Skip to Main Content

Directed Research Projects

Analyze your Topic

Before starting your research, it is important to spend some time analyzing the materials that you already have at your disposal. If you begin researching without being able to answer fundamental questions about the topic, it is unlikely you will have enough background knowledge about your topic to fully process the material that shows up in your research. It is better practice to review and process as much information as possible, before you begin researching. Understanding your topic will allow you to develop an efficient research plan and a strong list of key terms that will help you locate sources.

  • When analyzing your topic, start by considering all preliminary information you have at your disposal. Did your advising faculty member suggest a few starting resources? Have you found a research guide that is on point for this topic? Have you met with librarians to ask for suggested background reading? 
  • Are there any starting points embedded in the preliminary materials? For example, you may be pointed to a particular statute as a starting point. Or, you may have been given the name of the seminal case. If, for example, you knew that the answer involved a particular federal statute, you might begin by reading that statute and looking at annotations in an annotated federal code like U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S.
  • Is there any language that you don’t understand? Don't be afraid to look up terminology before proceeding. Make sure your understanding of the topic is complete. 
  • Do you understand the scope of your directed research project? Are you exploring a specific jurisdiction? Are you looking at a certain series of cases? Is there a date range for the type of material you're considering? 

After working through the above questions, ask yourself whether you feel confident you understand the legal landscape of your directed research project. If you do, you are probably ready to start researching! If you're still confused or have questions, this is a great time to pause and check in with a librarian. Make an appointment, email the reference librarians, or drop into the Zoom Reference Office.

Preemption Checks

Running a preemption check means confirming whether someone else has already written an article on the same topic with the same thesis you are considering. During the preemption check process you will likely find articles that also address your topic. But don't conclude you are preempted unless after reading those articles you find that you have no new, worthwhile insights to offer. For instructions on conducting a complete preemption check, review this Preemption Checking Guide from Dorraine Zief Law Library. The below Preemption Checklist will point you to locations to check to ensure your work is sufficiently original to be published. Also see the full list of SLS legal databases

For the preemption search process you will use the same tools to locate preempting literature in law journals, law-related journals, or specialized scholarly journals: indexes, table of contents, or full text searches.

Preemption Checklist: 

  • Indices / Law Periodicals These indices are designed to provide you with a specific citation to a specific article. Once you have your specific citation, you can locate the cited literature in paper form by searching via the Articles+ feature of our catalog. If our library does not own the publication you seek, then you can request it via interlibrary loan
    • Index to Legal Periodicals & Books (ILP) is a bibliographic database citing articles from law journals and books from 1981 to present. Coverage includes English language legal information, with international coverage of scholarly articles, symposia, jurisdictional surveys, court decisions, legislation, books, book reviews, and more. Full text is available for more than 400 periodicals from 1995 forward.
    • Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective (ILP Retrospective) indexes approximately 540,000 articles from more than 750 legal periodicals published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. ILP and ILP Retrospective may be searched simultaneously using a combined search through EBSCOhost.
    • The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP) is a multilingual index to articles and book reviews appearing in more than 500 legal journals published worldwide. It provides in-depth coverage of public and private international law, comparative and foreign law, and the law of all jurisdictions. IFLP also analyzes the contents of approximately fifty individually published collections of legal essays, Festschriften, Mélanges, and congress reports each year. The IFLP database includes records from 1984 to present and can be full-text searched or browsed by subject, country subject, region, or publication title. The print edition includes records from 1960 to the present and can be full-text searched. Search options include searching in non-English languages.
    • HeinOnline's Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP) offers subject access to nearly 500 journals, as well as the tables of contents of these journals. Journals tend to appear in CILP two to three weeks after their publication.
  • Full Text Databases: Often, searches within databases that retain full texts of materials can prove fruitful.  
    • Westlaw Law Journal Selection
    • Lexis Law Journal Selection
    • HeinOnline Law Journal Library contains over 2000 law and law-related periodicals. Coverage is from the first issue published for all periodicals and goes through the most current issues allowed based on contracts with publishers. Search by article title, author, subject, state or country published, full text, and date.
    • Searchworks Articles+ searches within many databases (including the Law Journal Library) to provide users with direct access to periodicals.
    • Google Scholar, especially when searching on campus, will often provide full text access to Stanford resources. 
  • Not Yet Published If material preempts your work but is pending not-as-yet-published scholarship, it won't show up in your database/period searches. To ensure you don't miss pending works, check the following resources.
    • The Legal Scholarship Network (LSN), one of the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) subject networks, publishes electronic journals, abstracts of working papers, and articles accepted for publication in various areas of law. LSN also offers weekly professional announcements that include professional meetings, calls for papers, and job listings.
    • The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a multi-disciplinary online repository of published and forthcoming scholarly articles. Users can search for articles using basic or advanced tools, or by subject area, and download most articles in full in PDF format.

Tools for Keeping Track of Research

  • Keep a research log! 
    • Keep track of your research using a research log. Research logs are beneficial in that they help you:
    1. Avoid repetition - no one wants to repeat the work they've already done. Keeping a research log allows you to know where you searched and the outcome of that search. 
    2. Increase collaboration - are you working with a group or partner? Want to make sure you're repeating the same research your teammate(s) have already done? Then share you research log. This will allow you to divide and conquer a project. 
    3. Prove a negative - trying to prove something doesn't exist is virtually impossible without a research log. But if you need to indicate there is nothing on point for your research question, use your log as evidence you've searched everywhere that can be searched; thus, the point you were hoping to find is not available. 
  • Tools for keeping track of research
    • Zotero is a free, open source citation manager designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references such as books, articles, government documents, artwork, films, sound recordings, and more.
    • EndNote is software package for creating bibliographies and managing references.
      • There are four versions available:
        • EndNote Basic (Free Version) is a no-cost limited web version with 21 styles and a limited number of filters and connection files. This version is available to anyone. A maximum of 50,000 references and of 2 GB of attachments is allowed. 
        • EndNote Basic (Web of Science Version) is a limited web-based version available to Stanford faculty, students, and staff as part of our subscription to Web of Science. Like the free version of EndNote Basic, a maximum of 50,000 references and of 2 GB of attachments is allowed. In addition, the Web of Science version of EndNote Basic has over 6,000 styles and hundreds of filters and connection files.
        • EndNote, also known as EndNote Desktop, is the stand-alone full software package for a personal computer. Stanford users can purchase the most current version at the academic price at the Stanford Bookstore.
        • EndNote Online is an expanded version of EndNote Basic that is available once your EndNote Desktop software is associated with your EndNote Basic account. Unlike EndNote Basic, EndNote Online allows an unlimited number of references and attachments. EndNote Desktop can synchronize references with EndNote Online.
        • NOTE: Earlier versions of EndNote Basic and EndNote Online were called EndNote Web. "EndNote Web" can loosely refer to any of the EndNote versions available via the web. However, there is no EndNote product that is currently called "EndNote Web".
    • Mendeley is a PDF and citation manager that indexes and organizes your research library into a digital bibliography. The program includes a collaboration component that allows you to share citations with other researchers. Mendeley is both a desktop application and a web-based application. 
      • Mendeley is a "freemium" service, offering a free basic plan and a premium service for an additional fee. The Mendeley Free Edition provides 2GB of personal storage space, 100 MB of shared library space, up to 25 collaborators, and up to 5 private groups. Various premium plans are available from the Mendeley Upgrade page (Mendeley account login required).
    • Information on additional citation tools can be found here.