In an attempt to stay abreast with the thought process of my students, I often give them a platform in my classes to speak their mind out regarding different facets of law school life.
Recently, I asked them about their experience regarding writing a research paper.
Most students enjoy research papers and favour writing a research paper instead of regular assessments for the class.
Some students said that they explore different aspects while researching, and it helps in enhancing their knowledge.
However, the process of writing the first research paper can be tedious. To write a research paper one has to follow a number of steps including choose a topic, do some in-depth research, find the gap, write the research questions, provide answers to the questions, follow all the legal writing rules, and provide the citations.
Also, I discussed the challenges faced by the students while writing their research papers.
Out of all the steps involved, choosing the topic could be the most important yet challenging aspect. There can be different ways to choose a research paper topic. In this write-up, I am going to share few points which can help students to narrow done a research topic.
Students should start with their interest. You must ensure that you choose a topic that is important and interesting for you to conduct research. A research topic should be something which is engaging and meaningful to you.
Moreover, if the research paper is part of assessment, then the topic should conform to criteria set forth by your professor. Therefore, make sure you read your assignment guidelines and understand what it is asking for. If you feel the assignment is unclear, do not go any further without talking to your professor about it.
To begin with, background research will be required. You can start by reading secondary sources. Here are some potential sources you can explore:
- News and current events.
- Newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet can all be good sources.
- Legal issues raised in books, movies, or television shows.
- Common legal problems students may actually have faced
- Reading scholarly papers
- Discuss with the other researcher and scholars in the related field.
- Examining legal developments
- Searching for a novel case or a legal issue where courts have split on their interpretation of the law
- Mining topic ideas, including calls for papers and writing competitions
Your professor is another vital source. I almost always discussed the research topics with my professors, and, in my experience, I have found that to be the most reliable as well as feasible source to decide my topics.
They are happy to guide you with a possible research topic. You can brainstorm with your professor before you can identify a topic which is suitable for your paper.
However, please go to your professor after adequate preparation on ideas that you find interesting. You should always appreciate the professor for taking out time from the schedule, therefore, it is important that you are prepared for the discussion.
Another important aspect is to try narrowing down the topic. This is also a common challenge students come across.
They choose a broad topic. You should choose a narrow topic to provide a better analysis. For example, choosing between civil and criminal law and then going deeper and deeper until you get the branch of law that is possible to analyze in a single research paper.
Then you may start to search for the cases connected with it. A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow.
Some common ways to narrow down a topic are:
- Geographical area
Example: Focus on a specific country, province, or city
Example: How does the child marriage fit into the Rajasthan?
- Time frame
You may wish to narrow by date or to a particular time period.
Example: What are the most prominent child marriage cases of the last 10 years?
Example: How does child marriage awareness effect educational practices today?
- Population group
Example: What are the effects of child marriage on children under the age of 18 years?
Remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:
Locally confined – Topics specific may only be covered in local newspapers. Focus on a specific country, province, city, or type of environment (rural vs. urban). Example: What sources of pollution affect the Gurugram water supply?
Recent – If a topic is quite recent, books or journal articles may not be available, but newspaper or magazine articles may. You might struggle with adequate sources.
Broadly interdisciplinary – You could be overwhelmed with superficial information. Example: How can the environmental law contribute to the culture, politics and society of the western countries?
To conclude, choosing a research paper topic could be challenging for a law student. However, by following the right approach you can make the process easier and enjoyable. A topic needs to interesting and engaging. Therefore you must read the guideline, discuss with your professor, start with reading secondary resources, and choose a narrow topic which can be manageable within the time frame.
Good luck and enjoy the process!