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Legal Research Basics: Secondary Sources: Hornbooks & Nutshells

General characteristics of major secondary sources in legal research

Locating Hornbooks & Nutshells

Hornbooks and nutshells are still predominantly a product of the print world.  The Law Library has an extensive collection of hornbooks and nutshells, the most current versions of which are located at the Circulation Desk.  They circulate on a 24-hour loan period.  You can use the binder at the end of the Circ Desk to find hornbooks and nutshells by author or subject.


What is it?

Hornbooks provide a thorough and straightforward analysis of a legal subject.  They are often written with students in mind, serving as a study aid, but can be helpful to anyone looking for an overview of a legal subject.


  • Straightforward analysis
  • Written by experts in the field
  • Not generally cited, but a few hornbooks, such as McCormick on Evidence, are well-respected and frequently cited in court decisions


What is it?

Nutshells are another study aid that can be helpful to begin research.  They provide an overview of a legal subject, without the rigorous analysis of a hornbook.  They are much smaller than hornbooks, and are therefore a quick study.


  • Overview of a legal subject
  • Not citable
  • Quick read
  • Good at the start of research to understand a particular area of law