Thursday, October 19

Top 10 Tips for Law Students: Essay Writing

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Legal essays are the bane of every law student’s life. After the exam focused assessment style of school and college, the constant barrage of essays at university level can be difficult to deal with. With the jobs market increasingly competitive, the ability to write a good essay could be the key to your future career. Here are a few tips that I learnt throughout my law degree, which can help you to write a great legal essay.

1) Start Early

Whilst you have undoubtedly been told this from every lecturer, the importance of starting early cannot be underestimated. Unless you are one of those talented people who can do everything last minute, then writing a good essay is the process of weeks of work. Take time to read around the topic, and then to check over the essay once you have finished writing. Rushed essays often contain simple mistakes, which is an easy way to lose vital marks.

2) Plan effectively 

Again, this seems like an obvious piece of advice, but is often difficult to apply in real life. Planning is key to writing any successful essay. Writing an essay plan can help to focus your research, and identify the areas which you need to include in your paper. By starting early and planning effectively, you can minimise the impact of any unexpected hurdles which come up in the writing process.

3) Read quality academic materials

Legal research is now easier than ever, as the internet provides a wealth of information that is easily accessible. However, the trick to writing a good essay is finding quality materials to cite, to boost your essay. By citing the top academics in your field, you are showcasing that you are up to date with the best materials available on the topic. Law journals and case law are the best sources to cite in essays, whereas news websites should be used sparingly.

4) Make a point!

This is perhaps the key tip to writing a good legal essay. The best essays present a legal argument, which is supported through evidence. Your goal should be to convince the reader that your legal opinion is correct. Don’t be afraid to make bold and innovative claims (within reason), as markers often like this. Whilst your paper doesn’t have to be ground breaking, you should be making a personal argument as you answer the essay question.

5) Have a clear structure to your argument

Structure is another crucial element to a winning essay, as it helps to weave your ideas into a convincing argument. Without structure, your essay risks seeming random and incoherent. It doesn’t matter how good your research is if it obscured by a lack of structure. Your essay should have a clear beginning, middle and end, and constantly relate back to your key point and the question posed by the paper. In longer essays, structure can be provided by headings and sub headings, to guide the reader. This construction will allow your main ideas to come to the forefront, making it easier for markers to award you good grades.

6) Reference as you go

Like many students, I hated referencing as a law student. It is technical, time consuming and interrupts the flow of writing. Nevertheless, referencing as you write saves a lot of time, and helps you to keep track of the sources you are citing. This is something I learnt the hard way at the start of my undergraduate degree, when I accidently deleted all my references a few hours before the deadline of my first essay! Trust me when I say, you don’t want to have to be doing all of your referencing in the final hours before you hand in your paper!

7) Reference properly

Referencing is not only time consuming, but it is an easy way to lose marks. Careless referencing looks sloppy, and markers will punish it heavily. It can also constitute plagiarism, if you fail to provide authority for quotes and ideas of another scholar. Therefore, following the relevant citation guide is an important part of writing any essay. It is best to get to grips with referencing as early on in your law degree as possible, so that it becomes second nature in the later years.

8) Understand the wider importance of the issues

One of the interesting aspects of studying law is the interplay with other disciplinary areas. Therefore, understanding the context of an essay question, can be the key to writing a great answer. An example would be a question on Public law. By including a couple of sentences about the social or political context of the issue, you can show the marker that you understand the impact of your essay topic. Situating the discussion in the real world shows awareness, and may provide opportunities to bring new ideas into your paper. This is sure to impress your lecturers, and could boost your marks into the higher grave boundaries.

9) Get a friend to read through your essay

Once you have finished writing, it is a good idea to get a friend to read through it and check for mistakes. The friend need not be even be a law student, as it is often good to get a fresh perspective. It is easy to become immersed in an essay, making it hard to see your own mistakes. Fresh eyes can spot grammar issues, and ensure your argument is clear, concise and powerful.

10) Practice your writing skills

Finally, the best way to improve your essay writing skills is to practice writing as much as possible. Thankfully, university is the best place to do this. Sometimes, law schools offer non-assessed essays, or the opportunity to practice exam questions and have a lecturer read them. If this is on offer, then do not hesitate to take up this opportunity. It will help you to understand what is required from you, so that you can apply it going forward. Always take any chance to get feedback from professors and you should find it easy to mould future papers to their comments and get the best possible grades.

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About Author

Tom is a graduate in Law and Criminology with a First Class Honours from the University of Sheffield, and has been writing with Legal Loop since November 2015. He has an interest in International and European Law, and is currently studying an LLM in Advanced studies in Public International Law, specialising in Peace, Justice and Development at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

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