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Research Strategy for Academic Writing: Choosing a Topic

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How does one go about choosing a topic and making sure it hasn’t already been written on?  One strategy is to look for circuit splits and other “hot topics” in legal news, and then do a preemption check to make sure your topic hasn’t already been used. 

Sources for Circuit Splits Analysis

Law Blogs

Legal Newsletter Databases

Legal newsletters are published in online and looseleaf formats.  They report on judicial and legislative activity, as well as new cases and legislation by subject area, and often include or link to full-text.  Newsletters also track recent developments, often with authoritative commentary.  When online, there are usually daily or weekly updates which can often be set up to automatically be sent to your email.  Many online legal newsletters can be accessed in the MacMillan Law Library’s Electronic Resources – By Subject.

Bloomberg Law News:  Provides highlights of new cases and regulations.  Use the sidebar to see News & Analysis by practice area.  You can also register to receive updates by email.  Bloomberg BNA Reports are also available on Bloomberg Law.  

Cheetah: You can subscribe to newsletters on various topics of interest and practice areas under the News tab at the top right. Newsletters can be emailed to you or they can be accessed through your RSS Reader.  You may subscribe to as many newsletters as you like – topics include: Federal, State and International Tax, Bankruptcy, Corporation Law, and Intellectual Property.  


  • Select “Legal News” located under the All Content Type tab
  • Select a Practice Area or Topic, perform a search, then narrow by Legal News
  • Go to “Law 360” located under the product mosaic in the top left, then select a Practice Area


  • Select “Secondary Sources,” then Legal Newspapers & Newsletters
  • Select a Practice Area, then select News located under Tools 

Preemption Check

You can search working papers (drafts) and articles in progress on SSRN by selecting the Legal Scholarship Network on the advanced search form. You can also search within the bepress Legal Repository.  For newly published articles arranged by topic, see the Current Index to Legal Periodicals.  Finally, you can search law review articles in the Index to Legal Periodicals, Westlaw, Lexis, and Hein Online.

Additional Research Guides

Georgetown Law Library Guide: Research Strategies for Seminar Papers

University of Minnesota Law Library Guide: Choosing a Topic for Your Journal Article

University of Washington Law Library Guide: Writing For and Publishing in Law Reviews

Bloomberg Law: Resources for Law Reviews and Journals

Eugene Volokh: Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review (5th ed., 2016, located in Law Library Course Reserves, Service Desk 2nd Floor (KF250 .V6 2016)).  See the chapter on The Initial Step for suggestions on choosing a topic.

Subject Guide