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Law and Capitalism in America

This guide provides helpful research resources for the Law and Capitalism in American class.


This guide is designed to point you to useful resources for researching law and capitalism. A large portion of the guide will focus on legal resources but some interdisciplinary resources will also be addressed. Before you begin researching a project, it is always good to have a strategy.  Creating a research plan or following a research strategy is the best way to avoid flailing around and wasting your valuable time.  This page will discuss a basic research plan for researching a legal problem from start to finish.

Research Cycle

Research Cycle

This chart illustrates the research cycle. Your first step in the research cycle is to plan your research. Your second step is to identify issues and resources. Your third step is to locate those resources. Your fourth step is to evaluate those resources. Your fifth step is to sort and sift through those resources. Finally, document your research and then start the cycle again.


Finding background information is an important step of the research process if you are unfamiliar with the topic. As well as giving a general overview and citations to additional resources, a good background source can help you identify the vocabulary you will need to proceed with more in-depth research. Below are some types of background resources that you might want to consult.

  • Legal Dictionaries
  • Legal Encyclopedias
  • Nutshells
  • Hornbooks
  • Understanding series
  • Examples and Explanations

In addition to the above resources, also consider consulting a bibliography or research guide on the subject. Experts in a particular field will sometimes compile lists of useful resources for people pursuing research. These can be invaluable.

Types of Resources

After consulting background information, consider what might be the best sources for the information you need. This will depend on what type of issue you are researching and how you are going to use that research. The type of research you might do for a client letter vs. a motion vs. an appellate brief vs. a research paper vs. a speech will be very different.

  • books
  • periodicals (law reviews, journals etc.)
  • newspapers
  • government documents
  • reports
  • biographical sources
  • videos
  • reference books: almanacs, etc.
  • people (experts)
  • archives/special collections
  • Internet sources
  • cases
  • statutes
  • regulations
  • legislative history
  • rulings

After determining the best sources, look to the research tools to find those sources.

Pre-Search Screening

  • Before you read a source or spend time hunting for it, begin by looking at the following information in the citation:
    • Author
    • Type of source
    • Abstract (if available)
    • Date


"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Peter Steiner, Cartoon Caption,The New Yorker, July 5, 1979. When looking at web resources, it is particularly important to critically evaluate the information you find. With print resources, even those produced by the popular print, there is an editorial process and fact checking. This is often not true of documents found on the web.

Ask the following questions about the author and publisher:

  • Who is the author and/or publisher?
    • Is the publication a peer-reviewed publication or from a university press?
      • There is a higher bar to being published in a peer-reviewed publication.
    • Look at the author’s education, training and experience.
      • What is the author’s title or position?
      • What relevant degrees does the author hold?
      • What relevant experience does the author have?
      • What else has the author written on the topic?
    • Be skeptical of any webpage that does not identify an author or only has generic webmaster contact information.
  • What is the purpose of the work?
    • Does the author or the organization publishing it have a known viewpoint or financial stake in an issue?
      • Authors and organizations with a bias or an agenda may present useful information but they may be less objective and shape the data to support their agenda.
  • What is that author's reputation in the field?
    • Is the author and/or source cited by others writing about the subject?
    • What do those other works say about the author / source?

Read the About the Author section, use article indexes and citators, and look up the author to help you answer these questions. You can apply this to more than just secondary sources. For case law, look at the judge writing the opinion and the court from which it comes.

Accuracy & Validity

Ask the following questions:

  • Does the author thoroughly cite all the sources?
    • Improper or poorly cited sources can be a warning flag on the accuracy of the content.
    • Lack of citation can also be a warning flag.
  • Does the author's evidence support the claims made?
    • As an example, sometimes cases cited do not actually support the argument being made. While sometimes this is a case of interpretation, othertimes it is the result of the author misreading the case or only shallowly reading the case.
  • Is the author's evidence objective research, personal narrative, or opinion?
  • Does it come from a peer-reviewed publication?
    • Peer reviewed publications indicate the content was reviewed by experts.
  • Does it provide an explanation of the research method(s) used to gather and interpret data presented?
    • The methodology outlined in the document should be appropriate to the topic and able to be duplicated.
  • Can you cross-check the information?
  • Are there obvious errors?


Ask the following questions:

  • As you evaluate, try to determine what is covered and in how much depth.
    • Is it relevant?
    • What aspects of the subject are covered?
      • Does it summarize?
      • Is it comprehensive?
      • Is it narrow?
        • If the article is narrow, can the information within it be generalized to your topic?
      • Is important information left out?
    • What will you use it for?
    • Are there broad generalizations that overstate or oversimplify?
  • Determine the intended audience.
    • Was it written for experts, students, practitioners, laypeople, etc.?
    • Is it too technical or too general for your needs?
    • Was it a response to another scholar or theory?
  • What is the purpose behind the work?
    • Are alternative views presented?
    • Does the author address opposing arguments?
  • Does it cover the time period you need?


Ask the following questions:

  • Is the document or webpage dated?
    • With a website, it can be particularly difficult to determine the date of the information. Dates listed on a website can consist of the date posted, date updated, a copyright date, or there may be no date.
    • In a print treatise, the title page or back of the title page has the copyright date. If the work has been translated, the date may be the date of the translation rather than the original work. If there more than one date listed on the page, those dates indicate the different editions.
    • In a loose-leaf publication, individual pages may have different dates.
  • When was the resource last updated?
  • How often is it updated?
  • Is it the type of material that needs to be frequently updated?
    • Some areas of law change more quickly than others.
    • Some information is timeless.

Sorting & Sifting Through Research

In this stage of the research plan, the researcher needs to sort through the information found and choose the most appropriate resources. Consider the relevancy of the information and prioritize those sources most suited to the issue. Continually re-evaluate progress and results. You may need to go back and read more background.  You may have to find more in-depth and advanced coverage of an issue. You might need to investigate different search methods. Sifting and sorting can cause the researcher to move the research in an entirely different direction than originally conceived. 

When sifting and sorting keep in mind the following:

  • Understand the hierarchy of legal authority
  • Identify the different purposes and relative strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of sources
    •    Examples: 
      • Identify primary versus secondary sources and recognize when one is more helpful than the other
      • Understand how the evaluation of a secondary source impacts how you might use it
      • Know the differences between and the relative importance of rules, holdings, and dicta in court decisions
      • Distinguishing between binding and persuasive authority
  • Recognize and address contrary authority
  • Determine how to use factually dissimilar yet legally relevant cases
  • Understand when legal information from other jurisdictions is relevant
  • Identify scholarship from other disciplines relevant to resolving a specific issue and determine when material from these disciplines might be persuasive in resolving a particular issue

* Taken from Dennis Kim-Prieto, Law Student Informaton Literacy Standards, 103 L. Lib. J. 605 (2011).


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