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Secondary Sources in Law : Finding Journal Articles Relating to a Legal Topic

This guide contains resources and guidance to help students find secondary legal materials.

Finding journal articles relating to a legal topic


Academic or scholarly journals are a great source for the latest research. In university, you are expected to use them often, because they are:

  • written by experts or specialists in the relevant discipline areas,
  • highlight areas of contention or debate,
  • provide valuable insights and critical analysis of legal principle or issues,
  • often peer-reviewed.

The UTS Library subscribes to a wide range of academic journals focusing on legal topics. You can access these journals using databases like HeinOnline, AGIS Plus Text (Informit) and Google Scholar.

In this page, you will find:

  • instructions and short videos on how to use these databases.
  • tips on how to develop an effective search strategy.

Recommended law journal databases


HeinOnline is an international journal database with a lot of Australian content. It searches the full text of journal articles, and consequently returns a lot of hits per search.

  • When searching for a journal article in HeinOnline, it is important to choose the Law Journal Library and then type in keywords.

  • Use the discovery panel on the left side of the screen to refine your search, such as by Edit Type (e.g. refereed) or by Country Published (e.g. Australia).

AGIS Plus Text (Informit)

AGIS Plus Text is a smaller 'boutique' database with Australian, New Zealand and Pacific content. It searches records, not full text, so you need to be more strategic with your search terms - less is more.

Google Scholar

In addition to legal databases, Google Scholar can be a useful tool for general, broad searches for law journal articles and conference paper.

Why plan your search?


At university you are expected to find and use scholarly information:

  • in your assignments
  • to prepare for class
  • to explore new theories and ideas

Scholarly information refers to resources such as books and journal articles. To find scholarly information you need to search in a particular way to get good results.

Use this page to learn how to plan your search to find the best quality scholarly information sources. This kind of searching is best suited to finding journal articles in databases and on google scholar.

Step 1: Identify your key concepts


Before you find any information, identify the main ideas (or key concepts) in your assignment question or research topic.

The following video shows you how to break down your assessment and to get started brainstorming keywords you can use.


"Since Waltons Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher, what differences remain between proprietary estoppel and promissory estoppel under Australian law?"

The key concepts are:

Waltons Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher Estoppel Australia

Step 2: Brainstorm keywords & synonyms


Different words can be used to describe the same concept.

Think of other words that could be used to describe your key concepts. Synonyms should also be included.

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Legal databases helpfully provide a list of catchwords and a digest relating to each case.

Catchwords identify the main areas of law dealt with and provide the legal context of the primary judgment or article,

The digest is a summary of the legal issues and the decision of the court.

Catchwords and digests can be handy when searching for cases related to a specific topic.


Waltons Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher Estoppel Australia

Waltons Stores



Promissory Estoppel

Proprietary Estoppel



If you are having trouble thinking of synonyms, try using some of these resources:

  • Google & Wikipedia
  • Dictionaries & Thesauri
  • Reference books & Encyclopedias

If you have already found some useful resources, try looking at them to get ideas for keywords you can use!

Step 3: Build your search 


Once you have all your keywords, you need to combine them to form your search.

Have a look through the tabs below to see how you can combine your search terms and build a search!

Putting it all together

Use Boolean Operators to combine your keywords & synonyms into a search. You can build multiple searches using different synonyms & keywords. Watch the video to learn how.

Combining our keywords is important, but there are other tricks we can use to improve our results. Have a look at the video in the next tab to learn about more search strategies.

Now that we have combined our terms, let's use some more advanced tricks to improve our search.

The most important advanced search techniques you will use are:

  • Phrase Searching

You should use phrase searching when you are searching for an exact phrase that is two or more words long.

For example, if I searched for promissory estoppel without quotation marks, I will get results for promissory and estoppel as well as promissory estoppel. However, if I search for "promissory estoppel" I will only get results with those two words mentioned together.

  • Truncation

Truncation tells the database to find all possible endings of a word. This trick is very useful if you have many similar sounding keywords. For example, leg* will find legislation, legal, legality, legally, legalised or legalized.

However, you need to be careful where you place the *. If you truncate a term too early, you may also be including many irrelevant terms.

Now that we know all about the different search strategies we can use, let's see how it will look when applied to some keywords.

First, use OR to combine synonyms & similar words:

Key Concept Keywords & Synonyms Search



(promissory OR proprietary)

Then, use AND to combine your key concepts together: 

Waltons AND Estoppel AND (promissory OR proprietary) AND Australia

For search terms that are two words or more, put them in quotation marks to make sure that the database searches for those words together.

Step 4: Review your results


Not all the information you get from a search will be useful. A successful search will show results relevant to your topic. If your results are not relevant go back and try different keywords in your search.

Find relevant results by checking the: 

Even if your information is relevant, it might not be good quality. Check if it passes the C.R.A.P. Test before you use it.