Writing Seminar

  1. Content - What to write about

    Good News - This is a closed universe--no outside research

    Bad News - Everyone’s papers look similar

    Good News - There is no single right answer

    Bad News - There are wrong answers.

    1. What exactly is a “Topic”?

      The source materials will present an issue which your article is suppose to resolve. Your topic is that issue. You should then take a position on that issue and provide the support for your position.

      Choosing your topic is all about issue spotting--similar to your law school exams. There is one big difference between the Write-On Competition and an exam. Instead of being given a single convoluted fact pattern which asks you to identify multiple issues, you will be given many convoluted fact patterns which ask you to identify one issue.

      Unlike the cases in a casebook, the sources in the Write-On Packet have not been edited to focus on a single issue. Like the real world, you need to sort through all the unnecessary stuff to find what’s really important.
    2. First Consideration - What does the Topic Sheet say?

      The Topic Sheet is provided to give you guidance on what issue the Journals are attempting to address. Read the Topic Sheet before you begin reading the Source Materials. Keep in mind any specific questions the Topic Sheet or other instructions ask you to address.
    3. Second Consideration - What do the Source Materials say?
      1. Reading the Source Materials

        Read the Source Materials a minimum of three times. You need a working knowledge of the materials to be able to work with them.
        1. First Reading - Get a general sense of what the sources discuss. Don’t worry about identifying any issues or arguments and don’t highlight anything yet. Until you’ve read all the materials, you won’t know how they fit together. Until you know how all the source materials fit together, you don’t know what’s worth highlighting.
        2. Second Reading - Brief each of the materials provided. Start thinking about a topic. Try to figure out how each of the sources fits into the topic.
        3. Third Reading - Ensure that you have briefed correctly. Start to develop the flow of your arguments and locate support for each of your arguments in the source materials.
      2. Putting it all together

        Reading the source materials means more than just reading the text. You need to figure out the relevant importance of each source and how they all fit together.
        1. Compare the similarities and differences among the materials.
        2. Distinguish Facts. What makes each of the sources different from the others.
        3. Is each source trying to solve the same problem?
        4. Look at the non-textual factors: Is the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, a circuit court, or a state court? Were the cases decided by the same or different courts? Is there a split among the courts? When were the cases decided? Do the cases establish a trend? When was a statute enacted, and what was its impact on the cases? Who wrote the opinion? What is the relative strength of the opinion--unanimous, a plurality, a bare majority?
        5. Take a position. This is your topic.
        6. Identify the arguments which support your position.
        7. Establish a theme. Your theme is a common element that ties all your arguments together.
      3. Subsequent Readings

        After you’ve done your initial readings, and while your are creating your outline and writing your paper, review relevant portions of the materials. Make certain you got it right.
      4. Picking a Topic

        Remember there is no one right answer. Any topic which is within the scope of the Topic Sheet and which is supported by the source materials is a correct topic.

        Commit yourself. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Don’t waste time worrying about what to write. Spend time writing and rewriting. This is how you refine your thought process.
      5. Subjects to Write About

        Does the source material correspond with your view of the world? why or why not? You don’t have to agree with the source material. But you must justify your position.
        1. Provide the “right” solution

          • Same-sex marriage should be legalized.

          • Abortion is murder.
        2. Explain why somebody made a mistake.

          • Immigration laws cannot be successful until they are enforced.

          • Immigration laws ignore human rights.
        3. Explain why an approach to a problem is good or bad.

          • California’s strict rules on compensating emotional distress injuries are the best way to deter unwarranted lawsuits.

          • California’s strict rules on compensating emotional distress injuries make it too difficult to recover on a genuine claim.
        4. Distinguish different approaches to a problem

          • California’s strict rules regarding emotional distress injuries are properly applied to cases where there is no evidence of physical harm. But New York’s less restrictive rules should be applied when emotional distress is accompanied by a clear physical injury.
      6. Establish a Theme

        Your theme ties all your arguments together, helps give structure to your paper, and helps focus your analysis. Combine a theme with a topic and you will have plenty to write about.

        Should courts “interpret” the law?

        • Courts should ignore ambiguous laws because they do not have the authority to rewrite the law.

        • Courts must interpret ambiguous laws to support the important policy objectives that led to the laws’ enactment.

        Does the remedy fit the crime?

        • Remedies must be proportional to the damage done.

        • Remedies must be more burdensome than the damage done to deter offenders.

        Does the cost of enforcement outweigh the social benefit?

        • There is no reason to enforce laws prohibiting “victimless crimes.”

        • While the immediate benefits of enforcing “anti-sin” statutes are not immediately apparent, enforcement reduces other crime that accompanies these undesirable activities.

        Is the law treating a symptom or is it attacking the heart of the problem?

        • The penal system should be designed to punish criminals to deter the crime.

        • The penal system should rehabilitate criminals, so that they have the necessary skills so that they no longer must commit crimes to survive.
  2. Format - How to organize your paper
    1. Use a word processor.This will make it easier to edit and to comply with the format requirements. Know how to use the word processor. Know how to print special characters, such as the § symbol. Set up the margins, font, font-size, headers, and page numbers ahead of time. You don’t want to find out that your printing in a font which is too small and is proportionately spaced when there’s only one hour to turn in your paper.
      1. You must use a nonproportional typeface, such as Courier, of either twelve characters per inch (12 CPI) or ten characters per inch (10 CPI). In Courier 12 CPI is equivalent to 10 point, 10 CPI is equivalent to 12 point.
      2. Maximum Page Length: If you use a 12 CPI typeface, the maximum pages is 10 pages. If you use a 10 CPI typeface, the maximum number of pages is 12 pages. Don’t exceed the maximum number of pages.
      3. Citations should conform to the Seventeenth Edition of the Bluebook as modified by the instruction packet. Where the Bluebook calls for large and small capital letters (LARGE AND SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS), use bold text (bold text). Where the Bluebook calls for italics (italics) use underlined text (underlined text).
      4. Endnotes must be used instead of footnotes. Endnotes must be double-spaced and there should be a double-space between each endnote.
    2. If you feel there is an ambiguity or error in the instruction materials, on a separate sheet of paper, explain the ambiguity or error and the assumption you made to overcome the ambiguity or error. Do not let an ambiguity or error prevent you from completing your packet.
  3. Style - How to make your paper unique

    Everybody is given the same source materials to work with. Unfortunately for you this means everyone’s papers will address fairly similar topics. You need to add style to make your paper unique and easier to read.
    1. Headings
      1. A well written paper resembles a carefully planned journey. The arguments in a paper travel from one logical point to another. Headings serve as a roadmap. They show the reader how the paper’s arguments travel from the point of introduction to the point of conclusion. Like a good set of traveling directions, headings make the paper easier to follow. They help to focus the writer on the key points. They help focus the reader on what is important in following the discussion. Headings constitute an outline for the paper.
      2. Title - The first heading on the paper. The last heading to be written. The title should alert the reader to the general topic of the paper -- don’t spend too much time trying to come up with a clever or catchy title at the expense of writing the paper itself.
      3. Main Headings - Introduction, Analysis, “Something Extra”, and Conclusion.
        1. Give each section a name that helps explain the key point of discussion. “Introduction” and “Conclusion” are usually only referred to as “Introduction” and “Conclusion,” but you are free to do what you want.
        2. “Something Extra” section--Recommendations, observations, and so forth.
      4. Subheadings - Identify the key areas of discussion within each Main Heading.
      5. Sub-subheadings - Emphasize key points within a subheading.
      6. Problems with headings:
        1. Overuse: Headings take up space and can distract from the flow of the paper.
        2. Poor Choice of Words: Headings should assist, not alienate or confuse, the reader.
    2. Consistency

      Consistent use of style makes the paper look professional and easier to read.

      Consistent use of style makes it harder to spot mistakes.
      1. Proper spacing after punctuation
      2. Paragraph spacing
      3. Capitalization
      4. Abbreviations -- if you use abbreviations, be sure to let the reader know after the first usage what the abbreviation represents. Example - United States of America (“USA”). After the first usage you may omit the quotation marks.
      5. Consistent typefaces for emphasis
    3. Style Sheet

      Every time you make a style decision about the paper, write it down.
  4. Organization

    A “typical” legal article or write-on submission follows the same general pattern:
    1. Introduction: Gives the general background of the subject matter, and introduces your topic. Includes a “road map” telling the reader section by section what your submission will cover.
    2. Background: Provides all the background material the reader needs to know in order to understand your argument.
    3. Analysis: This is where you do your analysis of the issue, including your recommendations for possible solutions.
    4. Conclusion: This sums up the issue, puts together the important observations and gives you one last chance to drive your point home.
  5. Three Steps in Writing
    1. Outlining

      The outline serves as your guide to writing your paper. While it is the first step in the writing process, you shouldn’t do your outline and then put it aside. As you write your paper, you may find that your original outline no longer works. You should update your outline as you write so that it continues to serve as a guide to your paper.
    2. Drafting

      Drafting is different from “writing.” Drafting is very plain. When you draft, stick to the facts. Do not try to make your discussion colorful or funny. Drafting gets your ideas down on paper.

      Sometimes the hardest part about writing a paper is starting. Your first draft serves this purpose. It doesn’t have to be right the first time, so don’t try to make it right on the first attempt. If you did an outline, the first draft should pretty much be written in your mind, it’s just a matter of getting it down on paper.

      After you draft the entire paper, you will use your draft to write your finished paper -- fine tune the words and add colorful elements.
    3. Writing

      Although “writing” and “drafting” are included here as separate steps, they really are not, they are more of a continuum. You do your first draft, then go back for a second draft, and a third draft. At some point you will cross over from drafting to writing.
  6. The Process

    The sections of your paper follow in a logical order: Introduction, Background, Analysis, Conclusion. This is not the order in which you write the sections. You don’t know what to introduce until you know what you’re going to say, and you don’t know what background material you need until you know what analysis you’re going to do. For this reason, it will probably make things easier for you if you write the sections according to the following order.

    Remember, this is only one method. If you have another way of writing that works for you then, of course, use it. But even if you do use your own method, keep in mind the suggestions for content.
    1. Outlining
      1. The Analysis Section
        1. Sum up your conclusion, the main idea that you want to express, in a single sentence.
        2. Identify the arguments that you can make to support your conclusion. Summarize each argument in a single sentence.
        3. Identify other information--relevant portions of source materials, minor arguments, observations--that support or accompany your arguments. Summarize each one in a single sentence.
        4. Identify unstated assumptions within your argument. Articulate them and ensure that every assertion leads logically to your conclusion.
        5. Decide on the order in which you want to present your arguments.
          1. Are there any arguments which must be understood before you can make a subsequent argument?
          2. Arguments dealing with related concepts should be grouped together.
          3. Do you want to lead with your strongest argument or build up to your strongest argument?
        6. Once you have placed them in the proper order, your arguments form the analysis section of your paper.
      2. Additional Sections
        1. Review your outline and make corrections.
        2. Decide if you want to add something to make the paper more interesting or more understandable. Decide whether you should create an additional section.
        3. If you decide to create an additional section, the methodology parallels that of the Analysis section.
      3. The Background Section
        1. Review your outline and make corrections.
        2. Make a list of every piece of information that the reader needs to know before the reader can understand your arguments.
        3. Review this list and, item by item, decide where you should explain this piece of information.
          1. Immediately before it is mentioned in your analysis.
          2. In a footnote that immediately follows the piece of information.
          3. As part of an introductory discussion before the argument.
          4. In a general discussion that precedes the analysis section.

          Your decision on where to explain the information depends on several factors: How long will it take to explain it? How significant is it to your paper? How difficult a concept is it to comprehend?

        4. The items you decide need to be set out in a general discussion that precedes your analysis section are the items which will be included in your background section.
    2. Drafting

      Once you have outlined your Analysis, Background, and any Additional sections, it’s time to do your first draft.
      1. Background, Analysis, and Additional Sections
        1. Working straight off your outline, turn all your one-line outline captions into sentences. Put the sources you identified as support into endnotes. Don’t worry about smooth transitions between sections or sentences, just get your outline into written form.
        2. Review the draft. Look for missing steps in the logic. Check to make certain every sentence that needs support is supported.
        3. Revise your outline to reflect any changes you’ve made.
      2. Conclusion
        1. Review your paper and make corrections.
        2. Make a list of your important observations and conclusions.
        3. Write out how these observations and conclusions relate to the subject and, if you have one, the theme of your paper.
        4. Generally, do not introduce anything new, or anything you haven’t analyzed, in this section.
      3. Introduction
        1. Review your paper and make corrections.
        2. Make a list of your important observations and conclusions.
        3. Write out how your paper is going to approach analyzing the issues that gave rise to these items. This is slightly different then the Conclusion.
    3. Stylistic Elements
      1. Review your paper and make corrections.
      2. Decide if you want to add anything funny. A word of caution here -- don’t force yourself to be funny, and don’t think that the people reading your paper expect you to be funny. The stylistic element is about making your paper personal to you. Try to stick within your own style; if you force yourself to try to do something unnatural or foreign to you it won’t work.
      3. Decide if you need to be more descriptive to help the reader visualize your thoughts. This is a good way of making your paper personal and making a good impression on the reader. If you can get the reader to see what you see, then the reader will be interested.
      4. Decide where and how you want to use examples.
    4. Review and make corrections.

      This instruction is probably beginning to sound like a broken record. This is to drive home the importance of rewriting. Ultimately the so-called secret to good writing is rewriting. Review and make corrections often.
    5. Final Edit

      It’s often difficult to edit your own work. You’ve looked at the paper so much, you see things that aren’t there and you don’t recognize simple mistakes. For this reason, you should attempt to complete your paper with enough time left over for you to put it aside for a day or two to take a break. When you come back to it for a final edit, you’ll be looking at it with a fresh perspective.
      1. Read the sections out loud and out of order. Each section should sound smooth and even if you don’t have all the information available each section should make sense standing on its own.
      2. Concentrate on reading slowly.
      3. Concentrate on looking for one thing at a time.
  7. Technical Rules

    What this seminar refers to as “Technical Rules” are Stylistic Rules and Citation Rules. Of the two, citation is the most important for you to consider and is the principal focus of this seminar. The technical accuracy of your paper is probably the single most important factor on your paper. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore good organization and topic selection, but that you should put as much effort into ensuring that you have followed all the rules as you do in the other aspects of your paper.
  8. Stylistic Rules

    The principal guide for stylistic rules is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). The CMOS pretty much has an answer for every grammatical question you might have but were afraid to ask--for example the use of “that” and “which," hyphenation, numbers.

    It would be too much for you to expect to be proficient in every rule contained in the CMOS. And, you are not expected to check your paper against the CMOS. We are giving you this information, so that if you do have questions, you know where to look if questions arise. You may want to take a look at the CMOS (there’s one available in the Library) so you have an idea about its contents.
  9. Citation

    Every quote, statement of fact, and every statement which is not your own opinion or hypothetical must be cited. When you identify a source, a case name, for example, this must be cited. This includes statements you make in your endnotes.

    Each time you read through and correct your paper, you should be identifying statements that must be supported by citations.

    Purpose of citations
    1. Directs the reader to the source of the information.
    2. Tells the reader how recent or valuable the information is.
    3. Explains how the citation relates to the article.
    1. General Method of Citing
      1. Identify the statements in your paper which need a citation.

        You should be doing this at each step of writing your paper: as part of your outline, in each of your drafts and in your final edit.
      2. Locate the source or sources which support your statement.

        Like #1, you should be doing this at each step of your paper. If you are unable to locate a source, try to rewrite what your saying. Often statements of opinion are written as statements of fact -- rewrite these statements so that the reader knows that this is your own opinion.
      3. Confirm that each source says what you say it says.

        This is critical. If you are quoting a source, the quote should match the source exactly, subject to any alterations or omissions which are reflected in your quote. See HBB 5. If you are paraphrasing the source, be certain you do so correctly.
      4. Determine the type of sources you are using for your support.

        Is the source a case, constitution, statute, journal article, other periodical, legislative material, book, etc.

        The type of source dictates which source specific rule you will use. Note: In the Write-On Competition, if you are uncertain about what type of source you are dealing with, then make your best guess and use that rule. Then, according to the Write-On instructions, submit a statement explaining the ambiguity and what assumption you made.
      5. Evaluate how strong the support is for your statement.

        This determines what signal you will use. HBB 1.2

        [no signal]


        See also



        Compare . . . with


        But see

        But cf.


        See generally
      6. Group the sources according to how well each supports your argument.

        All sources are grouped according to their signal. The groups are then ranked according to each signal’s relative strength--which is simply the order in which they appear in HBB 1.2 and above. See HBB 1.3
      7. Order the sources within each group according to their relative value.

        Keeping with the idea stated in #6 of putting your strongest support first, you put your strongest authority within each signal first. See HBB 1.4



        Legislative Materials

        Administrative and Executive Materials

        Intergovernmental Organization Materials

        Records, briefs, and petitions,

        Secondary Materials

        Internal Cross-reference.
      8. Determine if any additional information is required to make the relevance of your source clear.

        This additional information will either appear in a parenthetical as part of the citation, or as a separate sentence following the footnote. If the information appears as a separate sentence, that sentence must be followed by the appropriate citation. See HBB 1.1.

        Some HBB Rules require or recommend parenthetical explanations. See, e.g., HBB 1.2(a). If the Bluebook “encourages” the use of a parenthetical, you should take that to mean that a parenthetical is required.
    2. The Bluebook can roughly be divided into the four sections:
      1. General Rules of Citation and Style: Rules 1-9.
      2. Source Specific Rules: Rules 10-20.
      3. Tables and Abbreviations: Tables 1-16.
      4. Index

      You should read through the General Rules section and know what types of rules are in there. You should also read some of the more common Source Specific Rules: cases, statutes, and secondary materials. You may want to scan the remaining rules just so you have an idea of what is in there. The Bluebook contains many examples which appear in other sections of the Bluebook. By looking through all the rules you may find an example of a citation which helps you with a difficult source.

      We will look at how all of these sections work together to guide you in constructing your endnote.

    3. Constructing your Endnotes

      Each section of the Bluebook is structured in the same way.
      1. Each section begins with a whole number rule (1,2, etc.). This is the general rule summarizing all the rules contained in that section.
      2. Each of the rules applies to a particular element of the general rule.
      3. Where applicable, each rule cross-references a table or practitioner’s note in the margin.

      Constructing your endnotes simply involves following these signposts.

      1. Rule 1: Structure and Use of Citations.
      2. Rules 10 - 20: Source Specific Rules
      3. Tables
    4. Short Citations

      Short citations should be used once you have already provided a full citation for the source provided that (1) it will be clear to the reader from the short form what source is being referenced, (2) the earlier full citation falls in the same general discussion, and (3) the reader will have little trouble locating the full citation quickly.

      Proper use of short citation forms is correct Bluebook format. Incorrect short-citing is probably the most common citation error made in the write-on competition--it is also one of the easiest to spot. So don’t forget to short-cite.

      Helpful Hint: You should either full cite every source as you are writing your paper or use a form which allows you to easily identify the source. You should then change these full cites into short cites towards the end of the writing process or as part of your final edit. If you short cite your sources as you are writing and you later move or delete the full cite, you won’t know what source your id. refers to.
      1. Id. (Rule 4.1)
      2. Supra and hereinafter (Rule 4.2)