University of Wisconsin–Madison

8 Brainstorming Tips for Legal Writing: Finding Your Topic

Want to write a scholarly article but don't know where to start?  Here are 8 brainstorming tips to help you organize your thoughts.

First, recognize that moving from organized outline to paragraphs to a final term paper edited by your English teacher are behind you.  Scholarly writing is recursive and messy.

Next, to help you commit words to paper write freely, don't check your spelling or search for the exact words; during a brainstorming session, the important thing is to get as many ideas on paper as possible.  You can fix any problems you find in your writing during the editing process.

Eight Brainstorming Tips

1.  Start with a schedule of tasks to complete for your assignment.  What tasks do you need to complete to get this paper written? 

2.  Create your writing schedule.  What are you deadlines?  How much time do you have between events?  Is there an event that will take up a lot of your time that is not connected to your writing?  Make sure your goals are clear and schedule around big events that will interrupt your writing schedule.

3.  Ask yourself if there are any restrictions to your writing.  Is there any topic that you can't write about?  Anything you must include?  If your choices are limited, this will affect what you choose to write about. 

4.  Schedule time for research. Is there anyone who can help you with your research?  If so, contact them sooner rather than later.  At the library, a good resource is Ask a Librarian

5.  Organize your research.  Use a online citation manager to collect your research or put everything that you've located in a binder to refer to later when you need to insert a quote, data or a citation.

6.  Consider how you write and what motivates you.   What part of the writing experience do you look forward to and how do you get there?  What part of the writing experience do you avoid?  Is there any place where you get stuck?  Author - know thyself is part of the writing process.  There isn't a wrong or right way to write, but there will be writing habits that are central to how you like to write.  Consider your habits and roadblocks and how to move past them.

7.  What makes for a good topic?  According to the book Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples & Explanations, available at the Law Library, three characteristics make up a good topic:

     A.  Pick a topic you are interested in.  If you get bored, so will your audience and you
          need to sustain your interest during the rougher patches of writing.
     B.  Your topic needs to be manageable.  You can do this by refining your topic.
     C.  Your topic must be thesis-worthy.  You need to add to the body of knowledge,
          not simply repeat what others have said.

8.  Write your introduction.  This will help you organize your thoughts and inspire you.  You may discover the topic that you thought you were going to write about will change and something more interesting to you has taken its place.  Catching this early will save you time. 

For more writing tips, you can check out books on scholarly legal writing located in the Law Library.  The UW Writing Center on campus also has resources on the process of writing.

Many of the tips in this article come directly from two books on scholarly writing located behind the circulation desk:

Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review, 4th ed.  Eugene Volokh, 2010.  Call No:  Circulation Desk KF 250 V65 2010

Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution, 2d ed. by Jessica L. Clark & Kristen E. Murray, 2012.  Call no.:  Circulation Desk KF250 C52 2012

Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on September 25, 2015

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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