service's table of contents and relevant annotations referring to pertinent primary authority. The entire research process can be accomplished without performing any search, although searches are also an option.
Each service's searching capabilities vary in sophistication and ease of use. The services use one of two available searching technologies, Folio or Boolean. Folio searching is the older, less sophisticated of the two search methods. First, it identifies all the locations of the first search term and then searches through the entire database again for the second search term. Finally, it compares the two lists of the first and second terms and identifies the documents common to both. This. includes documents with both terms located anywhere in each document, but not necessarily occurring in a single string of words. If the researcher wishes to locate only those documents with the terms in a specific order, additional searches must be made. Folio searching does not easily provide for more complex searches involving a combination of several words or alternative words. Because of the limitations of Folio searching, the services that use the Folio method have attempted to enhance searching capability through additional search instructions.
Boolean searching offers a more sophisticated search method based on word relationships called "connectors." When searching for two terms, the search will produce only those documents with the two terms occurring side by side. The connector "and" locates all documents with the two terms in a document without regard to their relative proximity. Boolean searching also allows searches for phrases and individual terms concurrently.
Exhibit 2 above summarizes the research capabilities of each of the major Web-based research services.
Exhibit 2: Search feature capability
CCH Tax Research NetWork Provision of detailed table of contents X Boolean searching X Folio searching X RIA CHECKPOINT Provision of detailed table of contents X Boolean searching Folio searching X LEXIS/NEXIS Provision of detailed table of contents Boolean searching X Folio searching
Cite Validity Checks
Each service enables researchers to ascertain whether a case, revenue ruling or revenue procedure has been superseded or in some other way significantly affected. All services, whether paper or electronic, vary in the manner in which they provide this information. CCH and RIA provide information in a citator; Lexis/Nexis includes the Shepard's service.
Sometimes, the services allow a researcher to check a document's reliability immediately while reading it.
Exhibit 3 at left presents each major service's current capabilities to confirm document reliability and priority.
Exhibit 3: Validity check capability
CCH Tax Research NetWork Citator Uses CCH's citator (which does not have explanatory information), Can citate any document immediately from the document itself. Shepard's Other forms of checking RIA CHECKPOINT Citator Uses RIA citator (which contains explanation of subsequent cite. Unlike the paper product, this citator spells out the explanation). Can not citate Treasury interpretations from the document itself. Shepard's Other forms of checking LEXIS/NEXIS Citator Shepard's Contains explanation of subsequent cite. Other forms Auto-cite Lexcite of checking
Paper Trail Ability
One of the niceties of electronic research is its ability to create a paper trail, which provides research evidence and billing support. In addition to creating a paper trail, a researcher can quickly backtrack while conducting a search. Currently, CCH and RIA provide this tool.
Web-based services offer a few other helpful features.
Create a list. CCH and RIA enable a researcher to create an electronic list of identified documents for future reference. Known as a "keep list" to CCH or a "document folder" to RIA, any item on a list can be directly accessed or printed.
Where am I? Sometimes when performing an electronic research, it is easy to lose track of the context. Both CCH and RIA provide tools that help the researcher determine context.
Changing client IDs. When researching one client's issue, it may be necessary to switch to another's issue. Lexis has the easiest method for making this switch, without exiting and reentering the service.
Editor's note: Ms. Rubin chairs the AICPA Tax Division's Tax Education Committee. Dean Karlin is author of Tax Research (Prentice Hall, Spring 1999). For an in-depth discussion of specific tax resources available on the Web, see Schmidt and Yancey, "Web-Based Tax Resources," p. 98, this issue.
BARBARA KARLIN, PROFESSOR AND DEAN, SCHOOL OF TAXATION, GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY, SAN FRANCISCO, CA
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|Publication:||The Tax Adviser|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1999|
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