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Legal Research Methods

This guide provides access to major Australian legal resources. It also provides tips on searching for different types of legal resources.

Research Check List

Depending on your research topic, you will need to refer to some or all of the following resources. 

Background information

Use these resources to find background information on your topic, including the key concepts that underpin the area of law you are researching, as well as significant issues, legislation and cases. 

Encyclopaedias and Dictionaries          Commentary          Books          News

Topic-specific information

  • Journal Articles are a key source of published research in discrete areas of law.  Look for scholarly and peer-reviewed journals. See Journal Articles.
  • Government Publications such as law reform commission reports, departmental reports and parliamentary reports provide information about policy in your research area. See Australian Government Publications
  • Government websites (Australian and foreign) eg Australian Law Reform Commission.
  • Conferences and conference papers are an excellent source of current hot topics and issues from leading experts.
  • Online Networks / Discussion Lists / Blogs provide the opportunity to engage with academics, students and practitioners in a field of research.
  • Research centres and institutes provide publications on discrete areas of research.
  • Public lectures are usually free and provide the opportunity to hear from leading academics and expert practitioners. Search university law schools for their public lecture series.
  • Non-government organisations eg United Nations, Red Cross, Amnesty.

Topic-specific law

Cases                Legislation                International law

Search tips for finding resources on your topic

Use these search tips in LibrarySearch, the Library Databases and Google Scholar

Search Tips:

  • Use quotation marks to search for phrases      "human rights"  
  • Use the star to search for variant endings of a word      univers* 
  • Use the question mark to search for alternative spellings of a word      labo?r 

Writing Skills Texts

These are some selected books on critical thinking and writing.

How to write better law essays by Steve Foster

Laying down the law by Catriona Cook

Legal skills by Emily Finch

A practical guide to legal research by Sue Milne & Kay Tucker

Researching and writing in law by Terry C. M Hutchinson

Studying law at university by Simon Chesterman


Example approach to legal research

Topic: Protection against racial discrimination: the law in Australia. 

Background information

What general information do I need to put my topic in context?

Where does racial discrimination law fit in the Australian legal system? Discrimination law? Human Rights Law? 

What are the key concepts and issues?

What are the key primary sources of law: legislation and cases? 

Is this State or Commonwealth law?

Encyclopaedias and Dictionaries   

The Laws of Australia Chapter 21.9 Discrimination      


Chapter 7 in Gerber, Paula and Melissa Castan (eds), Contemporary Perspectives on Human Rights Law in Australia (Thomson Reuters, 2012)


Search Factiva: racial and vilification and "law reform" 

Topic-specific information

Journal Articles

Journal Articles are a key source of published research in discrete areas of law.  

Plan your search:

 Keyword 1

 Keyword 2

 Keyword 3

 Keyword 4

 racial discrimination




 racial discrimination



 Racial Discrimination  Act 1975 

 Sutherland Shire Council  v Folkes




Search AGIS: racial discrimination reform

Government Publications

Google search: .gov .au racial discrimination reform

Government Bodies

Google search: .gov .au racial discrimination reform

Australian Human Rights Commission   

Research Centres

Google search: .au discrimination law research centre

                          .au .edu human rights centre

Castan Centre for Human Rights  Look for conferences and online networks.


Topic-specific law


Search: racial discrimination 

Sutherland Shire Council v Folkes


Search: racial discrimination

Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), s18C

International Law       

Google search: racial discrimination international law

                         "human rights" and "racial discrimination" .au

Universal Declaration of Human Rights