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Picking a Topic and Performing Research for your Advanced Writing Requirement (AWR): Picking a topic

Not sure how to pick a topic? How to start your research? How to update and evaluate your sources? When to stop? This guide will help.

Know your professor

Your professor is the most important resource for your paper topic.  Be absolutely sure you understand what your professor wants.

Some things to consider about your professor:

  • He or she is your audience.
  • He or she will give you your grade.
  • If you have time, take a look at any articles that your professor has written.
  • See what kind of organization they use in their article.
  • What kind of resources do they cite to.
  • What topics has your professor written on?
  • What are they interested in?
  • Do they have a bias or agenda?
  • Is your professor working on something right now?

These things may help you choose a topic that your professor will connect with.

Know your coursebook

Your coursebook is another excellent resource for helping you pick a paper topic.

Some things to consider about your coursebook:

  • problems, notes, and comments that follow the cases;
  • chapters that you don't have time to cover in class.

Often editors of casebooks provide you with fodder for paper topics in the problems, notes and comments that precede or follow a case.  These problems, notes, and comments often ask questions about undecided areas of the law or areas that have proven controversial.

SUNNy approach to paper topics

As you think about possible topics it may help to use the SUNNy approach to topic assessment.

SUNNy stands for:

  • Sound
  • Useful
  • Novel
  • Non-Obvious

Is your topic:

  • Sound:  Free from logical inconsistencies or gaping ommissions?
  • Useful:  Legally relevant and important to the legal community?
  • Novel:  Original and creative?
  • Non-Obvious:  Appropriately nuanced for a sophisticated audience?

Further resources on topic selection and pre-emption

Pre-emption check

The pre-emption check is simply a review of the existing literature on the topic you have selected to make sure that no other article has

"so completely and competently discussed the topic that you cannot significantly add to that discussion"

You must also make sure that your issue has not already been decided by case or statute.

Performing a pre-emption check is valuable because it will:

  • improve your understanding of that area of law;
  • will show you how the subject matter has been previously covered; and
  • will lead you to resources for your paper.

If you find an article that completely covers your topic do not dismay!

With a some thoughtful reflection you can almost always come up with a different angle or point of view to cover your topic that will save it from pre-emption:  Here are some ways you can take a new view of a topic:

  • historical perspective
  • political background
  • future political repercussions
  • gender perspective
  • race perspective
  • environmentalist perspective
  • international perspective