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Guide to Writing an Argumentative Essay in Criminal Law: All You Need to Know
What is an argumentative essay in criminal law.
An argumentative essay can be described as an essay that aims to present and discuss different perspectives regarding a specific issue. As a rule, a paper contains several proved arguments and a counterargument. The writer should present his or her viewpoints explicitly by considering only a particular side of the problem as a compelling one. There is a need to present evidence and proofs that are used to support the claim and explain it. Accordingly, the writer needs to conduct an in-depth analysis, evaluate evidence, and establish a position on the topic concisely. With regard to an argumentative essay in criminal law, it involves different concepts, including criminal punishment, procedure, or sentencing. An insightful argumentative essay explains logical arguments and reviews the strong and weak sides of the presented problem.
Choosing a Topic for an Argumentative Essay in Criminal Law
First of all, you need to remember that choosing a topic for an argumentative essay in criminal law is one of the primary steps of writing a paper. Criminal law includes a wide variety of themes that can be selected for an essay. It is important to remember that there are some historical and socio-cultural peculiarities of the laws in different countries that should be taken into consideration before the selection of topic. The theme should be interesting both for the audience and the writer. Consequently, the subjects that are not widely discussed will be interesting for you to research, and they can attract readers’ attention. In such a case, you have an opportunity to present an analytical approach to the issue. The list of examples can help you to choose a compelling topic for an argumentative essay in criminal law.
- The Role of Peaceful Protests in the Development of a Community;
- Effectiveness of Laws Against Cybercrime;
- The Influence of Sociology on Crime Prevention;
- The Theory of Broken Windows: The Impact of the Environment on Crime Rates;
- The Effect of Social Media on Crime Investigation;
- Preconditions of Domestic Violence;
- The Effect of Wrongful Convictions on Criminal Justice;
- Elimination of Slavery and Human Trafficking with the Help of Criminal Law;
- The Effective Policies for Reducing Criminal Rate;
- The Role of Experimental Criminology in the Criminal Justice System.
The first step of the pre-writing process is the selection of a relevant issue for discussion. You can ask the professor for clarification in order to eliminate the vagueness of the task and make it more specific. It would be beneficial to choose the topic related to criminal law that is interesting for you. In such a case, it will be easier to provide a reasonable perspective of the problem and persuade the audience. Accordingly, you will have an opportunity to use your background knowledge to write an excellent argumentative essay. In addition, there is a need to remember that the arguments should be based on precise data, studies, and facts. The author needs to support the main ideas of the essay with the help of up-to-date references. At the same time, a persuasive argumentative essay should not contain irrelevant details and too general information. Consequently, it is essential to choose a narrow and specific topic in criminal law in order to write a strong paper.
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Another critical point is that the writer should perform in-depth research in order to find the necessary information. Before writing an essay, you need to analyze published materials, including criminal laws, articles, and surveys. As a result, you will find out more about the topicality of the problem. The obtained knowledge will assist in presenting different sides of the issue objectively and thoroughly. Additionally, you will be able to form and support your position regarding the matter. The writer also should be ready to learn advanced information on the subject even if he or she has some background knowledge. Gathering information from different credible sources will broaden the audience’s understanding of the issue and help to make a profound presentation of the problem. Accordingly, there is a need to find and analyze the data from relevant sources before writing an argumentative essay.
Writing a short outline of the essay is also a crucial part of the pre-writing process. After the research of the topic, an overview will help to organize the ideas in a logical order. A compelling outline should include such parts of an argumentative essay as an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Additionally, the writer needs to write a thesis statement in the introduction part. Writing down the main ideas in the form of an outline would be helpful in terms of presenting the information consistently and logically.
Structure of an Argumentative Essay in Criminal Law
You need to keep in mind that the structure of an argumentative essay in criminal law, generally, follows a typical structure of an academic essay. The title of the work should be clear and understandable in order to attract readers’ attention. An argumentative essay consists of an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Accordingly, the introduction explains the relevance of the issue and provides specific background. Additionally, a thesis statement is the last sentence of the first paragraph that presents the central argument of an essay. As a rule, an argumentative essay includes three body paragraphs that discuss background information, supporting evidence, and counterargument. The writer can expand the structure due to the necessity to cover the topic adequately. However, there is a need to remember that the paper should contain argumentation of the position and discussion of the counter-side. A conclusion, which is the last part of an essay, summarizes discussed ideas and findings. Additionally, it is essential to repeat the thesis statement at the end of the work.
An argumentative essay in criminal law starts with an introduction that captures readers’ attention. Additionally, it provides general background knowledge on the chosen topic. The writer should present the topicality of the problem convincingly and concisely. Additionally, it is useful to include relevant background information in the introduction. The last sentence of the paragraph is a thesis statement that comprises the critical ideas of the writer’s argumentation. Moreover, the thesis presents a persuasive argument that supports the writer’s objective position. However, it does not reflect the author’s personal opinion on the subject of the work. You can find the examples of effective and non-effective thesis statements below:
Incorrect: ‘Self-driving cars are too dangerous and should be banned from the roadways’.
This statement does not explain the author’s claim profoundly. It is too general, so it cannot describe the topic explicitly.
Correct: ‘The risk quotient analysis indicates that self-driving cars should be banned due to the high level of autonomous vehicles accidents in the USA’.
Such a thesis statement effectively presents the writer’s central message. The readers can understand the topicality of the issue.
An argumentative essay aims to discuss both sides of the selected issue in order to be coherent. The writer should keep in mind that a persuasive argumentative essay has a logical and clear structure. Accordingly, there are, as a rule, three body paragraphs with background information, arguments, and a counterargument. Each of the paragraphs should start with a topic sentence that presents its central claim. Furthermore, there is a need to dedicate one paragraph for one idea in order to make it concise. You need to state each point of the thesis statement in the topic sentences of the body paragraphs. An effective essay should comprise different viewpoints of the problem. However, it is essential to pay attention to a conflicting perspective of the issue and refute them with persuasive argumentation.
The ideas in the body paragraphs should be supported with the evidence from outside resources, including criminal cases, articles, and research. The usage of relevant and up-to-date sources will make the paper more convincing. As a result, a persuasive argumentative essay needs to include the supporting details that follow the thesis statement of the paper.
The body paragraphs prove and support the proposed arguments. The writer presents several reasons why the audience should accept his or her position. Accordingly, the writer should include supporting details that will convince the audience. The in-text citations and quotes from relevant sources will assist you in substantiating the claims. Additionally, there is a need to include explanation and interpretation of the used citations. Do not forget that the paragraph should be written logically in order to support the main argument profoundly. One paragraph should be dedicated to the discussion of one case. Consequently, two paragraphs of the body part should discuss central writer’s claims. It is crucial to provide the audience with the reasons why they should consider your position.
With regard to the last paragraph of the body part, it should be noted that it discusses the counterargument of the issue. The presentation of the opposite viewpoint helps to make the essay more unbiased and professional. However, it is important to refute the opposing opinion reasonably. The writer should explain the reliability of his or her arguments in comparison to the counterargument.
The last part of an argumentative essay is a conclusion that summarizes the main ideas of the paper. In addition, there is a need to restate a thesis statement in different words in order to demonstrate the audience the value of the findings in the last part of the work. Nevertheless, a conclusion cannot present any new information or supporting details that were not mentioned in the body part. Accordingly, the writer should not include citations in the conclusion part. The last sentence of the paragraph can underline the significance of the findings and results of the work. In addition, it would be beneficial to discuss further research that can be conducted according to the outcome of the paper.
Having written an essay does not mean that the essay is finished. Firstly, it is important to check whether the work meets all the requirements provided by the instructor. The presented ideas and arguments should be clear, consistent, and supported by relevant sources. It would be beneficial to include the definition of the implied terms, laws, and concepts. The persuasive tone of the work will attract the readers and draw their attention to the topic. Additionally, there is a need to check the structure of the essay that should include an introduction, a body part, and a conclusion. The thesis statement should state the main idea of the essay in a clear and persuasive way. Accordingly, each paragraph of the body part should reflect the thesis in its topic sentence and supporting details. At the same time, do not forget to restate the thesis statement in the conclusion part.
The writer needs to reread the work to correct grammar, vocabulary, and stylistics error. Editing and proofreading are effective techniques that help you to make the essay more consistent and coherent. Moreover, it is crucial to check whether the language of the paper corresponds to your academic level. A free of errors argumentative essay can transmit the author’s main claims. The writer should also check the essay for common mistakes including repetitions, use of personal pronouns or contractions. In addition, you can ask peers for an objective review of the essay. It can help to check grammar, vocabulary, and content of the essay once again objectively. Transitional words, like additionally, however, as a result, or moreover, may help the writer to present the ideas in a logical order. In addition, there is a need to check the accuracy of paper format. You can check the peculiarities of paper formats on the website Purdue Owl.
Finally, the last step of writing a strong criminal law essay is to consider all the notes and make a final version of the work. If you take into account the tips on writing an essay, then the work will receive the highest mark.
References Argumentative Essay (n.d.). Retrieved from https://literarydevices.net/argumentative-essay/ Argumentative Essays. (n.d.). Owl Purdue. Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/argumentative_essays.html Criminal Justice Research Topics. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminal-justice-research-topics/ Kennedy,B. (2018) How do you Write an “A+” English Paper or Essay: Outline and Procedure. Retrieved from https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-A-Paper-Outline-and-Prochedure
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- Writing a legal argument
The example paragraphs below demonstrate the things you need to include to write a successful legal argument.
Use the menu on the right hand side to navigate through the resources in this tutorial and how to write a legal argument.
To successfully write a legal case study
You need to:
- identify relevant legal issues
- apply the law to the facts
- structure your answer clearly and logically (use the model plan)
- use appropriate language for a legal argument.
Identify relevant legal issues and apply the law to the facts
These model paragraphs show how a student has successfully identified the legal issues and applied those issues to the facts of the law.
In this model, the first sentence identifies the relevant legal argument while the second applies the law to the facts of the case.
Lord Atkin's neighbour test suggested that person A owes a duty of care if B is sufficiently proximate to A. In other words, the test will hold if A's actions or omissions may affect B in a reasonably foreseeable manner and consequently cause damage or suffering or damage to B. In this case, Groovy Clothing Store owes Bert a duty of care because Bert was in their premises and such duty of care is non-delegable (and hence could not be discharged) to Groovy Clothing Store's contractor who was hired to renovate the premises. According to the 'neighbour' test, occupiers of land owe a duty of care to their entrants (neighbours) in respect of premises because of their control over the premise. Australian Safeway Stores v Zaluzna. Since Bert's presence in the store was organised and controlled by the store, and it is reasonably foreseeable that Groovy Clothing Store's actions and omissions could cause damage to Bert and other shoppers, it is hence sufficient for Groovy Clothing Store to owe Betts duty of care. Applying the law to the facts -->
Here the application of the law to the facts and the identification of legal issues have been interwoven together in one sentence.
Although a shopper entering a shop like Groovy Clothing Store would not assume voluntarily (volenti non fit injuria) the risk of falling down a collapsed staircase, in defence a its breaching duty of care, Groovy Clothing Store could probably claim that Bert was partly liable for his injury due to his failure to take reasonable care of himself (contributory negligence) on the grounds that an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person would not force him or herself up the stairs at the same time with so many people because of the foreseeability of an accident Wyong Shire Council v Shirt  HCA 12 . If this is the case, then not all the losses and damages Bert suffered would be recoverable.
[Identifying and defining the legal issues] Lord Atkin's neighbour test suggested that person A owes a duty of care if B is sufficiently proximate to A. In other words, the test will hold if A's actions or omissions may affect B in a reasonably foreseeable manner and consequently cause damage or suffering or damage to B. [Applying the law to the facts] In this case, Groovy Clothing Store owes Bert a duty of care because Bert was in their premises and such duty of care is non-delegable (and hence could not be discharged) to Groovy Clothing Store's contractor who was hired to renovate the premises. [Identifying and defining the legal issues] According to the 'neighbour' test, occupiers of land owe a duty of care to their entrants (neighbours) in respect of premises because of their control over the premise. Australian Safeway Stores v Zaluzna . [Concluding the issue] Since Bert's presence in the store was organised and controlled by the store, and it is reasonably foreseeable that Groovy Clothing Store's actions and omissions could cause damage to Bert and other shoppers, it is hence sufficient for Groovy Clothing Store to owe Bert duty of care.
[Applying the law to the facts] Although a shopper entering a shop like Groovy Clothing Store would not assume voluntarily[Identifying and defining the legal issues] (volenti non fit injuria) [Applying the law to the facts] the risk of falling down a collapsed staircase, [Identifying and defining the legal issues] in defence a its breaching duty of care, [Applying the law to the facts] Gropovy Clothing Store could probably claim that Bert was partly liable for his injury due to his failure to take reasonable care of himself [Identifying and defining the legal issues] (contributory negligence) on the grounds that an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person [Applying the law to the facts] would not force him or herself up the stairs at the same time with so many people because of the foreseeability of an accident Wyong Shire Council v Shirt  HCA 12. [Concluding the issue] If this is the case, then not all the losses and damages Bert suffered would be recoverable.
- Finding Australian case law
- Finding Australian legislation
- The case study
- Writing your answer
- Planning your answer
- Integrating a legal argument
- Language focus
- Linking words
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How To Study For Legal Studies: A 7 Step Guide to Writing an A-Worthy Legal Essay
Legal Studies has acquired a reputation for being one of the most content-heavy subjects you can do during high school, but fear not! Despite the extra reading you may have to do, it is just as easy to achieve an A in Legal Studies as it is to achieve an A in any other subject – provided you follow a set of steps. How to get an A in legal studies comes down to a lot of reading and writing, it’s true. Still, if you’ve chosen a career in law , criminology, politics, business, justice or social services – these activities will be a part of your daily to-do list.
Let’s dive right into the 7 steps that will help you score an A in legal studies!
1. Contextualise the Legal Problem
A lot of students make the mistake of jumping straight into analysing a legal problem without actually explaining the context at all! While in some situations you can assume that your audience may be educated on perhaps Australia’s political system, there are other situations where they may not be familiar with the topic at all. So, first things first; write about why there is a legal problem. For instance, if you’re given the topic “Address the legal issues surrounding laws governing assisted reproduction technology in Australia”, you wouldn’t just dive into relevant case law. You would first start by explaining that Australian law is complex and convoluted in this area, which has caused numerous human rights violations.
Establishing the context of your legal problem allows the readers to have a greater understanding of the issue itself. The greater their understanding, the more likely they will follow your analysis.
2. Know the Legal Technicalities!
Students often lose marks in Legal Studies based on technicalities. A technicality could be using the correct language throughout your legal assessment – for example, using “plaintiff” or “defendant” when referring to the people involved in a suit. Another example would be knowing the Australian court hierarchy and making sure you refer to the correct court in your assessment. The best way to know the technicalities has A LOT to do with the next step:
3. Background Reading is your Best friend.
Something that I realised halfway through Year 11 was that it simply wasn’t good enough to be able to write a succinct analytical essay for Legal Studies. I actually needed to understand what I was talking about. In order to understand what I was talking about, I needed to do as much reading as possible. There is no denying that there is a lot of reading in law.
Skim reading is not acceptable, you will miss out on the difficult points! Sit down and read everything the first time – trust me, you’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to go back to refresh your memory!
4. Plan your Assessment
Always plan your work before you start. Chances are, if you start writing your assignment before you’ve actually thought about what you’re writing, your perspective will change halfway through the assignment.
Plan your arguments, find your legal sources and draft your recommendations before you put pen to paper. This will maximise your writing time because you won’t be stopping and starting as you dig up those references!
5. The IRAC Method saves lives (literally).
Legal writing follows a similar structure to what you would see in English. In English, you would typically follow the TEEL (also known as PEEL or SEEL) rule (Topic, Evidence, Elaborate, Link). Legal argumentative essays follow a more propositional method: IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) but it is essentially the same thing!
Firstly, students should identify the legal issue . A legal issue could be something as simple as “whether or not the accused is guilty of murder”.
Secondly, students should identify the legal principle (also known as the legal rule). This is where it becomes tricky. Legal principles are generally elemental. Maybe the accused is not guilty of murder… Maybe he/she is guilty of manslaughter. How do we know this? We turn our attention to the legal principle that relates to unlawful homicide.
SIDE NOTE: One of the most important things students should know when learning the law is understanding the two sources of law: common law and legislation.
Here, our legal principle is codified into legislation in section 302 of the Criminal Code (Qld) 1899 which outlines the elements for murder in section 1(a)-(e). One out of the five of these elements requires the offender to intend to cause the death of the person killed. However, if the offender did not intend to cause the death of the person killed, then he/she is not guilty of murder. Rather, that person would be guilty of manslaughter!
This leads us into the third component of IRAC: application of the facts. Let’s imagine that someone is playing with matches and suddenly sets a wooden post on fire, which breaks and falls on a pedestrian, killing them upon impact. Did the person who set the wooden post on fire intend to cause the death of the person killed? Arguably not.
Application of the facts is the area in which students will receive the most amount of marks, because it requires students to connect the dots between different legal principles.
The best advice I can give to students when applying the law to the facts is to make sure that you consider all possible outcomes, and make counterarguments where appropriate. Perhaps arson could be an alternative charge? Or maybe the accused could rely on an “accident” defence? Make sure to mention these observations in your answer!
Finally, based on their application of the law to the facts, students should choose the conclusive argument which they believe is the strongest and articulate why that is the case. This could be as simple as saying, “Therefore, it is unlikely that Jimmy would be found guilty of murder because he did not intend to cause any harm to the pedestrian.”
When concluding, students should sit back and play “the judge” and imagine what finding a judge would make. Most importantly, don’t make your answer absolute! You can never know for certain what the outcome will be, so always make a tentative conclusion! Do this by noting that “it is likely/unlikely that…”, followed by your conclusion.
Understanding and applying these principles is how to get an A in Legal Studies, and how to assess so many decisions throughout your lifetime.
6. Offer Recommendations, and Identify the Limitations
So far you’ve identified a legal issue, you’ve discussed why it’s legal issue, outlined the relevant law, applied the facts and made a tentative conclusion. Now what?
You suggest ways in which the law can be improved!
For example, imagine you are analysing the law relating to double jeopardy. Double jeopardy prevents an individual from being put on trial for the same crime twice. Only recently, the law reform in Queensland to retrial an individual in certain circumstances if “new and compelling” evidence unfolds. However, this law is not retrospective, meaning that any crimes that were committed prior to the enactment of the new law on the 25th October 2007 are “safe” from retrial despite if “new and compelling” evidence proves the acquitted person guilty of their crime.
If you were addressing this scenario for Legal Studies, it wouldn’t be enough to achieve that “A” grade by merely making the above assumption. You would have to make recommendations as to how the law should be improved . Here, you could recommend that the law should be retrospective to ensure that all criminals receive punishment for their crimes. It’s that simple!
However, there is a secondary element to this that will push your assessments over the edge.
The prior steps can be identified as foundational requirements to adequately answer a legal question; but in order to achieve that A Grade, you need to go beyond the bare minimum of merely identifying the parties, issues, legal principles, applying the law to the facts and making recommendations.
To demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the area of law, you need to be able to identify whether your recommendations will give rise to any adverse results – in other words, limitations that your recommendations will result in.
For example, using the above scenario, you have recommended that the Criminal Code (Qld) 1899 should be amended to ensure that the double jeopardy clause applies retrospectively. A limitation here could be that this recommendation would flood the courts with “cold cases”, which will delay a multitude of cases from appearing before the court.
7. Write About Your Passions
For most activities in Legal Studies, you can have a little bit of leeway to pick and choose the topic you want. The best advice I could give a student is write about your passions!
Sticking to your passions ensures that you will enjoy the time you put into your assessment. Personally, my passion is human rights (which is probably obvious with my above examples). Writing about human rights means that I jump at the chance to read another article on law reform! I can do this for hours, since it’s something I have a genuine interest in.
Remember that law (and ATAR legal studies) is very reading-heavy, if you’re not interested in corporate law, that reading will be doubly difficult. So if you stick to something that you’re truly passionate about, you can’t go wrong!
Thankfully, one of the great things about Legal Studies is that it covers numerous areas, which means you’re bound to set your sights on something you enjoy. I truly believe it’s one of the greatest areas you can endeavour into, and I wish you all the best in achieving the best grades possible for it! How to get an A in legal studies is about pursuing your interests and dreams. Isn’t that worth getting an A for?
Need to improve your grades across the board? Find a high school tutor now .
Now you know how to get an A in legal studies, what about those other ATAR classes?
If you’re apply for a place in law at university, you’ll be up against some tough competitors. Regardless of what you plan to study on graduation, getting the best possible ATAR score means you’ll have the most potential options open to you. Now you’ve got your plan for achieving top marks in legal studies, let’s work on getting you the best possible ATAR!
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Law: Legal essay
Four tips on how to write a good law essay.
An essay is a common type of assessment in a law degree. This resource offers tips and resources to help you plan and write law essays. There are usually two types of law essays: the theoretical based essay and the problem-style essay.
The theoretical based essay may ask you to critically discuss a new piece of legislation or a recent case in relation to existing laws or legal principles. You may also be asked to take a side in an argument or discuss the wider societal implications of a legal outcome.
Problem-style essays require you to advise a party based on the analysis of a scenario or given problem. You will be required to identify the legal issues and apply relevant law. See more on legal problem-solving in this resource . This resource will focus on theoretical based law essays. There are a number of strategies that may help you in starting, structuring and presenting a law essay.
1. Starting your answer
The first step to a successful law essay is understanding the question. One of the most effective ways of breaking down the question is to identify the direction, content, and scope or limiting words.
For example, look at the following essay question:
Direction Words : Critically analyse.
Content Words: tort of negligence; tort of battery; consenting to medical treatment; patient’s right (autonomous decision).
Scope/Limiting Words: the extent to which, protect.
- In this case, we need to critically analyse an area of law.
- Here, we need to research the torts of negligence and battery and the issues of consent in medical treatments and patients’ rights .
- Here we should critically analyse how well (the extent to which) the aforementioned torts do or do not protect patients’ rights in the context of medical consent .
You may also find it useful to look at the rubric to help you interpret your examiner’s expectations.
2. Planning your argument
When reading a case, journal article, book chapter or online article, it can be hard to know exactly how to use the source in an essay. This is where taking good notes while reading critically is helpful. Take a look at our other resources to help you Read critically and Read difficult material .
The next step is to take notes that help you understand different arguments and issues, or information and context, and refer back to your assignment question to keep you on track.
Writing a very short summary of each source is a great way to start. For example, for each journal article you read, try to summarise the author's main points in a few lines. This will help you to articulate the meaning in your own words.
Then, expand on this summary with some key points. Be sure that when taking notes, you make a note of the source and the pinpoint reference or page number, so that you can correctly cite the source in your essay.
Think about how you will use your resources. You may use a primary or secondary resource to:
- to support your argument with evidence
- to demonstrate a range of issues and opinions (remember, it’s OK if you don’t agree with all your sources! Show where these contrasting arguments fit into your discussion)
It may be helpful to ask:
- How does this source contribute to my argument?
- Do I agree or disagree with the author’s argument?
See our resource Master the art of note-making and Brainstorming and mind mapping for more tips.
Integrating resources into your essay
It is important to use your research well. One way to do this is to plan the main points of your essay, and how you will use your primary and secondary resources (such as journal articles, books, case law, legislation, websites) to support one or more of those points.
3. Structuring your answer
A key element of successful law essays is the structure. A good structure will enable you to communicate your ideas fluently and efficiently. This is an important and highly valued skill not only in law school, but in practice as well.
Usually, your essay requires an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. Generally, you should have one idea per paragraph. This may mean shorter paragraphs than what you would ordinarily write in high school or other faculties. Concision is key in law. Therefore, we recommend a short paragraph which efficiently addresses an issue over a long and winding exploration of many different issues.
Remember to use subheadings to provide structure to your writing. It is a good idea to come up with your subheadings before you start writing so that you have a structure to follow. The subheadings should act as a series of subtopics which reflect the arguments needed to substantiate your thesis statement.
Below we have an overview of the working components of good law essays. Examiners expect you to use all of these in your writing. The samples come from Julie Cassidy, ‘Hollow Avowals of Human Rights Protection: Time for an Australian Federal Bill of Rights?’ (2008) 13 Deakin Law Review 131.
NB: This is an illustrative example only. It is not concise enough for an undergraduate research essay and you would be expected to remove phrases like “In the course of, it is suggested that, in regard to.”
4. Presenting your ideas
In order to do well, you must also present your essay so that it reflects academic standards. This includes correct citation practices, subheadings, Plain English, and grammar and spelling.
Examiners highly value closely edited and proofed work. First-year students commonly rely too much on passive constructions and embellished language. Good lawyers write in clear and concise English that is easily understood.
- Correct Citation
- Plain English
- Grammar and Spelling
Your essay must adhere to the AGLC4 rules , including appropriate pinpoint footnotes and bibliography.
A comprehensive guide to AGLC4 is provided by the Library.
Law essays use subheadings frequently, but judiciously. This may be different to what you are used to.
Subheadings also help provide a structure. See the previous section for more advice.
In accordance with AGLC 4, the first word of your heading must be capitalised.
Examiners do not want to see the full extent of your vocabulary. They prefer to see complex arguments rendered in simple language.
This, surprisingly, is not easy. We tend to think through writing. That is, our ideas come to us as we are writing. This leaves a lot of writing which is repetitive, vague, or contradictory as our ideas evolve.
Use the editing worksheet to learn which words you can easily swap out to improve readability and strategies to avoid long-winded constructions.
Do not leave your assignment to the last minute. Not only will this create undue stress, but you will not have adequate time to proofread your assignment.
When we work intensively on a piece of writing, we need a period of time away, or distance, in order to re-read our work objectively. Give yourself 2-3 days before the due date so you can print your text and edit it carefully to remove any typos or grammatical errors.
Services like Grammarly may help to pick up errors that are missed by Microsoft Word.
Legal essay strategies, legal essay strategies accordion.
- Writing a Law essay mind map Take a look at this useful mind map to see the steps involved and the questions you should ask yourself when writing a law essay.
- Melbourne Law School: Research essay guide / Legal essay checklist
- Professor Steven Vaughan (University College London): How to write better law essays ( Prezi slides )
- Associate Professor Douglas Guilfoyle (University of New South Wales): Plain Legal English ( YouTube playlist )
- Professor James Lee (King’s College London): #FreeLawRevision Guides (see especially Essay Technique Parts 1, 2 and 3) ( YouTube playlist )
- Strategies for Essay Writing - Harvard College Writing Center See particularly, the section on Counterargument.
Examples and language
- University of Western Australia Law School: Examples of legal writing
- Columbia Law School: Writing in plain English
- Dr Patrick Goold (City, University of London): ‘It’s a subject where words matter’: how to write the perfect law essay ( The Guardian )
- 'Don't just vomit on the page': how to write a legal essay Law lecturer Steven Vaughan (University College, London) explains why the best essays take discipline, editing, and teamwork.
Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Approach
Corbett-Jarvis and Grigg
How to write better law essays : tools and techniques for success in exams and assignments
How to write law essays and exams
Level Up Your Essays: How to get better grades at university
Inger Mewburn, Shaun Lehmann, and Katherine Firth
Your feedback matters
We want to hear from you! Let us know what you found most useful or share your suggestions for improving this resource.
Public Law for Everyone
Professor Mark Elliott
Writing a Law essay? Remember to argue!
Providing advice in the abstract about how to write Law essays is difficult because so much depends on the nature of the question you are answering. It’s also important to take into account whatever are the expectations for your particular course, degree programme or university. Nevertheless, a useful rule of thumb, I think, is that a good Law essay will normally set out and advance a clear thesis or argument . (Note that I’m referring here to essays as distinct from problem questions: the latter call for a different approach.)
The need for an argument
Some answers explicitly call for this. Take, for example, the following essay title:
‘Do you agree that parliamentary sovereignty is the most important principle in the UK constitution?’
Here, the question itself in effect advances an argument — that parliamentary sovereignty is the most important principle in the constitution — and invites you to say whether you agree with it or not. And in saying whether you agree, you need to advance your own argument: ‘I agree with this because…’. Or: ‘I disagree because…’. Or even (because if the question advances a position that you think implies a misconception, oversimplification or false premise, you can say so): ‘I will argue that the question oversimplifies matters by assuming that a particular constitutional principle can be singled out as uniquely important…’
Other questions may indicate in a less direct way the need for you to put forward your own argument. For example:
‘“Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important principle in the UK constitution.” Discuss.’
Here, we don’t have a ‘do you agree?’ prompt; instead, we have the apparently less directive ‘discuss’ prompt. If we read the question literally, it may seem that there is no need for you to put forward your own argument here. After all, it’s possible to ‘discuss’ something without advancing your own argument about it: you could make various points, explain various matters, and leave the reader to make up their own mind. But while this may be formally true, it’s unwise to read the question in this way, because it creates the risk that you will end up writing something very general and descriptive on the topic without going any further.
To summarise, then, there are at least three reasons for making an argument part of your essay. First, the question will often call for this, whether explicitly or implicitly, such that you wouldn’t be answering the question if you didn’t set out and develop an argument. Second, if you don’t impose on yourself the discipline of articulating and defending an argument, you risk underselling yourself by writing something that is descriptive and meandering rather than purposefully constructed . Third, setting out and developing an argument involves taking ownership of the material. By that, I mean using the material in a way that serves the purposes of your argument, showing that you are in command of it and that it is not in command of you. This, in turn, provides an opportunity to demonstrate a level of understanding that it would be hard to show in a descriptive essay that simply wandered from point to point.
Setting our your thesis
If putting forward an argument is (often) important or necessary, how should it be done? There are no great secrets here: the formula is straightforward. You should begin your essay by stating your thesis — that is, by setting out what it is that you are going to argue. This should be done in your introductory paragraph — by the time the reader reaches the end of that paragraph, they should be in no doubt about what you are going to argue. Imagine, for instance, that you are presented with the following essay title:
‘“The courts have expanded their powers of judicial review beyond all acceptable constitutional limits in recent decades; it is time to clip the judges’ wings.” Discuss.’
In response to such a question, it might be tempting to say in your introduction that (for example) you are going to ‘show’ how the courts’ powers of judicial review have grown, ‘consider’ why this has happened and ‘examine’ the criticisms of judicial over-reach that have resulted. These are all perfectly sensible things to do when writing an essay on this topic, but if that is all you say in your introduction, you will leave the reader wondering what you think — and what you are going to argue . In contrast, an introductory paragraph that lays the foundation for essay that properly advances a thesis will set out what that thesis is. You might, for instance, take each of the propositions set out in the question and stake out your position:
‘In this essay, I will argue that (a) while the courts’ powers of judicial review have grown in recent decades, (b) it is misguided to suggest that this has breached “all acceptable constitutional limits” and (c) that those who now advocate “clip[ping] the judges’ wings” misunderstand the role of the judiciary in a rule of law-based constitution. In other words, the courts’ judicial review powers are entirely appropriate and those who seek to limit them risk undermining the rule of law.’
An introduction of this nature would achieve two things. First, it would make clear to the reader the position you proposed to take. Second, it would immediately lend the essay a structure.
Developing your thesis
Once you have set out your thesis in the introduction, you need to develop or defend it. This will involve making a series of connected points in successive paragraphs, each of which relates to your overarching thesis. One way of thinking about this is that the individual points you make in the main body of the essay should all relate or point back in some way — and in a clear way — to the position that you staked out in the introduction.
In the example introduction above, the overarching thesis is set out in the second sentence; the individual and connecting parts of the argument are set out in propositions (a), (b) and (c) in the first sentence. One approach, therefore, would be to divide the answer, once the introduction has been written, into three parts, dealing in turn with points (a), (b) and (c). Naturally, as you work through the various parts of your argument, you will need to cite relevant evidence (cases, legislation, literature and so on) in support of your argument. You will also need to deal with matters that appear, at least at first glance, to sit in opposition to your argument (on which see further below) or which, once properly considered, require your argument to be refined.
A key point, however you proceed, is that the reader should also be clear about how each successive point relates not only to the previous point but also to the overarching argument. The reader should never be left wondering ‘Where does this fit in?’ or ‘Why am I being told this?’ A simple way of avoiding these problems is to signpost , by saying at the beginning of each section how it relates to the overall argument. The flipside of this coin is that you should avoid saying things like ‘Another point is that…’ since this gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the various points in your essay have been thrown together in a random order, with little thought as to how they fit together or relate to your overall argument. Even if that’s not the case, you don’t want to risk giving the reader that impression.
A one-sided approach?
The advice set about above might seem to imply that I’m suggesting you write one-sided essays — in which you set out points that support your argument while ignoring those that don’t. However, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. In order to set out your argument in a persuasive manner, you need to deal both with relevant points that support your argument and with relevant points that appear to challenge your argument — and, in dealing with the latter points, you need to show why they do not in fact fatally undermine your argument. In other words, the approach I’m suggesting here doesn’t mean that you should adopt a blinkered approach, paying no attention to counterarguments: rather, you need to deal with them in a way that shows that, having thought about and weighed them in the balance, you are in a position to show why your argument stands in spite of them (or why your argument can be adapted in a way that accommodates such points).
All of this points towards a further matter: namely, that advancing an argument in your essay does not mean that you need to (or should) be argumentative in the sense of adopting a strident tone that brooks no debate or compromise. Rather, advancing an argument in the way I’ve suggested here means being thoughtful and persuasive : taking the reader with you on a journey that demonstrates that you have looked at the relevant material, carefully thought through the issues raised by the question, and arrived at a view that you are able to justify and defend through well-reasoned and suitably evidenced argument.
So what about your conclusion? If you’ve followed my advice above, it should more or less write itself. People often agonise over conclusions, perhaps thinking that there has to be some ‘big reveal’ at the end of their essay. But there doesn’t need to be — and indeed there shouldn’t be — any big reveal. There should be no surprises at the end precisely because you’ve set out your argument at the beginning and spent the rest of the essay carefully constructing the different strands of your argument. The conclusion is an opportunity to draw those stands together, but no-one should have to wait with bated breath for the conclusion before finally realising: ‘Ah, so that’s what they think!’ If that’s the impact of the conclusion on your reader, it means there’s something wrong with the introduction!
This post was first published on The Law Prof blog . It is re-published here with permission and thanks.
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