Reading About Writing

Below is some of the best reading about writing to inspire your emails and typed chats with classmates and professors while social distancing. These guides will also help with your seminar papers, research project memos, and cover letters. You can access many of these online from wherever you are. The Law Library is here to help you access the others:

Tom Goldstein & Jethro K. Lieberman, The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing Well (3d ed. 2016) – A law professor and journalism professor teamed up to help us over stumbling blocks that level law students, professors, librarians, and lawyers alike, such as overly long sentences. And procrastination. They devote an entire chapter to email. Access the ebook through this Virgo record.

Bryan A. Garner (with Jeff Newman, Tiger Jackson), The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (4th ed. 2018) – Should you capitalize names of the seasons? When is a semicolon appropriate? This well-organized resource puts answers at your fingertips to questions you’ve likely had. Its guidelines are a formula for professional and polished writing. It isn’t available online but the Law Library is – peruse its table of contents here and see this page for ways to contact us.  

Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review (5th ed. 2016) – Consult this one at each step along the way from figuring out what to write about to editing. Contact us for help accessing it.

William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style – Strunk and his student White (writer of Charlotte’s Web and for The New Yorker) cover some of the same kinds of things as The Redbook, like when to use “that” or “which.” They’re addressing writers generally, but White’s advice to write with nouns and verbs, avoid wordiness, and revise is essential straight talk for legal writers. HathiTrust is offering UVA students temporary access to the third edition in their Emergency Temporary Access Service – here’s how:

  • Log in: Go to HathiTrust’s site and click the yellow “log in” button to select University of Virginia as your institution. You’ll be prompted to sign in with your Netbadge.
  • Find the book: Type “william strunk white elements of style” in the search box and select to search the catalog (not full text). Choose the first result and click into one of its temporary access options.
  • Check out the book: Click the check out button to view the book for an hour. Your check out will renew automatically if no one else has requested the book.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, The New Republic, June 17, 1946, at 872 & June 24, 1946 at 903 – In a handful of pages Orwell explains why clear writing leads to clear thinking plus how to do it, and amuses with examples of pretentious and meaningless words. Find this article and many more in UVA’s Virgo card catalog (link to part 1 of it here, and part 2 of it by navigating to the June 24 New Republic issue from this Virgo record).  

For sheer pleasure of reading great writing about writing, check out horror and fantasy novelist Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (all three temporarily available in HathiTrust), and poet Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse. To peek at what other people have written to each other during trying times, see if your local public library system has ebooks of collections like My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Vol. 1, 1915-1933 (Sarah Greenough ed.), which includes O’Keeffe’s description of her stint in Charlottesville.

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Kristin Glover

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Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive Wins Legal History Award

The American Society for Legal History has awarded the 2019 Mary L. Dudziak Digital Legal History Prize to the UVA Law Library’s Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive (SCOS). SCOS is a digital archive and research platform produced by the University of Virginia Law Library that makes accessible roughly 10,000 printed documents produced by Scotland’s supreme civil court in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The SCOS documents, formally known as Session Papers, tell a new and understudied story of life, law, and trade in the British Atlantic world. Cases before the Court regularly involved underrepresented groups, despite their apparent absence from available case indices, law reports, and, most notably, scholarship. As a result, the papers contain rich narratives of women, enslaved persons, and laborers who lived in the British Atlantic world during the era of the American Revolution. These are documents about people, often in their own words, circulating in these spaces as they protected their physical and intellectual property, conducted business, engaged in marriage or divorce, and established personal and economic connections that transcended political borders. By digitizing these materials, providing fully searchable page text, and describing them with rich metadata, SCOS presents new avenues for scholarly inquiry across many fields, particularly legal history.

Team members Loren Moulds, Randi Flaherty, and Jim Ambuske (clockwise from front) examine volumes of Session Papers.

In 2019, the project team based within Law Special Collections re-launched the SCOS website with enhanced tools for exploring the collection, including curated themes that align with current interests in the field of legal history and a full-text search function that displays snippets of relevant documents. This launch followed a complete redesign of the project database led by Loren Moulds and Jim Ambuske.  The Law Library debuted this intellectual work and technological overhaul in July 2019 at a conference held by the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Continued digitization, rich description, and new features are planned through 2020.

For scholars and students of legal history, these seemingly unlikely sources provide a new Atlantic perspective on America’s colonial and early national periods. The project responds to emergent trends in academic scholarship centered on Atlantic and global history, women’s history, slavery and the law, and the history of capitalism. Providing scholars with ready access to these court papers has revealed a fascinating world of women, men, and children and their relationship to the law.

The award was presented at the ASLH’s annual conference in November 2019.

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Loren Moulds

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New ACLU and United Nations Databases Available at UVA

It’s 2018—are you researching civil rights, immigration, or women’s issues? How about climate change or international politics? The UVA Law Library is excited to announce the acquisition of two new online research databases that may pique your interest.  Now available UVA-wide, the American Civil Liberties Union Papers (1912-1990) and AccessUN offer a wealth of information and resources and are a great starting point for exploring these topics and more.


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Papers, 1912-1990

Gale: American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990

The ACLU is a key advocate for US citizens’ constitutional rights, and its papers from 1912-1990 offer a unique vantage point on some of the defining issues of the Twentieth Century. The files in this collection cover issues ranging from lynching and racial discrimination to immigration to birth control. They also provide an inside perspective on key events in U.S. history, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the First and Second Red Scares. Of particular interest are the papers of the ACLU Southern Regional Office (founded 1964), which dealt with school segregation, public transportation, voter suppression, sexism, and numerous other issues in the former Confederate states. In the 1912-1990 collection, users will find internal memoranda, court documents, and publications, as well as public correspondence and other materials. All documents are available on the site and are fully text-searchable.


AccessUN, 1945-2017

Access UN indexes more than 500,000 documents from the United Nations’ six main bodies (including the Security Council, General Assembly, and International Court of Justice) and provides an invaluable tool for those interested in international law and politics since the end of the Second World War.

ReadEx: AccessUN

This resource catalogs UN documents (resolutions, records, and publications) on the full breadth of its proceedings since its creation. Here, users will find extensive documentation of the UN’s discussions and resolutions on issues including international security, world hunger, economic development, human rights, and the environment. This catalog offers full text or links to full text for resolutions from the General Assembly (1981-present), Security Council (1974-present) and Economic and Social Council (1982-present), and more.

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Zachary Hoffman

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Law Librarians Present Travaux Préparatoires at Human Rights Conference

At the “What’s Next for Human Rights Scholarship?” conference on March 31, law librarians Ben Doherty and Loren Moulds presented the Law Library’s new searchable database of preparatory works, or travaux préparatoires,[1] of the United Nations’ core human rights agreements. More than 30 human rights scholars from North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania participated in the two-day interdisciplinary conference, which was organized by the UVA Working Group in Human Rights Research.

Ben began the presentation by explaining that, until the Law Library undertook the initiative, the travaux were only selectively available in electronic format, as excerpts in published guides to the travaux, and in hardcopy or microfiche at U.N. depository libraries. A Refdesk question from Professor Mila Versteeg led the law librarians to conclude that “it’s not available” was not an answer the Law Library was willing to give. Using the published guides and the United Nations’ UNBISNET database, the Law Library compiled fully-searchable, digital copies of as many of the travaux préparatoires as could be found. The travaux database and other recent digital initiatives, such as the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions and much of his other writings and speeches, are examples of how the Law Library’s content and services are driven by inquiry. Ben advised attendees that, “instead of thinking of research as simply being able to get what is already available,” a scholar can push “research methods forward by thinking about what you need for your scholarship and partnering with your associated library to create those datasets or resources.”

Loren likewise encouraged “scholars not to feel limited in our research plans, particularly when it comes to issues of access to materials, the creation of new types of digital collections, or the adoption of new analytical techniques.” His presentation included an overview of the website and a discussion of the technology used to create it, but he situated his technological discussion within the Law Library’s philosophical approach to scholarly research. Explaining that the Law Library provides ever-expanding expertise in a field that includes scholarly publishing, copyright issues, and the aggregation, management, and preservation of data, Loren stated, “We consider ourselves empathic stewards of knowledge production through collaboration with researchers, technologists, and other librarians working to develop the intellectual infrastructures necessary for new kinds of scholarship and research methods in a digital age.”

After the presentation, Ben and Loren took questions from the conferees. The conclusion of the ensuing discussion was that the travaux database is an example of modern librarianship: a specific inquiry (“What role did smaller countries play in drafting human rights treaties?”) was stymied by a specific problem (the lack of systematic, comprehensive access to the travaux préparatoires), which was resolved by the expertise residing in the Law Library.

[1] The travaux préparatoires are documents that are generated in the drafting and negotiation of a treaty. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, treaty terms are to be interpreted according to their ordinary meaning. However, Article 32 provides that the travaux préparatoires can be used as a supplementary means of interpretation in certain instances.

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James McKinley

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Gorsuch Project Launched

Hearings on the nomination of the Honorable Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled to begin March 20 and interest in the nominee’s judicial record is high. To assist researchers, we’re proud to announce the launch of the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions, as well as concurrences and dissents he either wrote or joined as a judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lists of published articles and speeches by Gorsuch are also included. 

The idea for the Gorsuch Project was born after law librarians from several universities and government offices faced a similar question from their patrons: “Find as much information about the new Supreme Court nominee as possible.” The results of that inquiry form the core of the site’s content. More about the project and its contributors can be found on the website.

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Jon Ashley

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The Constitute Project

Tunisia, Egypt, Fiji, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan and Hungary have all produced new constitutions in the past few years. Each of these constitutions arose in different political circumstances, but how, in general, does a nation produce a new constitution? UVa law professor Mila Versteeg and co-author Benedikt Goderis argue that building a new constitution does not occur in national isolation. Constitutions, they say, are “shaped by transnational influence, or diffusion.” New constitutions are based on other countries’ constitutions and their constitutional experiences.

To make the job of drawing from or comparing the constitutions of countries around the world easier, the Comparative Constitutions Project developed the Constitute Project. Constitute contains English versions of the constitutions of “nearly every independent state in the world” along with a more limited number in Arabic. With subject tags, Constitute makes comparing the provisions of different constitutions easy. For example, you can easily pull up all of the constitutional provisions from around the world tagged as protecting equality regardless of gender. From there, you could select certain countries’ provisions to compare directly in a side-by-side screen. You can easily switch which countries to view in your comparison and pin those comparisons so that you can download them all as a document or CSV file. For users needing more targeted queries of the Constitute data, they have provided a SPARQL endpoint.

Constitute has a smooth, intuitive interface that makes comparative constitutional work easier. Since it focuses on constitutions currently in force and does not include historical constitutions, it may be of limited use for scholars seeking to trace constitutional trends over time. For many users, though, who are examining how current constitutions across the world treat particular topics, it’s a valuable (and free) resource.

– Ben Doherty 

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Ben Doherty

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Take a Deep Dive into Lawmaking with FiscalNote

Want to keep up with what’s happening in Congress and in state legislatures? Check out one of the Law Library’s newest database offerings – FiscalNote. FiscalNote’s team of software and public policy entrepreneurs (including a U.Va. Law alum) have developed software and a fun, user-friendly interface that puts at people’s fingertips volumes of information that would take lots of capitol insiders tons of time to compile. FiscalNote gives you not only loads of information, but also crunches that information to predict whether bills will pass. And it delivers straight to your email inbox, via alerts you customize to your interests. Part of the start-up’s mission is to “foster a transparent political and legal system,” and they’ve been attracting press (see #5 of 11) and venture capital interest. See what the buzz is about by signing up for a password.

– Kristin Glover 

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Kristin Glover

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Law Librarian Jon Ashley’s Federal Suit Featured in Today’s NYT

Law librarian Jon Ashley has for the second time filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of Justice. The FOIA filing seeks the release of 30 prosecution agreements between the Justice Department and various organizations. With Professor Brandon Garrett, Ashley has developed the Federal Organizational Prosecution Agreements database, a repository of prosecution agreements that is freely available to researchers. Ashley's lawsuit last year prompted Justice Department officials to release a single prosecution agreement after a FOIA request for it had been denied. Today's New York Times features an article about the work of UVA Law School's First Amendment clinic students in pursuing the litigation. [Reposted with corrections. – Ed.]


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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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The Legal Research Tournament, The Championship: WestlawNext vs. Critical Thinking


And then there were two. It has been a fun run up to the Championship, with a competitive field of teams opening the tournament a few weeks ago. Six of those teams have been eliminated from the tournament, but not before securing their spot in the One Shining Moment montage we’ll be showing at the conclusion of today’s championship match.

The Legal Research Championship features the favorite, WestlawNext, backed by West’s decades of experience in legal research, versus the surprise team, Critical Thinking, which has actually been around for much longer than West, but in these days of fancy online databases is often forgotten about as an important research tool.

The Championship will follow the traditional format for these tournaments by requiring the competitors to complete three tasks, with their performance scored by a panel of one objective judge. Without further ado, on to the competition!

Task 1: What is the penalty in Virginia for burglary?

WestlawNext: Ooh! Ooh! I’ll go first! Just type some words into my search box! Go ahead! Quick! Don’t think! Just do it!

Objective Judge: Ok, then: Penalty Burglary Virginia.

WestlawNext: Cool! Ok, filter by Statutes! Ok! Let’s see. Result number one . . . no. Result number two . . . no. Result number three! Annotated Code of Virginia § 18.2-89, “Burglary; How Punished.” Done! Bam!

Objective Judge: Great. So what does it say is the penalty?

WestlawNext: Burglary is “punishable as a Class 3 felony!” Bam!

Objective Judge: Ok, but that’s not an actual penalty.

WestlawNext: Oh! Right! Uh. . .

Objective Judge: Critical Thinking, can you do any better?

Critical Thinking: Yes. Statutes often work this way, requiring you to navigate multiple sections to figure out the law. From prior experience, I know that crimes are often grouped into categories for penalty purposes, so now I just need to find where those categories are explained. Fortunately, WestlawNext is not just a search engine. It also allows for browsing around resources. In this case, since we’re already looking at § 18.2-89, I can just open up the table of contents to Title 18.2 and go to the portion on Classification of Criminal Offenses and Punishment Therefor. In there, § 18.2-10, “Punishment for Conviction of Felony; Penalty,” explains that generally the punishment for a class 3 felony such as burglary in Virginia is 5 to 20 years in prison and a possible fine.

Objective Judge: Thank you. Task 1 goes to Critical Thinking.

Task 2: Find a good case from Virginia discussing when an employer can be held liable for an employee car accident.

WestlawNext: Me! Me! Me! I’ll go! Type! Type! Type! Type!

Objective Judge: Ok. Employer Liable Employee Car Accident.

WestlawNext: Ok! Filter to just Cases! Then filter for jurisdiction to Virginia! Bam! Done! Virginia Supreme Court case from 1903: Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Cromer’s Administratix!

Objective Judge: A case from 1903? But the car didn’t really come into common use until after the invention of the Model T in 1908.

WestlawNext: No problem! Let’s see. Let’s see. Ok! Result number 3: Virginia Supreme Court case from 1941, Barber v. Textile Machine Works!

Objective Judge: Hmm. Critical Thinking, what do you think?

Critical Thinking: That case actually looks like a pretty good one, appearing to establish how Virginia’s rules on respondeat superior might apply to an employee automobile accident. I might have started with some secondary sources, like Michie’s Jurisprudence maybe, or the ALR or a tort practice manual to get some background. Plus, I’d use this case as a starting point, using the West Headnotes or the Citing References to hyperlink to other Virginia cases on the same topic—to get a broader understanding of how these rules apply in Virginia. This Barber case is a great start though.

Objective Judge: Really? Ok, fine. WestlawNext takes the second task. On to Task 3!

Critical Thinking: Is that really necessary? Haven’t you made your point?

Objective Judge: What point? I’m not trying to make points. Just objectively judging an objective competition. No agendas here!

Critical Thinking: Uh-huh. The premise of this whole tournament was to answer the question “If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best?” I think everyone knows that in doing research we should always use our critical thinking skills, but really I’m not much use for legal research without having some kind of database or set of books with which to work. This tournament was really about evaluating those databases or books wasn’t it?

Objective Judge: Maybe. . . but this was the perfect set-up to show these newfangled databases are not much help without using them with a critical mind. I had it all thought out!

Critical Thinking: Give people some credit. They know better than to just blindly follow whatever search results WestlawNext or any database puts up without thinking about it. If we get down to it, if I had to choose, at this moment, one resource to use for a legal research project, out of those that started the tournament, it would be WestlawNext. It just works better than the others right now on the whole.

Objective Judge: [Cold stare].

Objective Judge: Fine.

                Winner and tournament champion: WestlawNext.

– Ben Doherty 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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