Favourite article on customs and tips for writing an article
What is your favourite article on customs? What advice would you give to the author writing the first practical (non-academic) article? In this overview, you will learn the views shared during the 7th Authors’ Meeting, which took place on 26 August 2021. A summary of tips for writing an article is provided at the end.
Jeffrey L. Snyder, Editor in Chief of Global Trade and Customs Journal, USA
Jeffrey, as Editor in Chief of Global Trade and Customs Journal (GTCJ), and as a trade lawyer in Washington, DC is currently working on projects at the intersection between customs and human rights law. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is charged with enforcing the US ban on imports made in whole or in part with forced labor. If CBP has reasonable suspicion of the use of forced labor, it can issue what is called a Withhold Release Orders (WROs) – orders by customs headquarters to all the ports to exclude or withhold the release of such items. Legislation is pending to require CBP to provide more guidance to the importing community but for now, there is significant uncertainty around the legal and evidentiary standard that applies to authorize CBP to issue a WRO, what level of evidence is necessary to seek partial or complete lifting of a WRO; these issues have moved to the Court of International Trade (CIT) as importers do battle with CBP over these issues. A full list of CBP’s’ WROs can be found here. The GTCJ has published a number of articles on this topic, with more to come. This trend is accelerating, as other US agencies join in the effort to address human rights, and to enlist importers in the battle.
Because the GTCJ is not an academic journal, but a practical one, Jeff's advice is to write an article as if you are writing to a client or someone that will recognize your expertise and refer clients to you. Think about the article not as an academic study, but as if you are hired to explain and provide a piece of advice to a company about the issue. Of course, you do not want to give away all your secrets, but it should reflect the way you approach and frame the customs issues, how you think about them, and how you would advise finding a solution. In this way, the reader can see how you work and can start to understand what it might be like to work with you. As you prepare, and again in the self-edit process, consider the reader, and tell them a ‘story' to make the narrative flow:
- why do you think the topic is important,
- how do you see the risk of non-compliance,
- and what would you recommend.
Use this lens as a tool to be direct and to eliminate non-essential digressions and resist the temptation to include information that is not pertinent, it might come across as showing off. Footnotes and citations are fine and often necessary to support your analysis, but becoming overly scholarly, rather than practical, is something we try to avoid. Of course, there are exceptions, and we do reserve some space for academic treatments that we believe will be of interest to practitioners, for instance where a study of data trends on import problems (valuation errors, for instance) and how national authorities are addressing them, can be very useful for practitioners.
For younger practitioners who seek to expand their professional profile, the GTCJ is available and encourages all forms of diversity. We urge younger practitioners to cooperate with the senior professionals to team up on the article writing to get the experience and become published. We have had special Issues on women in trade, the so-called ‘next generation’ in trade, and others: the GTCJ welcomes submissions that reflect the global issues practitioners face, and is open to new ideas and approaches that support this goal.
Annette Reiser, Editor of Zoll+MwSt Revue, Switzerland
The most fun article for writing to Annette was the first blog she wrote about the company cars. Many workers in Switzerland are living outside the country and the employees are using company cars for business work and to drive home to another country and back to Switzerland. However, it is not that easy to cross the border with the company's car – it is an issue for customs and for a company. It has been a challenge to write a short blog on this complicated issue. But it went surprisingly well and became the most clicked post ever for the then employer. It has been the only blog with responses and, surprisingly, a few weeks later Annette got a call from her uncle who was a police officer in the north of Germany. He told her that they had a meeting that morning and guess what: her blog article was discussed in that meeting and her uncle was surprised to see his niece’s name on the blog!
Annette’s, who has studied creative writing herself, tips for writing an article are:
- Look for your audience - who you are writing for. The articles would be different for lawyers (a lot of legal references would be included) or for practitioners, who look for practical knowledge and advice.
- One should learn how to structure the article to make it comfortable and easy to read.
- Think about what the message of the article is. The message is most important. Every single word should be related to the message. No filling up with nice sidesteps.
- Short sentences. No complications – the topic is enough for complications.
- Bring the topic to life.
Tanja Balzer, Editor of Customsdigital magazine, Germany
Tanja’s favorite article currently is the most recent that she has read on the new regulations in China. She was working on this topic with her clients as a consultant, so the article came at the right time. But even more importantly, this article simplified a complex topic. The author of the article has thought about who was the target market of the article (the customs practitioners as well). The article had a clear structure, combined facts, and figures with storytelling aspects, and it had cited resources and gave tips relevant to the target market.
Her tips for writing an article:
- Think about your target audience: What do they know? What can they expect? What are the 1 to 3 key points you want them to take away from your article?
- Structure helps the reader follow your train of thought:
- Introduction: set out what they can expect from this article. Try to spark an interest but don’t set too high expectations. If you write on a complex topic, it might be good to mention if the reader needs some basic understanding of the underlying principles. In Tanja's experience, it is easiest to write the introduction last.
- Main part: structure your points. Are you building the article chronologically? Or do you cover the subtopics one by one? In any case, it is good to work with subheadings. Also, experience shows, that people tend to remember stories more easily than dry numbers: embedding examples help connect theory with real-life stories – and readers can more easily transfer the knowledge they have learned to other similar issues. But don’t deviate too far from the main message of your article, an example of more than one paragraph is usually too long.
- Conclusion. The final part completes your article. You can draw a conclusion, summarize important findings, give tips, or reveal further questions and gaps. For example, if your article has clarified some things but also raised some questions, you can point out to the reader, that there may not be an official and proven solution to this point and that the customs community will have to wait for an answer from relevant legislation or jurisprudence.
- As always, there are exceptions to those tips. Find out what works for you and your style of writing. Just remember that readers should still be able to follow your train of thought and see the relevance of your article to their life rather quickly.
Anthony Buckley, CEO, Anthony Buckley Consulting Ltd. and Board Member, Customs Knowledge Institute, Ireland
Anthony’s favourite article at the moment is actually not a published article, but a case study written by a student at the end of a course on customs. It is about a company, which brings in a lot of equipment and manufactures some equipment and then exports 95% of its products again. Therefore, what does it need to do to engage in the new customs environment between GB, Northern Ireland and the EU? The case study is limited to 1500 words which adds to the challenge of this quite complex problem. The student succeeded in analysing the challenges faced by the company and the available options, and presented a clear and practical set of recommendations. The technique used was to identify “issues” - for each “issue” the challenges and options are stated, and recommendations made. Complex issues are presented in simple language, easy for a non-expert to understand. More technical matters are referenced by hyperlinks. The author also has devised simple diagrams to illustrate different trade flows. Finally, he presents clear steps for the company to follow, in order of priority.
Anthony’s tips on writing an article:
- Think enough about the problem.
- Be aware of the intended readership.
- Use simple language, diagrams and other visuals assists (e.g. text boxes) that support information.
- Prioritise recommendations and relate the recommendations directly to the relevant problem/issue.
- Use bullets, numbering, paragraph and other text divisions to segment the text into its component points.
Mette Werdelin Azzam, former Head of Origin Sub-Directorate in the Tariff and Trade Affairs Directorate of the WCO, Belgium
Mette’s favorite article currently is on non-preferential rules of origin: "When you turn your back on an issue – it only gets bigger!", published in the latest issue of WCO News. The article caught her attention because of the topic, rules of origin, but also because the title of the article is catching and shows that there is something more behind it. Already in the introduction, it is targeting people who already are experts and have a background in this topic, whereas many articles on origin walk through the process over the last 25 years and just report on the current status. The author starts the article with the condition that the background is already known and builds on from there. The author is clearly talking to experts having already a good understanding of the challenges. The author also asks questions and provides solutions, some of which are very innovative, and the approach in the entire article is very thought-provoking and sometimes provocative. It is clear to see that the author is an expert in the matter, and the article is very clear and informative.
Tips on writing an article:
- Many articles use reports at the beginning that is useful but starting from scratch every time, it becomes quite complicated. It is better to go a step further.
- It is significant to have the structure: introduction of what you are going to say; say it, and make a conclusion of what you have said. (“1. say what you are going to say – 2. say it – 3. say what you have said").
Dr. Ilona Mishchenko, Associate Professor of the Maritime and Customs Law Department, National University "Odessa Law Academy", Ukraine
Ilona’s favorite article is "The changing role of Customs: Customs aligning with supply chain and information management" by Frank Heijmann, Yao-Hua Tan, Boriana Rukanova, and Albert Veenstra, published in the World Customs Journal in 2020. Some theses of this article look like fantasy regarding Ukraine. The article deals with 100% control using the latest technologies, including artificial intelligence technologies, auto-detection of goods, and other technical innovations at customs that Ilona hopes will be soon introduced in Ukraine as well. The need for multidisciplinary education for customs officials is the next important thesis of the article. They need knowledge at least in legislation and procedures, supply chain management, and information technology. This need and some practical issues are also discussed in the article.
Her tips on writing an article:
- The beginners should choose a really interesting topic with potential.
- They should not be afraid of sharing their opinion and be honest.
Toby Spink, director, BKR Consultants Limited, United Kingdom
My top tip for new authors is something I have personally found to be really important in my own reading, especially in relation to information pieces useful to me in my role as a customs advisor. My tip is to use practical, real-life examples to elaborate on key points. I believe this additional context can allow the reader to better understand the importance of the messages you are trying to get across.
It would be hypocritical of me to not follow my own advice, so imagine how a doctor may advise a patient on their health issues. It is important that the information provided by the doctor is factual and accurate, but they have to think carefully about the terminology they use and the way they explain it, otherwise the patient may not be able to understand the advice they are given.
Creating theoretical relatable scenarios and then overlaying them with, firstly, the technical advice and then again with simplified terminology is something I have found to work really well to illustrate a complex message.
Accuracy is of course the primary goal when writing an information piece, but there will in most cases need to be a balance struck with accessibility.
Samuel Draginich, Global Trade Compliance, INTRAL Corporation, USA/Vietnam
Favorite article: ‘The UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement is a dangerous precedent for Irish producers’ by Dr. David Savage, The Independent IE, 16 June 2021. This article discussed the implication on Irish farmers of the new FTAs the UK is signing post-Brexit, particularly with Australia, which has already materialized. Others are in the works with US and Brazil. The author of the article has discussed how Irish farmers are going to be impacted because of this. At present, as the author believes, the UK is the largest market for Irish produce. He discusses how the Irish producers will be forced to compete with Australian, Brazilian, and American farmers which have far greater economies of scale.
The article was singled out as being a good example for three reasons:
- takes a complicated topic and makes it approachable to the average reader,
- it discussed a highly relevant topic that will have a material impact on average people and
- demonstrates to the reader how trade policies can translate into real-world implications.
Advice: Write clear objectives, practical applications, clear explanations without unnecessary explanations and details.
Lucie Cordier, Lawyer, Custax & Legal, France
Lucie liked Clif Burn’s blog about US export control: exportlawblog.com. Even though it has not been updated since 2018, it is to her view one of the best websites about export control. Export control - especially in the US - is a complex and not very accessible subject and Clif Burns always managed to make it understandable and entertaining through a topicality and humor.
Tips on writing an article:
- Keep the list of ideas that are interesting to you. It will make one more passionate about the topic and keep the desire to share the information with others.
- Try to go to the point and eliminate elements that are not relevant and are distracting your readers away from the main objectives that you want to achieve by writing your article.
10 tips for writing an article
The summary of the tips is prepared by Enrika Naujokė, Member of the Editorial Board of the Customs Compliance and Risk Management Journal and the organizer of the Authors' Meetings. Currently, Enrika's favourite articles are the ones, where a customs topic is covered from the perspectives of various countries. She writes articles herself, but she believes that there is always a lot of space for improvement and is grateful for all the useful and inspiring tips. Please see the summary below.