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Journal write-on made simple—7 tips to keep in mind

Journal Notes
Photo courtesy of Anne Philpot

For law students aspiring to be on a journal, the satisfaction of finishing 1L year is short-lived. Write-on is just around the corner. As soon as you’re about to regain your life and your sanity, the 3L board members hand you a packet and a deadline.

I’m one of these 3Ls now. But a year ago, I was in your shoes. Through that process, I learned a few time-saving strategies that made write-on a manageable endeavor in the midst of other demands.

Today, I can laugh about the chaos of my write-on experience, but at the time, nothing about it was funny. I work full-time and go to class at night, so I was in the midst of catching up at work after taking time away for exams. The weekend the competition opened, I was diagnosed with mono. My roommate and I packed up our apartment for moving day. I lost a day to airline delays en route to my friend’s wedding. And once I arrived, my maid-of-honor duties filled up the days leading up to the write-on deadline. All I wanted to do was sleep.

No matter your situation, here are a few tips that made my write-on experience less painful.

1. Start when you’re ready.

For the reasons listed above, I took longer to start than I would have otherwise. Be realistic about what you have to accomplish and give yourself grace. Write-on does not have to take the entire period. Don’t forget to leave enough time for the Bluebook exam, if your journals require one.

2. Read with the prompt in mind.

The ultimate goal is to be concise and organized in response to the prompt. Revisit the target question(s) often as you begin wading through the sources.

3. Create sticky notes for each source you read.

Your write-on packet may be hundreds of pages, but don’t get discouraged. I recommend marking up a hard copy of the packet. Read and annotate the sources one by one. After I finished each article, I wrote its thesis on a sticky note and stuck it to that page. Important quotes and counterarguments got their own sticky notes in different colors.

4. On each sticky note, jot down the corresponding Bluebook citation with a pincite.

This practice saved me an astonishing amount of time. After creating each sticky note, write down a rough version of the Bluebook citation with its pincite. By keeping the citation with the point, you avoid plagiarism and streamline your drafting process.

5. Visually map your argument.

Once you’ve read the whole packet and have a few sticky notes on each source, find a large tabletop and start organizing your sticky notes under headings related to the prompt. At this point, your desk starts to look like a mosaic. Great news: the hard work is behind you and the paper is nearly finished.

6. Draft quickly.

Draft your write-on submission in the order of the sticky notes you’ve mapped. If your notes are detailed enough to hold the shape of your argument, you only need to add transitions and polish your Bluebooking.

7. Revise intentionally.

Journals rely heavily on attention to detail, so careful editing matters. I stepped away from the draft during the friend’s rehearsal dinner and set aside an hour the morning of the wedding to proofread before submitting. It wasn’t ideal, but revisiting the paper after a short break made a difference in my attentiveness.


This summer I’ll be on the other side of the write-on process reading the submissions. But I continue to use this method, because it’s served me well in contexts beyond write-on. Over the past year, I’ve written amicus briefs and policy papers using roughly the same strategy. I hope it works for you, too.

Good luck!

Anne Philpot Anne Philpot is a Washington D.C.-based policy researcher focusing on government favoritism, corporate welfare, and barriers to work. Anne is an evening student at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, where she also serves as notes editor on the George Mason Law Review.