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Foreign and International Legal Materials: A Practical Guide

UN Documents: An Introduction

Researching UN documents can be a daunting task due to the complex nature of this international organization and the voluminous amount of documents published by the group of organizations, institutions and entities established by or associated with UN. To get started, the UN Documentation Research Guide, compiled by the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library, is a great resource. This research guide introduces you to the different types of UN documents, takes you to databases and websites containing those documents, and also includes quick links for full text documents.

As a searching strategy, you may look for UN documents by the issuing body:

By document type:

  • Resolutions and Decisions
  • Meeting Records
  • Reports and Letters
  • Voting Records
  • Speeches

By document symbol, unique symbol usually at the top right corner of the document, as shown in an example above. To understand the structure and components of UN document symbols and learn how to use them, check the research guides below:

Databases for UN Documents

Two comprehensive databases provide advanced search options for UN documents. You may access these databases from the Documents tab of the UN website:

  • Official Document System (ODS): As UN's official document system, ODS was first launched in 1993 and updated in 2016. It contains full-text, born-digital UN documents published from 1993 onward, including documents of the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and their subsidiaries.

  • UN Digital LibraryThe Digital Library includes not only UN documents, but also voting data, speeches, maps, and other open access publications of UN.

    • Although it covers some of the same content as in ODS, the Digital Library provides new search functions and better linkability among the documents. Since it is based on the online catalogue of the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library (UNBISnet), you have the options to search in the metadata fields of the document (title, subject, summary, author, etc.).

    • It is easier to find related document through links in this database (for example, resolutions, meeting records and voting are linked together). You can also refine your searches by UN body, agency or type of document.

    • If you are looking for voting records and speeches, this is also the database to go.

    • For more information on the scope of the Digital Library, check the About/Scope section of the Help page and this research guide: United Nations Digital Library.

Looking for a Specific Type of UN Document

If you are looking for a specific type of UN document, the best place to start is the UN Digital Library. From the home search page, you can easily narrow down the collection by resource type, for example:

After you select the resource type, utilize the Advanced Search options to exercise more control of your search. For example, if you are looking for Speeches, Advanced Search gives you the option to search in the fields of Author, Country/Organization, Document Symbol, Year, etc. 

If you are looking for the resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, you can also browse them on the principle organ's homepage, in addition to running searches in the UN Digital Library.