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Directed Research Projects

Structuring Your Paper


There is no strict structure to writing a legal research paper.  Unlike legal memos written for class or documents prepared for court proceedings that require formatted headings such as "Question Presented," "Statement of Facts," etc., legal research papers are not required to contain prescribed content or abide by a particular structure.

That said, below is a typical approach to organizing the content of your research project.

  1. Introduction (clear statement of your thesis)
  2. Background information (what is the existing law, if any)
  3. The problem (explain why the status quo does't work)
  4. Recommendation for change (what can be done to improve the field and how)
  5. Conclusion (tie back to your thesis)


If you have any questions about formatting your research project, you should seek advice from your faculty advisor.  Below are some basic guidelines, but keep in mind formatting requirements set forth by your faculty advisor will always supersede instructions provided here.

Generally, directed research papers are formatted as follows:

  • 12-point font (Times New Roman or similar)
  • Double-spaced lines
  • One-inch margins on both sides, top, and bottom
  • 10-point font for footnotes (same font as text)
  • Bluebook style and rules for all footnotes citations
  • Roman numerals and/or letter headings and subheadings (same font as text but bolded and/or underlined)
  • Numbered pages in the footer (same font as text)

Table of Contents

Although not required (unless your faculty advisor states otherwise), a table of contents can be helpful to provide your reader with an overview of your research paper and direct them to certain sections.  Your table of contents should mirror your headings and subheadings.  Below is an example of a table of contents.


When to Cite

You must include a citation every time you refer to, paraphrase, or quote a law, case, or another's work.  Most of your sentences will include a citation.  Additionally, when you cite to a law, always cite to the primary source.

How to Cite

The Bluebook, formally titled The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, is the style manual for citing to legal documents within the United States.  You should use the Bluebook for all your citations in your legal paper.  The white page section contain the citation rules for legal academic publications.

Writing Tips

Writing a Strong Introduction

Your introduction is arguably the most important section of your paper because many people will decide to continue reading based on the introduction.  It must grab the reader's attention and explain why what you are writing about is important.

Essentially, the reader should be able to skim the rest of your paper after reading your introduction and have a good understanding of its layout and arguments.  A good introduction should present the theme of the paper in a succinct manner while providing an overview of your paper.

Generally, a strong introduction will

  1. State the legal problem/issue;
  2. Describe why it is important and how your paper contributes to the discussion;
  3. Provide a road map of your paper; and
  4. State your conclusion.

Being Objective & Subjective

After your introduction, you should discuss background information on the issue you chose to write about.  This should be an objective overview of the relevant facts and existing law.  Your objective background information section should not be an all encompassing.  Keep this portion of your paper focused on the essential law and relevant facts that support your recommendation for change. 

The bulk of your paper lays in your discussion of the problem and recommendation for change.  This is the subjective portion of your paper.  In this section you should extract the relevant objective material to support your subjective analysis.

Writing a Strong Conclusion

Your conclusion should restate your thesis, summarize your major points, and remind the reader why the issue you've chosen is important.  The conclusion should essentially reword your introduction in a condensed fashion. 

Writing Resources