October 01, 2012
The Pitfalls of the Student Law Review Note
Posted by Erik Gerding

It seems again to be the season for law journal members to pick and start writing their student notes. After doling out the same advice several times, I want to revisit and re-frame a post from last year on common pitfalls in selecting and writing the note and how to avoid them. Also sprach Polonius:

1. Spend more intellectual energy up front carefully framing the question you are asking and answering. The advantage of a note over law school assignments is that you get to frame the question you are addressing. Use this ability to your advantage…

2. Narrower and deeper topics tend to work better: Many students start out with broad topics that interest them, but don’t devote enough time to sharpening, clarifying, and narrowing the question until too late in the process. This runs a high risk of getting bogged down in an impossibly broad reading list, which raises the difficulty of moving from research to writing. Broad topics tend to lead to either superficial analysis or to a never-ending quest to become an expert on a wide range of issues. Narrower topics may also provide better writing samples by focusing on the depth and quality of legal analysis rather than coverage of a wide swath of issues.

3. Indulge your curiosity: At some point in the writing process you will hate the note. So it is better to start off with something that really piques your curiosity. Think of this project as a way to teach yourself about something strange.

4. Do the literature search early: Otherwise, you run the risk of finding out late in the process that you have been preempted.

5. Revisit the framing of the question often: Writing about current topics can be fun, but you face several risks, including having events overtake you or being preempted by another scholar. Or you may find too much or too little literature out there on the topic. If any of this occurs, think about how to reframe the question you are asking to work with what you have.

6. Outline early: By outline, I mean more than a collection of nouns strung together, but rather complete sentences. Writing in sentences early on forces you to clarify your analysis and will reveal gossamer ideas that won’t hold up well later in the process. It also eases the transition from outlining to actual writing.

7. Don’t procrastinate: Trying to wait for a clear moment in your schedule to do your research and writing will mean you are going to cram at the end, resulting in a subpar product. Bear down. The sooner and more often you put words onto paper, the lower the psychological barriers to writing will be.

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