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Video: 5 Ways to Pick a Research Paper Topic - 3 minutes
1. Find a Topic
Start out by skimming legal news and blogs for ideas.
Do you remember something mentioned in class? Casebooks point out open issues or majority/minority views. Faculty are also a great source of ideas.
Some students write about a legal issue that they heard about at work.
Pick an area that interests you. What law classes did you enjoy? What area of law do you plan on practicing in after you graduate? You will be researching extensively on this topic. Why not write on something you can use later in practice.
Use all the resources available to you. Do not get stuck in the Westlaw Edge/Lexis rut. For your paper to have depth and breadth consult many resources. Start by using the tabs at the top of this guide.
2. Narrow the Topic
Limit the scope of your paper. As you conduct broad searches and read material on the topic, look for ways to narrow it down to a legal issue. Further research will help you define your issue (the problem that needs solved; question presented) and lay out your argument (the steps needed to support the solution).
Think of a zoom lens. You want to zoom in and then zoom in again to narrow the topic.
You may wish to narrow by date or to a particular time period.
Narrow the jurisdiction.
Use the layout of the database listing or blog directory to help narrow your topic.
Also, creating a concept map as you gather background information is a graphical way to discover sub-issues and current controversies surrounding your broad topic.
3. Choose between a case note or comment and create the thesis.
The thesis is your analysis of the topic and the solution, each needs to be supported by legal authority. For a list of theses, see the Theses For a Note and for types of comments seeComment Categories.
4. Preemption check
After you formulate a rough draft of your legal issue, but before you go very far in your research, you need to conduct a preemption check.
Categories of Topics
1. Case Note- Analyzing One Opinion. "Analyzes one important case in-depth and describes how it affects the current body of law." Source, at 929 (source link is very slow to open). For sample theses arguments to make in a case note see the Theses For a Note.
2. Comment- Examines One Aspect of the Law. Below are a few categories and for more detailed list see the Comment Categories.
Search recent legal news (such as the Legal News area in Lexis) or specialty news (Education Law Reporter, the Bloomberg current awareness, etc.)
"novel issue" or "open question" or unresolved or "circuit split" or courts /5 agree! or disagree!
50 State Survey Topics
You might consider writing an article that compares the law in all fifty states. Resources for finding the law in the 50 states, including handy comparison charts can be found in the library's guide Fifty-State Law Surveys.