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Developing a Topic for a Research Paper or Law Review Article  

This guide is intended for law students who would like to write an independent research paper for credit, a seminar paper or law review article.
Last Updated: May 15, 2014 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

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Consider Your Point of View

A critical aspect of writing a publishable article is originality.  You must say something that no one has said before.  As you review the literature about your topic and thesis, you discover that articles already exist on your topic.  Does that mean going back to square one and finding a new idea?  Not at all.  There are many ways to look at a problem.  Develop your thesis through a particular point of view.  As long as your thesis is original you are not prempted by other articles on the same topic.



Research Depth


When you are at the idea stage or the early topic development stage, your research should be broad enough to provide you with introductory and background information on your topic.


As you develop your thesis, your research will narrow.  At this stage you should zero in on in-depth information about the specific aspects of your topic/thesis.


Getting Started

Developing a topic for an independent research paper or law review article is the most difficult and most important aspect of the writing process.  Its also presesnts the classic "chicken & egg" problem:  You have to do some research in order to find a topic to research and write about.  Where do you start?

We can summarize the process as a series of steps:


What areas of law interest you?  What classes have you enjoyed the most?  Do you know an expert in an area of law that you admire? 


This is the subject of your article.  It could be a particular case or line of cases, a legal trend, or new legislation.  Keep these considerations in mind when searching for a topic:

Your topic should be NOVEL:  It should say something that hasn't been said before

Your topic should be NON-OBVIOUS:  Don't rehash settled law; find a new twist

Your topic should be USEFUL:  Be practical; how can this article benefit the legal community

Most writers start with a topic that is too broad to manage.  Be prepared to narrow the scope of your article by asking some questions:

Does this topic have several parts? 

Are there different opinions about the topic?

Are their similar topics to this one?

Is there a clear solution to the problem or several possible approaches?

What future developments could impact this topic?


Once you have found an interesting topic to right about, the next step, and perhaps the hardest step is to develop a thesis.  The thesis is your analysis of the topic.  It presents the problem and offers a solution supported by your arguments and authority.

A thesis typically follows one of two forms:

A DESCRIPTIVE thesis describes what exists in the world today such as overview of a court's approach to a particular issue, the fact that there are disagreements about how to apply a law, or that the Supreme Court ruled in a certain way.

A PRESCRIPTIVE thesis describes what the law should be, how the courts ought to approach a particular issue or why the Supreme Court was incorrect in its ruling.

Try to combine both a descriptive aspect and prescriptive aspect to your thesis.  This style is effective because it informs your readers of something they didn't know before and offers a solution. 


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