Law Blog Post Formats: Annotated Source Material
The third in a series about useful law blog post formats.
The annotation format allows a law blogger to quickly dash off an interesting post by piggy-backing on the value inherent in the source material.
When a blogger writes within the annotation format, the source material comprises most of the blog post. The author’s commentary occupies a small portion of the post, usually relegated to set-up or transition roles.
All that’s necessary for a strong annotation-style post is a fresh source document and a good take on its significance.
Here are a few examples of annotation-style posts.
In The IMAX of gracious apologies (Washington Post/Volokh Conspiracy, June 22, 2105), veteran blogger and constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh wrote about a trademark spat over the mere mention the term IMAX in a news article. Volokh contributed a mere five sentences to the post, and one of them is “Nice.”
Here’s the same blogger using the technique on a court opinion addressing First Amendment challenges to President Donald Trump’s act of banning commenters from his Twitter feed. Some help for lawsuit challenging bans of subscribers from @RealDonaldTrump (Washington Post/Volokh Conspiracy, July 27, 2017). After a few set-up remarks, the remainder of the post is text from the court’s opinion.
The Domains blog frequently appends the full text of Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy decisions into the back end of posts. You can see this technique at work in Troubling: UDRP Panel Hands Over Generic Domain RainForest.es (The Domains, Nov. 28, 2013).
Another example of cutting and pasting an official document and calling it a blog post is from McInnes Cooper attorney David T.S. Fraser, Canadian breach notification requirements finally published for comment (Canadian Privacy Law Blog, Sept. 1, 2017). Scant analysis, but the payoff is a keyword-laden post created with little effort.
In Juncker interview: the annotated transcript (Financial Times, Nov. 27, 2014), the blogger stitches brief bits of commentary into long transcript from his conversation with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Finally, here are three posts from Mike Masnick at Techdirt, a tech policy blogger who frequently uses the annotation technique to vivisect demand letters, complaints, and judicial rulings.
- Complaint To FTC Says It’s ‘Deceptive’ For Google To Not Recognize ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ In US (Techdirt, Aug. 24, 2015)
- Publishers Association Sends Whiny Complaint Letter To Dean After Academic Librarian Discusses Sci-Hub (Techdirt, Aug. 9, 2016)
- Zillow Still Doesn’t Get It: Second Letter About McMansion Hell Is Still Just Wrong (Techdirt, June 28, 2017)
Masnick’s rhetoric is probably too partisan for law firm bloggers. But his technique — the way he jumps in and out of documents, highlighting and riffing on their contents — holds good lessons for every writer.
(Note: Some of the articles I’ve mentioned in this post might be protected by a paywall. If you encounter this problem, just type the headline into a Google Search query and follow the links from there.)
Assessing Annotated Source Material
Pros: Annotation-style posts can be written quickly, allowing the blogger to add value and provide thought leadership by commenting on the significance of a newsworthy source document. Annotations can appeal to search engines as well, with source material adding valuable length and target keywords to the post.
Cons: Annotation-style posts can look a little lazy/cheesy/predatory if the blogger is not adding real value with commentary. Also, when working with copyrighted materials, the blogger should consider fair use issues.