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Choosing a Topic for Seminar Papers and Journal Notes: Preemption Checking

What is Preemption Checking?

Preemption checking is making sure no one else has written a paper/chapter that is substantially the same as your proposed paper/article.
  • Conduct a preemption check before you write and before you publish.
  • Preemption checks are done for student notes and for articles accepted for publication

What does "substantially the same" mean?

  • Preemption is highly subjective.
  • Same describes multiple parts of a published piece. 
    • Material
    • Method
    • Conclusion/Argument

How does preemption checking actually work?

Conduct searches for articles and/or book chapters in:

  • Proprietary databases
  • Library Catalogs
  • Working Papers sites
  • Legal and Non-Legal Sources
  • The internet

Be Thorough

  • Check all results when possible
  • Use multiple methods to search (NEVER stop after Westlaw and Google Scholar)

Be Methodical

  • Craft your search terms and use them consistently.

Be Flexible

  • Finding nothing on point? Try different terms.

Stay Current

  • Sign up for news alerts, subscribe to blog RSS feeds, etc., to know if new materials come up

Proprietary Databases

Check all proprietary databases for published articles.

  • Westlaw
  • Lexis
  • Bloomberg Law
  • Hein Online
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals
  • Index to Legal Periodicals and Books

Tips for Searching Proprietary Databases

  • Try using advanced search features to limit
    • Search for words in Title
    • e.g. TI(public trust and water or beach or river)
  •  Search for terms to appear a lot
    • Atleast25(exonerat!) AND atleast25(dna)
    • Note: All databases have slightly different terms/symbols. Use their help page to find the proper syntax.
  • Use the citator (e.g., Shepard’s or Keycite)

Library Catalogs

Search Library Catalogs for published chapters.

Tips for searching Library Catalogs

  • Look for “edited by” instead of an author, which indicates a collection of chapters by multiple authors
  • Use LC Subject Headings -- they link to material on similar topics
  • Check the FULL record for Table of Contents

Working Papers

Sometimes an article has been accepted/written but not yet published.

  • SSRN (Social Science Research Network)
    • Over 500,000 full text papers, submitted by authors
  • bepress Digital Commons Network
    • Frequently used as host for institutional repositories

Non-Legal Scholarship

Some will be captured in catalog/working papers searches
Databases to consider (find these through the University Library within the U-M Library Catalog): 

  • ProQuest
  • PsychINFO
  • PubMed

Internet-Wide Searching

Google Scholar

  • Google Scholar links to Michigan Resources when you’re on campus
  • Searches across multiple disciplines; has citator.

Google Advanced Searches:

  • Use to find blogs, calls for papers, conferences, symposia, NGO studies or government pubs 
  • Possible to restrict by site or domain, e.g. [], []
  • Possible to restrict to file type, e.g. [filetype:pdf]

Useful Blogs

Blogs often note when new working papers or law review articles are published. These blogs tend to post most regularly about new works.

Legal Materials: Journals & Other Secondary Sources

  • Westlaw
  • Lexis Advance
  • HeinOnline
  • Google Scholar
  • Index to Legal Periodicals (HeinOnline)
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (EBSCO)

Legal Materials: Books & Monographs

*should be captured by WorldCat

Interdisciplinary Materials: Journals, News, Dissertations, etc.

  • ProQuest (articles + ebooks)
  • Google Scholar
  • U-M Library Articles Search

Interdisciplinary Materials: Books & Monographs

  • U-M Library Catalog Search
  • Google Books
  • WorldCat

Any Other Materials:

Identify via U-M Library Search, research guides, etc.


  • Is there anything else to say on the topic?
  • Is there another way to analyze the material?
  • Can I reach a different conclusion than existing scholarship does?
  • Do I have (or can I create) a novel thesis?
  • Does the material I found leave me with questions that I can answer?

Try the Preemption Checking CALI lesson: