Beginning an assignment can be the hardest part of the process. In addition to creating a schedule that encourages you to start writing and researching early, one powerful method for starting early and focusing your writing is the “Zero draft”. The process is simple:
- Engage in preliminary research for about a week. Develop a broad overview of your topic.
- Set a timer for anywhere up to an hour.
- As soon as the timer starts, begin writing. Do not stop writing until the time is up. You should write anything that you can think of, provided that it is related to the topic. Do not refer to your notes. The process is intended to be creative and generative – so don’t censor any ideas – you can delete them later if necessary.
Once you have written a zero draft, you can begin to rework it in a number of ways:
- Categorise the ideas. Categories might include interesting ideas, areas that need further research, concepts that need to be developed.
- Delete irrelevant or weak ideas.
- Make connections between the ideas. Determine the common themes of the writing.
- Add headings and subheadings. Restructure the draft by moving concepts into the appropriate sections.
You can write a zero draft at any stage of the writing process, however, it will be most effective after you have engaged in at least some preliminary research on your chosen topic. The zero draft has three main benefits:
- It allows you to begin writing your topic early.
- It forces you to generate new ideas and determine which areas require further research.
- It enables you to begin organising your thoughts into a schema. Schematisation is the way that your brain organises concepts – developing a schema appropriate to your research topic will allow you to process new information more efficiently and effectively.
A number of excellent ideas for writing a zero draft can be found in the following sources:
- Fajans, Elizabeth and Mary R Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes and Law Review Competition Papers (Thomson Reuters, 4th ed, 2011)
- Fajans, Elizabeth and Mary R Falk, ‘Against the Tyranny of the Paraphrase: Talking Back to Texts’ (1993) 78 Cornell Law Review 163
- Berger, Linda L, ‘Applying New Rhetoric to Legal Discourse: The Ebb and Flow of Reader and Writer, Text and Context’ (1999) 49 Journal of Legal Education 155
For more information on developing schemas and learning law generally, an excellent resource is: Schwartz, Michael Hunter, Expert Learning for Law Students (Carolina Academic Press, 2nd ed, 2008)