Goldsmith on Online Student Writing

Jack has a great post up on Lawfare about online writing by law students.  The piece reflects Jack’s thinking on: why students should write for the public; which kinds of student writing tend to work (and which don’t); how to write well for an online audience; and which kinds of audiences make sense for student writing.  He writes:

One needn’t choose between online, bloggy forms of writing and more traditional law review forms.  (I write both, and other forms as well, as do many professors.)  But I believe that the shorter, more relevant, less normative online style is (in general) a more useful form of student legal writing than the traditional student law review note.  I also think online writing is a more productive use of student time, measured in terms of influence and amount learned per word written or hour spent on the project.

I agree with what Jack says in the piece, and I agree strongly with his conclusions about the significant value – to students and to the audiences for which they write – of this form of writing.  I’d emphasize one aspect that Jack touches on: the importance of collaboration to successful online student writing.  Drawing on a model originally developed by Matthew Stephenson, and used for his Global Anticorruption Blog, I run a course at Harvard called the Labor and Employment Lab (Jack is running a similar course tied to Lawfare).  The Lab provides a forum for twelve students to generate and debate ideas for OnLabor posts, to design research strategy, to share and critique drafts, and to refine writing before it goes live. The Lab is structured to require collaboration at every stage of the writing process: from topic selection, to draft writing, to revision (and to headline choice – not to be overlooked.) My firm impression is that the writing that emerges from the Lab benefits enormously from the collaborative and iterative requirements of the process.

Credit to Jack for an important set of observations.