The real work in writing comes in revision. In fact, the changes from draft to draft can be significant.

Here are some suggestions.

Write for the “intelligent idiot.” Your reader is like you: educated, smart, well-read. She or he has a JD or other advanced degree, or is studying towards one. You can assume that this person understands the basics of law and jurisprudence. They understand what a tort is, and understand the basics of statutory interpretation. But they will be lack legal and factual knowledge specific to your topic. You must emphathize with your readers, understanding what they are likely to know and what they are likely to lack. The respectful author writes with this understanding in mind. Similar thoughts are expressed by Fajans & Falk on p. 85.

Revise onscreen and on paper. As you are writing and doing regular revision, it is ok to work onscreen. But from time to time, print things out and revise on paper as well. We read and edit better on paper. Never turn in work product without first printing it out and editing it by hand.

Tell your reader what is coming. Academic writing always tells the reader what is coming next. Law review articles are not novels and should never surprise the reader. The “intelligent reader” is often a busy lawyer, professor, judge, or student who has limited time. You need to tell the reader what your conclusions will be, and you must keep those promises.

Use signposting.  Fajans & Falk suggest this as well, and I thoroughly agree. Signposts are internal indicia of your organization, telling the reader about how your paper is structured, and when you are moving from one idea to another. Here are important examples:

Roadmap in introduction. Tells the reader what each part of the paper will say.

Mini-roadmaps at beginning of each part. Tells the reader what will happen within a part of the paper.

Use of “first,” “second,” etc. When discussing a list of matters or ideas, each of which requires elaboration, use numbers. There’s no set limit, though think twice before coming up with a list beyond four or five. Example:

“Here are four reasons why you should use signposts in your writing. First, it will help you to guide the reader. Second, it forces you to organize your ideas. Third, it is common practice in academic legal writing. Fourth, prof says you should.”

Making sure your paragraphs are internally cohesive. Make sure each paragraph serves a function that moves your discussion along.  Also, make sure each paragraph makes sense in light of the paragraphs coming before and after.

Topic sentences. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, which might or might not be the first sentence. If you cannot identify a topic sentence, then your paragraph might lack a clear purpose.

Transitions. Transitions can be within a paragraph, or set off a new paragraph. Their role is to alert the reader that the author is moving on to a new or different idea. Example with transitions underlined:

“It might be argued that rabbits are not good animal companions. However, scientific studies show that rabbits are highly intelligent animals that are socially aware. In addition, rabbits can easily be house-trained. The next section of this paper asks whether turtles also make good animal companions.”

Use of Part and Subpart indicators. I’d recommend using traditional indicia for parts and sub-parts:

Main headings: I, II, II, etc.
First-level subheadings: A, B, C, etc.
Second-level subheadings: 1, 2, 3, etc.
Fourth-level subheadings: a, b, c, etc.
Fifth-level subheadings: i, ii, ii, etc.

Here’s an example:

I. Introduction

II. Factual background

A. Things I did two summers ago

B. Things I did last summer

1. Swam

a. In the ocean

i. Atlantic

ii. Pacific

b. In the neighborhood pool

c. In the Miami River

2. Biked

3. Write law review articles

C. Things my friends did the past two summers

III. What I plan to do next summer

A. Swim more

B. Bike more

C. Hang out with my friends

IV. Conclusion

Last updated Oct. 7, 2014