Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Choosing a Note Topic: Getting Started

Resource Symbol Key

University of Iowa access UI Access Only
College of Law access Law Access Only
Password required Password Required
CD-ROM resource CD-ROM
Public Access Public Access
Available in Print Available in Print
Available on Microform Available on Microform
Westlaw WestlawNext - Required Password
Lexis Advance Lexis Advance - Password Required
Bloomberg Law 


Researching, writing and possibly publishing a law review note can be a daunting prospect. A law review note is often a law student's first chance to publish something that will enter the record of legal scholarship, and a successful note can be a prized line-item on resumes and CVs going forward. Law review notes are also often the first long-form legal writing that a law student encounters and the thought of spending an entire year teasing out, developing and asserting a novel legal argument (while still keeping up with all your other work!) can leave students pretty overwhelmed.

Luckily, the note-writing process can be made much less onerous if sufficient care is taken with the selection of the note's topic. A topic that is well-defined, interesting to you and to others, useful to the legal community, and not subject to sudden obsolescence is going to throw up fewer surprise roadblocks and be much easier to research and write than a topic that is poorly-defined, obscure, too obvious, or simply boring. The Law Library has several resources available to assist you in developing and testing your topic.

Using This Guide:

This Guide has four parts, which correspond to the three parts of the topic selection process plus contact information for the library:

1. Surveying the Terrain: This 'Getting Started' tab contains general resources on legal writing, articles on topic selection and our law librarians' Top Five Tips on approaching the law review note process.

2. Defining a Topic: Once you've got a decent grasp on the expectations and your goals for your note, you'll want to move on to investigating possible note topics. The resources on the 'Defining Your Topic' tab include advice on defining and narrowing a topic as well as extensive resources for identifying legal issues that might make good note topics.

3. Avoiding Preemption: Once you have a topic in mind, it is essential to make sure that the topic has not already been covered by other writers or made obsolete by court decisions or legislative action. The 'Avoiding Preemption' tab provides advice and resources on checking your topic ideas for obsolesence or preemption.

4. Getting Help: If you're stuck, don't spend hours banging your head against a brick wall - contact your law librarians!

Top Five Tips

1. Choose a Topic You Find Personally Interesting

It will be much easier to spend the necessary hours putting your note together and being enthusiastic about your topic in interviews or meetings with editors, if the topic is one you find personally interesting, rather than one chosen for seeming 'important' or 'scholarly'.

2. Stick to a Schedule

Even before you begin investigating topics, identify the due dates and important benchmarks for your journal and sketch out a schedule of when research, writing, editing and polishing will take place and then stick to it - you'll be much less likely to get bogged down in a morass of research or stymied by endless options, if you've set firm deadlines for yourself.

3. Keep Track of Your Research

Often law students start out searching by clicking wildly through databases or Google results but, when it comes time to pull everything together, they've forgotten or can't find the materials they've looked at. While you're investigating topics, keep track of what you've looked at and all the materials that come up in your preemption check - these will be the resources you'll want to look at later.

4. Make Use of All Your Resources

Law students doing research tend to get stuck in a Westlaw/Lexis rut, which can be perfectly fine for investigating law and legal scholarship. For writing a law review note, however, you will also want to consider other sources - treatises, current awareness services, blogs and other legal commentary, books, historical sources, etc.  The best way to make sure you're considering all your options is to . . . 

5. Make Use of Your Law Librarians!

The law librarians can help you find resources, identify ideas, suggest new sources to investigate, and assist with organizing your results or even your thoughts. We are available at the reference desk in the library and by appointment if you'd like to investigate something in-depth.

Contact Us

Reference Desk:
Send Email

Circulation Desk:
Send Email

Interlibrary Loan:

Library Resources on Writing