How to Write Essays For Writing Competitions: I Don’t Know; Just sharing my thoughts by Mr. Lokesh Vyas

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Despite the lofty title of this post, which might hint that I’m some kind of sage (an “essay-sage” of sorts) or that my thoughts are unignorable, I don’t mean to imply any such thing. I simply want to share my insights on a topic I’ve been deeply involved with, both professionally and personally. Plus, SpicyIP just announced the 4th edition of the Prof. Shamnad Basheer Essay Competition, 2024. Having participated in and secured the first position in the first edition, I thought it would be good to share my experience and make these ideas available for anyone to read, share, add, use, critique, or reject (well … if you do come to reject, please do it constructively!). All is fine as long as it makes you think and improve. The primary intention is to share (not to teach!) my writing process, ideations, and style, and simultaneously learn it better by introspection. Because writing as a process also helps one think clearly about the written topic. (How an essay competition can change your life is a story for another day. Let’s save that for a chai chat! Cool?). So, let’s start. I first briefly share my motivation/story behind partaking in essay writing competitions and then explain how I do it. 

Quick reminder: no one (especially not me) can give you a foolproof method to write, and especially win a competition. It’s a process worth living in. Remember, besides your finally submitted work, winning has a lot to do with the judges’ temperaments, understanding, and interests, not to mention the socio-political environment of the time amongst other factors. All I can provide is some ideas to help your essay stand out. It has worked for me, and I hope it does for you! Please know that while I speak generally in this essay, the background of all this conversation is law or legal writing competition. I have cited my or my friends’ works wherever apt not because we are the best or the only ones to use this style. But because I am contextually better equipped with them. You can have your examples. 

(Sidenote: while this draft is focused on the legal essay, with apt contextualization, these ideas/techniques can be applied to other writings, including statements of purpose, motivation letters, and cover letters.) 

First things first, Why Participate? 

To me, essay, and writing competitions are fun. But if I can be honest, my interest in them began as a response to my inferiority complex about being unable to “speak” English fluently, which stemmed from my Hindi-medium background. Writing, as I thought then, seemed easier to me. It gave me, as the author, the freedom to be absent when the text was read. My writing could speak on my behalf. It allowed me to not stutter in front of a person or frame English sentences instantly. I could make mistakes in silence and improve them before someone gets to read them. In sum, my draft, where I had more to express, can do the job. I can rest. 

It wasn’t so easy, however. The challenge was that, despite finding writing easier than speaking, I didn’t know how to write well, especially, how to construct long and complex sentences with interesting words and phrases – something that can be called sexy/nice/interesting/catchy. So it became a personal challenge to improve my writing and comprehension skills. Not getting into more of the nitty-gritty of my life story (leaving it for a potential Chai chat…?), over time I realized that these competitions benefit(ed) me in several ways: 1) improve my concentration, 2) keep me in the habit of thinking and writing, 3) add accolades to my CV, (which would later help in many ways) and 4) increase my confidence in my language abilities 5.) help me publish my essays, 6.) build new connections, gaining new friends or mentors, (Swaraj Barooah and Artha Dermawan come to my mind!), etc., etc. Important here is “etc., etc.” for I am still in the process of realizing its benefits, both tangible and intangible. 

Anyway, the crux is that these motivations led me to consistently partake in essay/writing competitions throughout law school, particularly after my third year when I first won an essay competition with my very dear friend Naman Dubey on mob lynching. It became my favorite activity from then on. Every day, I would check platforms like Lawctopus to find upcoming essay competitions and send something accordingly. Over the years, I participated in over a dozen competitions and fortunately secured ranked positions in most of them. But everything starts with the topic selection … What should I write about? Let me share some thoughts on this in the following section. 

Topic Selection: Select what stands out or what you can make stand out 

As cliche, as it may sound, there is no straight-jacket answer to the question of “How to select a topic”. You can select whatever you want to unless there is a pre-given list of topics. Otherwise, choose what can’t be easily ignored. Two questions that come handy to me – 1.) What I already know and can effectively comment on/opine; 2.) Will it also pique the judges’/organizers’ interest, or at least make them think of something that they have not thought of already? History generally piques people’s interest (at least mine, for sure) especially if it promises to tell the untold. So, historical analysis of a topic often helps, and if you add psychological or other “fancy” under-discussed (or not easily known/heard) angles it can give some brownie points. Mind you, I don’t say “fancy” to suggest you use flashy unheard ideas (let’s say, Sorites paradox) without grounding them in your essay’s issue. Put otherwise, the idea is to get an unconventional lens to present your topic and make the reader think/see the issue differently. 

Remember, God is in the details. So focus on (which I casually call “playing with”) the minute details of the issue/topic. For topics like “the importance of protecting authors in the knowledge economy,” I’d start by critiquing the underlying assumptions, such as the existence of a liberal/capitalist state that aims to protect entities called authors. Then, I may problematize the definitions of “authors,” “knowledge,” and “knowledge economy,” questioning who is posing/defining these questions and themes for me to engage with. Does the term “knowledge economy” have a universal meaning? If it does, I’d instantly ask “Should it have a universal meaning” (again, some “history/historical bite” will hold my hand!). These questions might not make it into the final draft, but they guide my research and anchor my ideas in an unconventional yet solid base. In simple terms, this approach helps me make my draft stand out. 

I generally write on issues I am deeply involved with, personally, professionally, or both. If I can be true, writing on new topics (that I don’t deeply know or care about) never worked for me. (But you can of course do it if you think you can pull it off.) In other words, I write on topics that have bothered me for some time and that I “feel” the topic has left the attention of many at least in my circles. I try to make these issues stand out. Before exemplifying this, let me share some general traits of my topics – they generally involve issues we face daily but don’t see as an issue, or can’t help with (e.g. citation practices). They have a public interest angle (almost everything can have. Lack of access to knowledge is my pet peeve!), include un/under-explored theory and history (e.g., director’s rights), involve some level of internal hidden tension (e.g., trademark law’s comparison of the whole test). 

Keeping all these in mind, I then carefully examine (or “deconstruct”) the essay notification and guidelines (like this one) to understand the themes or topics they want me to write on. If specific themes are provided, I analyze them minutely to grasp the mindset behind each one. I select what I have already worked on or have an issue with. If no theme is given, I check (because I just like to!) the organizers’ (or the judges’) history, background, recent engagements, motivations, controversies, and areas of interest. They help identify my topic and nuance it accordingly. After selecting a topic and starting the draft, I begin by explaining why I chose the topic and its significance (for me, my people, or them). This helps me understand and appreciate the issue better while being cognizant of my ideation. 

For example, in the recent ATRIP essay competition, I used their guideline document to bolster my claim around the “Citation Game” – a key aspect of my essay – to show how guidelines limit my ability to cite, but my topic allows me to go beyond that (check the last page/conclusion of my essay). This is reflexive writing where you constantly introspect your ideas and speak through your 

draft. Similarly, if one is writing on issues like privacy or data protection, one could use the anonymity guidelines of such competitions (i.e., the author cannot send their entries with their names and identification) to bolster claims related to privacy, autonomy, bias, etc. For the latter example, I am just speaking aloud. If you wish to use it, please carefully think through them. 

Once all this is done, I discuss my initial claims/ideas with a friend, who knows the subject/topic and can emphatically critique them. 

How I write: Just do it! 

As Jane Smiley said somewhere, the task of the first draft is to exist! (Sounds super cool, no? Mdrrr!) Once I decide on a topic and gather some thoughts, I begin with writing my intuitions/hunches about the topic (something like “hypothesis” as they call it). First, I put together my thoughts on the selected topic and write it down like a blog post of 1000-1500 words (or maybe less). I see and try to understand its structure (you can take a printout and mark the relevant portions that can become headings or parts of your claims). After that, I leave it for some time but this topic/task never leaves my mind – whatever I see/read/observe runs through this topic. (Please know that this may not be healthy for everyone as it occupies a significant part of my mental space.) I generally carry a diary with me to write my thoughts because they visit me anytime unlike my partner 😉 (Jajaja …) But I am okay with it for now. 

I don’t focus on language here unless there’s some phrase or word I don’t want to miss. If a phrase or word takes my attention, I keep it somewhere in this draft, often at the end, and use it when needed. (Well, I am a logophile, a lover of words, so, almost every unheard new word interests me. Imagine my first draft …) This first draft usually has several logical gaps that need to be filled and substantiated. 

Another crucial step, I particularly learned from Swaraj Barooah and my work with SpicyIP, is to foreground my assumptions and notions about my topic and convey to readers where I stand. (For example, check Swaraj Barooah’s disclaimers in this post to know what I mean.) Upon retrospection, I think it gives a Sprezzatura effect to my drafts. Well … I just “feel” so, because there is no such effect as the “Sprezzatura effect.” I just found it fitting here. Per Wikipedia, “Sprezzatura ([sprettsaˈtuːra]) is an Italian word that refers to a kind of effortless grace, the art of making something difficult look easy, or maintaining a nonchalant demeanor while performing complex tasks.” 

Anyway. Let’s come back to the topic. Once the first draft is complete, I identify the terms and concepts that need to be defined in the essay. My claims hinge on these definitions; unless my readers understand them as I do, my arguments won’t make the same impact. The key idea here is to be clear/honest with your reader and not sound super accurate because I know that with a little research, I cannot be super accurate. In sum, don’t let perfection be the enemy of good

The next part is structuring the essay. I do this in five parts, gradually adding substance to each. I should admit that my approach to academic writing is influenced by American academic writing, which places a strong emphasis on identifying gaps and contemporizing the project. Of course, I am not an expert in American legal scholarship and haven’t read extensively on the subject. My observation is based on what little I learned about American legal scholarship, especially during my LLM at American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) and working as the Arcadia Fellow for PIJIP

So, the five aspects I refer to are Hook, Gap, Methodology, Claims, and Implications. This, I learned from my LLM supervisor, Prof. Sean Flynn, an amazing mentor and professor. (No joke, but at AUWCL, my PIJIP friends, especially Shirin Syed, another dear friend, and I used to call this the “Sean Way” of writing because Sean never hesitated to remind us to “keep it tight and short – just five lines paragraphs! …” and focus on why our drafts need to read and taken seriously. At SpicyIP as well, we are also constantly reminded to clarify what we intend to do with a post in the first one or two paragraphs of the post and not burden our readers with extra unwanted information. I liked the “Flynn-ed” drafts for their clarity and readability. For reference, you can observe this approach in the scholarship of Sean Flynn, here.) 

Let me briefly share and explain what I mean by a “Flynn-ed” draft and its five components: hook, gap, methodology, claims, and implications. 


It is the opening statement or question that grabs the reader’s attention. It can be the first line of your abstract or introduction. E.g., in his fascinating post titled “How India Learnt to Stop Complaining and Love Copyright,” Shivam hooks readers by saying “In the story of Indian copyright law, the city of Stockholm has a prominent place. We copyright buffs (yes, unfortunately, we exist); we just love Stockholm.” This sets the stage for it makes/encourages a reader to link Stockholm with copyright which doesn’t naturally arise. 


A missing piece or an unresolved issue in the existing literature or field. It highlights the need for your research or argument, showing why your work is relevant and necessary. Sounds heavy? Well. It isn’t that difficult. Because you aren’t asked to read all that is there and then pinpoint what’s missing. You are just expected to (or at least this is how I do it) do what is generally missing in the popular discussions. Of course, this also depends upon how long the essay is to be written. Generally, you can note what’s missing and how you are going to fill it. 

E.g., in this post where I extended the discussion broached by Aparajita, I just identified a gap by saying “While she has raised several interesting points, there are a few more issues, especially concerning passing off, that I believe need highlighting.” Similarly, in this post, discussing the “right to research” in India, I just said that the gap is “[a] full-fledged discussion around whether a ‘Right to Research’ exists in India, whether it be internal, or external to Copyright laws seems largely absent.” Just show what’s not done or under-done, and say that you’d do that. Voila … your gap identification is done. 


One would need to take classes and lectures to understand this thing. I myself am learning this at SciencesPo from an amazing Professor Helena Alviar García. For the essay, however, I just outline the approach or methods used to do your research or make arguments. Not making it very jargonized like – I am doing qualitative research etc. (Unless your essay particularly demands that). For example, I often use a historical basis for my arguments, so I would explain that I use (e.g.) historical analysis and the Vienna Convention, specifying how they are valid in my context. (See my IPKat post here for an idea) This is just one example; you can tailor your methodology to fit your approach. For reference, check Page 79 of this long article


These are the main arguments or findings of your essay, representing the central points you aim to prove or demonstrate through your work. For example, when I assert that a case overlooks important precedents or applies them incorrectly, I am making a claim. I will then provide additional information, such as what specifically was missed and how, in a concise manner. Alternatively, if I argue that few people critically examine a particular legal metaphor, my essay will aim to fill this gap. My claims will form the core of my argument about why the legal metaphor is problematic. 


The implications discuss the broader significance of your findings or arguments. They explain how your work contributes to the field, what changes it suggests, or how it can be applied in practice. 

Ideally, I’d prefer to have all these five components in my abstract, i.e., if my abstract has five lines total, one will be dedicated to each. But I won’t suggest any “x no of lines/paragraph” formula. Just make your abstract convey what your essay is trying to say and achieve, and most importantly, show what has been often missed (gap) and how you fill that. In the first chapter of my essay, the introduction, I would dedicate at least one paragraph to each of these elements. Please know though, that there is no rigid formula for determining where the “Hook” ends and the “Implications” begin. The key is to ensure that your introduction includes each of these elements, demonstrating your motivation for choosing the topic, how you justify this choice, and how you plan to fill the existing gaps. 

In the following sections, these components should aid the flow of your essay’s key arguments. Part II, generally, will provide better contextualization or historical background to build up the problem. Part III will present my novel argument. Part IV would combine the insights from Parts I and II to show the current state of affairs or potential future wrongs flowing from the issue. Part V would offer conclusions or suggestions based on the findings. This structure is flexible and should be adapted to fit the specific demands of your essay. 

Let me exemplify this. If I were to write an essay on Mob Lynching, my introduction would have five headings and I’d use history (or maybe psychology) to make arguments. In Part II, I will present incidents of mob lynching since 1947, identifying key patterns and themes. Part III will describe and apply a theoretical or legal model that problematizes or defines mob lynching. Part IV will analyze the current state of mob lynching (seen from the theory/model used in Part III) and show future trends if the situation continues as it is. Finally, Part V will conclude my arguments and offer any suggestions or recommendations I might have. I may discuss the potential claims against my essay and try to respond to them. This whole hypothetical example is a very tentative thought, of course, it needs to be further thought through. 

Form of Writing 

First of all, avoid writing very long sentences with words that only you know. (As a logophile, I have made this mistake in the initial years of my writing.) If you really want to use heavy/unknow/uncommon words, please keep the context in mind and use it accordingly.) Second, remember that fancy/cool words (let’s say hamartia) words may draw attention to the “form” of the essay but can very likely distract the reader from its “substance”. Be wary of that. Try to make your augment accessible to people. You can use different tactics for that depending on your mood and mind. As I am often asked and questioned whether you use the first person in your essay (like I have) or the third person. I like to visibilize my presence in my works and resist any formal way of writing (or Western-styled academic writing, please see the Geopolitics of Academic Writing), so I prefer writing in the first person. However, it bears noting that writing happens in a context. That is, how you write is also shaped by where you want to write, for a government report or writing a note of your internship selection, I may change my way. In sum, your strategy is yours. Plus, it is worth noting that writing in the first person does not mean you get too informal (well … you can do it at your risk.), and start using very loose/open language that means or may mean more than what you mean to say. (I “am learning” it the hard way, Dost! … huh.). 

E.g., I’d avoid using a sentence like this: “I feel the concerned provision/party somewhat does its fair/fairly.” How people (at least I) read it is: the moment you say, you “feel,” I don’t think “you think” but for an essay or a logical argument, I want you to think. So, to me, your sentence has lost some nuance. Then by saying “… somewhat …” I only think (and “feel”) you have just relaxed your mental muscles and shifted all your burden to a vague phrase like “somewhat.” (Of course, if you want to do exactly this, i.e., move your burden, hide your intention, and be fishy, you can do it. That’s a trick sometimes, but it is unlikely to work in an essay). Finally, by dropping “fair/fairly” you just added a blended flavor, presenting another proof of lazy thinking. Of course, all that I said can be wrong when your sentence was placed in a context that demanded all this. I am saying one should avoid indulging in this writing. 

Final Thoughts: Any Tips for the SpicyIP’s Essay Competition? 

Not really. The above pretty much covers what I have to say about the competition, and I hope it helps you think better, learn about a topic, and more importantly, make you more aware of your thinking style or ideation patterns. Winning an essay competition is definitely the aim, but like I said before, it’s all about enjoying the journey. If you can get people to see the topic in a new and interesting way, the rest will take care of itself. However, one specific piece of advice I can add is to read Prof. Basheer’s posts, especially his thematic ones (such as “From Innovation to Outnovation?”) or those written on specific occasions like World IP Day, Diwali, or Independence Day. They are amazing and offer great insights. There you can find some writing techniques and nice words/phrases that you don’t often hear. A few phrases I’ve borrowed from his works and now use are: “Herein lies the rub” or Here’s the hitch,” “dither,” and “whither, and wither” (or when the context allows me “w(h)ither”), “IP firmament,” “hallowed halls of IP” and many others. You can also check a website dedicated to him (check here and find some other interesting ideas/thoughts. 

That’s all from my end. I hope it helps you. Good luck. 

Thanks, Swaraj Barooah and Shivam Kaushik for their input on the draft. Here, I must express my inability to individually acknowledge the multitude of individuals who have consciously or unconsciously influenced and enriched my thought processes, particularly those who have reviewed my drafts and collaborated with me over the years. May the force be with you! Merci Beaucoup! 

A bientot 

About the Author: PhD Candidate, SciencesPo. Paris; LLM, American University Washington College of Law, USA; Arcadia Fellow, 2021; Arodhum Scholar, 2021; B.Com LL.B. Nirma University, India.


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