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How do I: Find Articles

Locating a Known Article

If you have a citation to an article in a law journal or other periodical, you must typically locate the containing journal. (“Typically” because, on occasion, a search engine query for the individual article will turn it up online.) Searching the title of the journal in both the library catalog and OhioLINK catalogs is usually the best first step – the catalog record will identify any print holdings, and should also link to available electronic editions of the journal regardless of which of many platforms (JSTOR, Hein Online, EBSCO, etc.) this content might be provided through.

Identifying Articles of Interest

There are three main ways to find periodicals articles. The first is to have a citation to it from some other resource with which you are working. “Footnote mining” from treatises, hornbooks, annotated codes, and from other journal articles is a valuable technique, indeed. The other two are full-text searching, and searching using an “index” or “indexing/abstracting service.”


Important platforms for full-text search specific to law include the journal libraries in Lexis and Westlaw. These are quite inclusive in recent years, but be cautioned that the contents of these journal databases rarely extend back in time earlier than the early-to-mid 1990s. And sometimes not that far. Hein Online also offers full-text searching, and its coverage is deeply retrospective. The newest articles are not always on Hein’s platforms (some journals still ‘embargo’ their newest volumes) but those journals that are available through Hein Online are usually available from their inception. The full-text search engine in Hein Online has not historically been particularly refined, but it has recently seen great improvements and Hein Online is a very viable platform for full-text search.

Indexes, and why you should care

The other main technique is to use an ‘index’ or ‘indexing/abstracting service.’ In law, the two major indexes are the Index to Legal Periodicals and LegalTrac. (Use the database finding tool on this website to locate these and others, including major examples from other disciplines commonly relevant to law-school affiliates.) In an index, you don’t search the full-text of the included articles. Instead, your search is conducted against records that include the title, author, publication, and sometimes an abstract of the articles. And, most critically, subject headings or ‘descriptors’ that are added to the records by editorial indexers. (These function somewhat similarly to the subject headings that library catalogers add for books in the catalog.) These subject headings are part of something called a controlled vocabulary. They are applied according to very detailed rules regarding the meaning and scope of each term, and its relationship to other (related, broader, narrower, etc.) terms.

The absence of the full-text can sometimes be an advantage – broader-scoped searches are usually possible with indexes, without the ‘false hits’ that would come from retrieving every article in which your terms appear only incidentally. And the presence of the search terms is extremely valuable. Controlled vocabulary terms combined with the absence of full text mean that the words that *do* exist in an index record are likely to be extremely important to what the article is “really about.”

Skilled researchers should know how to use both full-text platforms and index-based platforms. Both serve an important role. Also, an increasing number of resources can function as hybrids of the two – by including full-text of articles but enhancing it with controlled-vocabulary subject terms.