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Seminar Paper Research

This guide is intended to direct researchers to resources on scholarly legal writing, including both legal and interdisciplinary resources.

Getting Started

Choosing a topic is a critical part of writing your seminar paper. Significant thought and research should go into your topic selection to avoid problems as you continue your research process. If you do not spend the time to ensure that your topic is important enough to you that you can write about it for thirty to forty pages, your interest will wane and you will be unable to write an engaging paper. Additionally, you must do a significant review of the existing literature to ensure that your topic is original (this process is sometimes called preemption checking). Think of the body of scholarly writing as an ongoing conversation. You want your contribution, in the form of your seminar paper, to add to this conversation, bringing new ideas or inviting scholars to see something in a new way. It will not be possible to add to the conversation, or to avoid merely repeating what has already been said, if you do not first read the existing literature. One approach is to begin with a general topic that interests you and to use your review of the literature on that issue to refine your topic into a unique thesis. Only if you find yourself unable to come up with something original to say on your topic must you discard it completely.

Tips on beginning your paper:
  • Choose a topic you find personally interesting
  • Stick to a schedule
  • Keep track of your research

Your topic should be novel, non-obvious, useful & sound.

  • Common Approaches
  • Circuit split
  • Apply a non-legal theoretical framework to a legal question
  • Comparative analysis of different approaches
  • Identification of new trends

Finding Your Topic Quiz

  • What things interest me in everyday life?
  • Have I seen something on the news lately that bothers me or makes me uncomfortable?
  • Was there something in class that stood out in my mind as just not right?
  • Did I work on something over the summer but did not like the outcome?
  • Do I have subject area limitations?
  • What are my limitations in time and ability to understand a new topic area?
  • What requirements do I have for a topic? 

(Taken from Jessica Lynn Wherry & Kristen E. Murray, Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution KF 250. C625 2019.)

Circuit Splits

An important characteristic of a good topic is that there is an ongoing debate on the issue. Circuit splits, or disagreements between appellate courts' positions on the legal issue, can be a rich area from which to mine topic ideas. Writing a paper on a circuit split issue provides a topic that is both controversial and is likely to have ample sources to cite.

  • To find Circuit splits in Westlaw or Lexis, select all federal jurisdiction and use the search: circuit /2 split! AND [topic of interest].

    Library Databases by Topic

    Research Guides

    ​​​​​​​Google: Your topic+ legal research guide

    Including guides on how to pick a topic.


    A topic is not a thesis

    You must find your own intellectual angle on the subject
    Identify a problem
    Propose a solution
    Pick an area that is n a r r o w enough that you can become an expert.
    Allow yourself to modify your solution as you work on the project – originality most often comes after expertise is established.
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