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Choosing a Topic for Seminar Papers and Journal Notes: The Selection Process

How to Select a Topic

Follow these steps or use your own:

1.   Use the following questions to create a list of no more than three ideas:

  • What areas of law am I genuinely, honestly interested in?
  • What law topics are of current interest?

2.   Select one idea and do some preliminary topical research.

  • Develop some basic keywords and phrases.
  • Evaluate your results:
    • Is it narrow enough to cover thoroughly?
    • Do you still find it interesting?
    • Can it say something new?
  • Refining the idea until it meets the above criteria.
  • The result should  be a concise, one-sentence description of the topic.

3.   Run a prospective full search in major databases. (Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline, etc.)

  • Start with the basic keywords and build a more refined set of search terms.
  • Peruse articles that are based on similar topics, looking for differences with your idea.
  • Consider factors such as:
    • Perspective (e.g. political vs. technological)
    • Approach (e.g. supportive vs. critical)
    • Changes (e.g. new cases or concepts)
  • Evaluate whether the end result is sufficient as a note topic.

**   If it won't work, go back to step 2 and research the next idea

4.   If it still looks viable:

  • Check for any formal procedures for topic approval.
  • Run the topic by the journal editor and/or professor.

Law School Toolbox

Remember to...

Start early

Writing often takes much more time than initially anticipated.

Plan accordingly

Create milestone goals to measure your progress.

Be consistent

Commit to work on your paper for a specific number of hours per week.

Stay Engaged

Don't let other projects or events significantly distract your efforts.

Start now

You’ll be glad you did!

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