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Researching Secondary Law Sources

Journal Articles

Why isn't my textbook enough?

Textbooks are a good starting point for legal research, but you cannot rely on them solely for the complete answer to a problem. Textbooks, for example, may be out of date and not cover recent changes to legislation or case law. It may be that the topic you are researching is not covered in sufficient depth within textbooks, or is so recent that no textbooks on the subject are available.

Journal articles will provide you with more recent information and will usually look at one topic in detail. Like textbooks, they will also alert you to major cases and legislation. Journal articles can also be used for historical research to determine what was being discussed about a particular issue at a given point in time.


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).


Choosing a database for law journal articles

The library provides access to a number of different law journal databases. To be an efficient researcher, you need to select the databases that contain information best suited to your research topic.

Here's one easy way to choose a database:

  • Is your topic Australian-specific? If so, use a more Australian focused database.
  • Does your topic cover international jurisdictions? Then choose a large international database.

When searching for journal articles on Australian topics, AGIS Plus Text, CaseBase via Lexis Advance and Westlaw AU give the best results. 

Explore how to search in these, and our international journal databases, using the left side menu.

What is a peer reviewed journal?

Finding a known journal article

Journal articles are cited so that you can identify each part of the reference.

The following reference provides citation details for an article on confidential communications with lawyers.

J C Campbell, 'Some Aspects of Privilege Concerning Communications with Lawyers' (2006) 27(3) Australian Bar Review 264.

This tells us:

  • the author's name
  • the title of the article
  • it is in volume 27 Issue 3 
  • the title of the journal is Australian Bar Review published in 2006
  • the article begins on page 264

Find by article title

To find by the title of the article, just enter the title into the main search box:

Click to see where the item is located:

Click to go to the link to the article:

Click on the blue title link for the text of the article:

Find by journal title

Use the Library Catalogue if you know the journal title:

Select Make sure it takes you to  (If it doesn't, go back and select the other one.)

Open the volume and issue for the article:

Click on the blue title link for the full text of the article.

Browse law journals