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Reading a Headnote on WestlawNext and in a West Reporter: Basics

Explains how the West topic and key number system displays differently on WestlawNext and in a print West reporter.

West Topic & Key Number System: Print & Online Differences

A headnote on Westlaw looks dramatically different than a headnote in the West Reporters. Below is an example of a headnote as it appears in a West Reporter (North Western Reporter). This headnote is from Bronsen v. Dawes County, 272 Neb. 320, 722 N.W.2d 17 (2006).


The topic is Courts and the key number is 89; however, the same headnote looks dramatically different on WestlawNext.


Unfortunately, WestlawNext gives too little information in that it provides the topic Courts, but it doesn’t provide a key number. This is the default setting for WestlawNext. To change the default setting, scroll to the beginning of the headnotes and click the Change View link. This is how WestlawNext displays the headnote:


Westlaw adds a lot of additional information which can lead to confusion. 

  • Westlaw assigns a numeric code to each topic in addition to key numbers.  For this example, the number 106 represents the topic Courts.  This first number should not be confused with the key number which is 89.  The k means key. 
  • Westlaw includes numerous subdivisions for the topic.   Usually, the most relevant information to determine the topic and key number is the last key symbol.  For this example, the topic and key number is 106k89 which translates to Courts  89

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