Recycling Towards Writing Success

By Taryn L. Rucinski, Branch Librarian S.D.N.Y., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Library

recyclingSo, let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. How many of you have written papers either for college, law school, your master’s program etc. that are just sitting there on your computer doing nothing?  Better yet — how many of you have written a reaction paper, discussion post, or some other  kind of “touchy-feely” material asking for your opinion? Last, have you ever worked on a really interesting or complicated reference question for an attorney, student, or faculty member where your work was appreciated but not really used?

If you have answered “YES” to any of the above questions than this tip is for you! Instead of letting your writing, research and scholarship languish and grow moldy, try to make it work for you by having it actively help your career.  In this day and age of constant communication, quality web content is in high demand.  As the current editor of a law library blog,  I can tell you firsthand that publishers are practically begging for new and different professional articles to help fill the pages of their blogs, newsletters, magazines and journals.  That being said, below, please find a list of some best practices to help you recycle your old writing into future career success:

Review What You Have: Take a day, a weekend or even a certain time slot and dedicate it to inventorying what you have written over the years. If you put everything together you will probably be shocked at the volume and diversity!

Organize by Topic:  The benefit of organizing your writing by topic is so that you can see what (if any) specialties you might have and/or whether duplicates may emerge. By grouping thematically you also have the opportunity to start identifying what types of professional publications you should pursue. For example, if you have a lot of material from your M.L.S. cataloging class, maybe you start identifying cataloging resources to submit to.

Upgrade Your Drafts: We take it for granted but as technology moves forward, old digital editions of manuscripts become outmoded and unreadable. A good practice is save your writing to the latest version of MS Word or some other word processing program; to scan any print copies of articles you may have; and to download anything you may have on a forgotten memory stick, CD, or even a floppy disk!

Update Your Research: Continuing with issues of technology, “link rot” is the scourge of the Internet and represents a serious problem for all authors. To make sure your writing is still relevant, make sure that the issue, database, or resource you are discussing still exists.

Start Small: Understand that modern writing varies in length, style, and audience.  As a result, the papers and materials you have may easily fall into a particular category or more likely you may have to spinoff or chunk out a particularly relevant topic.  For example:

  • Tweets – are limited to 140 characters [1] and in the professional setting they are mostly focused on neutral reporting.
  • Blog Posts – can offer an opinion, neutral reporting etc., however, they are normally somewhat informal in style and range from 300- 1500 words, footnotes or links may also be used.
  • Newsletters – also can offer an, opinion, neutral reporting etc., however, they are geared specifically towards the readership audience and they are typically longer, ranging from 700-2500 words including footnotes.[2]
  • Magazine Articles – depending on the type of article (news or column v. feature) these still casual articles with minimal footnotes can range from 700-1,000 words to 2-3,000.[3]
  • Law Review & Journal Articles – are traditionally considered to include more serious scholarship that has a thesis and is heavily footnoted. Depending on the requirements of the individual journal, length and style may vary greatly, however, as a general rule of thumb, journals are loath to print any articles longer than 50 pages.[4]

Among this list are also Book Chapters and Books, although to the new author, these probably seem too daunting to attempt. The ultimate lesson here is:  have faith in yourself; know that what you write has value; and other professionals in the field will be surely be clamoring to read more!


[1] Character Counting, Twitter (last visited Oct. 25, 2016).

[2] Most AALL Special Interest Sections offer a newsletter and/or a blog that members can contribute to see SIS Websites, AALL (last visited Oct. 25, 2016).

[3] AALL Spectrum Editorial Policy, AALL (last rev. Aug. 2006).

[4] See also Law Library Journal Author’s Guide, AALL (last visited Oct. 25, 2016)

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