When it comes to writing an effective 1st class essay – especially a law essay, there is a lot more groundwork than you may think. Today, we are going to focus on the most simple yet effective tips that will allow you to consistently achieve high grades in your essays from day 1 of law school to the final days of law school.
So without further ado – let’s begin!
Before we dive into the juicy tips, there’s something I have to say first.
It’s important to know that the way that you approach an essay is not the same as the way that you approach a problem question.
This is because problem questions and essay questions are two separate and distinct types of assignments. Knowing what type of assignment you will be writing is essential to understanding how best to approach your assignment.
For example, there is a specific method on how to tackle law problem questions whereas essays require a more opinionated approach. By this, I mean that it is up to you to decide how you would like to answer an essay question. Once you remember and understand this, you’re already onto a winning essay!
Now that we have clarified that, its’ time to explore these tips!
#1 YOU HAVE TO PLAN YOUR ESSAY
This goes without saying – you need to give time, love and attention towards planning your essay. When you are planning an essay, I always think to myself don’t start writing unless you have a clear cut plan in your head. My best essays were the ones where I actually sat down and carefully planned out my answer.
Here are some effective yet actionable tips to plan a 1st class essay:
- Underline key words and phrases in the text of your essay title.
- Do a brain dump of all of the underlined words and write them down.
- Find a link between each of these words and phrases.
- Create an effective plan for your answer based on these words.
- REMEMBER: don’t just plan an ‘everything-you-know about the topic answer – really dig deep and figure out what specific section of the law are you actually dealing with.
Check out my post on the best stationary items for law students here.
#2 BE VERY CLEAR IN YOUR INTRODUCTION
Whether you agree or disagree with your essay title, I believe that it is better to make your opinion known in the introduction.
This is important to do because you want to bring your examiner or lecturer on a journey. Every great story has an introduction and it sets the tone for the rest of the story. The same logic applies to law essays; be clear and concise.
Of course, you cannot write in the first person (like ‘I think that..’ ‘I agree with the above statement…’.) This is a law school no-no. I know it is hard learning to express your opinion in the third person. However, remember this: you can do or say 1 thing in a million different ways.
Students often struggle to phrase their sentences in the third person narrative and I totally get it! There’s only so much ‘This shows that..’ that one law student can write! It took a lot of practice for me to get there too – but you WILL get there. I promise you.
Look up academic journals on your favourite database and read the journal, often, the authors express their view in the third person; you can get some inspiration from here!
#3 WRITE YOUR INTRODUCTION FIRST
I know you are thinking ‘What?! The introduction is the hardest to write!’ and that is true. However, for most students, starting your essay is quite hard too.
Most of us want to do our research first before putting pen to paper and I get it. But what I’m saying is that you should write a rough draft of your introduction. The good thing about this is that nobody submits their first draft. Even if it is just 1 sentence, it is better to write one sentence of your essay than nothing!
If you’re unsure of how to start your introduction, I tend to sum up my opinion in one or two sentences and then, I’ll make reference to a recent journal article that is in line with my argument.
#4 SHORT PARAGRAPHS, SHORT PARAGRAPHS AND SHORT PARAGRAPHS!
One of the most bittersweet things about being a law student is that we are great at rambling (I don’t think that we can deny this one!) but when it comes to essays, we are given a word count and it is imperative that we stay within that word count. If our paragraphs are too long, we are essentially throwing marks away!
A good rule of thumb is to deal with one point in one paragraph. When you start to mix topics in one paragraph, there is a risk that this paragraph will be too long. It takes practice to learn how to juggle multiple arguments in one paragraph but I wouldn’t recommend it. One point, one paragraph. This is one the most strategic yet effective tips out there!
This ensures that you keep your paragraph to the main point that you are arguing.
#5 BE MINDFUL OF USING CASE LAW
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, you need to be mindful of whether you are answering a problem question or an essay question. The same goes for case law. There is actually a specific way to use case law in essays versus problem questions.
Generally speaking, for essays, if you are referring to a case, you are doing so to further your argument. It’s not like in problem questions where you have to include certain cases because the test for negligence is in one specific case. No – in essays, cases are used to support your argument.
If you are interested in learning more about this – please leave a comment down below!
#6 REMOVE COMPOUND CONSTRUCTIONS AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
But what’s a compound construction, you may ask?
This is something that every law student does and I fully understand why but it probably one of the most unnecessary things you can do in your essays.
Do you recognise any of these phrases…
‘In light of this…’
‘As stated above…’
‘For the purpose of…’
‘In relation to…’
‘by virtue of…’
You guessed it – they are compound constructions!
In short, it means that you are using 3 or 4 words which in reality, it can be written in 1 or 2 words. Because you are confined to a set word count, you want to maximise your word count as best as you can – and one way is by reducing the use of compound constructions in your essays!
Listen, I understand – you want to sound like a lawyer, you want to be a lawyer in the moment of writing your essay, these are common lawyer-phrases – I get it!
I did it too! But, if you want to maximise your word count and write a well-written essay; then my tip is this: stay away from compound constructions.
They are unnecessary.
This doesn’t mean that you can never ever ever use them – rather use them sparsely. If you are under pressure to decrease your word count, these are the first things that I would target. I would look at my paper, highlight all of the compound constructions and remove as many of them as required – like I said, you don’t have to remove all of them but from my experience it has helped with my assignments and my word count!
#7 FINALLY – CHECK YOUR TENSES
I started to notice after first year of my undergrad that I had a habit of mixing up my tenses when I’m typing up my essays. I came across an article online on writing essays one evening because, doing the typical law student thing, researching is second nature to me. And I did some heavy duty researching and I came across a post (I will link it when I find it – its’ been over 2 years now!) and this article discusses something along the lines of ‘be careful of your tenses’. It is easy to go between tenses but do be mindful of it.
Once you start taking a proactive approach towards watching out for the little things such as your tenses or compound constructions – it’s amazing how you will see your essay elevate!
For one of my essays, I believe that it was my Immigration and Asylum essay and I desperately wanted a first class grade (it was my first assignment in my final year so I wanted to start my last year of law with a bang!). I took great care to check every word, sentence, paragraph, and headings and tenses to ensure that it was consistent. Is that a bit obsessive? Probably but it worked in the end!
Essentially, the key to getting a 1st class essay–is to watch out for those small details. You may not think much of it at the time but your teacher or lecturer or examiner will notice it. They have been doing this for a long time and they can pick up on these details very easily. By making their job easier, it encourages them to want to give you a very high grade! (Which is what we want!)
I hope this article on effective essay tips was immensely beneficial for you!
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