Start Your Research: (9) Secondary Sources

A basic introduction to international legal research in the Peace Palace Library. Your road map for approaching an international legal research problem. Step 9.

Although we have followed the structure of Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice in the previous steps (1-5), followed by the peremptory norms of international law, resolutions and decisions of international organizations and soft law (6-8), this is not always the best order in which to tackle your research project. Often, it is more productive to consult secondary sources at the outset. 

Secondary sources are resources that explain, analyze, synthesize, critque or comment on the law. There are a variety of types of secondary sources, including: books, essays, journal articles, dictionaries, legal encyclopedias, law reports, legal treatises, practice materials, blogs, and newspapers.

Secondary sources are usually consulted to obtain background information and context for a research project. Another important aspect of secondary sources is that they sometimes can be used as subsidiary sources to determine primary law, either a rule of customary international law or general principles of law. The citations found within secondary sources can be used to lead researchers to primary resources and other relevant materials. Many researchers handling complex international law issues find they return to secondary sources at point of need throughout the research process.

The Peace Palace Library Catalogue is your gateway to secondary resources. This comprehensive bibliographic database offers access to all types of sources - electronically or in print, and covers all topics of international law. The Peace Palace Library Research Guides, prepared and maintained by our team of Law Librarians,  are another powerful tool to find secondary sources. The Research Guides suggest certain books, articles, databases and other materials considered indispensable for doing research on your specific topic.

Step 8 ← Step 9 → Step 10

You might consider our Library Instruction on how to conduct legal research in the Library at all levels.