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Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Legal Research Guide: Search Strategies

This research guide contains links to primary and secondary sources useful in the study of land use, planning, and zoning law. Also included are pages focused on special topics in land use law.

Search Strategies - Generating Search Terms

Take a few minutes to generate a list of possible search terms before you start your research. You'll probably find that there will be a family of terms that deal specifically with the non-legal aspects of your topic, and terms that relate to the legal and planning aspects of your topic. 

  • Synonyms: 
  • Broader: 
  • Narrower Terms or Planning Terms:  
  • Related Terms:  
  • Terms of Art:  

As you review and evaluate your search results, you will learn which terms and combinations of terms are most effective in particular contexts/databases. You will be able to expand this list of search terms as your understanding of the subject area and the language used to describe it grows.

In order to effectively search for local laws, it will be useful to search the Internet for collections of relevant local  laws / model laws which have been brought together by others.  Here are some search terms that are often used when describing these collections:

  • Local Laws:  codes, local laws, ordinances, plans, comprehensive plans, master plans
  • Types of laws: overlay districts, overlay zones
  • Regional actions: intermunicipal agreements, IMAs, regional planning
  • Model [Laws]: draft [laws], model [laws], proposed [laws], sample [laws]
  • Collections: best practices, case studies, clearinghouse, success stories
  • Guidance: guidelines, handbook, manual, toolkit, toolbox
Also keep in mind the state or federal laws which may be described as:
  • enabling acts, enabling laws, enabling statutes, acts, laws, statutes, regulations

Westlaw and Lexis Search Strategies

Westlaw and Lexis give you the option of doing Natural Language or Plain Language searches or Advanced searches using Terms and Connectors. Using Natural Language or Plain Language searches allows the database provider's search algorithms to control the search.  Advanced searches give you more control by allowing you to search particular fields, to search specific phrases, to require specific terms, etc. 

Google Search Strategies

Google Web Search

Use Google Advanced Search to:

  • Require / exclude words
  • Search for a phrase
  • Limit results by language and region / country
  • Limit by date (how recently was the webpage updated)
  • Search within a site or domain. e.g. site:gov.
  • Limit results by file type (e.g., .pdf)
Google Scholar Search

Use Google Scholar to find:

  • Scholarly materials, including articles available on, HeinOnline and the Digital Commons, as well as snippets of books from Google Books.
Google Book Search

Use Google Books as a way to search full text of some but not all books. (There is a random quality to what is available in Google Books, so treat it is a jumping off point for your research, not as a comprehensive search for available books.)