Here are some points to keep in mind when you write a research paper:
- Find a topic that interests you personally. Don’t force yourself to write a paper in a certain area simply because other students are doing so. There is nothing more boring than researching and writing about a topic in which you have no interest.
- Make sure that the topic is “researchable.” Selecting a paper topic and then determining whether it is actually “researchable” may take up a significant portion of your time. It would be difficult to write, for example, a research paper on the legal criteria which the CIA uses to target foreign terrorists in its drone program simply because that program remains classified. Instead, try to write about an area of international or comparative law that has ample resources online and in the Law Library.
- Don’t avoid a topic simply because you know nothing about it. Just because you don’t know anything about, say, international human trafficking, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write about it. If you have an interest in a certain topic, then you must do what everyone else does—read all about it. Doing the background research and then reading and understanding the materials could take a significant amount of time. But this is the nature of doing any kind of research. Don’t forget: one of the main reasons why you are attending law school is to learn and apply legal principles, and to learn about specific areas of the law.
- If possible, start your background research early. If you believe that undertaking the background research could take a great deal of time, then start your research slowly during the summer before classes begin. Alternatively, you can begin your background research in the fall semester, and then write the paper in the spring. You also have the option of doing all of the background research and actual writing during one particular semester. But this option can lead to more stress if you are not familiar with your topic.
- After choosing a certain topic, focus on one question that you would like to answer. Instead of writing your research paper on overly broad topics such as “International Law and Globalization,” or “The War on Terror and Civil Liberties,” or “Human Rights and International Law,” focus on one legal aspect in a given area. For example, what are some of the impediments to having the World Trade Organization create enforceable labor standards? Can certain legal responses by governments help lower rising food prices around the world? How effective is the UN Refugee Convention in helping Iraqi refugees fleeing from fighting in Iraq? Does the recent Supreme Court decision affirming the right of habeas corpus for Guantanamo Bay detainees apply to others held captive under U.S. authority in other parts of the world.
- Don’t be too concerned about “originality.” Wouldn’t it be great if you could write a paper on a completely original topic of international law that no one has ever addressed? Or write a paper that discusses a legal problem from an angle that no one has ever considered? While these scenarios are possible, they are (for the most part) unlikely. So don’t feel that you have to find a research topic that is wholly original. Again, find a topic that interests you personally, do the research, and see what questions you may have concerning that topic. Do you have your own perspectives to offer (and that can be backed up with legal research).
- Focus on the legal issues in your research paper. Please remember that you are not writing a political science or history paper, which, in most cases, gives scant attention to the legal issues surrounding a particular topic. While the background of your chosen topic will, in all likelihood, involve aspects of political science and provide historical information, a substantial portion of your paper must undertake a legal analysis of the topic.