last updated 04/17/03


(finding a topic)


(finding information on a topic)


(finding more information on a topic)




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Always remember 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. 

A 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 research product.

If you have a particular topic in mind

  1. 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 design.

  2. Search all 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 topic.

If you don't have a particular topic in mind

  1. 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.
  2. Once you have identified a topic go back to the section If you have a particular topic in mind

Getting started with your research

  1. Retrieve the 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.

  2. 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 topics.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 processing program.

  5. 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. 

  6. 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.

  7. 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.


An acceptable 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.

The 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 unexamined) norms?

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?"

Another approach 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 Library Reference Guides.

For additional assistance with research strategies, try these websites: The English Server; Research Methods Tutorials; Research Pointers Page; Research Resources for the Social Sciences.


For 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.

  1. Barzun, Jacques, The Modern Researcher (5th ed.; 1992). Barzun's work has been extremely influential in the humanities.

  2. Barzun, Jacques, Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers (1976).

  3. The Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.; 1993). Kate Turabian's Manual is directly based on this manual.

  4. Fajans, Elizabeth, Scholarly Writing for Law Students (1995). Aimed primarily at law students to assist them with writing the law review note.

  5. Garner, Bryan A., Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2d ed.; 1995). Garner has emerged as one of the gurus of legal writing.

  6. Garner, Bryan A., The Elements of Legal Style (1991).

  7. Strunck, William, and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (4th ed.; 2000). A classic work.

Other tips:

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.

Re-write, re-write, re-write.



(finding information on a topic)



(finding 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.

Indexes 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.

Remember 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!

Helpful online library catalogs include The Smithsonian, 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 Library, Columbia 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 search engine.


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.


  1. ASKE: The Association for Skeptical Inquiry

  2. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific Website

  3. The Australian Skeptics Website

  4. Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's DIctionary

  5. Bart Koene's Collection of Skeptical Links and Servers

  6. The Center for Inquiry West

  7. Council for Secular Humanism

  8. ESCO: European Council of Skeptical Organizations

  9. The James Randi Educational Foundation Website

  10. Journal of Theoretics

  11. The JunkScience Page

  12. National Anxiety Page

  13. The New England Skeptical Society

  14. Norwegian Skeptics Page

  15. The Piltdown Hoax Page

  16. Practical Skepticism

  17. Pseudoscience/Paranormal Phenomena/Skepticism

  18. Quintessence of the Loon. A highly idiosyncratic but interesting collection of links to websites the compiler thinks are lacking in scientific sophistication.

  19. REALL: Rational Examination of Lincoln Land

  20. The Secular Web

  21. Michael Shermer, A Skeptical Manifesto. Shermer is the editor of The Skeptic Magazine.

  22. Skeptical References

  23. The Skeptic's Refuge

  24. World Wide Skeptical Web

  25. Roahn H. Wynar's Clearinghouse of Pseudoscience and Quackery in Central Texas


  1. The Daily Skeptic.

  2. The Skeptic (US)

  3. The Skeptic (UK)

  4. The Skeptic's Digest.

  5. The Skeptical Inquirer.

  6. Skeptic News.




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