As I mentioned in the post on my odd vacation-time activities, I've now realized that a few of the suggestions I give in my Academic Legal Writing book aren't as sound as I thought they were. I'll naturally revise things accordingly in my third edition, but for now let me pass this along as a sort of online update.
In my book, I urge students to do certain things several times. I suggest that they read the Bluebook (and, if applicable, the writing style manual) several times before the competition. I tell them to reread all the sources that they're given, preferably several times but at least once, and update their draft with whatever they newly discover in those sources. I tell them to do the editing test (if there is one) several times — one example suggests that they do it four times — from scratch, on a blank copy, and then combine the results. I tell them to reread the instructions. I tell them to do several editing passes on their own article.
These are good ideas in principle; you notice things each time that you didn't notice the time before. But lots of students have told me that they just don't have the time to do this — and, doing the write-on myself, I realized that sometimes I didn't have the willpower to do it. Repeating something that you've already done is tough, especially when you're drained, when you're under time pressure, and when (let's face it) the thing is tedious enough in the first place. What's more, as some students pointed out, the admonitions to do things over and over again might be dispiriting to many students who feel they can't do it, even as they may be encouraging to other students who can't, say, do the editing test four times but are at least pushed to do it two or three.
So given this, here are my updated recommendations:
1. Reading the Bluebook, before the competition: This is definitely worth doing, if the competition involves a bluebooking test (I use "Bluebook" here as shorthand for whatever citation manual the competition requires) or evaluates your paper based on the quality of its internal bluebooking.
Try to read the Bluebook, or at least its key chapters, at least once. (Some student reactions, when I asked them which advice that I gave in my chapter was most useful: "The most helpful advice is on the Bluebook — reviewing the Bluebook BEFORE the competition begins and tabbing the book." "I found particularly helpful ... [your] advice about thoroughly reading the Bluebook. My familiarity with it by the time the competition started made the cite-checking MUCH easier for me.") If you can start preparing several weeks before the competition, then try to read it two or more times. But if you find that you don't have the time to read it even once, don't freak out: Most of your classmates probably haven't read it, either.
2. Doing multiple editing passes of your paper: Here, I have to stick by my recommendation — the key to quality writing is good editing, and plenty of it. Try to time yourself so that you get your first draft done at least a few days before the deadline, so that you have time for several editing passes. I've written over fifty law review articles; and yet I found that my write-on competition first draft had plenty of flab, grammatical glitches, poor organization, bad arguments, and other errors. In each of the several editing passes I did, I found and corrected more problems; you will, too, with your own paper.
Again, don't freak out if you have time for only one or two editing passes; do what you can with what time you have. But try as hard as you can to get a first draft, however rough, done quickly, so that you'll have as much time for editing as possible.
3. Doing multiple editing passes of the bluebooking test (or cite-checking or editing test, whatever your law review assigns you). Try to do them from scratch, if you can, on clean copies, and then merge the results. I did two passes on clean copies, and then did a third read-through on the merged copy — and each time I found errors that I had missed in previous passes, despite my fifteen years of bluebooking experience.
I think, on reflection, that my advice to do four or five passes is probably too ambitious for many people, if the bluebooking test is as error-rich as the one the UCLA people provided. (By the way, as someone who has written tests, I really admired their work — there were lots of cool multi-level mistakes, in which one error masked still others.) Even for me, the test was quite time-consuming. For most people, it would be time-consuming and also intellectually draining, and for some it would be so tedious that it would be extra painful to do many times. (I'm a geek, so I actually enjoyed it.)
Still, try to do it at least twice, if you can. And, as I suggest in my chapter, space your attacks on it — that way, you'll be able to give it a fresh look each time, and you'll find it less tedious than if you just did it a few hours ago. You might find that if you're too tired to read more sources or write more of your paper, you're not too tired to do the rather different work of bluebooking and proofreading (and vice versa).
4. Mark the sources as you read them and then go over the markings later: The one recommendation that I found impossible to follow myself is to read the sources more than once. The original read was so tedious that I just didn't have the willpower to do it again, and also more time-consuming than I'd expected. If you can reread the sources after you're done with the first draft, with the new perspective that writing has given you, that's great: I'm sure you'll find lots of valuable things you missed the first time. But I realize that this might be impractical.
So at least highlight important passages — and perhaps dog-ear the proper pages — and then, after you're done with the first draft, go over the highlighted material and see what you can do with it. Usually you can at least use it to fill in some citations; I, for instance, found myself writing things in my draft that I knew were supported by some source, but not recalling exactly what source that was. When I went over my highlighting, I found the proper support for each assertion. And of course you might also find that some things you highlight actually undermine some of your assertions; better catch that while you're writing your paper than having the law review editors catch it when they're reading your paper.
It might be better yet if you could copy down all the key quotes as you read, rather than just highlighting them; but I suspect that many of us don't have the time and energy to do that. Highlighting the sources and then going over the highlighted material when you're done with the draft is a good compromise.
So, in any case, here's the pocket part that I promised. I hope to have more to say about write-on competitions in the days to come.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Something My Law Review Write-On Exercise Reminded Me About:
- Write-On Competitions and the Bluebooking/Cite-Checking/Editing Test:
- What I Learned This Spring Vacation -- Doing Things More Than Once:
- What I Did This Spring Vacation: