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If you don't already have a specific topic in mind, get started by doing basic background research and finding general information on the field or subject as a whole. Introductory textbooks or treatises are a good way to acquire background knowledge.
Familiarizing yourself with the current body of knowledge in your subject will help you identify smaller subareas and topics of interest; gradually, a narrower focus should emerge.
After you've done your introductory background research, you can use the resources given in the rest of this guide to help you narrow your topic. Your goal is to evaluate the background information you found and focus in on a well-defined subject within the scope of your overall topic. It should be narrow enough to be manageable, but broad enough that you won't have trouble finding sources to inform your discussion.
For further ideas and strategies, see these online guides:
Heather Meeker, "Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers," 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917, available through HeinOnline
Step 2: Research Your Topic
Identify the resources that are the most relevant to your topic. The links in the rest of this guide will help you. Be sure to keep a record of what you've searched and what you've found, so that you don't waste time duplicating things you've already done.
Evaluation of resources is important - make sure you're using sources that are reliable, current, and authoritative.
Stay focused! You'll often come across interesting tangents during your research. While these may make great future paper topics, don't spend much time on them now. Note them down for later and move on.
Additional Tips for Online Research
Always be sure you are using the most up-to-date and accurate information. If your data is outdated, the credibility of your entire argument may be jeopardized.
Whenever possible, use an original source. For example, if you're reading a report that quotes statistics that were collected by a government agency, find and cite the agency's raw data, not the report. You can never be certain that a non-original source is using the data correctly, so going to the original will avoid any potential problems of bias or inaccuracy.
Be aware of the reputation of your sources. Some sources, especially think tanks or advocacy groups, are known as advocates for particular viewpoints. This may cause some readers to perceive their work as biased and discount your argument because you cited them, even if the work you're citing is nonpartisan. This is another reason to always use original sources if possible. This does NOT mean you can't or shouldn't use these groups' resources if they're otherwise credible - just be mindful of the effect it may have on your audience.
Academic Legal Writing, 5th ed. by Eugene VolokhDesigned to help law students write and publish articles, this text provides detailed instructions for every aspect of the law school writing, research, and publication process. Topics covered include law review articles and student notes, seminar term papers, how to shift from research to writing, cite-checking others' work, publishing, and publicizing written works. With supporting documents available on http://volokh.com/writing, the book helps law students and everyone else involved in academic legal writing: professors save time and effort communicating basic points to students; law schools satisfy the American Bar Association's second- and third-year writing requirements; and law reviews receive better notes from their staff. The Fifth Edition, based on the author's experience teaching his newly designed Intensive Editing Workshop and First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, adds material on editing, rebutting counterarguments, writing strategy, identifying and using the key assets of the article, fighting "the curse of knowledge," and submitting articles to law reviews. It also adds extra examples of sound writing, as well as editing exercises.
Call Number: KF250 .V64 2016
Publication Date: 2016-02-19
Air and Light and Time and Space: How Successful Academics Write by Helen Sword
Call Number: P301.5 .A27 S96 2017
Publication Date: 2017-04-17
Beyond the Basics: a Text for Advanced Legal Writing by Mary Barnard Ray; Barbara J. CoxThis how-to writing guide helps lawyers and law students master the full array of legal writing tasks and become adept and agile writers. While chapters focus on specific legal writing tasks, they also teach sophisticated writing techniques and how to use them effectively in a legal context. Chapters cover statutes, jury instructions, contracts, issues, objective and persuasive statements of fact, discussion sections and arguments, pleadings, documents for motion practice, interrogatories, correspondence (including electronic forms), opinion letters, wills and trusts, and research papers.
Call Number: KF250 .R38 2013
Publication Date: 2012-10-16
The Grammar and Writing Handbook for Lawyers by Lenné Eidson EspenschiedThe Grammar and Writing Handbook shows you precisely which rules need to be followed, how to choose the correct words, and the most effective way to structure every sentence to help you compose more persuasive, stronger material that's flawlessly written. The book includes a brief history of the English language, as well as comprehensive information on every thing from singular vs. plural, to composing a legal memorandum.
Call Number: KF250 .E86 2011
Publication Date: 2012-04-16
Just Writing, 5th ed. by Anne Enquist; Laurel Currie Oates; Jeremy FrancisFrom the authors of the widely praised Legal Writing Handbook, the Fifth Edition of this comprehensive guide hones in on the basic principles of grammar, punctuation, and legal style. Clear guidance, examples, and practical advice make this a perfect companion to legal writing texts and indispensable to the process of writing and editing legal documents.
Call Number: KF250 .E57 2017
Publication Date: 2017-02-15
The Legal Scholar's Guidebook by Elizabeth E. BerenguerThe Legal Scholar's Guidebook demystifies academic legal writing by providing concrete advice on topic selection, research strategies, and analytical frameworks. It is an essential resource for any serious legal scholar. Nascent scholars will find it a reassuring guide through a demanding process and experienced scholars will find it a source of encouragement. Wherever you are on your scholarly journey, the Guidebook is your compass. Scholars will benefit from: Chapter Brainstorms that contain Questions guiding entry into stages of the research and writing process. Squelch the Impostor tips that include advice to manage stress inherent at each stage of the research and writing process. Specific assignments to methodically guide the scholar through each stage. Examples, Guides, and Checklists that provide samples to help the scholar understand expectations at each stage.
Call Number: KF250 .B47 2020
Publication Date: 2020-02-03
Legal Writing: Academic and Professional Communication by Paula Baron; Lillian CorbinGood legal writing is an inherently ethical practice and fundamental to professionalism and lawyering. Legal Writing: Academic and Professional Communication emphasises the link between legal writing and ethics as it guides readers through phases of the writing process and helps them develop effective legal writing skills essential for both academic and professional contexts. The book covers a range of academic writing commonly encountered by undergraduate and postgraduate law students including case notes, problem questions and essays. It also explores specific forms of legal writing required in the profession, through client letters, memoranda, appellate briefs and reports to support novice writers in understanding their ethical obligations and developing a professional voice.
Call Number: KF250 .B3765 2016
Publication Date: 2016-12-19
Modern Legal Scholarship: a Guide to Producing and Publishing Scholarly and Professional Writing by Christine Coughlin; Sandy Patrick; Matthew Houston; Elizabeth McCurry Johnson
Call Number: KF250 .C693 2020
Publication Date: 2020-08-01
The Modern Rules of Style: Write Like a Professional, 2nd ed. by Paul MarxDestined to take its place next to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style as an essential and timeless how-to guide! A brief, elegant primer on how to write vivid, interesting written material. You'll enjoy the continuing narrative of the lives of the would-be young professional Jeffrey and his successful professional sister Molly. You'll discover:* how to use introductory and trailing modifiers; proper use of the semicolon, colon, and dash; and how to use a noun clause effectively* how to spice up prose by varying sentence length* how to use "like" or "unlike" and the right way to use repetition to focus concepts* how you can build great paragraphs through the use of compelling sentences. In addition, you'll find hundreds of examples of how to incorporate these lessons, including many taken from current newspapers and magazines, as well as many examples of how NOT to write.
Call Number: KF250 .M37 2019
Publication Date: 2020-01-31
Plain English for Lawyers, 6th ed. by Richard C. Wydick; Amy E. Sloan
Call Number: KF250 .W94 2019
Publication Date: 2019-02-01
Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution, 2nd ed. by Jessica L. Clark; Kristen E. MurrayMost law schools require upper-level students to write a sophisticated legal research paper on a topic of their choice. Scholarly Writing guides students through a five-step process of constructing their legal research papers, from topic selection to finishing the final product. Maintaining its example-based approach, the new edition includes additional sample excerpts to illustrate concepts throughout the text, and there is a second annotated full-length paper. Up-to-date information about legal research and organizational tools is included as are ¿bright ideas¿ for student writers, and even more cross-referencing. The text may be used as either a required text for a course in Scholarly Legal Writing or a companion guide for students working on legal writing projects independently.
Call Number: KF250 .C5375 2012
Publication Date: 2012-08-20
Scholarly Writing for Law Students, 5th ed. by Elizabeth Fajans; Mary FalkThis book fills an important niche in legal-writing literature by teaching law students how to write scholarly papers for seminars, law reviews, and law-review competitions and how to have their work recognized. It helps novices and more experienced scholars alike to write papers with a minimum of anxiety and a maximum of creativity. Employing a process theory of writing, the text first describes the enterprise of scholarly writing and then discusses techniques for brainstorming topics and theses, researching, drafting, and revising for substance and style. It covers both traditional doctrinal topics and newer areas like empirical studies. There are also chapters on footnotes, avoiding plagiarism, law review practice, and dissemination of student work through publication and submission to national writing competitions. Appendices provide a sample law-review competition paper, answers to in-text exercises, sample syllabi for scholarly writing courses, and a rubric for evaluating and editing scholarly papers and articles.