Case Digests 101: A Humble Guide In Writing Digests

Samuel-Johnson-meme

***Please know that in writing this post, I’m not in anyway saying I’m a certified digest writer or the best digest writer there is hahaha! I just want to share some personal tips that I think has worked out well for me even up to this day. With that cleared out, let’s get started!

To start, here are some of the common mistakes in writing digests that all of us can relate to:

1) The digest is incomplete, lacking in substance, and important points and rulings are omitted.

2) The digest is lengthy, redundant in some points, and irrelevant facts and rulings are quoted.

3) The quoted issue is not related to the topic/subject matter the case is assigned to.

4) The facts, issue and ruling do not connect/correlate with each other at all.

5) The digest is actually a digest of another case digest 😛


With great trial and error, practice and exposure to good case digests out there, I’ve come up with 4 things that I always consider whenever I make my digests:

1) TOPIC/SUBJECT MATTER

The topic/subject matter is the area of law or subject or topic that the case is assigned to specifically. This should be determined first and foremost because this will serve as guide in picking out ONLY the RELATED/RELEVANT facts, issue and ruling. Picking an unrelated issue to the topic/subject matter will make a digest akin to, in the words of the Supreme Court – a mere scrap of paper – the professor will not be delighted to ever see or hear :p

Thus, if for example you are currently taking up Persons and Family Relations, and the case to be digested is assigned under the topic of Void Marriages, you will only need then to cite the issue and ruling relevant to that topic and not include pronunciations of the Court as to other issues that will never be taken up or discussed in your PFR class. Don’t go about quoting rulings why the motion of the parties is dismissed or what proper remedy the parties should have availed of. Save it for your Remedial Law subjects!

2) CONCISENESS

Needless to say, there is a reason why it is called a Case Digest 🙂 To be concise means to be short and clear, brief but comprehensive. To be brief does not mean omitting a big chunk of the facts or ruling just to make the digest short. Rather, the key is to trim it down in its simplest form that even if some details are taken away, one would still be able to understand the circumstances involved, the issue and the resolution of the case.

One way to help you do this is to try reading the digest you’ve made as if you have not read the full case yet. When you are able to understand your digest just as how you’ve understood the case in its full-text, then you are off to a good start.

Here are some few tips in trimming down:

As to the Facts – not all dates/circumstances are to be included, but only those that are necessary and important in the overall appreciation of the case.

As to the Issue – this must be clear, straight and direct to the point as possible.

As to the Ruling – only the rulings of the Court related to the topic/subject matter is to be included. If there are redundancies or if there are numerous paragraphs explaining the application of the law by the Court and 2-3 paragraphs are sufficient enough to answer the issue, trim it down to that number.

3) COHESION

Have you ever read a digest where the facts say and mean one thing, then the issue is also about another thing, and finally the ruling is also off-topic? It is a sad story. But it’s even sadder if the professor asked you to recite that case in class and you relied on that digest 😦

There is cohesion when there is a good flow of thought in the digest where the facts, issue and ruling correlate with each other. The quoted facts state well the story of the case and what gave rise to the issue, the quoted issue is what the Court has resolved, and the quoted ruling of the Court answers the issue and explains what, why and how the law is applied. There is unity of thought from the beginning to the end.

4) LENGTH

A good rule of thumb is that the digest can be confined in just a single page. Except for maybe very lengthy cases, landmark cases or cases that involves/affects public interest where the Court has delved into explaining lengthily its points in resolving the issues therein. Here, the length may be adjusted but still keep it as concise as possible.

Personally, I make my digests in average and reasonable length specially if it’s solely for my own use or when it is not required to be submitted. However, there are times when I deviate (as can be seen in some of the case digests I’ve posted here) from my usual style if my professor is the type who likes to know every commission/body/remedy the parties had gone through in the case before reaching the SC and likes to go on detail with the points the Court has enumerated/listed to arrive in its decision. In that case, I’d have to be detailed as possible in making my digests especially if it is to be recited in class.


Just to illustrate the difference between a good and a poorly written digest, I’d be using the case Republic v. MERALCO, G.R. No. 141314, a case assigned in my Transportation Law class under the topic Legal Basis/Rationale in Regulating Public Utilities.

Here is how a good digest may look like:

Facts: MERALCO, a public utility, is applying for an increase of their rates in their distribution charge. ERB granted a provisional increase subject to the condition that should the COA found that MERALCO is entitled to a lesser increase, all excess amounts collected will either be refunded or credited in favor of latter’s customers. The COA report found that MERALCO is entitled to a lesser increase thus ERB ordered the refund or crediting of the excess amounts in favor of the customers. On appeal of MERALCO, the CA set aside the ERB decision and denied the latter’s motion for reconsideration. Hence this petition.

Issue: W/N the regulation of the ERB as to the adjustment of the rates of MERALCO is valid. (The Issue is directly related to the specific topic because it questions the validity of ERB regulating the rates of MERALCO which is a public utility.)

Ruling: Yes, because the regulation of rates to be charged by public utilities is founded upon the police powers of the State and statutes prescribing rules for the control and regulation of public utilities are a valid exercise thereof. When private property is used for a public purpose and is affected with public interest, it ceases to be juris privati only and becomes subject to regulation. The regulation is to promote the common good. (The Ruling directly answers the Issue and explains that the Rationale of regulating public utilities is founded upon police power in order to promote the common good. Hence, ERB’s regulating of the rates of MERALCO is an exercise of police power and thus valid.)

In contrast, here is how a poorly written digest will look like:

Facts: supra

Issue: W/N the Income tax should be considered in adjusting the rates of MERALCO. (While this Issue is actually addressed by the Court, it is irrelevant to the specific topic the given case is assigned to. The topic specifically asks for the rationale why public utilities are regulated and not the propriety of including Income tax in the computation. Hence, the result is also an incorrect ruling.)

Ruling: Income tax should not be included in the computation of operating expenses of a public utility. Clearly, by its nature, income tax payments of a public utility are not expenses which contribute to or are incurred in connection with the production of profit of a public utility. Accordingly, the burden of paying income tax should be Meralco’s alone and should not be shifted to the consumers by including the same in the computation of its operating expenses. (Once the quoted issue is unrelated, the consequent effect is quoting also an unrelated ruling. The Ruling herein does not explain why public utilities are regulated but explains why income tax should not be included in the computation. Simply put, the ruling is not explaining a Transportation Law issue but a Taxation Law issue or concept, that is – Income Tax.)


One may question the importance of being able to make a good case digest. For me personally, I think it is a good indicator and training ground of how well one can spot on identify the facts, issue and ruling only necessary and relevant. Being able to make good digests means being able to understand and grasp the case as a whole, yet also be able to dissect the case and identify sections thereof relevant only to a particular area/subject in law.

Fortunately, making good digests is not a skill a person is born with. It is but rather a product of continuous practice. Be good at it and it will reward you well especially in reviewing for the Bar exams where reading the cases in its full-text is absurdity. This is when good digests really do come in handy 😉

So, there it is. May you find these tips useful. Have a fruitful and happy week! Godspeed! 

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