Skip to main content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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

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

Research Components

Librarian Liaisons:

Stephanie Davidson
Anne Robbins

Course LibGuide:

Research Instruction Session:

Wednesday, 1/21 noon - 12:45 in Rm. K

Conferences w/ Librarians:

Topic Selection: Week of 2/2
• sign up at
Bibliography/Draft: Week of 3/2
• sign up at

Beginning Your Research:

The best way to begin engaging with the topical area you wish to write about is to discover what others are already saying. Listen in on the current conversation, and then think about what you can contribute.

First, select a general topic of interest, and find at least one blog post, one reputable current event article (e.g., general news or legal news), and two scholarly articles on that topic.

After you have read each of your selected sources, write a short reflection about the two scholarly articles. Your reflection should be between a paragraph and a page long. It should identify your thoughts about and responses to the readings. It does not matter if you did not like the articles; in fact, articles you dislike or disagree with can often be the best sources for generating further thinking about a topic you want to write about.  Ask yourself—Why were these pieces engaging? What did they lack, in terms of engagement with the issue, or arguments to consider? Did either of the pieces fail to cover an important aspect of this area? Do you object to their arguments or conclusions?

Next, decide what you can contribute.

After writing your reflection you should be able to identify one or more potential “gaps” in the scholarly writing on this topic. These gaps should give you room within your topic to explore, elaborate, contradict or augment in your paper.


Preemption Check:

After you have chosen your prospective topic, but before you begin your formal research, you should conduct a preemption check. This means exploring whether there are already articles which address your topic. In other words, you must make sure the identified ‘gap’ is actually a gap in the scholarly literature.

Be sure to look beyond Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg when searching the scholarly literature.  You should also check the Index to Legal Periodicals, HeinOnline, Legal Trac, SSRN, and other resources which may have scholarly articles, abstracts, or works in progress.

Even if you do locate articles on your topic, you may still be able to write on that area so long as you plan on addressing the subject from a new perspective or a different point-of-view than the existing article.


Prepare and Plan:

Draft a working research thesis to guide your paper. This thesis statement is meant to embody the question you are seeking to answer, or the objective for which you intend to advocate. This statement will guide your search strategy. Keep in mind the final thesis for your paper may evolve as your body of research and knowledge of the legal issue grows.

Prepare a research plan. Identify the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ of locating sources for your paper. This means thinking about not just where you will look (e.g. what database) but also what type of materials you hope to find, what order you intend to move through your research, any sources which you have already identified, etc. Put the plan in any format which works for you, but make sure it is clear and complete.  

You will need to say much more than “I will look in Westlaw for articles.” Your plan should contain detailed guidelines that include information such as:

·         The reasoning behind selecting a particular database and source;

·         The type of documents or materials you expect to find via that resource;

·         Possible keywords or search queries, and;

·         All other relevant facts.

Not only will this level of detail make your searching more efficient and effective, but it will allow the librarian working with you to understand your approach and provide specific guidance for your research.


Work the Plan:

Follow your research plan, but make sure to re-evaluate and adjust along the way based on your findings. Legal research should always be an iterative process.

Important questions to ask:

·         Did I follow all the steps in my research plan?

·         Do I have what I need to answer my question/ support my argument?

·         What type of materials do I still need?

·         Are there gaps in my evidence/ support?

·         Did I look in all the major relevant databases for my topic, including non-law resources?


Research Conferences & Assignment Deliverables:

Each student will meet with the course librarian at least twice during the semester to go over research strategy and to work through any research issues that arise. These conferences, in addition to the research instruction session on January 21, are mandatory.  Course librarians will be providing feedback to Professor Wilson about your progress, that will be incorporated into your final grade.

1.       The first mandatory research conference will be held the week of February 2-6. 

a)      Sign up for a time slot at

b)      By Friday, January 30, you must submit the following:

·         Citations for the initial resources which you read, along with your reflection

·         A working thesis statement

·         Your research plan

·         A few preliminary sources which you have already located

If you do not hand in a completed pre-conference assignment you will not be able to meet with the course librarian. The more you do to prepare in advance the more meaningful the feedback the librarian will be able to provide during the conference.

If you have trouble with the initial steps or working to prepare the pre-conference documents, you can (and should) e-mail the course librarian or ask for assistance at the reference desk.

2.       The second mandatory conference will be held the week of March 2-6.

a)      Sign up for a time slot at  

b)      By Friday, February 27, you must submit the following:

·         An outline or very rough draft of your paper

·         Your revised thesis statement

·         Any revisions to your research plan

·         A bibliography of sources used in writing the paper

As with the first conferences, if you do not hand in a completed pre-conference assignment, you will not be able to meet with the course librarian. You will need to have progressed this far in your research in order to make this conference meaningful.

How to Create a Bibliography:

A bibliography is just a specialized term for a list of publications. There are a number of different standardized formats for bibliographies contained in style guides such as MLA, APA and Chicago. 

The Center for Writing Studies on campus has many resources for these formats here:

For your bibliography, you should use the Chicago Manual of Style.  You can find the link to the quick guide for Chicago at the Writing Center above, but the information about bibliographies is found in chapter 14, Sections 14.14-14-17 contain the citation rules, and 14.18 provides examples of bibliography notes.