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Last Updated: Aug 28, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

SOCW 4100 Print Page

Process for Finding Primary Sources

A Process for Finding Primary Documents (Laws, Regs) for Human Services Public Policy

   1.      Try to get a good legal citation, or name of the law, and date.

  Check secondary sources for correct citations to laws (compiled statutes,  public acts, and regulations) 

  •  Government agency web pages are useful secondary sources for finding links to current law and regulations:
  • Federal (US Government) examples:
  • State of Illinois examples:
    •   Good:  IL DCFS    Click on “Laws” in top right column.   See handout on what is listed. 
    • Not so good:  Child Support:  under IL Dept of Healthcare and Family Services  has links to Administrative Rules, but not public acts and compiled statutes. 
      •  FYI Use the Illinois General Assembly Compiled Statutes search engine for adoption laws and acts. 
  •  To save time, use secondary sources (such as library reference books and journal articles) to locate names and citations to laws. See below:

 Library Reference Resource Suggestions

Online:  Check the "Encyclopedias" box on the Social Work Subject Guide home page for:
   Encyclopedia of Social Work
   Encyclopedia of Human Behavior
   CQ Researcher

Print, on shelf:

§  Legal Research:  How to Find & Understand the Law  13th Edition (Nolo)  KF 240 .E35 2005  
§  Illinois legal Research by Mark E. Wojcik     REF KFI 1275 .W65 2003
§  West’s Illinois Law Finder  REF KFI 1261 .I55 2006  
§  How to File for Divorce in Illinois  REF KFI  1300 .z9 s45 1999   
§  File for Divorce in Illinois  REF KFI  1300 .z9 s45 2006
§  Child Custody, Visitation, and Support in Illinois REF KFI 1304.6 .z9 C66 2003   

Ø  Use  as a last resort because it can be confusing!  Tip:  Use google ADVANCED search and limit to   .gov  as the domain!  That will limit to government web sites only.

   Ø  Wikipedia   is not considered a peer reviewed, scholarly source, BUT it is useful..  just keep in mind it is not always accurate and it is not an authoritative source.  Anyone can edit it!!  Do not rely on it for academic paper writing. 

  • Use Congressional Lexis/Nexis (Library Journals/Databases A-Z page) to locate federal laws and acts.
    • Congressional LexisNexis is great for legislative histories
    • Links to information on the public policy process
    • CAREFUL:  These laws can be many pages long! 

OR  Use GOOGLE  to locate federal laws (often published on agency web pages, or )

 Example:  Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994   

 This act was mentioned in the “Adoption” article in the Encyclopedia of Social Work, 20th Edition.  By searching Google, we can find its text on the US DHHS Administration for Children & Families web site  

 If we search Congressional Lexis/Nexis, we find that the Multiethnic Placement Act is a subpart of  Public Law 103-382 [H.R. 6]   from the 103rd Congress, 1994, which it entitled, “Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994”.

Updated 1/22/14

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