Arthur holds a BA in Yoga from Naropa University. He has studied and practiced with teachers in India, Nepal, and Bhutan in lineages including Hatha Yoga and Vipassana. He applies principles from yoga to his work in design.
How to Write a Note: A Conversation with Published Authors
Each year, TheGeorgetown Law Journal publishes six to ten Notes researched and written by students. Journal members are required to write a scholarly Note by January of their 3L/4E year. Volume 110 Senior Notes Editor Wynne Leahy recently sat down with Volume 109 Senior Notes Editor Orion de Nevers, published authors Courtney Hinkle and Hayden Johnson, and reference librarian Dan Donahue to discuss the Note writing and submission process. A recording of their conversation is available below.
The Journal‘s Volume 109 Notes Committee also spoke with recently published authors Chris Conrad, Hayden Johnson, Diana Reisman, Ari B. Rubin, and Charlie Thau about writing a Note. As readers will see, there is no right way to do it.
2. How did you select a Note topic? If you researched several topics before selecting yours, how did you investigate potential topics and how did you know when you identified the best topic to write on?
Johnson: I selected my topic from several research memoranda I completed during two voting rights internships. From these research assignments, I understood the governing legal framework, studied the recent commentary from election law academia, and had an opportunity to learn from a range of perspectives of supervisors who are practitioners in the field. I then spoke to professors at Georgetown Law about my proposed topic and further narrowed my scope for the Note to be something within student comprehension. I also asked Professor Paul Smith (while taking his Election Law class) to supervise my research project and he provided essential feedback on my topic selection.
Rubin: Before law, I used to work as a writer in Hollywood, and there the importance of having a good idea is drilled into your inner-being. A good idea is one that you could tell your hick uncle, and it would get him excited. That means it needs to have mainstream appeal even while carefully rooting its arguments in legal reasoning. I started with the general category and limitations that my Note had to meet. Because, like most students, I was writing for a class initially, that meant the nature of the class and any constraints that my professor imposed dictated the field I was writing about. From there, I scoured the issues of law that were hot topics in the field and then compared those topics to what the top news stories had been recently. This step helped me analyze which legal topics I might stretch to answer broader problems in society. Because I was writing about separation of powers, the controversies over the Trump administration provided plenty of fodder. Finally, as I began to brainstorm specific ideas and test them by pitching the ideas to others, I looked for what sparked interest in them, and I returned regularly to the original question of what I was excited about. It is important to remember that from the time you first have the idea to the time you are done working on it for publication, more than a year might have transpired. You still must be interested in that same subject by the end.
Thau: I really stumbled into my Note topic. During my 2L firm summer, I was assigned to write a memo on what I thought was an insanely boring question of contract law. As it turned out, the issue was a) interesting; b) the caselaw was totally counterintuitive; and c) because the caselaw was counterintuitive, many practitioners were just simply wrong about how the caselaw operated in practice. I wrote that memo and it became the baseline for my Note. If you’re interested in getting published, definitely don’t wed yourself to a particular area of the law. I did not like Contracts during 1L, but I recognized that the topic had some practical use. The more I kept an open mind, the more I became interested with the issue.
Reisman: My professor was very helpful in directing me to a topic of general and current interest. From the beginning, I was hoping to publish my Note so I wanted to select a topic that was being discussed and debated today. My original plan was to submit this piece to an international law journal or more specialized, peer-reviewed journal. I was lucky that my topic happened to have a strong domestic focus, which I believe made it eligible for a generalist journal like GLJ. I began with background information on the topic (in my case, a multilateral treaty) and stumbled on—what I believed to be—a serious problem that no scholar had yet addressed.
Johnson: My Note discussed the recent applications of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to a certain subset of election laws, so my first step was to know the recent lower court cases inside and out to identify trends and understand how judges tended to resolve these cases. It helped to create a chart that catalogued the holding, reasoning, etc. of cases addressing similar subjects in different circuits.
Rubin: First, know the subject. You have to become your own teacher. Treatises and law articles are a godsend. Start broadly with what you think the main topic is, then follow the recurrent themes to see what has been written. Keep reminding yourself that your job is to identify and ideally fix a problem. If you discover that the challenges on your topic have all already been successfully addressed, keep looking. Do not stop digging until you get to an issue that makes you say, “Jeez, someone should do something about that.” Second point is that the learning process will not stop. Even well into your revisions, you will need to put things on hold and teach yourself a new legal concept in order to address a lingering problem in your argument. For this reason, do not expect to know everything at the outset. Start writing and let your article grow organically.
How to take good notes in class
There’s a lot going on during class, so you may not be able to capture every main concept perfectly, and that’s okay. Part of good note-taking may include going back to your notes after class (ideally within a day or two) to check for clarity and fill in any missing pieces. In fact, doing so can help you better organize your thoughts and to determine what’s most important. With that in mind, it’s important to have good source material.
Preparing to take good notes in class
Note-taking during class
Now that you are prepared and organized, what can you do to take good notes while listening to a lecture in class? Here are some practical steps you can try to improve your in-class note-taking:
If you are seeking conceptual information, focus on the main points the professor makes, rather than copying down the entire presentation or every word the professor says. Remember, if you review your notes after class, you can always fill in any gaps or define words or concepts you didn’t catch in class.
If you are learning factual information, transcribing most of the lecture verbatim can help with recall for short-answer test questions, but only if you study these notes within 24 hours.
Record questions and thoughts you have or content that is confusing to you that you want to follow-up on later or ask your professor about.
Jot down keywords, dates, names, etc. that you can then go back and define or explain later.
Take visually clear, concise, organized, and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later. See different formats of notes below for ideas.
If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences. This will help your mind and hand to stay fresh during class and will help you access things easier and quicker after class. It will also help you focus on the main concepts.
Be consistent with your structure. Pick a format that works for you and stick with it so that your notes are structured the same way each day.
For online lectures, follow the above steps to help you effectively manage your study time. Once you’ve watched the lecture in its entirety, use the rewind feature to plug in any major gaps in your notes. Take notes of the timestamps of any parts of the lecture you want to revisit later.
Determining what’s important enough to write down
House or pet sitting, yard work or housework, help during a busy or difficult time, above-and-beyond assistance with a project at work…anytime someone steps in and makes your life a little easier, call it out with a thank-you note.
“Thank you for taking care of the lawn while Kevin was in the hospital. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“For my burden-bearing, laughter-sharing, forever-caring friend…a very happy, hug-filled, heartfelt thanks.”
“The best way to thank you for your work on my project is to keep you informed of the outcome—and I promise to do that. Meanwhile, you have played such an important part and your help won’t be forgotten.”
“It’s harder and harder these days to get the number of volunteers we need—but you made time in your busy schedule to step up. That means even more as every year gets busier.”
“I’m using you as an example to my kids of someone unselfish, giving and ready with a can-do spirit. I hope they turn out just like you.”
“Thank you for the wonderful meals you brought and arranged during Emily’s bed rest. Our hearts have been deeply touched by your kindness.”
Writing tip: If writing a thank-you takes you back to high school and turns your writing awkwardly stiff or formal, then relax and try to write like you speak. If you’re a person who would say, “Thanks so much for watching our dog!” then say, “Thanks so much for watching our dog!” Just exactly like that.