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Library Research Step by Step
For Legal Researchers
Before you start searching
• The licenses for most of our research tools
require that users are on UCSD IP addresses
– Are you on the wireless network at UCSD?
• Make sure you’re using the UCSD-PROTECTED network.
– Are you off-campus?
• Make sure you’re using the VPN or Proxy
Choose your topic and keywords.
• Develop your research question, hypothesis,
or thesis statement
– What is the history of interracial marriage in
the United States?
• Break that statement into key concepts,
– Interracial, marriage
• Think of other ways to phrase those concepts.
Use synonyms. Consider more specific words
(to narrow your focus) or more general terms
(to expand your search), e.g.
– Marriage: marriage, married, cohabitation
– Interracial: interracial, miscegenation,
intermarriage, race, intermixing,
Choose the kinds of resources you
want to find and the best tools to find
• Each tool helps you find a
specific, limited kind and
amount of information.
• Knowing which tools might
help you find what you're
looking for will save you a lot
Books typically cover a single topic in depth.
Look in an online library catalog like
(UC San Diego’s library catalog)
• Tip: Many of the Library’s books are now
ebooks. Use to find the link.
• Tip: Not enough at UC San Diego, or the
book you want checked out?
– Try to request books from other
San Diego libraries
– Try to request books from other
University of California libraries
“The Law” is rules developed by
• Legislative bodies
• Administrative agencies
– Bills (proposed laws)
– Statutes (passed laws)
– US Code, state codes (laws arranged by subject)
• Court opinions
– Federal Register
– Code of Federal Regulations
The scholarly journals of the legal world
• Use these to
– Get background info
– Understand the legal discourse
– Save yourself time
• Avoid reinventing the wheel compiling primary sources
• Discover other secondary sources on your topic
The Library has three major databases for finding law
reviews and primary source material.
• Westlaw Next
– Best bet for appellate level cases, law reviews, and other
secondary sources. Has proprietary commentary.
• LexisNexis Academic
– Best bet for appellate level cases, law reviews, and some
other secondary sources. Has proprietary commentary.
– Best bet for primary sources and law reviews
Other Primary Sources
Primary sources are materials that
document the event when it happened—
or as close to when it happened as
Items in the Library are cataloged in
and other resources are
available in specialized databases.
• News: particularly good for accounts of
• Government publications and official
• First person accounts: diaries, letters,
oral histories, blogs…
Construct a basic search strategy.
• In most databases, you can combine terms
with and (both terms must appear in the
hit)and or (one term must appear in the hit—
for synonyms or evenly weighted terms)
– race and marriage; interracial or miscegenation
• In many databases, you can use a symbol such
as * or ! to take the place of letters to get hits
with multiple endings of a word
• Example search:
marri* and (interracial or miscegenation
or race or intermixing)
Run searches using the tools you
Experiment with keywords and
combinations of keywords, e.g.
I might try
• marri* and (interracial or
miscegenation or race or
• Interracial marriage
Try different tools.
• Check the help screens or guides to each
database for specifics on combining your
terms and whether your results are ranked by
date or relevance.
• When you find good hits, look at the subject
headings/descriptors. Try running new
searches using those terms.
Get the citation information. You
need this for your bibliography.
You list the works you cite so that readers
interested in your research can find and read the
resources you used to draw your conclusions.
• Email records to yourself as a backup.
• Some databases can export the citation in a
specific format (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA)
• Use RefWorks (free to UCSD students) to
manage, store, and format your citations.
Get the actual item.
• If the full text isn’t available in your search
results. Look for the button.
• Link to full text if available.
• No full text?
– Try for the print
• No UCSD access at all?
– You can usually request the item from another
library using the link.
– For books, try or
Evaluate the source
• Does it answer the
• What are the
– And what sources do
• Is the source current
enough for the kind
of research you're