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Research Strategies for Successful Completion of Your Upper Level Writing Requirement: First Steps

Upper Level Writing Sample Documents

Below are links to documents that students can use as samples as they proceed through the research and writing of their paper.

About this Guide

This guide covers some key resources for doing scholarly legal research, and is for students at the University of Maine School of Law completing seminar papers, law review comments, case notes, or Independent Writing Projects.

If you are a University of Maine law student, we strongly recommend you make an appointment to discuss your research topic with one of the Reference Librarians.  Please email us at to make an appointment.    

Looking for a Topic?

Chapter 2, "Inspiration: Choosing a  Subject & Developing a Thesis," in Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers, is filled with practical advice on identifying a subject you care about, narrowing your topic, and finding a promising thesis.

Choose a topic you care about.  You will be spending a great deal of time researching and writing about your topic.  Caring makes this easier to do as the semester wears on. 

Once you have choosen a topic, be sure to meet with your advisor to determine the viability of your topic.  Next you should meet with a Reference Librarian to discuss your research strategy.  We can be reached via email at or by phone at 207.780.4351. 


Making A Research Plan

Map out a tentative research plan before you plunge in. Don't be afraid to go off on potentially useful tangents, but check your plan from time to time to make sure you are not going too far off track. If your focus changes, you can always revise your plan.

As your research progresses, use your plan to keep track of the sources you checked and the searches you ran, so that you can recreate successful searches, and so that you don't repeat work unnecessarily. Change the plan as needed as you discover new lines of inquiry and new materials.

Again, contact a Reference Librarian for help developing your research plan.

For most projects, you'll want to —

  • Find scholarly legal commentary in books and articles. Look for:

      • the broad rules that apply to the narrower issue or case you are writing about, and for the major principles underlying those broad rules.
      • creative ways to apply existing rules, theories, etc., in new, original ways to the problems or issues you've identified.
      • controversy: for powerful statements of the point of view you do not agree with; for someone to argue with.
      • someone whose ideas spur you to new ideas.
      • anything that will challenge your point of view and help you hone your thesis.

  • Identify key primary legal sources (cases, statutes, regulations) and use them to find more commentary other relevant primary sources.

  • Think about finding scholarship from outside the law (e.g., from history, political science, sociology, psychology, medicine, economics, etc.).

  • Find original reports and statistical studies (rather than the news articles that mention them).

In reviewing other scholars' works, look for what will challenge you and your point of view, as well as what supports your thesis.

Included for your help is a suggested flowchart for basic legal reasearch.  This will help insure you have checked all of the necessary legal resources for your research.