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Finding a Paper Topic



This guide is aimed at law students selecting a research paper topic. You should aim to find a specific, original topic that you find intriguing. The process for choosing a topic varies but might involve the following steps.

  1. Brainstorm about areas of interest. Think about interesting concepts from your courses, work history or life experience. 
  2. Review current awareness sources like legal news, legal practice publications, or law blogs to generate more ideas and/or to identify legal developments related to your topic.
  3. Begin initial research using HOLLIS and Google Scholar.
  4. Refine your search phrases and start more specific research in academic articles and working papers. Try to zero in on current scholarly discussions on your topic.
  5. Reach out to potential faculty supervisors to discuss and refine the thesis statements you are considering.

Once you have finalized your topic, consider meeting with a librarian. Librarians can help you find and use targeted research sources for your specific project.

Current Discussion and Developments

Current Awareness

Browsing and reading blogs, law firm posts, and legal news will help you generate ideas. Try some of the sources below to find current legal developments and controversies ahead of their formal analysis in traditional scholarly sources such as books or law review articles.

Working Papers

Working Papers Repositories

After browsing current awareness, digging into working papers is a good next step. Working papers (preprints) are scholarly articles not yet published or in final form. Most U.S.-based law professors deposit their scholarship in these working paper repositories. Make sure to order results by date to explore the current academic conversation on a topic.

Academic Journal Articles

Academic Literature

As you zero in on a topic, it is time to explore the legal academic literature. If your topic is not solely legal but falls in other academic disciplines like economics, sociology, political science, etc. begin with HOLLIS and Google Scholar as you explore and refine your topic.

Law Journal Articles

Academic Articles, Books and Book Chapters

LLM Papers & SJD Dissertations

Dissertations, Theses and Papers

As you refine your topic ideas, it is often helpful to browse the titles of dissertations and papers by SJDs, LLMs, or JD students, either generally, or those which touch on your subject area. This can help you understand how people have framed their research topic in a discrete, specific way. 

Faculty Advisors

Tips on Finding a Faculty Advisor

HLS LL.M. papers require faculty supervision. Discussing your topic with a potential faculty supervisor can be an important step in solidifying your topic ideas. 

Refining & Finalizing a Paper Topic

Tips for Refining a Topic

As you’ve browsed blogs, news, law reviews and other LL.M. papers, you have hopefully arrived at some topic ideas that are original and will hold your continued interest. It is also important to refine your paper topic to a discrete, narrow idea. To make sure your topic is sufficiently narrow, please see the resources included in the HLS Graduate Program Writing Resources Canvas Site. See especially: 

  • The Six-Point Exercise in the module “Developing Your Proposal and Drafting Your Paper”
  • Worksheets for Senior Thesis Writers and Others in the module “Recommended Materials on Writing”

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