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United States Constitutional History Resources

Conducting a Literature Review

In order to determine if your topic has been written about before, and also to gather relevant resources, you will need to conduct what is called a "literature review." This involves gathering sources that relate to your topic. 

Step One: Develop Your Searches and Start Your Research Log

The first step in a literature review is to develop your search queries. Write down a brief issue statement, then use that issue statement to formulate potential search terms. You may want to use the Law Library's Legal Research Worksheet to structure your thoughts and develop some initial searches.

As you're running your searches, keep track of the databases you have consulted and the search terms you used in each databases. A good way to do this is to use the following style: 

Database: [Name of database]

Search Used: [Exact text of search]

Relevant Results Located: [A description of the search results, including the number of results and the number/type of relevant results located]

Step Two: Search Law Review Databases

You will then need to look through law journal and other databases in order to locate materials. Keep in mind that LexisNexis and Westlaw only include law journal articles from the past 20-25 years, and so many relevant sources will not be included in search results from those databases; to locate more historical articles, you will need to look at HeinOnline and the Index to Legal Periodicals. To conduct a more thorough literature review, you will need to check the following databases:

Step Three: Search Non-Law Databases

In addition to these law-specific databases, you will also find many relevant sources by looking at non-law databases that cover history and social sciences. The following are databases that are likely to have relevant results:

Step Four: Search the Library Catalog

In addition to journal articles, there are a number of books that will be relevant to your research. To locate these, run a search in the library catalog, GIL-Find. Keep in mind that the library catalog does not run a full text search, so you may need to search for more general principles (such as "Fifth Amendment" than in article databases.

The books below are examples of books located in the Law Library collection that discuss the construction of and debates over the Constitution. There are a number of other books available on the same topic.

Step Five: Check Cited and Citing Resources

In addition to these strategies, make sure to check for related articles that may not come up directly in your search. There are two ways to do this:

  1. In LexisNexis, Westlaw, and any other databases that support it, check for articles that cite to a relevant article you’ve located. In LexisNexis and Westlaw, this means looking at the Shepard’s or KeyCite results.
  2. In all sources, scour the footnotes/endnotes/cited references. You’ll invariably find relevant resources that you would not have come across otherwise.

Determining If You Are Finished

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you have located all of the resources you need. A good general rule of thumb for this type of project is to stop once you see the same sources over and over again with no new relevant material.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.