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Legal Research Basics

Types of legal resources

Different resources are useful for reading about different types of information.  Legal resources can be divided into two types: primary and secondary

  • Primary sources are the actual text of the law, that is, legislation and case law, as created by the parliaments and the courts.
  • Secondary sources are the tools that assist you in locating and understanding the relevant primary sources. They include books, journal articles, encyclopeadias, dictionaries and more.


Legal dictionaries

Not sure of the definition of a legal term? Try the following online dictionaries:

Some good print law dictionaries which you can borrow from the Library are:

The standard English dictionary used by Australian courts and government departments is the Macquarie Dictionary.

Legal encyclopaedias

Legal encyclopaedias will give you concise information on an area of law, and help clarify topics. You may also find references to key cases and articles for further readings.

Halsbury's Laws of Australia available via Lexis Advance.

The Laws of Australia available via Westlaw AU.

Subject specific legal commentaries

The following databases provide access to the online versions of some of the looseleaf services (legal commentaries) used by legal practitioners.



Choosing your search terms

Choosing the right search term/s is essential when researching online.

The New Lawyer, (2nd ed 2019) p.208-211 suggests a couple of strategies to help you identify useful search terms - 'mining' your background reading, and 'Statsky's cartwheel'.

'Mining' your background reading requires a focused approach to your background reading, to identify useful search terms, and relevant primary sources and other authoritative materials.

Statsky's cartwheel is a technique for identifying search terms, that involves various forms of word association with an original term to identify a range of relevant and useful search terms. It is described on p. 209-211 of The New Lawyer. (2nd ed 2019).

Evaluating Resources - CRAAP Test

When was the information published or posted?


  • How current is the information?

  • Do you need current information, older sources or both?

  • When was the resource last updated?

  • If there are references and links, how current are they

Does it relate to my topic and needs?


  • Who is the intended audience?

  • Does it help me answer a question or solve a problem?

  • Will it lead to other information?

  • Does it provide evidence for or support my ideas?

  • What does it add to my work?

Who is the source of the information?


  • Who is the author, publisher, source or sponsor of the information?

  • Are the authors' and/or publishers' affiliations clear?

  • What is their reason for publishing the material?

  • For websites, does the domain of the URL tell you anything about the author or source (.gov, .edu, .com, .org)

Is the information true and accurate?


  • Where does the information come from?

  • Is the information supported by evidence?

  • Can that evidence be verified if necessary?

  • Are there spelling, grammar or other errors?

  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?

Why does the information exist?


  • What is the purpose of the information?

  • Is the information factual or opinion?

  • Is the information biased?

  • Is the information to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?

  • Is the website sponsored or influenced by advertising revenue?

Video: Identifying Search Terms

Click the play button below to watch the video on Identifying Search Terms (01:59).


Video: Information Searching Techniques

Click the play button below to watch the video on Information Searching Techniques (01:58).

Video: Evaluating Information Resources

Click the play button below to watch the video on Evaluating Information Resources (02:16).