Tips on How to Read a Statute


Reading and understanding statutes is a fundamental skill for legal professionals, students, and anyone interested in interpreting the law. Here's a set of basic tips on how to read and break down a statute.


Title and Citation


You may want to start with simply looking at the title of the statute and its citation. The title gives you an initial idea of the statute's subject matter, and the citation is used to locate the statute in the body of law, such as a code of legislative statutes.


Section Headings


Most statutes are divided into sections with headings that summarize the content of each section. Read these to get an overview of the statute's structure.


Check for Definitions of Terms Used in the Statute


Look for any definitions provided in the section or within the individual statute itself. These definitions are crucial because they generally provide specific meanings to terms within the statute that may broaden, narrow, or differ from their common usage.


Enacting Clause


Identify the enacting clause which usually contains the legislative authority for the statute's provisions. This can also provide insight into the statute's purpose.


Substantive Provisions


Unpack the substantive provisions of the statute. These are the provisions that establish the legal rules. Break these down into their component parts:


  • Subject: The entity or person the statute applies to.
  • Verb: The action required, permitted, or prohibited.
  • Object: The entity or behavior that is the subject of the verb.
  • Conditions: The circumstances under which the rule applies.
  • Exceptions: Any exclusions from the statute's application.


Procedural Provisions


Examine any procedural provisions that explain how the law is to be administered. This includes enforcement mechanisms and penalties for non-compliance.


Ancillary Provisions


Statutes may contain ancillary provisions regarding issues such as the effective date, the relationship to other laws, and sunset clauses.


Interpretive Aids


Legislatures may include interpretive aids within the statute, such as purpose or findings sections, which can guide you in understanding the statute's intent.


Punctuation and Grammar


Look closely at the punctuation and grammar used in the statute, as these may significantly impact the meaning of statutory language.




Consider the statute in context. This includes the legislative history, case law interpreting the statute, and related statutes that may affect its application.


Legal Commentary


Consult legal commentaries, treatises, and articles that discuss the statute. These can provide valuable insights into its application and interpretation.




Finally, practice applying the statute to hypothetical scenarios to test your understanding of its provisions.




Understanding statutes requires careful reading and analysis. By breaking a statute down into its elements and considering its application in context, you can develop a thorough understanding of its implications and how it may apply in various scenarios.


For a clearer and more comprehensive look at researching and breaking down legislative statutes, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook, which gives you a foundational understanding of legal knowledge that anyone can achieve.