Research Tip Series – Tip #1: Conduct a pre-emption check

We know that it is the time of the semester in which many 2L and 3L students are working on research papers and 1L students are preparing memos for their Legal Research & Writing class, so over the next week we will be providing research tips on the Law Library blog.

Research Tip #1: Conduct a pre-emption check
Before starting to write on your chosen topic you need to determine whether that topic has already been covered, or preempted, by another author. If your topic has not been addressed you can safely pursue your research and writing. If your topic has been addressed you may still be able to pursue it, if you concentrate on a different aspect of the topic or present a new perspective.

Steps for conducting a thorough preemption check
When conducting a preemption check you need to search for articles on your topic using a variety of resources, including full-text databases, indexes to legal journal articles, and working papers depositories. If your topic is interdisciplinary you should also check indexes to journal articles in other subjects. Starting with a list of terms on your topic will be helpful as you conduct your preemption check – consider the subjects your topic may be categorized under and any synonyms for terms on your list. As you search the various resources listed below, be sure to keep track of where you have searched, the search queries you made, and your search results. This will help you avoid duplicate searching and ensure that you did a thorough preemption check.

Full-Text Article Databases
Full-text databases contain the entire text of articles and thus allow you to search every word in an article.

  • WestlawNext
  • Lexis Advance
  • HeinOnline: HeinOnline has about 1,600 journals in its law journal library and unlike Westlaw and LexisNexis has coverage beginning with the first issue published.   All articles in HeinOnline are available in their original format in pdf.

Indexes to Legal Journal Articles
An index is a database of article citations arranged by subject. When searching in an index you are led to citations of relevant articles, and you then use those citations to locate the full-text of the article.

  • LegalTrac: LegalTrac provides citations to articles from 1980 to the present from over 1,500 legal journals, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective: The Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective contains citations to articles from over 750 legal periodicals published between 1908 and 1981.
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals: The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals contains articles published from 1985 to the present which focus on international, comparative, or foreign law topics, or are written in other languages.

Resources for Multidisciplinary Journal Articles

  • Academic Search Premier: Academic Search Premier indexes over 8,500 journals from 1975 to the present and covers most areas of academic study.
  • JSTOR: JSTOR is a full-text archive of over 1,000 academic journals in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
  • Google Scholar: Google Scholar allows you to search scholarly articles and books in all disciplines, and offers an “alert” options to have results delivered to your e-mail.

Working Papers Depositories
Working papers depositories house research papers in development.

Ask Your Law Librarians!
If you cannot locate the above sources or if you would like a demonstration on how to use them, stop by the reference office or email a reference librarian. If you need advice on how to proceed with your research, please make an appointment with a reference librarian.  We are here to help you!

Finally, here is a handy preemption checklist developed by Melanie Knapp, the Head of Reference and Instructional Services at George Mason University Law Library, to help you keep track of the sources you have searched.