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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.

Choosing your Topic

For many people, choosing a topic is one of the most challenging parts of the scholarly writing process. There are several important things to remember as you approach topic selection:

  1. Start thinking broadly, then refine to a manageable scope. Choosing a topic is different than choosing a thesis, which can only really come once you've spent some time with the research. 
  2. Make sure that your topic is interesting to you. You'll be spending a lot of time working on this project; enthusiasm for the subject will help sustain you throughout the process and will also come out in your writing. 
  3. Play to your strengths. Draw from your interests, knowledge, experiences, and connections; write a paper that only you can.
  4. While timeliness is important for publication, be careful not to select a topic that will no longer be relevant by the time you submit.
  5. Most academic legal papers can be reduced to a two-part structure. The first part is typically descriptive and lays out for the reader what the state of some area of the law is, often identifying a problem or point of contention. The second part is usually prescriptive, proposing your solution(s) to the problem or perhaps arguing that there isn't that much of a problem. Not all papers follow this structure, but it is very common and it is helpful to remember that strong papers will combine both descriptive and prescriptive elements.
  6. Remember that it's okay if your thesis evolves during the research process--remember that your argument should follow the evidence you find, and not the other way around. 

Topic Selection Resources

You may simply select topics by drawing on experience and/or conversation with faculty advisors. However, if you are searching for an interesting and timely topic, you may benefit from exploring some of these current awareness resources.