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School of Law MPHIL/PHD IN LAW Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay ROBIN C A WHITE th 7 Edition 2009 www.le.ac.uk/law©
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CONTENTS Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay Who should use this guide .......................................................................................................................... 1 Assessed essays ........................................................................................................................................... 1 The basics .................................................................................................................................................... 2 Our expectations ......................................................................................................................................... 2 Requirements .............................................................................................................................................. 2 Essay questions and problem questions .......................................................................................... 2 Word limits ....................................................................................................................................... 3 Submission deadlines ....................................................................................................................... 3 Managing your time .................................................................................................................................... 4 Understanding the question........................................................................................................................ 5 Topic are, focus and instruction ....................................................................................................... 5 Essay questions ................................................................................................................................ 5 Problem questions ........................................................................................................................... 5 Selecting a question from a list ........................................................................................................ 6 Gathering material ...................................................................................................................................... 6 Planning ............................................................................................................................................ 6 Research ........................................................................................................................................... 7 Web-based resources ...................................................................................................................... 7 Note taking ....................................................................................................................................... 8 Avoiding plagiarism ..................................................................................................................................... 8 Your ideas .................................................................................................................................................... 9 Planning your answer ................................................................................................................................ 10 Expressing yourself clearly ........................................................................................................................ 10 Some general principles ................................................................................................................. 10 Using gender neutral language ...................................................................................................... 11 Some general practices in writing .................................................................................................. 12 Writing and revising a draft ....................................................................................................................... 13 The first draft is for you .................................................................................................................. 13 The introduction............................................................................................................................. 13 The body of the answer ................................................................................................................. 13 The conclusion ............................................................................................................................... 14 Revising the first draft .................................................................................................................... 14 The bibliography ............................................................................................................................ 15 Using your tutor effectively ....................................................................................................................... 15 Word processing........................................................................................................................................ 15 Specific requirements for particular essays .............................................................................................. 16 Feedback on your work ............................................................................................................................. 16 Some resources ......................................................................................................................................... 16 Citing authorities The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities........................................................................ 18 Primary and secondary sources ................................................................................................................ 18 Using footnotes ......................................................................................................................................... 18 Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 18 Frequently cited material ............................................................................................................... 19 Location references ........................................................................................................................ 19 Signals used in footnotes ............................................................................................................... 20 Some key rules in citing legal materials .................................................................................................... 20 Cases .............................................................................................................................................. 20 Statutes .......................................................................................................................................... 20 Books .............................................................................................................................................. 21 Journal articles ............................................................................................................................... 21 Square brackets and round brackets ............................................................................................. 21 Recognized abbreviations of journals ............................................................................................ 21 Use of full stops .............................................................................................................................. 21 Appendix: Critical Writing University of Leicester, School of Law 1 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay THE WRITING GUIDE WHO SHOULD USE THIS GUIDE This guide is written for undergraduates writing practice essays, semester essays, and course work in law. It is directed primarily at those modules which are assessed by course work, though much of what it says is equally relevant to writing essays which do not count for formal assessment. There are three types of essay which form part of the undergraduate syllabus in law: Practice essays: these are essays whose purpose is formative, that is, to allow you to practise your writing. They do not count towards your final grade in the module. But failure to submit practice essays is recorded and treated in much the same way as an unexplained absence from a tutorial. Semester essays: those courses which consist of two modules running back to back across the two semesters and which do not have any course work component include a requirement that each student produce a semester essay at the end of the first semester. It does not count towards the final grade in the two modules. However, visiting students here for only one semester may be formally assessed through semester essays. Course work refers to written work undertaken outside the examination room which counts, in whole or in part, for the final grade in the module. This guide addresses the task of writing essays, of structuring your arguments, of properly referencing your material, and of presenting your material in an attractive manner. There is a more advanced guide entitled Writing a Research Paper, which is written for final year undergraduates writing dissertations and for taught postgraduates writing research papers and dissertations on their degree programmes. It is important to spend some time studying the conventions of legal writing as presented in this guide before starting to write your first essay. There is no reason why, as a consequence of studying this guide, your essay cannot be very well presented and perfectly referenced. The guide highlights practical ways in which you can produce an essay which is well organized, clearly presented and correctly referenced. The matter of achieving a good writing style and critical engagement with the focus of the title is more complex. That will develop the more you read, the more you write, the more you work at your writing, and the more you listen to and reflect upon the feedback you get on your writing. When writing any essay, you should always consult the relevant regulations, any Code of Practice applicable to your programme, your Undergraduate Handbook, and any specific guidance provided in relation to the module in which you are writing your essay. Follow any specific guidance for the essay in preference to the general guidance given in this guide. ASSESSED ESSAYS Most of you will be familiar with this form of assessment. For some, however, it will be new. All essays are asking you to express your knowledge and understanding of aspects of your subject. Writing an essay is a form of active learning. Your essays will enable your tutors to assess the extent and depth of your knowledge, Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 2 The basics including your abilities at legal research, the construction of argument, and the effective presentation of your ideas. We will also want to see that you can write concisely, clearly and accurately. THE BASICS The task of writing an assessed essay involves: • finding out what is expected of you; • managing your time; • understanding what the essay title requires; • selecting a title that offers you sufficient scope to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding ; • occasionally selecting and developing critical points from lectures and tutorials; • gathering material for the essay; • summarizing and reflecting on information from a range of legal resources; • putting in your own ideas and conclusions; • planning the structure of the essay; • expressing yourself clearly and succinctly; • writing and revising a draft, that is, editing the text by checking the relevance of what you have written and the clarity of its content; • citing authority for your arguments; • using the required form of citation for the authorities that you use. • proof reading to correct surface errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation; • avoiding plagiarism. OUR EXPECTATIONS Those who are charged with the assessment of your work will assume that it is a serious piece of work seeking to answer the question set. In assessing your work, the examiners will be looking for evidence that: • you have read the key sources relevant to your title with a questioning mind; • you have understood the material and arguments contained in your main sources; • you can relate general theory to specific examples; • everything in the essay, whether it is based on your reading materials or your own ideas, is relevant to the title; • you can construct a reasoned argument, taking account of differing points of view; • you can write clearly and use the terminology of the subject appropriately; • you can follow the correct conventions as to the presentation of your material; • you can reference your writing in accordance with the standard conventions for the citation of authorities, inclusion of footnotes, and a bibliography, if required. REQUIREMENTS ESSAY QUESTIONS AND PROBLEM QUESTIONS What you are asked to do may take a number of forms. It could be a ‘traditional’ essay asking you to consider some aspect of the law, or it could be a problem testing your ability to apply your knowledge to a factual situation. Most writing you are asked to do as a law student involves a structured piece of writing and the ordered presentation of an argument well supported by authority. You will not be asked simply to ‘write all Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 3 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay you know about’ a particular topic; yet some students cannot resist surveying an area of law when something much more discriminating is being requested. Many lecturers report that this remains a common defect found both in course work and in examination scripts. WORD LIMITS All essays will carry a word limit. This may vary. Footnotes are always included in the word limit. Writing to a prescribed length and format involves skills which you will find useful in a wide range of vocational settings after you have graduated. Whatever the word limit, it has not been fixed at random, but has been determined as the appropriate space in which to answer the questions set. You may feel that not enough space has been allowed, but you should realize that the word limit is imposed to test your ability to express yourself clearly and concisely. By refining your essay plan, you should be able to gauge the amount of detail needed to develop the main points. Failure to comply with the word limits will result in the imposition of penalties in accordance with the University’s procedures; do check these in your Undergraduate Handbook. You will be required to declare the number of words in your essay, which directs your mind to the required word limit. Word limits are strictly applied; there is no policy of ignoring small over-runs in word limits. It is cheating to declare an inaccurate word count. SUBMISSION DEADLINES Always check the deadline for submission, and keep to it. The time and manner of submission are formal requirements, and must be strictly observed. If the deadline is noon and you submit an hour later, you have missed the deadline. A standard system of penalties operates in the University in relation to late submission. Again familiarize yourself with the rules which can be found in your Undergraduate Handbook. You may be required to submit both hard copy and an electronic copy of your work. The standard rule in the law school is that tutors will set out their requirements for submission of practice essays. But there is a much more formal system for submission of course work which is for formal assessment, that is, which provides or contributes to your final mark for a particular module. Such work must be handed in personally to the School Office, and you will be given a receipt for it. Do not lose this; it is your proof that you have submitted the material in time. If for any reason you wish to submit your work in any form other than personal submission, you must seek formal permission to do so. Permission will only be given for special reasons. The procedure is set out in your Undergraduate Handbook. We do, however, take a sympathetic view of problems beyond your control which affect your ability to submit work by the required deadline. There is a system under which you can ask for an extension of the deadline for the submission of any work. For practice essays, you should see your tutor and explain the problem. For course work, there is a more formal procedure which is explained in your Undergraduate Handbook. But you should also see your subject tutor and your personal tutor for advice as soon as it becomes clear that you may have a problem meeting a deadline. Where the reasons for the extension are health-related, some medical evidence is required to support your application. You may also be asked for some evidence of other personal circumstances which affect your ability to submit work on time. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 4 Managing your time Retrospective extensions of the deadline for submission are only given in the most exceptional circumstances. You are normally required to seek the extension in advance of the deadline for submission or you run the risk that you will incur the penalties set out above. Never be casual or cavalier about deadlines; the law school takes them very seriously. Organizing your life to meet deadlines is part of developing a sense of responsibility in managing the many demands on your time. MANAGING YOUR TIME Find out the deadline for submission. Then work backwards to determine how much time you will be able to spend on the assignment. The time you need to write a good essay for assessment should not take you away from the study of other subjects. Think carefully and constructively about the time and resources you will need to write the essay. This is the way to avoid panic and staying up all night at the last minute. It is unlikely that you will do your best work if you do not organize yourself and your time. Spend some time thinking about how and when you work best. Follow this pattern in writing assessed essays. You might find the following grid useful in identifying your own work style. Ticking the left box means that you strongly agree with the proposition set out there. Ticking the right box means that you identify most with the proposition set out there. Use the other three boxes to show shades of opinion in between the two extremes: Develop ideas quickly Needs lots of thinking time Quick to see resources needed Need time to collect resources See immediately what to do Need time to grow into topic Good at speed reading Need to read slowly Can work anywhere Work best in a particular place(s) Write best in a single session Write best in several sessions Need lots of breaks Tend not to need breaks Work best in the morning Work best in the evening Filling in this grid will help your awareness of the working methods that best suit you. Think about now much time you will need for each stage of the essay writing process: research, reading, thinking, writing, and checking. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 5 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay UNDERSTANDING THE QUESTION TOPIC AREA, FOCUS AND INSTRUCTION Keeping in mind the notions of topic area, focus and instruction will help you to answer the question set and to avoid the inclusion of irrelevant material in your response. Attention to topic area, focus and instruction applies to both the traditional essay question and to problems. The topic area is the broad area or areas of the syllabus you are being invited to consider. The focus of the question will indicate how you are being asked to present your knowledge of the topic area or areas. The instruction will specify what you are to do with your knowledge in applying it to the question set. This technique of breaking down questions into topic area, focus and instruction can be applied both to essays and to problems. It can assist you in deciding how much space to allocate to the discussion of the points raised in the question. ESSAY QUESTIONS "Inquisitorial procedures remove the need for representation in tribunals" Discuss The topic area is representation in tribunals, while the focus is on inquisitorial procedures. The instruction is ‘Discuss’. This enables you to look at all sides of the argument, since it is a broad instruction. It is not, however, an invitation to write generally about tribunals, or about inquisitorial procedures. Two variations on this essay title appear below. Think about how your approach would vary if you were writing an essay on one of these titles. Assess the contribution of inquisitorial procedures to reducing the need for representation in tribunals. Argue the case that inquisitorial procedures remove the need for representation in tribunals. PROBLEM QUESTIONS You can apply the technique of topic area, focus and instruction to problems, though problems are likely to have more than one topic area. One night, Jeremy's car is found badly damaged when he returns from taking his new girlfriend, Belinda, out to dinner. It has been rammed by another vehicle while parked. Jeremy tells the police that his former girlfriend, Penelope, threatened to smash up his car if he ever went out with Belinda. The police call at Penelope's house and question her; she denies all knowledge of the incident. The police then arrest Penelope and search her house and garage, where they find a car with damage to the front bumper. Penelope refuses to say how the damage was caused. She is taken to the police station where the police tell her that the paint from her car matches flakes of paint found on Jeremy's car. This is untrue. Penelope then makes a statement admitting that she drove into Jeremy's car, but did not intend to cause much damage. She is charged with criminal damage. Advise Penelope (a) on the determination of her mode of trial, and (b) on the consequences of any unlawful action taken by the police. The topic areas are mode of trial, arrest, search powers, and questioning of suspects. The focus is on determining the mode of trial, and the exercise of police powers. The instruction is to advise Penelope. The instruction is specific here; it names two areas to consider and you are advising the person charged, not the Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 6 Gathering material victim of the offence. Your answer would look very different if you were asked to advise Jeremy on his remedies. SELECTING A QUESTION FROM A LIST You will often have a choice of question to answer. If you look through the choice of essay titles carefully, bearing in mind instruction, topic area and focus, you will avoid the trap of focusing on the general area at the expense of what the question is really about and you will be better equipped to select a title you will enjoy writing on. The key to selecting a title from a set list is to remember that the titles have been prepared and selected with great care. The lecturer will have a clear notion of the ideas and content you are to cover in responding to the title. If the lecturer merely wanted you to write all you know about the topic covered, you would be instructed to do this. That you are never so instructed indicates that the lecturer is looking for more than the regurgitation of your notes. This is not say that there is a predetermined ‘right’ answer to any question, but it does mean that there are clear limits on the number of responses legitimately available. In selecting a title from a given list, ask the following questions: 1. What is the general area of content demanded by the question? 2. What are the specific concepts on which the topic is focused? 3. What conclusions are to be drawn? You will almost always be asked to make a judgment on a topic. 4. What aspects of the subject are being covered? Having regard to your answers to these questions, choose a title which reflects your own interest and the time and resources at your disposal to complete it. GATHERING MATERIAL PLANNING If you have analyzed the essay title or problem carefully, you will have a clear idea of the relevant topic areas and be in a position to collect together the material you will need to answer the question effectively. It is good practice to make a provisional plan before beginning your research, as this provides you with a clear idea of questions you need to explore and your information requirements. The sources you will use will include your lecture notes, materials you prepared for tutorials, your text books, and any additional materials on the Blackboard pages for the module. But these materials alone are unlikely to be all you will need. Most essays or problems will require you to carry out some research in the library or on the internet. This might be something simple like reading cases or statutes, or one or two key articles or research reports, to which reference has been made in class. On the other hand, it might require you to seek out new materials in a new area. Remember to read carefully any specific guidance which accompanied the essay titles. This guide assumes that you have followed the legal skills instruction you were offered in the first semester of your first year. It does not repeat here material covered there. Part of the initial task of gathering material for your answer is the identification of ideas and issues raised by the question. This enables you to begin to appreciate how wide (or narrow) the coverage of the question is. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 7 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay The thinking and planning stage should lead to a clearer focus on the key issues raised by the question, which will assist you in meeting the word limit while providing an effective answer to the question. It should also enable you to develop confidence in what to leave out. Many students find it difficult to decide what material is not relevant to the answer. You may find it helpful at this stage to review your provisional plan of the contents of your answer. This can help to prevent your getting side-tracked as you get interested in material you read during the research stage. RESEARCH At this point it is time to visit the library, in person and online. Research is not a treasure hunt with the prize being the perfect answer to your question hidden somewhere in the library. This is particularly true if you plan to use the internet to collect information. Your work in the library is the gathering of information not available in the books you own. You are using one of the University's major learning resources. Do not spend excessive amounts of time seeking to unearth every conceivable piece of written material on the topic areas covered. Equally do not ignore a principal case, report or article just because it is not on the library shelf when you look for it. Remember that you can ask a librarian for help if you get into difficulties or cannot find something you are looking for. A key requirement at this stage is to have a system for organizing the material you collect. An absolute requirement is to ensure that you have full references for everything you read. This will save you hours later on if you need to reference the material or find it again. If you make photocopies or print material from the web, make sure you know exactly where they came from. Develop your own system for organizing material you collect for your essays. After you have finished each period of work in the library, spend a few minutes organizing your material. Remember that references scribbled on odd bits of paper have an annoying habit of getting lost. As you read material you will evaluate its usefulness. The material might be directly in point but ten years old. If timeliness if key to your research (and it often will be), this will significantly lower the value of this material for you. The material might be in point and up-to-date, but treated very briefly in one of the weekly law journals. This too will affect its value for you. WEB-BASED RESOURCES Two good starting points are the Law Subject Room on the Library website, and the Blackboard pages for the module. Determining the quality of information is a key part of every aspect of research, but is particularly important when relying on web-based material. The CARS Checklist is designed for ease of learning and use: • Credibility • Accuracy • Reasonableness • Support Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 8 Avoiding plagiarism The CARS Checklist is summarized as follows on www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm Credibility trustworthy source, author’s credentials, evidence of quality control, known or respected authority, organizational support. Goal: an authoritative source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it. Accuracy up to date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness and accuracy. Goal: a source that is correct today (not yesterday), a source that gives the whole truth. Reasonableness fair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone. Goal: a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth. Support listed sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied. Goal: a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it). NOTE-TAKING Note-taking still has a role to play in the age of the photocopier and the internet. Even if you photocopy or download lots of material and highlight it, you should still be making notes of your thoughts as you read through the material. Photocopying and downloading should not be thought of as substitutes for reading and evaluation. Precision and relevance are the core qualities of good notes. Adopt a system which will enable you to know whether your note is a précis of the whole piece, a paraphrase of part of it, or a direct quote. If you cannot identify which when you come to use the material later, you may inadvertently plagiarize the material. This is particularly true if you take notes directly onto the computer, and cut and paste material from your notes into your essay. It is good practice to write directly quoted material in red (together with a page reference)—or to type it in italics, or in some other readily identifiable way, on the computer—so that it can easily be identified as quoted material at a later stage of your work. How do you choose between a paraphrase and a quotation when you come across a comment directly in point which you are pretty sure you will include in your essay? A paraphrase is relevant where it is the content of the material which is important, while a quotation is appropriate where the mode of expression of the idea captures it in a particularly effective or characteristic way. In law, the quotation from a reported case also has a particular role to play as the statement of authority for a legal proposition. AVOIDING PLAGIARISM Plagiarism is the presentation of the thoughts or writings of others as your own. It is a form of cheating. Please read the University's statement on academic dishonesty in the Undergraduate Regulations, and the section on plagiarism in the Undergraduate Handbook. Collaborative work can also lead to plagiarism. While we encourage collaboration in some of your work (for example, in preparation for tutorials), when we come to assessment, we want to assess your work alone. Unless you have been expressly assigned a group project, you must not collaborate with others in the Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 9 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay preparation of your assessed essays. In addition, you must not use another student’s notes, essay or essay drafts as the basis for your own work. You must never cut and paste sections of another student’s material as part of your essay. To do any of these things constitutes plagiarism just as much as if you had copied the material from a book or some internet resource. Whenever you draw on the ideas of others, you must say so. The common form of acknowledgement is the citation of the source in a footnote. Assessed work which contains plagiarized material will be severely penalized. Serious cases of plagiarism involve acts of dishonesty. The professional bodies may take the view that a person guilty of plagiarism is not a suitable person to join the legal profession. Everyone knows that it is cheating to copy someone else's work whether it has been published or not. So copying a fellow student's work is just as much plagiarism as copying out of a published book. Rather more complex is the extent to which you can rely on the work of others. The following guidelines may help you to develop a proper sense of when you need to acknowledge a source: 1. Part of the task of research is to collect together a range of ideas and to take account of them in forming your own ideas. You should include all the key books and articles you have used to collect that range of ideas in your bibliography (if one is required), regardless of whether you have referred to them expressly in your text. 2. You must include a reference to specific ideas or conclusions of others on which you rely by the use of an attributed quotation or the reporting of the idea or conclusion in a reference like a footnote. 3. Do not assume that, because a text has not been referred to by your tutors, they are unaware of its contents. It is generally easy for tutors to spot material which is not your own, either because they are familiar with the source or because your writing style suddenly changes. Some of your assessed work will be submitted to a plagiarism detection service. Plagiarism can take many forms. All forms of plagiarism are taken seriously. The law school has prepared an online tutorial on how to avoid plagiarism, and all those using this guide are advised in the strongest terms to complete that tutorial. The online tutorial can be found at: connect.le.ac.uk/plagiarismlaw/ If you complete this tutorial, you should probably not have to worry that your writing might contain material which has been plagiarized, since you will know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. If you are still uncertain about what constitutes plagiarism after completing this tutorial, see your personal tutor or your subject tutor. YOUR IDEAS You may find that putting in your own ideas and conclusions is difficult. After all you are studying the subject for the first time and the more you read, the more it seems that all the ideas have been explored. However, many of your essay titles and problems will have been set in areas where there is more than one view. You are expected to collect the evidence, use it, and form your own conclusions. Your tutors are not expecting you to have startling new insights into the subject, but they do want you to be clear for yourselves and for them what you have understood about the topic area. The emphasis in higher education is on active learning, which means that you must be deeply involved in your own legal education and not simply be good at getting down a set of lecture notes. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 10 Planning your answer Your own ideas should be rooted in the literature of the subject. The bizarre irrelevance will be seen as just that and not as a brilliant insight. Your conclusions must follow from the material you have used and be related to it. However, the hallmark of a distinction level essay can sometimes be found in the way in which you have related the focus of the essay question to other topic areas, sometimes in other areas of law being studied. Such linkages may well advance the argument in an interesting way and demonstrate a higher level of literacy in the language of the law. One way of developing your skills in independent thinking is critical reading and critical writing. An appendix to this guide reprints the Student Learning Centre’s advice on critical writing, which many students have found helpful. PLANNING YOUR ANSWER You will continue to develop the structure of your ideas as you prepare a draft of your answer. Where you start will be a matter for you, but you need not start on the first page of the first section. You may prefer to write a section setting out the background to the problem you are exploring rather than the introduction to the essay. Do remember the provisional plan you made at an earlier stage. If you find that your writing does not fit the plan, revise it. Remember that your purpose is to present reasoned argument based on authority. When you write, you will discover some difficult areas; you will identify areas that you think will need re-drafting; you will write too much on some areas and need to prune the material; and you will identify gaps to be filled. If you have trouble getting started, begin with a section that is more straightforward and you will soon find the flow of words is there. Do not put off the task of getting words onto the page. It is easier to revise a text than to start from scratch. But do not fall into the trap of regarding words on the page as unchangeable. Your essay will be broken into sections. You should plan a system of headings. You will not need more than two levels of heading for an assessed essay. Be consistent in the use of headings and use them as a guide to the reader. Headings are signposts which can indicate to the reader how the argument is developing. In answers to problem questions, they signal very effectively that you are moving from one aspect of the problem to another. Sometimes it is helpful to produce an outline, that is, just the list of main headings and sub-headings. Most word processors will generate an outline automatically for the headings you use if they are defined as a style in the document template. The outline shows the shape and structure of your paper and can illustrate quite dramatically whether too much attention is being given to one aspect of the question at the expense of other aspects. EXPRESSING YOURSELF CLEARLY SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES When seeing students to offer feedback, lecturers are frequently told, ‘I meant to say that’. But your lecturers can only mark what you have said, and cannot know what you meant to say. Your ability to express yourself concisely, clearly and accurately is one of the skills we are testing. Always try to write simply and clearly. Accept that you can always improve the clarity of your writing. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 11 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay If you are not sure about the use of certain standard grammatical forms, refer to a useful set of short information sheets produced by the Student Learning Centre: www.le.ac.uk/slc/ Keep one idea to each sentence, and make sure your sentences are not too long. The Plain English Campaign has lots of useful advice on keeping your writing crystal clear: www.plainenglish.co.uk/ It is vital to proof read your essay, and it can be helpful to ask a friend to read through your final draft for grammar, spelling and punctuation inaccuracies. There is considerable focus at all levels of education on what are called core transferable skills. These are those skills which can be learned in one context and readily be transferred to another context. The ability to express yourself clearly and succinctly in writing is a good example of such a skill. You will already have writing skills, but they can almost certainly be improved and developed. A frequent regret expressed by lecturers is that students could improve their performance without needing to know more if only they would express themselves more clearly. The message is, therefore, to pay attention to the clarity of your writing. This is one of the skills being measured in this form of assessment. Here are some writing hints, which you may find obvious, but lecturers frequently complain that they are not observed: • Write in complete sentences. • Do not write very long sentences; the meaning can get obscured. A good guide is not to exceed twenty words in any sentence. • Use punctuation effectively; punctuation consists of more than full stops and commas • Use paragraphs effectively; a new paragraph signals a new idea or area of discussion. • Pay due attention to spelling and grammar. The usual requirement is for assessed essays to be word processed. You are expected to develop these skills if you do not already have them. Practice essays might, however, be submitted in hand-written form; check your tutor’s requirements. If you can hand in your essay in hand-written form, make sure that your handwriting is neat and legible. Lecturers are human and are influenced by the legibility and readability of your work. How you present your work sends out strong signals about how much you value your own work. USING GENDER NEUTRAL LANGUAGE A recognized feature of good modern writing is the use of gender neutral language. This means avoiding the use of male terms when the person about whom you are writing could just as easily be a woman as a man. The use of ‘he’ when referring to judges, lawyers, students or any group of people is seen as re-inforcing gender stereo-typing of certain groups. The old convention that the term ‘he’ also included ‘she’ is no longer regarded as acceptable in many quarters. The use of a plural rather than a singular will often enable the gender neutral personal pronoun ‘their’ to be used. So: Lawyers are products of their background. is preferable to A lawyer is the product of his background. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 12 Expressing yourself clearly But it is increasingly common (and The Oxford Guide to the English Language reports the usage as going back five centuries) for the plural pronoun to be used since English has no singular pronoun to denote common gender. This can produce inelegant sentences. So, some would regard A lawyer is the product of their background as odd. In this case using ‘lawyers’ in the plural avoids the inelegant language. A further alternative would be A lawyer is the product of his or her background. This usage is unwieldy if repeated too often, but its occasional use can be effective in showing the reader that the writer is aware that lawyers are just as likely to be women as men. Obviously, there will be occasions where the use of the singular pronoun is appropriate: Everyone in the women's movement has had her own experience of sexual discrimination. When creating examples to illustrate your argument, think whether all your examples from a particular group are men or women. A good piece of writing will reflect a growing concern with gender equality at all levels of our lives. SOME GENERAL PRACTICES IN WRITING The following guidance picks up one or two areas where there are general writing conventions. Latin or foreign words or phrases, whether abbreviated or not, should usually appear in italics, unless the phrase has passed into common English usage: mens rea sine qua non quantum meruit prima facie ultra vires raison d’être Much helpful guidance on spelling and whether something should appear in italics can be found in The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, Clarendon Press, 1981. REF 808.0203 OXF You may also find Fowler's Modern English Usage REF 428.003 FOW or Oxford English: A Guide to the Language REF 428 DEA helpful reference material to clear up any confusion you might have about the proper use or spelling of particular words used in particular contexts. One relevant example is that the word ‘judgment’ is spelled without a middle ‘e’ when used in legal contexts, whereas in other contexts it is spelled ‘judgement’. Names of foreign courts should appear in roman and not in italics: Conseil d'Etat Bundesverfassungsgericht Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 13 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay Hoge Raad Capital letters should only be used where strictly necessary. Capital letters should not be used for court (unless referring to a particular court) judge (unless used as part of a title) or state (unless referring to a particular state, for example, the State of Victoria). Numbers up to 20 should be written in words in the text. The numbers 20 and above should appear as numbers; so three seventeen 24 Percentages should be written in numbers and the words ‘per cent’ should be used rather than the symbol %: 75 per cent. WRITING AND REVISING A DRAFT THE FIRST DRAFT IS FOR YOU We have already touched on a number of aspects of preparing the draft of your essay. The first draft is for you, not for the assessor. So it need not be perfectly polished or perfectly expressed. But it should be in the form of the final text. This means that it should include an introduction and conclusion, and include all the points you expect to make in the order you expect to make them. THE INTRODUCTION There should always be some form of introduction. The introduction does not need to be long; a short sharp introduction can be a most effective start to an essay. The purpose of the introduction is to show the reader what you understand to be the issues raised by the question and how you propose to tackle them. It is also the place to define any key terms for the essay, or to state any assumptions you are making in responding to the question set. In the introduction, you should avoid repeating the question. Nor is this the place to develop your argument. It may, however, be appropriate to spell out the implications of the question in a little more detail in order that you can pursue your argument within a well ordered framework. Whether it is the place to give notice of your conclusion is much more contentious. Some people argue that the introduction is no place to state your conclusion. Others say that a statement like: I shall be arguing in this essay that Professor Lapping’s thesis on privity of contract is fundamentally flawed. is extremely powerful and makes the reader sit up and take notice. Even if this technique is used, you should note that the introduction is not the place to say why the thesis is flawed. THE BODY OF THE ANSWER The body of your answer contains the development of the argument and all the essential information to sustain your conclusion. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 14 Writing and revising a draft The body of the answer will be divided into a number of sections. Think about what these sections should be and begin each section with an indication of its purpose. The skilful use of headings can provide very helpful signposts to the reader here. Be consistent in the use of headings; you are unlikely to need more than two levels of heading for an assessed essay. Use examples to illustrate the points you are making and include your own comment to explain the significance of those points. Quotations can be useful, but an essay which is merely a collection of quotations will not score highly. The key is to be selective in the use of quoted material and to weave it carefully into the fabric of your answer. Avoid writing an essay which is a ‘quotation sandwich’, that is, a few lines of text followed by a quotation throughout. You should take care not to jump around among the issues raised by the question. If you find that you are doing this, take another look at the plan and see whether there is an adjustment to it that can be made to avoid this. One of the most important things to remember is that all statements must be supported by evidence or authority. This is an absolute must in legal writing. Finally, you should check that the content of the main sections of your answer reflects what you have indicated you would cover in the introduction. If it does not, one or the other (or possibly both) need to be revised. THE CONCLUSION The conclusion draws together the threads of your argument. It does not repeat those arguments. Nor does it repeat the introduction. The conclusion should focus on the question set and state how you have answered the question. There should be no new arguments in the conclusion. If you have undertaken a problem question, then the conclusion can summarize your conclusions on the range of issues which has been raised. REVISING THE FIRST DRAFT You should allow yourself time to review your draft. Do not leave everything to the last minute. Reviewing material you have written is best done after a break of a couple of days. If you review the draft immediately, you will have in mind what you intended to say. If you review it a couple of days later, you will be much more objective in evaluating whether the text says what you want it to. The assessor does not have the benefit of being able to ask you what you mean. So the text must be clear and speak for itself. Once you have completed your first draft, you can engage in self-criticism. Look at what you have written. Is it clear in its message? At this stage you should be able to produce your main argument in summary form, say, in 100-150 words. Try this. Can you do it? If so, does the essay lead in this direction? Are some sections too detailed compared with others? Are there gaps in the reasoning? You will be reviewing both the content and the style and presentation. If a friend is willing to read through the draft, they can tell you whether the sense is clear. Friends obviously cannot assist you with the substance of your work, but advice on the clarity of the writing and argument can be an invaluable part of the process of self-assessment. The following self-evaluation questions about your text will draw your attention to important aspects of your writing: Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 University of Leicester, School of Law 15 Writing Guide 1: Writing an Assessed Essay • Is the argument clear? • Are the main points sufficiently developed and the examples appropriate? • Is there appropriate reference to authority to support the essay’s propositions? • Are the introduction and conclusion effective? • Do you think it is a good piece of writing? THE BIBLIOGRAPHY You will often be asked to produce a bibliography at the end of your written work. If so, this will be assessed, and so treat the preparation of your bibliography seriously. The bibliography lists the resources you have used to prepare your essay. It appears at the end of the text. It is good practice to list separately (1) primary sources divided into statutory material and cases, (2) books and chapters in books, and (3) articles from journals. Material in your bibliography should be listed in alphabetical order, unless otherwise directed. For most assessed essays, the bibliography will not need to be elaborate. There will be three relatively short sections. The first should give the proper reference to statutory material and cases on which you have relied. The second should list all the books, chapters in books of essays, and research and policy reports used. The third should list all the articles from journals used. All three sets of materials must be cited in accordance with the system the law school has adopted on which guidance appears below. USING YOUR TUTOR EFFECTIVELY For much of the work covered by this guide, you will not have a supervisor, and your tutor is not expected to spend time helping you with your work. Once you have been given general guidance on the task assigned, you will be expected to get on with it on your own. Part of what we are testing is your abilities in this regard. If you are able to seek advice from your subject tutor, use this session wisely. The role of the tutor is not to re- draft your essay for you so that it will achieve a higher mark, or to tell you what the answer to the question is. The tutor’s role is to sharpen your own ability to assess whether the essay shows strengths and where further work is needed. The more you are willing to engage in discussion about your ideas, the more helpful you will find any feedback you receive at this stage. Even where (as will be common) the essay is to be completed without supervision or guidance, remember that you can consult your subject tutor if you find that you are in difficulties. If you are having trouble with the assignment, then the sooner you consult, the sooner you will be able to address the difficulty. Delay at this stage is not a sensible choice. Try and specify what your precise difficulties are in the form of questions on which you can focus with your subject tutor. Remember also that, if your difficulties relate to more general problems you are experiencing, you can consult your personal tutor for general advice in coping with your studies. WORD PROCESSING Assessed essays should be word processed. There are plenty of word processing facilities available for student use and learning to use them is a valuable skill in itself. The law school expects you to be a competent word processor. Do take advantage of the training we offer you if you do not have this skill. The law school has a computer officer, who can help students experiencing difficulties in using the facilities available on the campus network. Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009 16 Specific requirements for particular essays Always have a backup in case things go wrong when using the computer. You should also save your current work on the computer you are using at least every ten minutes, so that you will always be able to go back to a very recent version if things go wrong with the version you are working on. You can set up most word processing packages to do this automatically. Keep your USB stick safe if that is where you keep your backup. Use of computing facilities available to you on campus is the safest means of preparing your essay. If you are using a machine of your own, or making use of one belonging to a friend, make sure you know what operating system and word processing software it uses and whether it is compatible with the University system when you want to make a printout of your essay for submission. SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTICULAR ESSAYS Always check the instructions you have been given in the module for which you are writing your essay. Follow the requirements set out there, even if they conflict with the general guidance given in this guide. All course work is assessed without our knowing who you are. You will be asked to include only your student anonymity number on the material which will go to the tutor. Take care to record this accurately, otherwise we will not know who you are. Some students are too casual in recording this number, which requires detective work on the part of academic and support staff to identify who you are. When you hand in course work, you are required to complete a standard form declaration. Your work will not be accepted by the School Office unless accompanied by such a declaration. You will be given a receipt. Keep it safe; it is your proof that you have submitted your work. Remember that you may be required to submit both hard copy and an electronic version of your work. FEEDBACK ON YOUR WORK You will get some brief feedback on your essays. Read through your essay and reflect on the feedback. This way, you will develop your skills and learn from experience. If you do not understand something indicated in the feedback, do consult your subject tutor or personal tutor. However, you will get most out of this consultation if you are willing to listen. No one reacts well to a confrontational meeting in which you demand that your essay be remarked. Most lecturers are happy to help you understand what you need to do in order to improve. The best feedback reports let you know why you have achieved the mark awarded, and what you would need to do to obtain a better mark. If opportunities are offered for feedback meetings, do not expect a member of staff to offer you special arrangements if you do not avail yourself of such a meeting at the specified time. SOME RESOURCES Remember that you can always raise a query with a subject tutor or your personal tutor. Also keep handy for reference purposes your copy of the Undergraduate Handbook, the Undergraduate Regulations and your copy of this guide. Note too that we keep virtually all of our guidance available online. The Student Learning Centre is available to all students. It can be found on the second floor of the David Wilson Library in the Student Development Zone. The Centre publishes many useful guides on aspects of your work as an undergraduate. You can also see an adviser on a confidential basis if you are worried about your skills in undertaking the tasks we set in the law school. Check out their website on www.le.ac.uk/slc/ Se v e n t h e d i t i o n 2009