Skip to Main Content

Law Dissertations & Research Papers: Using Research Databases

Online support to assist with planning and conducting your library dissertation research


Databases provide access to scholarly research, including journal articles, conference proceedings and books  as well as primary legal research and other materials.

wide range of databases are  available to you at the University and the databases you select will be determined by your research topic.

For example, in addition to the legal databases you may need to use materials from other disciplines such as business, politics or sociology.  You may alo need to focus on specific materials such as new sources, official publications or statistics. 

Below, you can find out more about research databases and begin selecting and searching databases for relevant content.

A-Z Databases Activities

1. Watch the video demo
2.Explore the tutorial
3. Select a database and try out some searches
4. Contact your librarian if you need help

Law Databases

All Databases

About Databases

What is a database?

Research databases enable you to see what has been published in the area you are researching. They contain detailed records of thousands of journal articles, book references and conference proceedings. These records usually include the article title, authors, abstract (a brief summary), keywords (to enable your search to find it) and more.

Why should I use a database?

  • They are a valuable way of searching for published scholarly research across a wide number of sources
  • You can build complex searches using sophisticated search interfaces. There will be plenty of options to refine your searches, ensuring that the results are likely to be relevant to your needs
  • They contain huge numbers of records, and thus provide comprehensive subject coverage
  • They also provide frequent (often daily) indexing, and so are very up to date

There are many different databases. Their interfaces will all vary, and they may use different terminology.

However, they all have similar features. Once you are familiar with these, you'll be able to find your way around different databases. You can see the main features in the examples below.

This is what a standard database interface looks like:

Once you click the Search button, the results page appears:

It is important to note:

  • Some databases provide full text access to the articles themselves.
  • Some databases are primarily indexes or bibliographic databases, and although they provide information about the content of a journal article, they may not provide full-text access to the actual article itself.
  • Some databases are a mixture of full-text and indexed/bibliographic access.


So, when searching databases, be prepared for an extra step. 

After finding a relevant article or book you need to check whether you have access to that item, either in print or in full-text online.  Many of the databases will have a Check for this at Exeter button; clicking on this link will check whether we have access to the item.



In some cases, material you want to consult may not be available to you at Exeter. 

You will be using vast literature databases which feature many millions of resources from around the world. There are a number of options that may be of assistance to connect you with the information you need. 

Document Delivery Service

This service can be used  to request books/journal articles from other libraries. 


Student Book Suggestion Scheme

Students can make book suggestions to the Library. Submit requests online and they will be reviewed by the library. If the book is unlikely to be used by others after your dissertation work, then you may be directed to the Document Delivery scheme instead, for short term access to material.


Library Hub Discover

Use this service to search across the book and journal collections of the UK research and specialist libraries.

You can search to see if copies of books/journals are available in other libraries that you could visit whilst at home over the vacation, or by a special trip.  Always check the access requirements before you travel, if you wish to visit another library.  Find out more about visiting other libraries. 

Finding Resources using the A- Z Databases List

To find databases, use the A-Z list. See the next tabs for help with finding relevant databases for your research. Use the Database Targets worksheet to record useful databases as you explore.

You can scroll through the A-Z and choose a database if you know exactly what you are looking for.  

The exercise you completed earlier, to work out which types of information you needed, will help you pinpoint the material you needed.

Select databases by Subject

You can select your subject from the drop down subject menu to see a subset of resources in that category.  Choose Law to see all Law Databases or choose another subject if your dissertation topic spans multiple subject areas.

The subject listings will highlight the 'core resources'; these are key databases that are likely to be of interest to anyone studying and researching in that area.

If you are researching across an unfamiliar subject/discipline you can use the relevant Subject LibGuide for guidance.

This will highlight recommended databases and other resources for you to explore. 

Select databases by Type

You can select a database type from the drop down type menu to see a subset of resources in that category.

For example, you may want to focus on images, news or official publications databases, etc.

Each entry in the A-Z database list has an information icon. Hover over that symbol for information about the content that is available in the database and an idea of why it might be useful for research purposes.

Shown below is the information for Darts-ip which is an Intellectual propertyresearch  database

Recommended Databases for your dissertation research

Research has been transformed by the availability of sophisticated online search services.

Not only can you quickly and easily access the full text of key cases, journals, legislation etc. but you can also explore the law in context by viewing a case, commentary and related legislation, all at a click of a button.

A wide range of different legal databases and non law databases are available to you and you can use the Databases A-Z list to access all these resources.

Three key multidisciplinary legal databases are flagged here: . Lexis,  Westlaw and vLex Justis, plus other recommended legal and non legal databases.

Lexis is a major legal database used in most large law practices as well as Universities.

It has the full text of UK case law, legislation and core journals published by Butterworths, plus a range of legal commentaries

You can search by subject, author or citation in order to find the material you require. 

You can also read reference works like Halsbury’s Laws of England and the  Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents. online. 

As well as UK material, you can access international material too. Use the Sources tab to explore the content from the various international jurisdictions. The Lexis guide on International Sources will assist you to find the content you need,

It is worth spending time building your skills in using Lexis so that you can search and find content in the most effective way.

Comprehensive online guidance is available for the database and you can also sit an online test to certify your legal research skills 

A complementary legal database is Lexis PSL which is a legal reference tool you can use to explore different practice areas in detail. 

Westlaw is a major legal database providing full text access to UK , US and international case law, legislation, journals. books and other legal information sources.  

Find out more on the Westlaw UK Libguide.

You can build your online legal research competencies with Westlaw's training and certification scheme

Practical Law

Practical Law is an online legal know-how service which works hand in hand with Westlaw UK.

vLex Justis is a great starting point for finding the legal information you need. It is a legal research platform that provides access to UK superior court judgments and legislation, and also quickly  and easily links you to law reports available in full text on other research platforms such as Lexis and Westlaw etc.

It has a number of useful research tools that help you to look at the law in context and explore related content.

For example when you are viewing case law it  shows you whether your case has been referred to in other cases and whether it has been upheld or overruled subsequently.  A very nice added value feature is the precedent map which shows you the context of your case in a visual way. It helps you visualise relationships between cases and find other cases related to your line of enquiry.  

When you are looking at a piece of legislation you can see if there are related cases or journal articles, and check on the status of provisions to see if they are still in force or have been amended.

vLex Resource area for online help and support

Justis, Lexis and Westlaw are great starting points for your research and provide access to a wide range of full text legal resources.  However, you are likely to need to draw on other databases for your dissertation research.  You may need specialist legal subject, jurisdictional or archive database resources. 

Browse the Law A-Z Databases List  to see all the resources that are available to you.  A few examples are highlighted below

Specialist Law Databases: Subject Focus

Specialist Law Databases: Jurisdictional Focus

Lexis and Westlaw have significant full text coverage of UK and EU law.  They also provide access to legal materials from other jurisdictions, however coverage is more limited.  

There are a number of specialist jurisdictional databases available to you. Browse the Law A-Z Databases List (opposite) to see all the resources that are available to you. Examples include the following.

Specialist Law Databases: Archives

If you are researching the development of law over time, you may be interested to explore those databases that include older/archive legal content.

Lexis and Westlaw provide access to a wide range of journal titles.  However, access to early volumes of journal titles is not typically available in these large databases.  Current content is available;  sometimes access to volumes from mid 1980s onwards is provided; but where titles have been available for many decades then the earlier decades are not typically available.

If you need to  look at articles from earlier volumes of the legal journals. then you should use one of the journal archive services.  There are two key journal archive services or relevance to legal research. 

Other legal related archive sources

Subject LibGuide

If you are researching across an unfamiliar subject/discipline you can use the relevant Subject LibGuide for guidance.

This will highlight recommended databases and other resources for you to explore. 

Recommended non law databases

A large number of databases are available. a selection.are highlighted here - but browse the full listing to see all the databases available to you.

You can use Database Targets sheet to capture those that look relevant to you. 

The Web of Science is a good example of a multidisciplinary global research database. You can use the database activity to learn more.

Make use of Database 'Added Value' functionality

When you are using the online databases for case law searching, be aware that many offer contextual information to help broaden your research and connect you with related materials.  For example: 

  • The database may link you related cases, legislation or commentary.

  • The database may give you an indication of whether the principles in your case are still 'good law' and/or show where the case has been applied, distinguished or referred to subsequently.

  • You may be able to jump between the judgments as the case moved through the courts; from High Court to Court of Appeal through to the Supreme Court, for example

  • You may be connected to legal definitions or current awareness articles on your legal terminology/ topic.

The added value features from the three main legal databases are highlighted here for illustration, but make sure to look out for similar functionality on the other databases you use during your research.

Screenshot of case law screen from lexis showing related content

vLex Justis screenshot case with related sources and information

Precedent Map

The precedent map is a really useful tool for seeing your case in context and saving you time in examining related case law.


Find out more about the Precedent Map from this short video

Sage Research Methods

Sage Research Methods Online (SRMO) is a great resource to use when you are planning and conducting your research.  It is a vast online research methods library.

It is targeted at social science researchers, and covers key research methodology topics that are applicable across the research spectrum.

Use the SAGE research methods LibGuide to help you get the best from the resource.

You can use the Doing Research Online module to learn to design and conduct online and digital research with videos, case studies, practice data and how-to guides.

This multimedia collection has been designed to support novice or experienced social science researchers who are conducting research online. Whether conducting their first or their hundredth study online, users will find support to employ a variety of digital methods from online surveys, interviews to digital ethnography, social media, and text analysis, as well as learn how to manage, store and archive digital data. Privacy and other ethical considerations specific to conducting research online are also covered. Researchers will also get support with how to navigate the challenges of being supervised online.

Content & Features:

  • ‘How to Guides’ (providing practical help with using digital research methods)
  • Videos (tutorials, expert interviews, video case studies, etc.)
  • Case studies (focused on challenges of designing and conducting research online)
  • Teaching sets of data with a guide (suggesting a method to analyze both digitally created and existing online data, plus a step-by-step guide to how to do it so that students can practice data analysis)

The module will be updated annually with new content to attend to the ever-evolving needs of researchers and to bring them the latest in methodology for online research.

Contact Us or Give Feedback