This guide is for students who are researching and writing a note for a journal or a paper for course. Researching and writing a scholarly paper is very different from the kind of research you have experienced while writing memos and briefs during your first year of law school.
Develop a Plan
Researching and writing a journal note or paper can be overwhelming, so develop a plan to keep yourself on track. The most important thing is to plan ahead so that you are not rushing at the last minute. Allow yourself several weeks to gather and read all of your research resources before you sit down to begin the writing process. If you need to request any materials via interlibrary loan it may take a few days or weeks to get the items, so be sure to start early.
Your plan might look like this:
- Background reading
- Topic selection
- Preemption check
- Preliminary research
- Refine Topic
- In-depth research
- Create outline of paper
- Write draft of paper
- Follow-up research
- Revise, revise, revise
You will be gathering and reading numerous resources that are all generally about the same broad topic or area of law. After you have read 10, 15, 20 articles about the same topic, you will inevitably forget which author said what. Keeping a research log from the very beginning of the process is the best way to avoid having to search through all of your sources multiple times when you are writing and inserting your footnotes. Your research log should also include resources that you have evaluated and chosen not to use to keep you from duplicating your efforts. If you prefer to do this digitally, consider using a service like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote (also available on OSX and iOS).
One way to organize your research is to create a spreadsheet where you can enter citation information, a summary of the article or chapter and your own notes on how you might use it in your paper. There are also free citation management systems available on the web such as Zotero and Mendeley that allow you to insert citations from your list of citations into your word processing program. For and overview of these and other citation managers, see this guide from Washington University.
Whether you use a spreadsheet, a citation management system, or a paper notebook, you will be much more efficient if you keep track of your research.
Contact a Librarian
Request a Research Appointment
Need more help? Reference librarians are available to meet with JMLS students in one-on-one sessions (or in small groups) to discuss research strategies, recommend relevant resources or review specific topics of legal research.
Fill out a request form and a librarian will get back to you to set up an appointment. We ask that you request your appointment at least 2 days in advance, but remember that you can always stop by the reference desk for immediate help with a quick research question.