Scholarly Research and Writing: getting started is the hardest part

Guest Author: Gabrielle Bechyne

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

Scholarly legal research is not an easy task. Whether you are writing for a law school journal, an advanced writing course, a CLE, or a legal magazine, the process is likely going to be largely the same.. All writing endeavors begin at the same place: research. Especially in today’s digital age, information (and misinformation) is so easy come by, and it comes and goes more quickly than ever. On top of the speed at which information comes and goes, it is even harder to hold a potential reader’s attention for longer than the length of a TikTok video.

Well, the process doesn’t have to be so daunting. And whether or not your work gets read, gets published, or gets an “A” does not mean that the legal research process has been a waste of your time. As up-and-coming legal scholars, all of our most valuable skills come together and are strengthened throughout the legal research process. Below you will find some resources and tips for getting started and staying organized throughout your writing project.

Choose a topic that interests you. If you are going to spend the amount of time and energy that scholarly legal research requires, try to choose a topic that you get excited about. This is the step where spending extra time can go a long way—you will thank yourself later if every time you sit down to research or write you don’t fall asleep or feel like throwing your laptop out of the window. This is also the step where you get to be as creative as you want to be when it comes to research. Some good places to get topic ideas include blogs, news outlets, or tracking current legislation.

Secondary Sources—use them! Secondary sources are the quickest way to find relevant cases, statutes, and regulations on point. Examples of secondary sources include: scholarly articles, treatises, and legal encyclopedias. If you are writing a student comment or a paper for a writing course, do a quick search for other articles written on something close to your topic. I like to think of secondary sources as letting someone else do the background research for me. When you research secondary sources, you are checking a lot of boxes off of your scholarly research to-do list:

  • Preemption check
  • Background research on your topic
  • Quickly locating primary authority on your topic

Wow! Did you know you were being so productive, just by locating some articles and skimming O’Connor’s? However, don’t stop there. It’s important to stay organized while you do this!

Staying organized. Lastly, the importance of organizing your research can’t be stressed enough. Just as it is important to do good legal research, it is important to keep track of your research so that you do not unnecessarily repeat work. Utilizing folders on Westlaw and Lexis is a good way to stay organized. If you like hard copies, print out your research and create a research binder. For more information, visit our scholarly research guide

If you get stuck, feel free to reach out to your friendly neighborhood law librarians!

Phone:  806-742-7155
Chat: Use the “Ask a Librarian” chat feature on the Law Library’s Homepage.

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