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Sample Bibliography With Primary And Secondary Sources Of Law

For some research projects you may be required to use primary sources. How can you identify these?

Primary Sources

A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often empirical studies—research where an experiment was performed or a direct observation was made. The results of empirical studies are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

Secondary Sourcesinclude books, magazines, journals and newspapers which contain articles discussing various laws, regulations and various related issues.  Why use them?  Secondary Sources often:

  • Are the best place to start your research
  • Provide terminology
  • Are easier to find
  • Give a feel or overview of the event or issue, and often supply dates, names and other background information, such as the names and citations of statutes and court cases
  • May refer to related subjects or issues
  • Are more readable than many primary sources
  • Digest or synthesize the information found in primary sources

Some reference encyclopedias you may want to consider browsing through to get a feel for your topic, more definitions, and other important background information include:

Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, 3rd edition, (14 v.), 2011

Encyclopedia of Communication and Information – Ref. P87 .5 .E53 2002.  Also available online.

Museum of Broadcast Communications: Encyclopedia of Television – Ref. PN 1992 .I8 M874 1997

Museum of Broadcast Communications: Encyclopedia of Radio – Ref. TK 6544 .M84 2004

Note:  All of these encyclopedias are secondary sources, but they may lead you to primary sources such as Acts of Congress and other laws, federal regulations, court cases and other government documents (congressional hearings, etc.)

Find Secondary Sources using the following suggested databases: (others may also work, too )

  • National Newspapers Premier  or Newspaper Source Plus
  • Communication and Mass Media Complete
  • Academic Search Complete
  • ABI/Inform Global
  • Penfield Library Catalog or Worldwide Catalog (to locate books, reference books)

Communication and Mass Media Complete, Academic Search Complete and ABI/Inform Global are examples of journal databases, and will provide access to both popular press and scholarly journal articles.  To view only scholarly articles in these databases, be sure to select the “Scholarly/Peer Reviewed Journals” limiter on the search page.