Used with permission
that not everything you need to consult is on the Internet. Just because you cannot find
particular information on the 'net does not mean that it does not exist. Always consult
ALL sources of information, print, electronic and personal. Depending on the amount of
information available on a particular topic, you may find that the information you need is
most efficiently obtained from a personal contact rather
than through traditional research means. Always ask qualified librarians for assistance
when and if you need it.
number of websites now offer assistance with legal research and writing
including Michael Geist's Web Lectures Legal
Research & Writing and Writing
a Law Review Note. Other general guides include the New Jersey Law
Network's Legal Research
& Writing page, Rod Borlase's Legal
Research Strategies and Law Research's Legal
Research and Writing Page. Remember that there is no ONE best method
to follow when doing legal research. The most effective method for you
will depend on 1) what you already know about the topic 2) how much time
and/or money you have to spend on legal research 3) what you need to find
out about the topic and 4) what your ultimate goal is for using your legal
If you have a particular topic in mind
Write it down as
specifically as you can. Note any related ideas or topics as well. You can use either an
outline format or a freer format such as a "stream of consciousness" list or
available sources for information on your topic. Remember to check the internet, any
databases you have available, online catalogs, your own library catalog, periodical
indexes and other sources using various combinations of keywords as well as subject
headings. Remember that not everything you will find useful is online and some online
databases provide only bibliographic citations, not the full text of a book or article.
If you do not find anything on the topic, ask the reference librarians at your
library for assistance. It is very unlikely that NOTHING exists that is related to your
If you don't have
a particular topic in mind
- Look through the
materials and ideas on this website. Browse the internet, periodical indexes, newspapers
and other sources for ideas. Do you have a favorite author, theme or book? Are you
interested in the interaction of law and some other field (maybe your undergraduate major)
that poses some legal, moral and philosophical questions? Is there a
legal issue that intrigues you? Talk to people in the field, but do some research first.
Most people are busy, and do not particularly enjoy assisting someone who has not even
identified the broad issue s/he is interested in.
- Once you have
identified a topic go back to the section If you have a particular topic in mind
with your research
material: download, photocopy or check out books and articles. If you cannot locate a
particular book or article in your library ask the Reference Librarians if you can request
an interlibrary loan for the item.
Keep a list of
materials you have retrieved or requested. Note whether the materials
were helpful and whether you need to follow up on certain titles or
As you take notes,
make certain you keep track of where you find which pieces of information. Choose a method
of organizing your notes. Some people like to take notes on slips of paper, some people
take notes on computer using a software program that allows them to outine and to add
text. Whatever you do, note the citation for each bit of information you find. This method
will save you time later on.
If you use the
slips of paper method, WRITE ON ONE SIDE OF THE PAPER ONLY. You will inevitably forget to
turn the piece of paper over to see if anything is written on the other side.
Some people would rather use outlining or writing software to organize
their notes; obviously this is a fine method as well, as long as you
understand how the software works and how to output your notes to a word
Start writing as soon as
you can. Do not wait until you have "finished your research" to start writing.
You will NEVER finish your research; there is always something else to consider or check
into. However, if you find yourself seeing the same information over and
over again, or finding that you are uncovering completely new ideas and
information less than 20 percent of the time, you've probably almost
exhausted what's available on your topic.
Put your slips of paper or
electronic notes in the order that makes sense to you at the time. You will want to change
this order later on, but the important thing for right now is to get
your ideas and information in some sort of order.
Make sure your first draft
is as specific as you can make it, and make certain you have actually stated the problem
or issue you are researching. You should be able to convey the essence of your topic and
your opinion on it in two to three sentences.
topic or issue for a paper or article might be a simple statement like:
Modern popular culture
tends to portray male teenagers as prone to violence to solve their problems because they
are "male", to show the legal system as insensitive to the reasons for that
behavior and to show these teens as inevitably headed for a lifetime of crime. Male teens
frequently instigate gang violence in popular fiction and film, behavior which becomes in
their minds the appropriate system of "justice" and/or "law" since the
adult world is insensitive to their fears, sense of outrage and of alienation. Thus,
popular culture sends a message to both teenagers and adults that male teen rage is an
inevitable result of gender.
reader's response to this paragraph is likely to be: how interesting.
Tell me more about why popular culture does this. Where do you get
your evidence? Why is it persuasive? Is the message the result of
conscious decision on the part of popular culture providers, or is it
the result of generally accepted (and perhaps unconscious and
An unacceptable topic
(because it is too vague and does not indicate a point of view or judgment about the
topic) might be:
Popular culture portrays male teens as inevitably violent.
The reader's response to
the second statement should be: "So what?"
to finding a useful research and writing topic is to use
a guide such as that provided by the Ohio State University Libraries through its Gateway
to Information. For literature, see Literature.
A number of
websites also offer assistance with research strategies. See for example the Feminist
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Utopia Website (SFF & Utopia) III.E Page: Useful Subject Headings and
Tips for Literature Searching and the University of California, Santa Cruz McHenry
additional assistance with research strategies, try these websites: The
English Server; Research
Methods Tutorials; Research
Pointers Page; Research
Resources for the Social Sciences.
ASSISTANCE WITH WRITING
assistance with writing see also Writing Across the Disciplines
(University of Connecticut. Department of English). You can also consult the
following writing guides for more help.
The Modern Researcher (5th ed.; 1992). Barzun's work has been extremely
influential in the humanities.
Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers (1976).
The Chicago Manual
of Style (14th ed.; 1993). Kate Turabian's Manual is directly based on
Scholarly Writing for Law Students (1995). Aimed primarily at law
students to assist them with writing the law review note.
Garner, Bryan A.,
Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2d ed.; 1995). Garner has emerged as
one of the gurus of legal writing.
Garner, Bryan A.,
The Elements of Legal Style (1991).
and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (4th ed.; 2000). A classic work.
Ask someone to
read your work critically, marking every sentence or phrase that does not seem to make
sense. Always proofread your work for grammatical and spelling errors.
Put your work
aside for a few days to allow yourself to think about what you've written.
information on a topic)
more information on a topic)
Most college and
university libraries have access, either through print volumes or
increasingly through electronic
means, to the major bibliographies, indexes, and abstracts (usually referred to as Bibliographic Databases) that are useful
for Law and the Humanities research. Among these are the Modern Language Association (MLA)
Bibliography, Humanities Abstracts, PAIS, Social Science Abstracts, Social Science
Citation Index, Biological Abstracts, and Science Citation Index. The University of Utrecht Libraries
has a sophisticated list.
and abstracts generally have explanations for their use and
indications on coverage in the introductions to their initial volumes.
They will also generally give indications on how you can widen your
search for additional information. If you do not know which index
and/or abstract is likely to have information on the topic you are
researching, ask a reference librarian.
that an index or abstract does not have to be a print publication.
Library catalogs, normally now available only online, are indexes to a
particular library's holdings. Catalogs generally index authors,
titles, and subjects of discrete publications (i.e. books or
magazines). If you are looking for ARTICLES on a topic, look in a
PERIODICAL index, NOT in a library catalog. If you find an article of
interest, note the periodical it was published in, and then check the
library catalog to see if the library has that periodical available.
If not, ask the reference librarian or other staff members if you can
order a copy of the article through interlibrary loan (ILL). Another
source of full text articles is the Internet, so try the author and
title of the article you want to find on the 'net by using a
search engine. You might get lucky!
online library catalogs include The
British Museum, the Bibliotheque
Nationale de France, the Newberry
Library, the Huntington
Library, the Folger
Shakespeare Library, the Library of
Congress, the National Library of
Australia, the National
Library of Canada, the National
Library of Spain, and the National
Library of Japan. Many libraries are now providing digital
versions of their holdings, including the Library of Congress (the American
Memory Project), the California
Digital Library, Tufts (the Perseus
Project), the New York Public
University Libraries, the Networked
Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, the Indiana
University Digital Library, the University
of Texas Libraries, the New
Zealand Digital Library, the British
Library Digital Library, the University
of Chicago Digitorium, and the Lower
Saxony State and University Library Goettingen. Because the
Internet is growing daily, the most efficient approach to finding out
whether a library with materials useful to you is available digitally
is to do an organization or subject search using a
FOR ASSISTANCE WITH CRITICAL THINKING
Critical and clear thinking is a MUST when researching and writing in this
interdisciplinary area. Some of the best examples of critical thinking originate
from the study of disciplines such as parapsychology, in which skeptical scientists apply
traditional scientific principles to test the discipline's validity. Check out the bibliographies and websites below for
further assistance. See also The Scopes "Monkey" Trial.
Since Law and the
Humanities is a relatively new discipline, some academics and critics do not yet accept it
as a valid approach to the study of the interaction of law and other fields.
Thus, you may have to spend some time justifying your choice of topic
within the area, or linking it to important issues in traditional
areas of law or other disciplines.
Association for Skeptical Inquiry
Society of the Pacific Website
Carroll, The Skeptic's DIctionary
Collection of Skeptical Links and Servers
Center for Inquiry West
European Council of Skeptical Organizations
James Randi Educational Foundation Website
New England Skeptical Society
The Piltdown Hoax Page
Quintessence of the Loon. A highly
idiosyncratic but interesting collection of links to websites the compiler thinks are
lacking in scientific sophistication.
Rational Examination of Lincoln Land
Shermer, A Skeptical Manifesto.
Shermer is the editor of The Skeptic Magazine.
The Skeptic's Refuge
H. Wynar's Clearinghouse of Pseudoscience and Quackery in Central
The Daily Skeptic.
The Skeptic's Digest.