Advanced Writing Requirement (AWR): Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I don't want to plagiarize, but I'm not sure how to avoid it. 

A. The first thing you need to do to avoid plagiarism is to know what it is. One one level, this is pretty straightforward: don’t use someone else’s words or thoughts as if they were your own. Another way of saying the same thing is, always properly attribute someone else’s words or thoughts. The emphasis is on "properly." If you cite another authority but don’t use quotation marks when you’re in fact quoting, you are not properly attributing.

There are a number of sources to further explore any issues of plagiarism

Honor Code Section 3.01(b): Submitting Plagiarized Work
Honor Code Section 8.01: Sanction for Plagiarism 

Q. Why do I have to write an AWR?

A. Because the school requires one to graduate. That’s pretty straightforward. A longer-winded answer is that it is an integral part of a writing program that is designed to produce excellent legal writers. But your AWR should be more than meeting our requirements. It should be your work product that makes you the world’s leading expert on some area of the law. That work product should be invaluable as a writing sample, as a talking point in interviews, and for a variety of other purposes.

That’s why it’s important that your AWR be as perfect as possible when you turn it in. And if your professor makes some corrections/suggestions on your final product, be sure to incorporate them. When that paper next sees the light of day, it may be critical for a clerkship or associate position.

Q. What is the AWR standard?

A. The AWR requires the professor to certify that the student has produced a paper "which evidences high qualities of legal scholarship, writing ability and craftsmanship." In a word, a substantial piece of original legal scholarship. While this is, inevitably, a subjective determination, the model might be the law journal note or comment. To get an idea of what suffices, look at the student work in the Seton Hall Law Review or any of the Law School’s other journals. This webpage also reproduces some of the better AWR submissions under Sample Papers.

Q. How long does the paper have to be?

A. OK, this is really the most frequently asked question. And the answer is 25 pages. But this is really the wrong question, however frequently asked. If you pick an appropriate topic, length should be no problem. In fact, most papers have to be edited to make them tighter.

Q. OK, I understand the lecture. Now tell me, does the 25-page limit include footnotes?

A. Yes. But it’s a real 25 pages. Given these days of font-padding, you should be aware that the standard is 25 pages using Times New Roman, 12 point, with margins 1" around. You are not required to use Times New Roman 12-point, but it’s probably easiest.

Whatever font you use, your paper must be of equivalent length. For example, the NJ Court Rules specify "no more than 26 double-spaced lines of no more than 65 characters, including spaces, each of no less than 10-pitch or 12-point type." Rules Governing Appellate Practice, Rule 2:6-10. That font is much larger than Times New Roman. If you use the font required by the Appellate Division, you would have to a 30-32 page paper to meet the standard.

Your paper has to be double-spaced (although indented quotes and footnotes should be single-spaced). Footnotes are single-spaced.

Q. Do I need to use footnotes?

A. Yes, unless your instructor prefers endnotes. Use the footnote function in Word or Wordperfect – it creates footnotes and numbers them. DO NOT incorporate your citations in the text – this is a paper, not a brief.

Q. Do I need a Table of Contents, Table of Authorities, or Index?

A. Not unless your professor says so, or you decide to write a book as an AWR.

Q. Do I need to paginate?

A. If you don’t, the professor will assume you’re trying the hide the fact that your paper is shorter than permitted. Most of the time, she’ll be right.

Q. Does the Law School keep AWR papers?

A. Yes. Papers are published in the Law School's eRepository, found in the Rodino Librarary, unless students opt out.

Q. Do I have to have a thesis?

A. Yes.

Q. What’s a thesis?

A. It’s a Greek word meaning point or position. Professor Volokh in Writing a Student Article (see Writing Resources) calls this a "claim," but whatever it’s called, your paper needs to take a position:

  1. X is good
  2. Y is bad.
  3. Z needs more study.

Your thesis will dictate what you need to discuss. That you have a thesis doesn’t mean that your writing is slanted or advocacy-oriented. This is a paper, not a brief. But without a thesis your paper will be, well, wishy-washy.

Q. What’s the deal with primary authority?

A. Your paper should focus on primary authority, not secondary authority. This is known in the law as the real deal. If you’re analyzing a statute, quote the statute – not some law review article, which says what the statute says. If you want to discuss a case, read and cite the case, not a treatise discussing it. Secondary authority can enrich and reinforce your points, but your points should be made with primary authorities.
The only caveat to this is that, depending on your project, what is normally secondary authority may be primary. If your topic, for example, is feminist influence in the Yale Law Journal, the articles in that journal are your primary authority.

Q. Do I have to use the bluebook?

A. Of course. Cheer up, you already paid for the darn thing. Plus, it’s good practice for being a law clerk, an associate, or any of a hundred other obsessive-compulsive jobs.

Q. I’m not taking this seminar to satisfy my AWR requirement since I already did that. Do I still have to meet AWR requirements?

A. Probably. This is up to the individual instructors but most tend to apply a uniform standard to all papers in the seminar.

Q. Do I have to do a draft?

A. Yes. Actually, an AWR paper is a four-step process. The professor must approve

  1. the topic;
  2. an outline;
  3. a draft, and
  4. the final copy.

"The outline and draft shall each be evaluated by the professor and returned to the student in sufficient time to permit the student to incorporate the professor's comments."

Q. What happens if my professor does not certify my final paper?

A. If you’ve followed the process – including a meaningful draft – this shouldn’t happen. If it does, your professor has the authority to grade the paper as submitted but return it to you for corrections in order to meet AWR requirements. But note: "Revisions made after the conclusion of the seminar may not result in any change in the final grade." Further, the professor also has the authority to simply say that the paper is too far below the standards to warrant further work on his or her part. In that event, you must sign up for another AWR.

Q. What paperwork do I have to do?

A. The only hard part is writing the paper. When you complete the final version of your paper, turn it in to your professor together with the Certificate of Compliance form.

The professor then turns in both to the Registrar.  Needless to say, failure to submit the form to your professor will delay certification.

Q. Can my professor give me an extension?

A. Yes. But many, maybe most, professors will apply a grade sanction for late papers unless the circumstances are really beyond your control. It would not be advisable to even ask for an extension unless, say, a good first draft has been submitted.

If a professor grants you an extension, an "I" will be awarded for the course. The paper must be completed, and a grade submitted, before the end of the next semester, otherwise the I will become an F.

Q. Can I combine papers for two courses to create one super paper for AWR credit?

A. Yes, but it’s not so clear it will save you much work. The rules provide that "A paper written for one class may also be used for credit in a second class being taken simultaneously, if both faculty members agree in advance. Such paper must evidence extraordinary work meriting the award of the total number of credits to be earned."

Q. How does Independent Research (sometimes called Independent Study) fit in with AWR?

A. Independent Study projects are intended to be more demanding than AWR. They entail a paper of at least 40 pages in length, and a defense of the paper before the IS Committee. The supervising professor recommends a grade, but the Committee actually awards the grade after the defense, and also certifies that the paper meets AWR requirements. In brief, if you have a successful IS paper, it should be certified.

Q. If I’m satisfying my AWR by writing for a journal, do I need to submit a certification form?

A. Yes. The supervising professor for each paper should certify its compliance.  While your faculty supervisor is responsible for AWR certification, the journal's faculty advisor may independently review the paper before journal credits are awarded.

Q. What do professors expect?

A. We can't tell you what every professor expects, but one professor recently sent the following to his/her class:
I have been able to return a over half of your papers so far. I have some generic comments which seem to apply to the vast majority of the papers I have finished reviewing. As such, I have decided to share them with all of you, on the speculation that they may help some of you who have not yet heard from me.
First, if you have not looked at the sample papers posted on the AWR Web Page, I urge you to do so. I am concerned that some of you may not yet have a sense of what the end product is supposed to look like -- that you are not yet completely clear on the enterprise in which we are engaged.

Your research paper needs to be an IN-DEPTH presentation of research, and analysis, of the problem you have identified. In the first instance, this means that your research must be VERY thorough. So far, every paper requires more research. For several of you, I have double checked my instincts on this point to make sure there are things out there that you have missed, which you have (for the rest of you, it wasn't just instincts, I KNOW you've missed things). Some of you are over-relying on secondary sources. You need to do the case law research and interpretation yourself. Others of you don't seem to have done more than minimal law review research. Thus, from the readers' perspective, your papers create an insecurity about whether they represent an IN-DEPTH overview of what's out there. This creates a lack of confidence in your overall product. You do not want this to happen in practice.

I would then ask you to test yourself on whether everything you discuss your paper is relevant to your topic, and whether you have covered all of the bases necessary to ensure sufficient analysis of the topic (the two sides of the coin).

Organization is a large problem for many of you. In addition, you need introductory paragraphs when you introduce new sections, thesis sentences to your paragraphs, and conclusory paragraphs to sections.

Please do not write in passive voice.

I realize that for most of you, this is your first paper-writing experience. It is a very important experience. By the time you graduate, you will be expected to do the kind of research and writing that you are producing for me in a week, rather than the 14 that we are spending now.

You want to have the confidence to know that you are competent to produce a product that is well-researched, analyzed and written. It is the goal of all of your professors, but at the moment me in particular, that you have those capabilities and that confidence by the time you graduate. To get there requires some very hard work between now and the end of the semester.