III. General Research Tips

Page Contents

This page will highlight a few areas for analysis.

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This portion of the research guide will provide general research guidance for online research. Not all of the resources you will need for your work are available online. Many materials, including laws and other documents, are only available in print or in subscription databases where you have to pay to access the information. This guide will focus on free online sources for research, but you may need to contact a library, government agency, law school, colleague, etc. to locate materials that are only available in print or in a subscription database

Research Planning

Like any major project, it is best to establish a research plan prior to beginning a research project.  Each research plan differs depending on the project and ultimate goal. Some factors to consider when creating a research plan are as follow:

  • What type of sources are you looking for? For example, do you need to review the laws themselves? Are you interested in articles describing how the law is applied in practice? Both?
  • Where are some starting points for the materials you are looking for? Do not forget that while many materials are available online, often many useful materials are only available in print format.
  • What are some keywords that describe your research project? It is typically helpful to think up synonyms of the keywords you will be searching for.  
    • Click here for some common terms that come up regularly with women and land research.
    • Click here for the UNESCO Thesaurus to help you look up additional search terms and synonyms.
  • What is your deadline?

Background Research

An important part of the research process is to conduct some preliminary background research to get a general idea about the legal, social, demographic, economic, political, etc. situation in the jurisdiction(s) that you are researching. When it comes to conducting background research, knowing when to stop can be tricky and it depends on your research problem and the purpose for your research. In many cases, reviewing the entries from two or three of the below links should be sufficient, but for detailed research or if you are providing policy recomendations for a country or jurisdiction for which you are completely unfamiliar, more in-dept research will be necessary.

Below are some resources for locating general background information on a country-by-country basis:

Introduction to Secondary Sources

Question: What is the difference between primary authority and secondary sources?

  • Answer: Primary authority refers to the law itself (e.g. cases, statutes, regulations, court decisions, etc.), whereas secondary sources are materials (e.g. articles, books, reports, etc.) that help researchers identify, analyze, or understand primary authority.

Question: When should I use secondary sources?

  • Answer: Secondary sources are useful throughout the research process to help with interpretation and analysis of primary authority. Secondary sources can also help you:
  • Get an overview of an area of law and underlying policy;
  • Identify probable sources of law;
  • Find citations to primary authority;
  • Develop issues to consider and come up with search terms; and
  • Locate legal principles that apply to the situation.

Secondary sources are not always correct in their interpretation of the law or the law can often be interpreted in more than one way. If possible, always review the full-text of the applicable legal materials.

However, when it comes to researching customary practices, unless a jurisdiction has codified customary practice, secondary sources are the only way to gain insight into how communities typically behave without conducting field research.  In order to learn more about customary practices you will need to locate articles and research from different disciplines:  anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, geography, international development, etc. To fully understand the customary practices of a certain group of people and/or region field research is often required. 

Locating Secondary Sources

Here are some links for sources to locate a variety of secondary sources.

  • Books:
  • Practice Materials: 
  • Articles:
  • Open access repositories -- Open access repositories are databases of materials that provide the public with free and unrestricted access to academic scholarship. Currently, a few law journals make their scholarship available through open access repositories.
  • Subscription Databases --There are many subscription databases available. Below is just a select few that may have useful materials. At this time we are unable to offer access to third party databases through LandWise. Depending on where you live, access to these databases (and others) may be available through universities, government entities, public libraries, bar associations, etc. Often organizations that provide access to these databases will require some institutional affiliation because of high subscription costs.

Using Search Engines Effectively

Most researchers start with search engines as a way to locate webpages and other materials. Many websites and databases also have their own search engines so you can search for materials within that site. To make the most of a search engine here are a few useful tips:

  • Use the advanced search function if one is available:

Here are some advanced search pages for popular search engines. Many databases, especially subscription databases, have an advanced search option.

  • Boolean searches:

Boolean logic allows you to combine words and phrases into search statements to retrieve websites from search engines and documents from searchable databases. Below are the three main Boolean operators:

Boolean Operator

What It Does

Possible Pitfalls


Find web pages or materials that contain a group of words

It will only retrieve results with all of the terms connected by "AND", and may omit results that are relevant but do not contain those specific terms.   


Find web pages or materials that contain at least one of the words

These searches can sometimes yield too many results, especially if the search terms are very general terms (e.g. land OR law)


Exclude web pages or materials that contain a word or group of words

Be careful when this Boolean operator because it may exclude relevant information. 

  • Other Search Operators:

Each search engine is a little different, but most have one or more of the following capabilities

“ “

Use quotation marks around a word or set of words to search for an exact word or phrase

“land rights”

(  )

Use parenthesis to combine a number of search methods for a more complex search.


women and (land or property)

This search will locate all items in a database that contain the words women and land or women and property.

Proximity connectors

Using proximity connectors will help you locate items where certain search terms are within a certain number of words from one another. Each search engine is different.

Use proximity connectors to find items where the word “land” is within three words of the word “women”

Google Example:

land AROUND(3) women


Use a wildcard to replace letters in a word or words in a phrase. It depends on the database or search engine, but usually the wildcard is an asterisk (*), a question mark (?), the pound sign (#), or an exclamation mark (!).


A search for wom*n will find websites or records with the word women or woman.


Use a truncation symbol to find various forms of a word. It depends on the database or search engine, but usually the truncation symbol is an asterisk (*), a question mark (?), the pound sign (#), or an exclamation mark (!).

A search for acqui! will find websites or records containing acquire, acquired, acquiring, and acquisition.