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In addition to the guide on Legal literature (Juridische literatuur) and the research guides (onderzoeksgidsen) on various fields of law, this guide offers suggestions and more resources for in-depth legal research and writing.
Do you need help or do you have suggestions or comments? Please contact us.

Finding a topic for an essay or thesis

Finding a topic for a Bachelor's thesis or Master's thesis can be difficult. There are several ways to get inspired.

Law journals
Browse the most recent issues of law journals in a field of law. They will show the current legal debate. All research guides (onderzoeksgidsen) offer a list of (authoritative) law journals.

Many lawyers, academics (researchers, professors, PhDs) and law firms write blog posts about the current legal debate, law developments, recent cases and more.

Find a law blog with Blawg (directory of blogs on law) by category, country or law school. Or find a blog with Google: search for ‘blog’ or ‘weblog’  in combination with a topic, e.g.: (blog OR weblog) "comparative law" (N.B. results may vary).

Have a look at blogrolls to discover more blogs. NB: always make sure that the information on a blog is trustworthy.

Reading a newspaper can also be inspirational for finding a topic. Especially concerning the area of tension between society and law. Use Nexis Uni to find (old) newspaper articles.

Search with keyword(s) in a law database e.g. HeinOnline, Westlaw or Legal intelligence (Dutch) to gain insight into a topic. Browse through the (most recent) hits.

Theses - UvA Scripties
Via UvA Scripties you can find theses written by UvA students. Older theses can serve as examples (format, structure and formulation of research questions), possibly as sources for literature research and of course it is useful to know whether the same topic has not already been researched. Search or browse through the theses.

Trustworthy and up to date resources

Practising scientists and (prospective) scholars need to be scrupulous and the resources they use must be reliable and verifiable. See also the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity 2018 (ENG / NL).

Always check if a resource or information is trustworthy:
•  who is the author of an article or a book; what is his/her affiliation, job, education, function?
•  what kind of organisation (university, company, movement) offers certain information or links to resources? Is it an independent or well-known organisation?

Always check whether the information is up to date:
•  when was the webpage or database last updated?
•  in what year is the article that you found published?
•  is the book you want to use the most recent edition, is a more recent book on the same topic available?
•  what period of time is covered by the database you are using?

When using information from a blog, webpage or database, always read the ‘About’, ‘Info’ or ‘Disclaimer’.

Search techniques

Next to a simple search, most databases and catalogues offer special characters or advanced search tools that you can use to enhance your search result when you have too many or limited hits.

1) Before starting a search, always make sure that the catalogue or database covers what you are searching for (period, document type, topic). Check the About or Info page.
2) Always read the Help section before you start a search; find out what ‘tricks’ or tools are available to improve the search result.

Quotation marks
Using quotation marks or a ‘phrased search’ commands the search engine to group the entered terms. E.g. a search for “fair use” or fair use in the UvA CataloguePlus differs in over 400 (irrelevant) hits. Quotation marks and other special characters can also be used in other database and search engines such as Google or Google Scholar.

Advanced search
Advanced search fields often offer the possibility to combine various search keys (title, subject, author) with AND, OR or NOT.

AND: both terms have to be in the search result (limits the result)
OR: one of the terms has to be in the search result (expands the result)
NOT: exclude a term from the search result (specify the result)

Furthermore, it is often possible to limit or restrict a search by document type, time span, language, location, availability and more.

Special characters
‘Wildcards’ or ‘truncation’ can be used to include differences in language (U.S. or U.K. spelling), plural forms or word variations in the search result.

Wildcards (?, # or !): replace one or more characters
Example: humo?r  will find both humour and humor, organi?ation will find both organisation and organization

Truncation (* or ?): begin or end a term in various ways
Example: comput* will find computing, compute, computer, etc.

NB: characters and function may differ for each database or catalogue.

Proximity search
When combining search terms with AND, both terms have to be in the search result. This does not necessarily put both terms within context. One of the terms can be in the title of an article, the other in the last paragraph or even a footnote or bibliography.

‘Proximity search’ commands the search engine to search for the terms within a range;  in the same sentence, paragraph or amount of words.

In Westlaw search terms can be combined with /s or /p to make sure the terms are found in the same sentence or paragraph, e.g. “fair use” /p Google. In HeinOnline both search terms must be within a range of 15 words with the command: "fair use google"~15.

A thesaurus is a controlled hierarchic list of (subject) terms. Thesaurus terms are connected to articles or books by a specialist (e.g. librarian) to identify the content. Browse a thesaurus and click on a term to find all articles connected to the term (independent from the actual words in the text).

A thesaurus allows you to specify or broaden a search or identify subject terms. Combine the search results of queries based on a thesaurus with the function Search History (if available).

A classification is an (alpha)numeric hierarchy of subjects used to classify books or other items. It is usually broad (not very detailed) and is used to group items together that are relevant to the same subject. Classification is closely related to library placing systems.


A bibliography contains references to or an overview of articles or books, usually not linked to availability. Bibliographies can be edited – with added keywords, topical index and/or references to legislation - or plain indexed. They can be used to find references to (old) journal articles. Next step is to find the paper journal or digital article.

HeinOnline, Westlaw, and other journal collections offer access to digitized or digital articles. Note that not all (older) publication years of a journal have to be included and usually the coverage of each journal varies. Some law journals are not included at all because they are not available digitally.

Some bibliographies:

  • Find-eR
    Catalogue of the libraries of the European Commission. Contains book information and references to journal articles, legal materials and websites related to European Union law.
  • Legal Journals Index
    Journal abstract service listing key articles from the UK and Europe's leading legal journals. With keywords, cited cases and links to full-text articles when available. From 1986-recent.
  • Peace Palace Library Catalogue
    Find books, references to book chapters and journal articles - classified with subject headings - in the field of public/private international law and foreign national law.
  • Public International Law
    Current bibliographic information on articles spanning all aspects of public international law that have been published in journals, yearbooks, and commemorative compilations. Paper version available from 1975-2013.
  • WorldCat Discovery
    Contains materials from more than a thousand libraries all over the world, all fields of science and in various languages.

The UvA-linker tells you at once if and where an electronic or print version of the article can be found. It matches bibliographic data with (paid) access to a digital version of the publication, or with the paper version in the library (or other libraries in the Netherlands).

The UvA-linker is available in UvA CataloguePlus, but also in Google Scholar and HeinOnline (when used within the UvA domain). Click here for more information about using UvA-linker in Google Scholar.

Snowball method and cited by
A method to find older articles on a topic is by using the ‘snowball method’. Start with an authoritative article (key article) on a topic, use the references to find older articles on the same topic, and so on. Some databases - e.g. HeinOnline and Google Scholar - offer the function 'cited by'; this can be used to find (forward in time) newer articles that have cited a specific article.

Citation abbreviations

It is possible that a journal name is abbreviated in a reference to an article. For example: [2012] 2 C.M.L.R. 40 or JutD 2011, p. 21-24 (afl. 5). Sometimes it is necessary to know the full journal name in order to find the article (see the guide Legal literature).

•  Use the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations to search for the meaning of abbreviations for English language legal publications and even a wide selection of major foreign language law publications.
• (KU Leuven) is the online version of the official list of abbreviations for Belgian journals as published in Juridische Verwijzingen en Afkortingen (Belgian style guide for referencing). It also provides links to lists of abbreviations for Dutch, German, French and UK-US journals.
•  For Dutch abbreviations use the Wolters Kluwer afkortingenlijst (pdf).

Both Westlaw and HeinOnline offer a ‘citation search’. In Westlaw it is possible to enter a citation in the search box on the home page. In HeinOnline the Citation Navigator can be found in the Law Journal Library. Note that the results may vary.

Citing, citation rules and reference managers

Legal sources (e.g. books, articles, case law, directives, treaties) used and consulted for writing a legal text must be cited in a clear, consistent and familiar way. The reader must be able to identify and retrieve the used resources and the writer shows that he is reliable and makes his work verifiable. Sources must be cited in a consistent way and preferably according to a uniform citation rule.
Software is available to make citing easier, the so called reference managers.

Correct citation practice / plagiarism
How do you cite correctly and when do you speak of (self)plagiarism? The KNAW advisory memorandum (pfd) can be used as a guideline and judgment in specific cases. In the ‘Regulations Governing Fraud and Plagiarism for UvA Students’ you can find out what the UvA defines as fraud and plagiarism and which rules you must follow when taking an exam or writing an essay or paper.

Citation rules
Common styles used for English legal texts are the Oxford Standard for Citation Of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA), available online and in the library, and the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, available in the library or use the Bluebook Citation Generator.

Reference managers
Reference managers such as RefWorks, Mendeley, and Zotero can be used to make citing easier and to save and organize references. Use this overview (pdf) to see the pros and cons of each of these tools. RefWorks, Mendeley and Zotero are supported by the library.

Additional resources for research

Here are some extra resources in addition to the resources mentioned in the guide Legal literature:

  • Delpher (National Library)
    Read articles from Dutch newspapers from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century. Also newspapers from the Dutch East Indies, Suriname, the  Netherlands Antilles and war (WW II) newspapers.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
    Find full-text articles in free, quality-controlled scientific and scholarly journals, covering all subjects and many languages.
  • Nexis Uni
    Access to approximately 1300 Dutch and international newspapers and news. Coverage varies per title.
  • Worldcat
    Catalogue covering the collections of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide containing more than one billion bibliographic references.


See our guide Zoeken, schrijven en verwijzen for an overview of Dutch (text) books in this field.


Use a dictionary to find an explanation or the spelling of a specific (legal) word or term. The following materials are available at the Law Library:
•  Black's Law Dictionary (online)
Contains definitions, quotations, alternative spellings, terms and expressions and a large appendix on legal abbreviations (available through Westlaw).
•  Click here for an overview of all dictionaries available at the Law Library.
•  ​​​​​​​For regular words/terms or translations use the multilingual Van Dale Dictionaries.