Criminal justice research allows a student to explore an issue of interest in the areas of crime, criminal law and law enforcement. Students can explore a wide range of topics, employing varied research methods. These methods can range from legal research in law libraries to online research of federal and state criminal justice organizations.
If your professor allows you to choose your research topic, be sure to choose an issue that interests you. Although criminal justice is an interesting field of study, any kind of research is rigorous, involving hours of reading and note-taking. You might as well make the task less burdensome by selecting a research topic that interests you.
Once you've chosen your topic, you should get an overview of the subject from your criminal justice class textbook or similar sources. Remember that criminal justice often overlaps with other academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology and even government. You may need to do some research or reading in one or more of these areas.
Once you've gained a good overview of your research topic, you can identify sources for future research. A paper on the constitutional rights of prison inmates, for example, should begin with reading in criminal justice or constitutional law texts about the subject. These materials will cite key court decisions that relate to your topic, which is important, as many criminal justice research papers require you to read and cite one or more court cases.
Your class assignment may set a minimum number of court cases that you are required to cite in your paper. Make sure you meet that number. Once you've identified the court cases relevant to your research topic, you can access the text of the decisions through a library or online. Most college and university libraries have a law section that contains the full text of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. In addition, many online legal research sources, such as westlaw.com, contain the full text of decisions by these courts. To access decisions by trial-level courts, you will need to use the computerized LexisNexis databases, which law libraries have.
The websites of many state and federal criminal justice agencies are a great source for research material, data and even research paper ideas if you're having trouble coming up with a topic of your own. Two great sites include the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) and the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
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