Research Paper Format Guidelines

COMM 4454-Media Law

Fall 2020


NOTE: This paper may be completed individually or as part of a two-person team.


Your research paper should identify a specific legal issue or question that has emerged or been identified in the electronic media area, based on one of the general media law topics covered in our Mass Media Law textbook.  You are strongly encouraged to select an issue or question related to the case you used for your case brief and narrated screencast, although you can change cases if selection of an alternative case is advantageous for you.


Examples of broad topics are presented below. The specific legal issue, question, or controversy that you focus on in your paper will be narrower that the broad topic areas. You will identify the narrow legal issue, question or controversy by reviewing articles in law reviews/journals articles (see citations of sample law review articles below – PDF versions of these articles are available in the Contents area of CourseDen).


  1. Censorship of Expression in Public High Schools/Colleges (e.g., Tinker, Hazelwood, Bethel, Morse)
    1. Pagett, M. M. (2012). A Tinker’s damn: Reflections on student speech. Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy: Sua Sponte, 2, 1
    2. Strasser, M. (2016). Tinker remorse: On threats, boobies, bullying and parodies. First Amendment Law Review, 15, 1.
    3. LoMonte, F.D. (2013). “The key word is student”: Hazelwood censorship crashes the ivy-covered gates. First Amendment Law Review, 11, 305.
    4. Dickens, B. (2013). Reclaiming Hazelwood: Public school classrooms and a return to the Supreme Court’s vision for viewpoint-specific speech regulation policy. Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest, 16, 529.
  2. Hate Speech/Fighting Words (e.g., Snyder v. Phelps)
    1. Behrens, D. (2013). Balancing intentional infliction of emotional distress claims and First Amendment protections in Snyder v. Phelps, Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal, 11, 213.
  3. Copyright/Intellectual property (e.g., Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose)
    1. Temin, M.K. (2006). The irrelevance of creativity: Feist’s wrong turn and the scope of copyright protection for factual works. Penn State Law Review, 111, 263.
    2. Irvin, T. (2015-16). “If that’s the way it must be, okay”: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose on rewind. Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, 36, 137.



  1. Obscenity/Regulation of erotic material (e.g., Miller v. California, Renton v. Playtime Theatres)
    1. Calvert, C. & Richards, R.D. (2007). Stopping the obscenity madness 50 years after Roth v. United States. Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law, 9, 1.
    2. Cramer, B. (2014). Zoning adult businesses: Evaluating the secondary effects doctrine. Temple Law Review, 86, 577.
  2. FCC Regulation/Indecency (e.g., FCC v. Pacifica)
    1. Lindvall, A.J. (2017). Frankly, my dear, i don’t give a *darn*–An argument against censoring broadcast media. Arizona State Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, 7, 153.
  3. Libel (e.g., New York Times v. Sullivan)
    1. Johnson, B.E.H. (2014). Is the New York Times rule relevant in a Breitbarted world? Communication Law and Policy, 19, 211.


Post your general topic and narrow legal issue/question/controversy — along with whether you are working alone or with a partner — in the Discussions area by Monday, October 26th (Deadline extended from original syllabus). 


Secondary sources, such as law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and legal annotations, are available through Westlaw Campus Research (in the UWG Library online database).  Click on the link for “Secondary Sources.”


Then you will have the option to click on one of several links for different secondary sources, which are described below.




Your paper will almost certainly involve discussion of multiple court rulings related to your issue, even if the specific controversy involves competing perspectives on a single U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  For example, concerns about limitations of Tinker as a precedent would be highlighted by summarizing problematic results in various lower court rulings or inconsistent Supreme Court rulings on the issue of student expression in schools.


Your paper should include at least 10 total sources.



IMPORTANT: Your discussion of sources such as court cases and law review articles should indicate a detailed reading, summary and evaluation of the source.  A mere inclusion of one or two quotations without context is not a thorough analysis.


Possible Organizational Structure for Research Paper


Note that the organizational structure below is common for research papers in Mass Communications.  After you conduct your research and organize your paper, you may find that another structure better allows you to communicate your findings and analysis.  As long as you provide a clear, logical structure to your paper, you should be fine.


  1. Title Page


  1. Introduction/Overview (1-2 pages)
    1. You should begin your paper with a general overview of the general topic and the specific legal controversy.
    2. Build interest in your reader by sharing a provocative quotation, interesting statistic, or compelling opinion from one of the articles or cases reviewed in your research process. Establish why this particular legal issue is significant and/or noteworthy. Why should anyone care about the issue?
    3. Conclude this section with your research question in the final paragraph of this section. For example, “This paper will attempt to answer the following research question: ‘Is the substantial disruption standard from Tinker still viable in cases involving censorship of student expression in public high schools?’”


  1. Literature Review/Evidence of the Issue(s) (4-5 pages)
    1. This section should include several sub-headings (subheadings will vary based on the structure and focus of your particular paper)
    2. History/summary of the specific legal controversy
    3. Legal and/or regulatory expressions of and responses to the issue (make sure to describe in detail key elements of cases; statutes; rules and regulations)
    4. Scholarly identification and analysis of the issue (law journal articles; academic journal articles; other sources)
      1. Here you present how scholars describe the specific question, issue, or controversy that you are addressing in this paper.
      2. For example, if your research issue involves the difficulties in defining community standards for obscenity prosecutions using the Supreme Court’s test in Miller California, you would discuss scholarly presentation of those problems here, along with proposed solutions.


  1. Analysis/Discussion (3-5 pages)
    1. In this section you will attempt to provide a practical answer to the research question posed in your introduction and detailed in your literature review
    2. This is the section where you discuss different options for resolving the question, analyze these options, and present your arguments for which should be adopted. Some of these options may have been presented in your literature review (e.g., in the law review articles), but you might generate others independently or from other sources.


  1. Conclusions/Recommendations (2 pages)
    1. This section summarizes your conclusions from the previous section about how your current legal issue should ultimately be resolved.
    2. Also, here you can include suggestions for future research that might help answer your research question more completely.


Each person’s paper organization will be slightly different, but the order of issues listed above is a good guide. The most important thing is to have a solid structure that is logically organized. Include headings and sub-headings to help the reader follow your discussion.


You will need at least 10 sources for the final paper, but you will probably have more. Court cases and your textbook count as sources. Use as many other sources as necessary. At least three (3)  of your sources should come from a law journal (e.g., Federal Communication Law Journal, Harvard Law Review).


Your reference list should follow the APA style manual (7th Ed.).


The final research paper should be between 10 – 12 pages (maximum of 15 pages).


Margins are to be 1″ all around (1.25” left and right are acceptable) and font is to be 12-point Times New Roman or 11-point Calibri.


All pages should be numbered consecutively, including the title page and references.




Your title should be centered at the top of your first page of text. Double-space all body text.


“References” should be centered at the top of the reference page. All references should be double-spaced.