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Law School Papers and Law Review Notes & Comments - Research Strategies

For USF law students researching and writing scholarly papers and law review pieces.

About this Guide

This guide covers some key resources for doing scholarly legal research research, and is for USF law students who are writing major papers or law review comments or notes.

If you are a USF law student and would like personalized advice on your paper or law review project, you can make an appointment with a Zief Library research librarian to discuss research strategies and techniques. 

Looking for a Topic?

Start with this book. Chapter 2 ("Inspiration: Choosing a  Subject & Developing a Thesis") is filled with practical advice on identifying a subject you care about, narrowing your topic, and finding a promising thesis.

For more places to find inspiration, see the Zief Library research guide on finding a topic.

Making a Research Plan

Map out a tentative research plan before you plunge in. Don't be afraid to go off on potentially useful tangents, but check your plan from time to time to make sure you are not going too far off track. If your focus changes, you can always revise your plan.

As your research progresses, use your plan to keep track of the sources you checked and the searches you ran, so that you can recreate successful searches, and so that you don't repeat work unnecessarily. Change the plan as needed as you discover new lines of inquiry and new materials.

Mind-mapping software can help you brainstorm, plan, and keep track of your research.

Paths to Consider

For most projects, you'll want to —

  • Find scholarly legal commentary in books and articles. Look for:

    • the broad rules that apply to the narrower issue or case you are writing about, and for the major principles underlying those broad rules.
    • creative ways to apply existing rules, theories, etc., in new, original ways to the problems or issues you've identified.
    • controversy: for powerful statements of the point of view you do not agree with; for someone to argue with.
    • someone whose ideas spur you to new ideas.
    • anything that will challenge your point of view and help you hone your thesis.
  • Identify key primary legal sources (cases, statutes, regulations) and use them to find more commentary other relevant primary sources.

  • Consider finding scholarship from outside the law (e.g., from history, political science, sociology, psychology, medicine, economics, etc.).

  • Find original reports and statistical studies (rather than the news articles that mention them).

In reviewing other scholars' works, look for what will challenge you and your point of view, as well as what supports your thesis.

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