Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Discovery

Quick Summary of Discovery

A formal investigation — governed by court rules — that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witnesses. It also allows one party to force others to produce requested documents or other physical evidence. The most common types of discovery are interrogatories, consisting of written questions the other party must answer under penalty of perjury, and depositions, which involve an in-person session at which one party to a lawsuit has the opportunity to ask oral questions of the other party or her witnesses under oath while a written transcript is made by a court reporter. Other types of pretrial discovery consist of written requests to produce documents and requests for admissions, by which one party asks the other to admit or deny key facts in the case. One major purpose of discovery is to assess the strength or weakness of an opponent’s case, with the idea of opening settlement talks. Another is to gather information to use at trial. Discovery is also present in criminal cases, in which by law the prosecutor must turn over to the defence any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. Depending on the rules of the court, the defendant may also be obliged to share evidence with the prosecutor.

What is the dictionary definition of Discovery?

Dictionary Definition

n. the entire efforts of a party to a lawsuit and his/her/its attorneys to obtain information before trial through demands for production of documents, depositions of parties and potential witnesses, written interrogatories (questions and answers written under oath), written requests for admissions of fact, examination of the scene and the petitions and motions employed to enforce discovery rights. The theory of broad rights of discovery is that all parties will go to trial with as much knowledge as possible and that neither party should be able to keep secrets from the other (except for constitutional protection against self-incrimination). Often much of the fight between the two sides in a suit takes place during the discovery period.

  1. A pre-trial phase in which evidence is gathered.
  2. Materials revealed to the opposing party during the pre-trial phase in which evidence is gathered.
  3. An act of uncovering or revealing something; a revelation.

Full Definition of Discovery

Discovery is the legal method used to gather information from both parties during a legal proceeding. Discovery has five parts including disclosure, interrogatories, admissions of facts, request for production and depositions. During discovery, the courts will allow the request of information which is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”.

Consider also that discovery may include information which may eventually be found inadmissible in courts such as the information about the personal lives of the defendant or the plaintiff. The general scope of discovery includes information about the parties regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter.

Most courts will not allow the trial date to be set until both the prosecution and the defendant have completed discovery. Discovery can take months due to the schedules of the parties, delays for providing answers, and the number of parties involved.

Examples of Discovery in a sentence

The prosecution moved to suppress certain items turned up during discovery.
The defense argued that the plaintiff’s discovery was inadequate.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Discovery. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. September 24, 2021
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Discovery. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: September 24, 2021).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Discovery. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Discovery are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 27th April, 2020 | 2 Views.