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Researching for a MLS Capstone/Seminar Paper or Project

A guide to help you get started on your big paper/project

Introduction and Research Methodology

This guide identifies many of the resources most commonly used by students when researching Capstone/seminar papers and Capstone projects and offers information on search techniques.  However, research is not a one-size fits all activity.  Students should always feel free to contact the reference team with any research questions.

Research is not a perfectly linear process. However, you can think of it roughly in terms of these steps:

  1. Select a topic:
    • Reading news (general and legal) or reading legal blogs can be good a way to find topic ideas.
    • Keep in mind that a good topic for a Capstone paper or project is one that is of current interest and focused enough that you can complete the project in the time you have.
  2. Conduct initial scoping research and focus your topic:
    • Determine how much has been written about your topic of interest.  Ideally, you want a topic that has been written about enough that you can find solid explanations and differing opinions, but not so much that the literature is too overwhelming to sort through.
    • Dive deeper into an initial set of secondary sources to get a better understanding of your topic.
  3. Develop a research strategy: 
    • Identify the questions(s) to be researched and determine the approach to research each question.  What primary sources will you need to find?  Cases, and/or statutes, and/or regulations? What secondary sources will be most helpful to assist you in identifying relevant primary sources?  Are there other materials beyond traditional primary/secondary sources that would be helpful, such as legislative history materials?
  4. Synthesis: 
    • Review materials and take the time to let them "percolate" in your brain.  Consider how the materials relate to your topic and each other.
  5. Identify and fill holes:
    • Develop a research strategy to fill in any gaps in the research and to address any new issues that you have identified.

Quick Tools

The following provide quick access to commonly used sources and search techniques: