Why use Secondary Sources?
This guide is designed to help you locate and use secondary sources for Australian legal research. This includes bibliographies, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, commentary and journal articles. The guide is designed for students who are new to studying law.
We recommend starting with secondary sources to research a topic you are unfamiliar with. Secondary sources provide an excellent overview on your topic. They assist in locating relevant legislation and significant cases on a subject. Below outlines a step-by-step process for approaching legal research.
1. Consult bibliographies, legal dictionaries & encyclopaedias
Legal dictionaries provide authoritative and detailed definitions of terms. They also place terms in their legal context.
Legal encyclopaedias provide succinct summaries on the current state of the law. Encyclopaedias are arranged by subject. They include legislation and case law in support of their statements. Bibliographies provide a summary of available research on a topic. They contain references to key books, journal articles and case law on your topic.
2. Read books & eBooks for context
Textbooks are a useful starting point. They contextualise legal topics, provide background on, and examine, specific areas of law. Textbooks provide authoritative, scholarly and comprehensive information on a topic. They also include references to relevant cases, legislation and additional secondary sources.
3. Refer to current evidence by using commentary services
Commentary services are up to date, subject specific resources written by legal experts. They often contain more current information than books or encyclopaedias. Commentaries include relevant legislation, rules, practice directions and case law. Relying on case law and legislation, commentary services can provide authoritative statements of legal principles.
4. Journals and journal articles will provide more in-depth analysis
Journals and journal articles contain current scholarly opinion and analysis on your topic. Academics or practitioners who have expertise in specific areas of law usually write journal articles. It is important to distinguish between literature in 'academic' journals and 'industry' literature. See the Journals & Journal Articles pages for further details.
The Australian Guide to Legal Citation 4th edition (AGLC4) is the standard citation style used in legal writing in Australian law schools. See Part III - Secondary Sources of the AGLC for citing secondary sources.