6 Secondary Sources: Texts and Looseleafs


Finding a textbook on your research topic allows you to “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Textbooks are a great place to start or further develop your research, especially after using a legal encyclopedia. Encyclopedias tend to be both broad and shallow in their coverage, while textbooks tend to be much more focused, and take a deep dive on a much more narrow scope of coverage.

Textbooks help you situate yourself in the broader area of law, providing key words​ and concepts, setting out how an area of law fits together, and perhaps most importantly, helps you avoid going too specific too quickly. As well, textbooks can help you find suggestions of further readings​, key cases​, and relevant legislation​.

Knowing how textbooks are organized can help you use them efficiently: One of the first pages in a book is the copyright info page, which contains all the information you’ll need to cite the book. Nearly every textbook will have a Table of Contents, which allows you to browse to situate your research in a subject hierarchy​. Most legal textbooks have a Table of Cases, where cases are listed alphabetically, with every page on which they are cited. If you already have a case of interest, this helps you quickly find commentary on it and find related cases​. Some, but not all textbooks also have a Table of Legislation, and a Table of Sources (secondary material)​, both of which allow you to find related material. Finally, at the end of the textbook, you should find an Index, where key terms are listed alphabetically, with page numbers where they can be found in the textbook. Indices can, unfortunately, vary widely in quality, so don’t be surprised if sometimes they aren’t as helpful as you would hope.

Looseleafs and Other Formats

Legal textbooks come in a much broader array of types than conventional academic texts: In addition to conventional bound books, you might also see supplemental updated volumes​ (these often have an accompanying softbound volume with updates, commonly called a pocket part), and loose-leaf binders with regular updated sheets​.

Certain types of books are more likely to be produced in loose-leaf or continuously updated form, particularly annotated legislation, and material written for practitioners. As any part of a loose-leaf can be updated when needed, new editions are rarely produced. Each loose-leaf has its own update schedule, which can range from monthly to annually, often with exceptions made for significant changes that happen between updates. However, it is exceedingly rare for an entire loose-leaf to be updated all at once. Therefore it is important to pay attention both to the title page of the volume, which should include a notation of when the loose-leaf was last updated, and to the release number/update date on the actual pages you’re looking at. Like it so many other situations, if you know there was a major recent change to pertinent legislation six months ago, but the relevant pages are dated a year ago, the information is no longer up to date and entirely relevant for you.

E-books are often the same titles as loose-leafs, as the e-book format also allows regular updates, without the hassle of wrangling unwieldy binders and having to replace pages for updates.

Finding Texts and Loose-leafs

Find textbooks using your local library catalogue, such as the University of Windsor Library Catalogue to find print and e-books that a library has in its collection. Not finding a sufficiently practice-oriented textbook? In Ontario, try the LSO Great Library catalogue, which also searches courthouse libraries across Ontario.

Most library catalogues include a library’s print and e-book holdings, although some e-books that are housed inside major databases such as Westlaw Edge Canada and Lexis+ may not be catalogued. As well, some libraries catalogue non-Canadian texts on these services, while others do not, so it is often worthwhile to browse inside databases for relevant works.

Other Material in Textbooks

While we tend to think of textbooks and loose-leafs as sources of narrative discussion, other types of material can also often be found in them:

  • Annotations: Some texts take the form of a single act or body of related legislation, with commentary on each section, and a list of key or most relevant cases that apply or interpret the section. Other texts, while more narrative, also include short lists of important cases with notes on the significance and application of each case.
  • Forms and precedents: Especially in texts that discuss or focus on topics that tend to be linked with forms (releases, court forms, shareholder agreements, commercial leases, etc), there are also often a small selection of relevant forms to illustrate the author’s arguments.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Legal Research - A Practical Perspective Copyright © 2022 by Meris Bray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book