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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Seminar: Children, Culture, and Violence (Law 792-AA): Research Instruction

Prepared to help students select topics and find relevant research materials for their course papers.

Presentation Overview

Today’s Goal:

to prep you for your initial work on topic selection and research for your papers in this class.  Unfortunately, we see far too often the results of what students think are really thorough searches, when they’ve really only scratched the surface.


Rule number 1 about research for your papers:  Google is your friend, but it’s like your under-21 friend you need to leave at home for certain kinds of outings. It simply can’t get in everywhere, fake ID or not.


We’re going to be your guides through your research from now through the time you submit your drafts to Prof. Wilson.  You’ll have this time with us today, then you’ll each have an individual meeting with Anne & I to discuss your initial topic and research plan, and then you’ll have a follow-up about a week before your drafts are due.  We’ve intentionally front-loaded the research portion, so that we can help make sure you don’t get too far off-course on your research. And we and Professor Wilson have created assignments and deliverables along the way to make sure you don’t stall, either.


Your first meeting will be the week of February 2.  You will make your own appointment to meet with us by using the link provided on the handout from the first class:

You have 5 steps to complete and 3 deliverables due to me before that first meeting. These steps and deliverables are listed on the handout as well as on the front of this LibGuide, which can be found at



Your 5 Steps:                                                                                                                      

1. Pick a general area of interest & find at least one blog post, reputable news or practice piece, scholarly article from a law journal, scholarly article from a non-law journal.


Sample general topic: 

babies born with drugs in their system, how the law handles the parental rights, fostering by relatives, birth mother vs. birth father under the law.

How to find the news / non-scholarly pieces:


Search:  babies born with drugs in system law


Note that Google picks up many types of news publication as well as blogs. 


Be sure to check the source/authority of the publication, if you’re not familiar with it already!!


For instance:

My search yielded something from – what is that?  Scroll to bottom of page for information about the company.  WREG – “a Tribune broadcasting station” – probably a tv channel.


Or – look for an “about” page. Who are the authors, who are the backers, and is it all opinion or are they citing law or other sources?



How to find the scholarly pieces in law:

Use HeinOnline, or Westlaw or Lexis’ journal search options (journals and law reviews). Note that you will NOT get the same results from all three.  Best to use Westlaw or Lexis, AND Hein Online to get best results.


In Hein Online:

-          click on Law Journal Library

-          click on Search tab

-          Search in small box or click Advanced Search for more options

-          Advanced includes title search, limit by type of article (eliminate cases and decisions and comments, for example, if you only want pieces that advance ground in the topic).

-          Think about how you might choose your terms differently if searching for words in the title vs. words in the text of the article…

o   More results from searching in text

o   Use fewer words for article title search


Once you have a list of results, you can view the article, but also check citations to it (incomplete, but can be helpful)


Note that you can also find out who has cited an article by selecting part of the title of the article, and searching for it in quotation marks, in the text of other articles (you’re searching for footnotes).


Limit by date, if you wish.





How to find the scholarly pieces outside of law:

Choose an appropriate database & search.

-          use “general sources” list on the libguide

-          use the “databases by subject” list linked from the libguide

-          search one of the larger databases such as Web of Science or Scopus

-          use Easy Search for the broadest reach


For instance, using Easy Search:

Search:  babies born drug-addicted


For the larger databases, you’ll want to cut your search down. More terms will actually reduce your relevant results.  Once you have results in a database, then you can refine the search.


In Easy Search, we can pick among the databases that have results:  Academic Search Complete (very, very broad, intended for undergraduate use); Scopus (also general academic), JSTOR (scholarly work from all disciplines), Web of Science, etc.


Click on the linked set of results to view results, but also to refine your search.


For Law and Non-Law Pieces: How to Refine Your Search:                                    

Click the first results, Academic Search Complete.

54 results – browse the list, decide if this looks ike a relevant list for your topic.

If not, you can refine your search – perhaps add synonyms, or remove some terms.


Original Search:

babies AND born AND drug AND addicted,


New Search:

Babies OR infants OR newborns




mother OR parent


This yields 210 results. 


Other options for refining search:

-          Click on an article that looks relevant, take a look at the Subject Terms that are assigned to it.  These are assigned by staff at Ebsco who read every article.

-          Click on “Newborn Infants” to see articles assigned that subject – 13,515.


Note that you can now build the search again, using that subject as one of your terms, and adding more.  Notice the syntax that the database uses.

New Search:

DE “Newborn infants”


drug or alcohol


This yields 1,250 results. 


You can repeat this process;  there is a Subject heading for Fetal alcohol syndrome, for example. And one for Pregnancy complications.  Etc.  Scan the list of results to see more subject terms. 


Subject terms are useful because they’re limited, controlled by the publisher.  All the articles are squeezed into a universe of


You have to use what the database gives you. Some of the search options are standardized, but Easy Search is limited by the lowest common denominator among all the databases its searching, so best to click in and then refine like this.


Note that you can also refine your search by clicking on authors to find more by that author. 


Other Searches:                                                                                                                 


Library Catalog -




Bloomberg Law



2. Write a short reflection about the scholarly articles (about a paragraph long).


One for each of the articles you read; if you find more than one of each, just select one of each to write about.


The point of this is to encourage you to engage with the pieces you find, and to demonstrate to us that you have engaged with them J as well as to tell us about what you find interesting about them, what you’re thinking about.




3. Decide what you can contribute to this topic, do a preemption check, and draft a working thesis statement.


We know that your thesis is likely to change as you do the research, but we want to see what your initial thesis is. Your research will be much more productive and efficient if you go in with a plan, and it’s hard to make a research plan when you haven’t clarified your thesis. You aren’t required to meet with us if you change your thesis, but you’re welcome to make an appointment at any point in the research process if you are stuck, stalled, unsure of how to proceed, having trouble focusing the resources, or having any other challenges with the research for your paper.


The preemption check is basically just a search to find articles that have the same specific topic that you plan to write about.


Visit the guide’s “Writing Resources” tab for help on crafting a thesis statement.


4. Prepare a Research Plan


2 things: 

1.      Your research plan should be very specific to YOUR topic. While the sample outline on the LibGuide is a good model, yours may end up looking quite different. If you’re writing on a heavily-regulated area like broadcast standards for children, you’ll need to devote a lot of time to researching agency materials.

2.      The sample outline is just that – an outline. Your plan should include specifics on where you plan to look, and example searches or terms you plan to search for, if possible. 

-          Saying that you plan to “search Westlaw for caselaw” isn’t specific. Are you looking for state or Federal caselaw? If state, then which state? Would you look for caselaw in neighboring states? Are you looking for specific fact scenarios, or for decisions on a particular statute? Or decisions that cite another case? We know that when you actually DO your research, that you have to make these decisions; we’re asking you to think about these questions up-front, to make your research more efficient. This discipline will also help you be more efficient in practice ,when your time on Westlaw and Lexis will be more limited…



Complicated areas of the law, or highly regulated areas may prompt more time with the librarians than just your required meetings.  You are all welcome and invited to seek guidance on your research plan before your scheduled meeting with us!!  You can visit the reference desk or contact us directly for a meeting.