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Journal Editor Resources: Researching Comments

This guide is intended to serve as a consolidation of content from several different guides to help Penn Law students as they approach the process of researching and writing a note or comment for their law journal.

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Preemption Checking Strategy

Preemption checking is the process of surveying the existing literature to make sure that the topic you have chosen for your note or comment has not already been covered by another author.  Be aware that preemptive material can appear in a wide variety of sources, e.g.:

  • Law reviews and journals
  • Journals for law-related disciplines, such as political science, economics, philosophy, history, or area studies
  • Books or book chapters
  • Masters theses and PhD dissertations
  • Working papers and conference papers

Therefore, you should be as comprehensive as possible in your search for potentially preemptive material.  Begin with the legal literature, but also look for book chapters and articles in other disciplines, as well as theses, dissertations, working papers or conference papers that may be on their way to publication. Check with your journal to see if they have set preemptive resource guidelines.

Law Reviews and Journals

When looking for law review articles on your topic, you may find it more productive to search by subject in a journal index, rather than by keyword in full-text resources like Westlaw, Lexis, or HeinOnline.   Subject searching eliminates many irrelevant search results by pointing you only to those articles that are primarily about your topic instead of mentioning your search term anywhere in the article.  Most articles will then be available by clicking on the “PennText” button next to the citation, or you can find the journal by title through LOLA or Franklin and then locate the article of interest online or in print.

If searching by subject in a journal index doesn't return any preemptive citations, move on to a keyword search in a full-text source.

Non-Law Journals

Just as the law review indexes suggested above make searching for legal literature more efficient, indexes in law-related disciplines make it easier to search for articles in journals of international relations, business, religious studies, medicine, etc. A few frequently-used indexes are suggested here, but to find additional indexes for the field(s) relevant to your subject, check Van Pelt Library's lists of e-resources by discipline.

Books and Book Chapters

Library catalogs frequently include table of contents information, allowing you to search not only for books about your topic, but also individual book chapters. In addition, resources such as Google Books allow you to search even deeper within a book for sections about your subject.

Theses, Dissertations and Working Papers

Works that have not yet been published, such as working papers or papers presented at conferences, as well as those presented in completion of a Masters or PhD degree, can still be preemptive.  Be sure to confirm that no one is currently working on your topic, and may have published by the time your note is ready to submit, by checking the resources below.