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Sustainable International Development

Guidance for students in UW Law's Sustainable International Development program.


This guide offers research tips and resources for students in UW Law's Sustainable International Development LL.M. program and M.J. focus.

Sustainable international development projects often draw from several disciplines, from economics to medicine, international human rights to technology policy. Even in one class, students might work on projects as disparate as human trafficking, access to education, land tenure, and money laundering. This guide can't address every research need of all the SID students. Instead, it will discuss some common research strategies and highlight some resources that are likely to be useful.

Research Strategy

Getting started

thought bubble filled with question marksThink about what questions you need to answer for your project. Go ahead: write them down.

You will probably have many questions for one project or paper. For example:

  • What are the land ownership laws of X country?
  • How do they affect different groups, such as women or indigenous people?
  • What's the general legal system like?
  • Does it include customary law?
  • What are the important crops?
  • What's the balance of export crops and crops for local consumption?
  • Does the government have a role in promoting agriculture?
  • Do farmers have access to the courts?
  • Are there other dispute resolution mechanisms?

Write down a list of terms that might be useful as you start searching. In this example:

  • property
  • agriculture
  • subsistence agriculture
  • commodity crops
  • access to courts
  • customary law

Think about what sort of sources you might use

book and newspaper graphicBefore you start looking at sources, you can make some good guesses about the types of sources that will be useful for your questions. If you want to find an account of current labor conditions on cocoa farms in Ghana, news sources and websites will probably be more useful than a 600-page book about agriculture in West Africa. (That 600-page book might give some useful background for another question.) If you want an overview of property law in a jurisdiction, legal publications will be more useful than newspapers and magazines. 

As a student working on different projects, you will learn about databases and sources that are new to you. But you already know enough to make good guesses about the sort of publications you need to look for.

Go back to the questions you wrote down. Jot down the sorts of sources you think might help for each question.

Form a plan

to-do  list graphicYou can't answer all your questions at once! Break up your project into smaller pieces so you can focus on one part at a time.

Form a plan: First, I'm going to work on question A, looking for law journal articles. When I have a better idea about what's going on with that, I'll move to question B, where I hope to find recent news stories. Later, I'll work on question C, where I expect to dig into UN publications.

Start researching

Use research guides to help you choose good resources.

Go to a resource that you think is likely to have material related to your first question.

In general, start with secondary sources. A book or article can give you an overview, summarize the law, and give you citations.

Run some searches. Collect promising sources.

Don't stop to read each one in detail. Keep searching until you have a group of citations, so you can decide where to start reading. You don't want to spend an hour reading a pretty good article if an excellent article is right around the corner.

Keep notes!sketch of hand writing on paper

As you research, keep notes about what you find. Also note dead ends, if you try searching for certain terms in a database and find nothing useful. Your projects often last a quarter or more: they're just too big to keep everything in your head.

As you work on one of your questions, you might come across information related to another. Make a note of it, and then keep going with the question you're on.

Update your questions and search terms

As you learn more, you might refine your questions. Go back and update your list.

Note new terms you come across that might be useful in later searches. For example, you might start with "property law" or "property rights" and then add "land tenure."

Mine footnotes and links

Scholarly sources are filled with footnotes. Look at what authors cite--and note the sources you think could be useful.

Webpages link to other webpages. In your notes, keep track of the sites you've visited. When you follow links, note the new source and remember where you started.


Repeat the process for your different questions.

Research Guides

Research guides can help you find your way around the databases and other sources available for different topics. For example, if you want to find out the best way to research another country's law, start with our Foreign & Comparative Law guide.

Many of your projects will draw on disciplines other than law. Research guides from the University Libraries cover a wide variety of topics, such as African Studies, that can help you find the resources you need.

  • One advantage of studying at UW Law is that, beyond the law library, you have access to a world-class library system that supports programs throughout our large research university. International development issues cross disciplinary boundaries, so you'll read widely too. Take advantage of databases, ebooks, journals—and the expertise of the librarians who work with the collections.

Selected guides for SID: