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Researching for a Scholarly Article or Seminar (SAW) Paper

A guide to help you get started on your big paper.

Introduction and the Research Process

This guide will provide a starting point for writing a law review or journal article, or a seminar paper. The resources mentioned within the guide are available to UCLA Law students through the UCLA Law Library and where possible links are provided. There are also some hints and tips scattered throughout the guide that we hope will help your writing. Before starting your research, it is important that you:

  • Plan ahead. Thorough research cannot be completed in a weekend. It is best to start early.
  • Stay organized. During your research you will look at many sources. It is helpful to track both searches run and results to be most efficient. 
  • Form a succinct research question. This will allow you to focus your research and stay on course throughout the process. 

The research process for writing a scholarly article is a little bit different than if you are researching a legal issue like you may have done in your 1L legal writing class. There are generally steps that are followed, but with all research there is some flexibility in the process. This guide will discuss each of the following steps in turn.

  1. Select a topic. Reading legal news, reading legal blogs, and skimming law review table of contents are all good ways to find topic ideas.
  2. Locate relevant articles and books on your topic. You'll want to locate relevant articles and books on your topic for two reasons:
    1. Preemption checking: If you would like to publish your article, you need to make sure you're writing something fresh and original that hasn't been written before. Preemption checking is generally required for law review.
    2. Finding sources: Although publishable articles should make novel contributions, virtually all articles build on prior research. The books and articles that you find in your preemption check will also serve as a jumping off point for your own writing. 
  3. Expand your research. You've got the idea and you've got the research question, now you need to find all the source materials to write an original and thoughtful article.


Guide created by Cheryl Kelly Fischer. Currently maintained by Caitlin Hunter.

Handout on Researching for a Scholarly Paper

Click below for a handout summarizing the key resources on this guide: