Essays and Writing | Law

Essays and Writing

Essays and Writing

There are five main types of writing assessment task used in the Law School. Essays, research essays, thesis essays, cases notes and court reports. Individual courses may have additional formats.

The three types of essay progressively reduce the amount of scaffolding, and thus adapt well to students increased knowledge and skills. The essay types provide opportunity to assess and build on a student’s growing capability over the degree program. The most basic form provides considerable structure for the student, while the later forms require more advanced skills.

Case notes and court reports are focused on developing legal knowledge and legal understanding. The focus is on concise, clear and accurate writing. They provide significant opportunity for interaction with the legal ‘system’, and for providing depth of insight into legal issues. Furthermore, they provide opportunity for considerable feedback and student reflection on law and practice.

1.     Essay

In this foundational type of essay, the questions are provided to the student along with most if not all the research material required by the student to complete the task. This material can include a specific or extended reading list including books, journals, cases and legislation. The emphasis in this form is to introduce students to the basics of legal research and develop their writing and comprehension skills.

 2.     Research Essay

In this type of essay the topic is usually provided, but most research is conducted by the student. Any direction as to source material is secondary or minimal only. In other words generally no set ‘reading list’ is provided. The focus here is on a student developing independent research skills, while still fine tuning general writing and comprehension ability.

 3.     Thesis Essay

In this final essay type students define their own topic and conduct wholly independent research. All formal scaffolding is removed. The emphasis is on higher level abstract thinking, research skills and conceptual understanding.  Thesis essays generally have longer word limits than research essays.

 4.     Case Note

Students are provided with a specific legal case. The general format of the task is to provide analysis of the case, such as by identifying the legal issues, the reasoning behind the judge’s decision and any other significant comment on other pertinent matters. The case note also requires ‘commentary’ by the student. This is the student’s own analysis of the significant issues raised by the case. The student discussion may include suggestions as to possible law reform, or as to why the student agrees or disagrees with the judgment made. Secondary sources may be used in this commentary. The case note assessment provides considerable opportunity for students to develop critical legal thinking, for student reflection and deep learning.

 5.     Court Report

Combining significant aspects of ‘experiential learning’ the court report assists in developing a student’s conceptual understanding of the law. The assessment task can be both specific and general, meaning it can be adapted to different stages of the program. In a general approach, students are invited to think about various aspects of ‘the trial’ for example, or ‘court processes’ or other aspects of the adversarial system of justice. Many of these approaches may have been discussed in class, and there may be considerable primary and secondary source material available. Students attend courts and describe their observations within the context of the class themes. A more specific approach would be for students in a particular course to attend a particular type of court or tribunal  then to report on the specific operation of that  body in the context of their specific course, or even in relation to a particular legislative or common law provision (for example a section of the Evidence Act).  There are often further detailed instructions issued to students.

 

Format requirements

The default style requirements for essay style assessments in the Law School are:

  • Assignments should be typed and provide sufficient margin areas for markers comments. 
  • There should be double or 1 ½ spacing between lines.
  • Assignments should be fully referenced using the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (3rd Ed), http://www.law.unimelb.edu.au/mulr/aglc
  • Assignments should include both footnotes and bibliography.  Failure to appropriately reference may amount to plagiarism.
  • Word limit for assignments is calculated by reference to all text in the assignment. This excludes citations and references in the footnotes and the bibliography, but includes discursive text within footnotes. You must record the actual word count on the assignment cover sheet.

Marking criteria

In general terms, essay style assignments are marked according to the following criteria:

Structure

  • Clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

Topic definition

  • Clarity of scope/delineation of scope of essay.

Argument

  • Logical flow of proposition and evidence.
  • Integration of evidence.
  • Consideration on contrary positions.

Research

  • Evidence of sufficient independent research to adequately address issues in topic
  • Use of appropriate sources for topic – eg primary where available, peer reviewed
  • Evidence of awareness of any relevant issues arising from class readings

Citation and referencing

  • All sources acknowledged
  • Correct and consistent citation
  • Bibliography 

Analysis/critical thinking

  • Demonstrated understanding of primary and secondary material analysed
  • Reflection - essay engages with the material.
  • Reflection – essay demonstrates independent thought.
  • Conclusions are drawn.
  • Different perspectives are evaluated.
  • Identification of knowledge gaps.
  • Ability to weigh sources by evaluation and judgment.
  • Awareness of the ambit of sources.

Style

  • Use of own words as appropriate
  • Grammar, sentence, paragraph structure etc.
  • Appropriate tone/voice – minimal verbosity.