image Legal writing is unique and unlike any other writing style you will have experienced. It is factual, straight to the point and omits any ‘filling words’ or ‘waffle’.

Your work should explain the facts and reasoning of the cases or statutes you have found that relate to your essay, clearly and concisely, and show how they interelate and how they apply to the facts of the scenario. You will compare the facts of previous cases to the facts of your scenario, looking for similarities and differences. You will apply general rules derived from those cases to your specific situation.

In legal writing, you always have to explain every step of this analysis, even when you are sure that the reader knows more about the law and facts than you do. The point of your assignments is not to remind your lecturer what he or she knows, but to demonstrate what you know.

Moreover, your lecturer is preparing you to practice law in the real world, so you cannot take any shortcuts. Your supervisor in a law office may be a bright, experienced lawyer, who may not remember this client’s situation and who is too busy to read the authority you find in your research. Your supervisor will rely on your thorough explanations of cases, statutes, and other authority in your memorandum.

If you are writing for a court, you cannot be sure that the judge will read the authorities you cite. The judge may rely on a law clerk who has only recently graduated from law school. Your document must educate these readers about what law exists and how it applies to your situation.

Pretend that your reader is blindfolded and trying to walk up a staircase in your house. Given your sight and familiarity with the house, you could bound up the staircase three steps at a time. But the reader needs to move deliberately, step by step. Because you know the way, you must lead your reader, step by step. While your reader will be happy to arrive at the top, the journey — your analysis — will be more important than standing on the top step — arriving at your conclusion.

(Adapted from Source: Suzanne E. Rowe (2000) Legal Reseach, Writing and Analysis)
Writing essays to length

Most essays have a word limit which are designed to make you think carefully about how to organise and illustrate your answer. Check with your institution whether references, footnotes and/or bibliography are included in the word count.

In law assignments, word limits are often restrictive so that you develop concise writing skills and omit any irrelevant material – every sentence counts and you will need to sustain a sharp focus on the question and limiting any tangential discussion.

To keep within the word limit, you will need to:
Limit yourself only to the relevant issues and ideas
Select and use only relevant material, legal authority and examples, using only one source for each point made (unless you have an unlimited word count for references)
Reword concepts from source material very concisely, making the relevance of each source very clear

With law essays, you should give priority to primary source material – statutes, statutory instruments and cases. Journals and Halsbury’s Laws of England are secondary source materials – this means that although they describe the law, they are not the law; and sometimes they are wrong!
Structure (Law Essays)

Unless you are told otherwise, the very minimum requirements of a law essay or problem question are an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

As a very rough guide, for essay style questions, the introduction will represent about 10% of your word count, outlining perhaps a brief interpretation of the question and what you intend to cover in the essay.

For problem questions, the introduction will be fairly short and simple, outlining for example the areas of law and main statutes/cases that the question is concerned with.

The body of your answer, accounting for the majority of the word count, should demonstrate your understanding of the area and develop your argument. It is a good idea here to keep referring explicitly to the question asked.

The conclusion for essay style questions will represent about 10 – 15% of your word count. This must summarise your main findings and points, and usually will reach a conclusion and answer the question set, which must be consistent with your findings and arguments in the body of the essay. You should never introduce new points or material in the conclusion.

For problem questions, the length of your conclusion will depend on how you have approached the question. If you have reached conclusions in the body of your answer, there is little point repeating them here and you may just end up summarising your findings, e.g. “in conclusion, Jessie has a binding contract with Eve and will be bound by its terms, as agreed between the parties on the 18th of June” etc.

Structure (Law Reports)

You may be asked to write a report about a specific area of law. A report will be a neutral presentation, often dealing with the current law, proposals for change and whether those proposals have been approved by leading bodies and interested parties. A report will also often consider alternatives to proposed change.

A good structure for a law report would be as follows:
Title Page – showing the title of the report, the author, the person for whom the report is prepared, and the date of completion
Summary/Synopsis/Executive Summary (approx 10% of word count) – this will identify:
The purpose of the report
The scope of the report – issues covered/not covered
The important results and findings
The conclusions and recommendations
Acknowledgement of any assistance in researching and compiling the report
Table of contents – not including the title and contents page!
Body of report – this will include:
Introduction – what is the report about
Discussion – divided into sections and sub sections, presented clearly and confined to fact rather than analysis/opinion
Conclusion – this should:
Relate back to the findings in the body of the report
Include a clear summary of the main points
Outline the findings of the research

There should be nothing in the conclusion that has not already been mentioned in the body of the report.
Recommendations – these should:
Emerge from the conclusions
Suggest what is to be done, who is to do it and how/when it is to be done
Be justified based on findings, not just the opinion of the writer
Appendix/Appendices – containing supplementary material too detailed for the main body of the report, such as tables, charts, statistics, questionnaires etc

(Adapted from Source: NCI Learning Centre: Study Skills/Writing Skills/Writing Reports)
Structure (Law Dissertations)

The structure of a dissertation is quite similar to a report. Although it will depend very much on what you are presenting, the following is an acceptable structure for a law dissertation:
Title Page – showing the title of the dissertation and the author
Abstract – summarising what the reader can expect to find in the dissertation. Be concise and don’t reference or use quotes in this part (150 – 300 words)
Table of contents – not including the title and contents page!
Introduction – this should be a short summary (100 – 200 words) of what the objectives are/what you are going to write about
Background – this should assume the reader knows nothing and give them a full account of what they need to know to appreciate the issues at stake
Methodology– what you are going to do and how you plan on doing it (200 – 300 words)
Literature Review – a review of relevant theory and the most recent published information on the issue.
Evidence – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This most not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
Conclusion – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This most not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
Recommendations – where appropriate. These should emerge from the conclusion, suggest what is to be done, who is to do it and how/when it is to be done, and be justified based on findings, not just the opinion of the writer

(Adapted from Source: ‘Dissertations’, Stephen Ginns, July 2002)

Interpreting Law Essay Questions

The first step with a law essay question is to identify what exactly you are being asked to do. Most law essay questions contain directives as to what is required, and the most common ones are defined below. For those we have missed, try looking up the actual word in the dictionary (

Account for
Explain, clarify, give reasons

Resolve into component parts. Examine critically and minutely.

Determine the value of, weigh up (similar to evaluate)

Look for similarities and differences between, perhaps reach conclusions about which is preferable

Set in opposition in order to bring out the differences

Make judgments (backed by the discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved)

State the exact meaning of a word or phrase. In some cases it may be necessary or desirable to examine different possible meanings or often used definitions.

Give a detailed or graphic account

Explain, then give two or more sides of the issue and any implications

Make an appraisal of the worth or validity or effectiveness of something in the light of its truth or usefulness (similar to assess)

Make plain, interpret and account for, give reasons

How far..?
Determine to what extent – usually this requires looking at evidence or arguments for or against, and weighing them up

Make clear and explicit. Use carefully chosen examples.

Explain the meaning of, make clear and explicit, usually giving judgment

Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions, answer the main objection likely to be made about them.

Give the main features or general principles of the subject, omitting minor details and emphasising structure and argument (similar to summarise)

Present in a brief, clear form

Give a concise, clear explanation or account of – present the chief factors and omit minor details and examples (similar to outline)

(Source: Open University : Assessment Guide 1, W100, Appendix)

Planning Your Law Essay

The next step is to plan your essay: as we identified, the minimum requirements will be an introduction, body and conclusion, unless you are dealing with a report or dissertation.

When you have done some research, you may wish to make a rough plan of where you intend to go with the essay. For example:

Question: Recent case law suggests that litigants are generally better advised to pursue a claim in misrepresentation rather than for breach of contract. Discuss.

Comment: Note that the question asks you to ‘discuss’ – this requires that you offer an explanation of the issue/quote and then give two or more sides of the issue and any implications.

This question calls for a general comparison of the remedies for misrepresentation and breach of contract, but more specifically, it requires a focus on the recent body of case law from the Court of Appeal in which damages under Section 2 of the Misrepresentation Act (1967) have been equated with those available for an action in deceit. Your answer should therefore include a comparison of the following points:

(a) the availability of rescission and repudiation;
(b) the basis upon which damages are awarded in misrepresentation and for breach of contract.

Sample Law Essay Plan

For a pre-contractual statement constituting both a breach of contract and misrepresentation, the representee must choose which action to pursue. Which is best?
Remedies for breach of contract (repudiation and/or damages), remedies for misrepresentation (rescission and/or damages)
What the essay will cover: a consideration of § the availability of repudiation and rescission, § the basis for awarding damages in each area.
Contract remedies depend whether the term which the defendant has broken is a condition or warranty, whereas in misrepresentation it is the culpability of the defendant which determines the available remedies.

The difference between repudiation and rescission
How contract terms are classified and why this is important
The basis for awarding damages for breach of contract
The basis of awarding damages for misrepresentation
The advantages of suing under Section 2 of the Misrepresentation Act 1967
The relevance of contributory negligence, fraud and direct consequences damages, and loss of opportunity damages
Use of a deceit measure for all non-innocent misrepresentations, disregard of any foreseeability criterion
Potentially enhanced recovery of non-pecuniary losses
Award of quasi ‘loss of bargain’ damages
Contrast with difficulties recovering damages for innocent misrepresentations
Possible bars to rescission including exercise of judicial discretion under Section 2(2) of the Misrepresentation Act 1967 (per William Sindall plc v Cambridgeshire County Council (1994) 1 WLR 1016)
General emphasis on reliance losses in tort

Summarise main issues/comparisons

(Adapted from Source: Brown, I & Chandler, A (2005/6) Law of Contract, Oxford University Press)

Law Essays – writing your introduction
Your introduction will often be an analysis of the question posed, identifying the area of law, key legislation and main points you intend to address in the essay. You may even spell out what you intend to show in your writing. For this reason, it is suggested that you review your introduction when you have finished to make sure it reflects the direction you have taken, or even leave writing your introduction until last!

Law Essays – writing the body
The body of your answer, accounting for the majority of the word count, should demonstrate your understanding of the area and develop your argument. It is a good idea here to keep referring explicitly to the question asked.

The body may include:

– A discussion of the main issues raised by the question
– Positive and negative views
– Pros and cons for different approaches
– Problems with the area of law in discussion

You can refer to authoritive opinion, e.g. quotes from Hansard, Law Commission Reports, opinions from Text Books but note that you should not give your personal opinion ever in law essays. Rather, you should give a legal opinion based on the sources you have found.

You should aim to:

(a) write in continuous prose
(b) make sure everything you say is relevant
(c) start a new paragraph for each main idea
(d) use short, clear sentences in preference to long, rambling ones.
(e) support each main idea with examples, relevant facts or legal authorities, making clear where it was that information or quotations you use came from.

Make sure that you keep referring back to the question posed – this will help you stay on track.

Law Essays – writing your conclusion
The final section is your conclusion – this should summarise your main findings, highlight any major issues that have arisen from your discussion, and discuss the implications of your findings. If reform is required, you could say so here – if reform is already proposed or underway, this is something you should explain.

Tackling Law Essay Problem Questions

The formula for tackling a law/legal problem question is as follows:
Offer a brief introduction identifying the relevant area of law and any major legislation or cases that will be relevant

Follow Law Teacher
Identify relevant issues – do not repeat the question or the facts
Identify relevant legislation and/or case law (use only one or two relevant cases for each point you make and don’t just regurgitate the facts of the precedent case)
Apply the facts to the legislation/case law
Conclude (you may not be able to give a definite answer)

Many students lose marks by failing to achieve a proper balance of these tasks e.g. by writing everything they know about the law in that area and concluding very briefly in relation to the facts.

Where there are several issues in the question, you may want to break your answer into sub headings to avoid confusion. Where two issues are dealt with by the same legislation/case law, you can include these in one heading to avoid repetition.

Example of a law problem question
This example applies the formula given above to a problem question. It uses numbers only to identify which part of the above formula is being dealt with.

Question: “John was employed by Stealthjet plc in their factory assembling a new top secret design of high-tech fighter jets for military use. He was killed in an explosion at the factory. His Widow, Jessica, wishes to establish that the defective design of the fighter jets, or the system for making them, caused the explosion, and so to recover damages from Stealthjet plc. Advise Jessica whether she is likely to succeed in a claim against Stealthjet plc”.

SECTION 1 (INTRODUCTION): The principle area that this question is concerned with, is the doctrine of public interest immunity. This doctrine is intended to ensure that documents are not revealed in the course of litigation if it is not in the public interest to do so. Originally, such a claim could only be made by the Crown and was known as ‘Crown Privilege’. In Duncan v Cammell Laird (1942) AC 624, the House of Lords held that any claim made by the Crown under the doctrine must be accepted; however, this was reversed in Conway v Rimmer (196  Ac 910, and it is now for the Courts to decide whether or not it is in the public interest for the documents to be disclosed.

This is your introduction. In a problem question this will be very brief, identifying the area of law, and any major cases or statutes that are significant.

SECTION 2: In this scenario, Jessica will be suing her late husband’s employers, Stealthjet plc, for negligence in failing to provide him with a safe system of work. She will need to obtain the plans of the fighter jets and of their manufacturing system in order to identify the defects that gave rise to the explosion. However, the Ministry of Defence will want to claim that it is against the public interest that these plans be disclosed, despite the fact that the Ministry are not a party to the case. The course of English legal proceedings means that disclosing documents requires them to be revealed to the other parties and their legal representatives, and to the judge. There is ample opportunity for the documents to get into the wrong hands.

Here you are identifying the major issues and facts – you should be looking at any problems that arise out of the scenario. There is no need to repeat the question as this just wastes your word count and suggests you haven’t really understood what is being asked.

SECTION 3. In Conway v Rimmer, the House of Lords held that, in deciding whether documents should be disclosed or not, two aspects of the public interest had to be balanced. The first was a public interest in ensuring no harm was done to national interest by disclosing the documents which should be kept secret. The second related to the public interest in ensuring that the conduct of litigation was not frustrated. In Conway, the Court distinguished between claims based on the contents of the relevant documents, and those based on a class to which the documents belonged – generally, contents claims would be stronger than class claims.As a consequence of the Scott Inquiry into the Matrix Churchill affair, the government announced that it would no longer make class claims, but only claims based on the contents of particular documents. If required, the Courts could inspect the documents to weigh up the value of the arguments for and against disclosure.

This section deals with the relevant legislation and/or case law. There is only one case relevant to this scenario – however, for other areas of law (e.g. contract, tort) you may find there are many, and you need to be selective, using only one or two recent valid cases to support your argument.

SECTION 4. Applying the principles of these cases to the facts of the scenario, it seems probable that the likelihood of Jessica establishing the liability of Stealthjet plc will be almost completely dependent on access to the documents which, if they should reveal design flaws, will prove her case in themselves. The litigation will be frustrated if she is unable to gain access to them.However, against disclosure, the public interest immunity claim will be based on the contents of the documents, and it will be extremely difficult to dispute a claim that it will pose a grave threat to national security if the plans of how to build the new military fighter jet (which are “top secret”) fell into the wrong hands. Inspection of the documents is unlikely to be necessary to convince the Court that these are genuine state secrets.Comparison may be made to Duncan v Cammell Laird (1942) where the Admirality was clearly justified in wishing to keep secret the plans of its latest submarine.

This section applies the relevant legislation and/or case law to the facts of the scenario. It weighs up the strength of each side of the argument but doesn’t yet propose a conclusion (although it may be apparent as to which argument will succeed).

SECTION 5. Whilst there is no doubt that the Courts have the power to order the disclosure of documents in the interests of justice, even where their content is sensitive, it is doubtful that they would do so in this case. Although there is a public interest that the litigation is not frustrated, there is a stronger public interest that the plans to the military jet do not fall into the wrong hands, and this would be a strong possibility if disclosure were ordered. The Court is, therefore, unlikely to order disclosure of the plans that Jessica needs to establish her case and the case would, therefore, fail.

(Adapted from Source: Clements, R & Kay J (2004/5) Constitutional and Administrative Law (3rd Edition) Oxford University Press

The final section is your conclusion. You need to make sure in this section that you have answered the question posed (i.e. in this case, whether Jessica is likely to succeed). The conclusion draws together the various parts of your findings – you may not, however, always be able to give a firm conclusion. If the outcome depends on some factor you do not know, you should say so (and you can give more than one possible outcome in such a case).

Referencing your law essay

Each university has a different referencing system and indeed, the referencing requirements for each course may vary still so you need to check your individual course guidelines carefully.

The Harvard system is by far the most common referencing system used on law courses.

The Harvard Referencing System – a guide

Citations within the text

If the quote is less than a line it may be included in the body of the text in quotation marks. Longer quotations are indented and single-spaced – quotation marks are not required.
For citations of particular parts of the document the page numbers etc. should be given after the year in parentheses.

Summaries or paraphrases give the citation where it occurs naturally or at the end of the relevant piece of writing.
Diagrams and illustrations should be referenced as though they were a quotation if they have been taken from a published work.
If details of particular parts of a document are required, e.g. page numbers, they should be given after the year within the parentheses.
Rules for citation in text for printed documents also apply to electronic documents except where page numbering is absent. If an electronic document does not include page numbering or an equivalent internal referencing system, the extent of the item may be indicated in terms such as the total number of lines, screens, etc., e.g. “[35 lines]” or “[approx. 12 screens]“.
Quotations Examples
i) Where the author’s name is quoted as part of the sentence, the year is given in parentheses.
e.g. In a popular study Harvey (1992) argued that we have to teach good practices
e.g. As Harvey (1992, p.21) said, good practices must be taught and so

ii) If the name is not quoted as part of the sentence, both name and year are given in parentheses:-
e.g. A more recent study (Stevens 199  has shown the way theory and practical work interact.
e.g. Theory rises out of practice, and once validated, returns to direct or explain the practice (Stevens 1998).

iii) When an author has published more than one cited document in the same year, these are distinguished by adding lower case letters (a,b,c, etc.) after the year and within the parentheses:-
e.g. Johnson (1994a) discussed the subject

iv) If there are two authors the surnames of both should be given:-
e.g. Matthews and Jones (1997) have proposed that

v) If there are more than two authors the surname of the first author only should be given, followed by et al.:-
e.g. Office costs amount to 20% of total costs in most business (Wilson et al. 1997)
(A full listing of names should appear in the bibliography)

vi) If the work is anonymous then Anon should be used:-
e.g. In a recent article (Anon 199  it was stated that

vii) If it is a reference to a newspaper article with no author the name of the paper can be used in place of Anon:-
e.g. More people than ever seem to be using retail home delivery (The Times 1996)
(Use the same style in the bibliography)

viii) If you refer to a source quoted in another source you cite both in the text:-
e.g. A study by Smith (1960 cited Jones 1994) showed that
(List only the work you have read, i.e. Jones, in the bibliography.)

ix) If you refer to a contributor in a source you cite just the contributor:-
e.g. Software development has been given as the cornerstone in this industry (Bantz 1995).

x) If you refer to a person who has not produced a work, or contributed to one, but who is quoted in someone else’s work it is suggested that you should mention the person’s name and you must cite the source author:-
e.g. Richard Hammond stressed the part psychology plays in advertising in an interview with Marshall (1999).
e.g. Advertising will always play on peoples’ desires, Richard Hammond said in a recent article (Marshall 1999, p.67) (Also list the work that has been published, i.e. Marshall, in the bibliography)

Personal communications do not provide recoverable data and so are not included in the reference list. Cite personal communications in the text only. Give initials as well as the surname of the communicator and provide as exact a date as possible.
e.g. Many designers do not understand the needs of disabled people according to J. O. Reiss (personal communication, April 18, 1997).
At the end of a piece of work list references to documents cited in the text. This list may be called a Bibliography or References. You may be required to list references not cited in the text but which make an important contribution to your work. These are usually listed under the heading of Further Reading.
In the Harvard System, the references are listed in alphabetical order of author’s names. If you have cited more than one item by a specific author they should be listed chronologically (earliest first), and by letter (1993a, 1993b) if more than one item has been published during a specific year.

Whenever possible, elements of a bibliographical reference should be taken from the title page of the publication.
For place of publication give the city. If more than one town/city is listed give the first one or the location of the publishers head office. If the town/city is not well known, you may in addition add a county, region or state.
Always retain the words Books or Press. Where the publisher is a university and the place or location is included in the name of the university, do not repeat the place of publication.

Each reference should use the elements and punctuation given in the following examples for the different types of published work you may have cited. Underlining is an acceptable alternative to italics when bibliographies are hand written.

Reference to a book
Year of publication
Edition (if not the first)
Place of publication and Publisher.
e.g. MERCER, P.A. AND SMITH, G., (1993) Private view data in the UK, 2nd ed, London, Longman.

Reference to a contribution in a book
Contributing author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year of publication, Title of contribution, Followed by In: INITIALS. SURNAME, of author or editor of publication followed by ed. or eds. if relevant, Title of book, Place of publication, Publisher, Page number(s) of contribution.
e.g. BANTZ, C.R., 1995. Social dimensions of software development. In: J.A. ANDERSON, ed. Annual review of software management and development. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 502-510.

Reference to an article in a journal
Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year of publication. Title of article. Title of journal, Volume number and (part number), Page numbers of contribution.
e.g. EVANS, W.A., 1994. Approaches to intelligent information retrieval. Information processing and management, 7 (2), 147-168.

Reference to a newspaper article
Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., (or NEWSPAPER TITLE,) Year of publication. Title of article. Title of newspaper, Day and month, Page number/s and column number.
e.g INDEPENDENT, 1992. Picking up the bills. Independent, 4 June, p.28a.

Reference to a map
Originator’s SURNAME, first name or initials, (may be cartographer, surveyor, compiler, editor, copier, maker, engraver, etc.) year of publication. Title, Scale. (should be given normally as a ratio) Place of publication: Publisher.
e.g. MASON, James, 1832. Map of the countries lying between Spain and India, 1:8,000,000. London: Ordnance Survey.

Reference to a conference paper
Contributing author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year of publication. Title of contribution. Followed by In: INITIALS. SURNAME, of editor of proceedings (if applicable) followed by ed. Title of conference proceedings including date and
place of conference. Place of publication: Publisher, Page numbers of contribution.
e.g. SILVER, K., 1991. Electronic mail: the new way to communicate. In: D.I. RAITT, ed. 9th international online information meeting, 3-5 December 1990 London. Oxford: Learned Information, 323-330.

Reference to a publication from a corporate body (e.g. a government department or other organisation)
NAME OF ISSUING BODY, Year of publication. Title of publication. Place of publication: Publisher, Report Number (where relevant). e.g. UNESCO, 1993. General information programme and UNISIST. Paris: Unesco, (PGI-93/WS/22).

Reference to a thesis
Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year of publication. Title of thesis. Designation, (and type). Name of institution to which submitted.
e.g. AGUTTER, A.J., 1995. The linguistic significance of current British slang. Thesis (PhD). Edinburgh University.

Reference to a patent
ORIGINATOR, (name of applicant) Year of publication. Title of patent. Series designation which may include full date.
e.g. PHILIP MORRIS INC., 1981. Optical perforating apparatus and system. European patent application 0021165 A1. 1981-01-07.

Reference to a video, film or broadcast
Title, Year. (For films the preferred date is the year of release in the country of production.) Material designation. Subsidiary originator. (Optional but director is preferred, SURNAME in capitals) Production details “ place: organisation.
e.g. Macbeth, 1948. Film. Directed by Orson WELLES. USA: Republic Pictures.
e.g. Birds in the Garden, 1998. Video. London: Harper Videos.

Programmes and series
The number and title of the episode should normally be given, as well as the series title, the transmitting organisation and channel, the full date and time of transmission.
e.g. Yes, Prime Minster, Episode 1, The Ministerial Broadcast, 1986. TV, BBC2. 1986 Jan 16.
e.g. News at Ten, 2001. Jan 27. 2200 hrs.

Contributions: individual items within a programme should be cited as contributors.
e.g. BLAIR, Tony, 1997. Interview. In: Six O’clock News. TV, BBC1. 1997 Feb 29. 1823 hrs.

Electronic Material
The British Standard BS 5605:1990 does not include recommendations for electronic sources. The recommendations in this document follow best practice in referencing electronic resources and where possible follow the guidance of the British Standard.

Reference to web pages/sites and e-books
Author’s / Editor’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year. Title [online]. (Edition). Place of publication, Publisher (if ascertainable). Available from: URL [Accessed Date].
e.g. HOLLAND, M., 2004. Guide to citing Internet sources [online]. Poole, Bournemouth University. Available from:
[Accessed 4 November 2004].

Reference to e-journals
Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year. Title. Journal Title [online], volume (issue), location within host. Available from: URL [Accessed Date].
e.g. KORB, K.B., 1995. Persons and things: book review of Bringsjord on Robot-Consciousness. Psycoloquy [online], 6 (15). Available from: [Accessed 20 May 2004].

Reference to mailbase/listserv e-mail lists
Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Day Month Year. Subject of message. Discussion List [online] Available from: list e-mail address [Accessed Date].
e.g. BRACK, E.V., 2 May 2004. Re: Computing short courses. Lis-link [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17 Jun 2004].
e.g. JENSEN, L.R., 12 Dec 1999. Recommendation of student radio/tv in English. IASTAR [online]. Available from: LISTSERV@FTP.NRG.DTU.DK [Accessed 29 Apr 2004].

It should be noted that items may only be kept on discussion group servers for a short time and hence may not be suitable for referencing. A local copy could be kept by the author who is giving the citation, with a note to this effect.

Reference to personal electronic communications (e-mail)
Sender’s SURNAME, INITIALS. (Sender’s e-mail address), Day Month Year. ubject of Message. e-Mail to Recipient’s INITIALS. SURNAME (Recipient’s email ddress).
e.g. LOWMAN, D. (, 4 Apr 2000. RE: ProCite and nternet Refere. e-Mail to P. CROSS (

Reference to CD ROMs and DVDs
This section refers to CD-ROMs which are works in their own right and not bibliographic databases.

Author’s SURNAME, INITIALS., Year. Title [type of medium CD-ROM]. (Edition). Place of publication, Publisher (if ascertainable). Available from: Supplier/Database identifier or number (optional) [Accessed Date] (optional).
e.g. HAWKING, S.W., 1994. A brief history of time: an interactive adventure. [CDROM]. Crunch Media
Citing Unpublished Material
See BS 6371:1983. Citation of unpublished documents. B.S.I. (Talbot Campus Library & Learning Centre and Bournemouth House Library 028.7 BRI).

Remember that you must acknowledge your source very time you refer to someone else’s work. Failure to do so amounts to plagiarism, which is against University rules and is a serious offence.
(This referencing guide is based on material on the Bournemouth University Website
HOLLAND, M., 2004. Guide to citing Internet sources [online]. Poole, Bournemouth University. Available from:
[Accessed 3 February 2006])

Avoiding plagiarism in your essays

Plagiarism can be any of the following:

• Passing off someone else’s words as your own
• Passing off someone else’s ideas as your own
• Rewording a source but retaining the original ideas it contains, without giving due credit
• Failing to put a quote in quotation marks
• Copying large sections of someone else’s words or ideas, even if credit is given or quotation marks are used
• Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation – for example, citing a source that the real author has found and used, that you do not have a copy of
• Changing the words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

(Source adapted from

These are just examples and are not exhaustive.

Your university will have their own guidelines on plagiarism which you should familiarise yourself with, but in short, your lecturers will be looking for original work. To be original your work must not contain words or ideas copied, paraphrased, edited, summarised or rearranged from any website, book, journal, essay or any other source, either in whole or in part.

Where it is necessary to include a direct quote, particularly for law pieces or where analysing a piece of text, you should ensure that direct quotes appear in quotation marks and are fully referenced. Extensive use of direct quotations is not permitted.

Using correct punctuation in your essay

Punctuation helps to keep your writing flowing smoothly and makes it more understandable to the reader. The most common errors students make relate to commas, colons and semi colons.

I often see work that either entirely omits the use of commas or litters them right the way through the text at every pause or break in the flow of writing. The hard and fast rule is that you DON’T use a comma unless to omit it would change the meaning of the text. Read through the examples for more guidance.
To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.
For example, my ??10,000,000 estate is to be split among my husband, daughter, son, and nephew.
If you omit the comma after “son”, this would indicate that the son and nephew would have to split one-third of the estate.
Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word “and” can be inserted between them.
For example, “He is a strong, healthy man.”

Here’s another example: “We stayed at an expensive summer resort.” You would not say expensive and summer resort so no comma is necessary.

Use a comma when an “ly” adjective is used with other adjectives.
NOTE: To test if a “ly” word is an adjective, see if it can be used alone with the noun. If it can, use the comma.
“Felix was a lonely, young boy.” – lonely can be used with boy so it is adjective and therefore a comma should be used.
“I get headaches in brightly lit rooms” – brightly is not an adjective because it cannot be used alone with rooms; therefore, no comma is used between brightly and lit.

Use commas before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed.
“Will you, Shirley, do that assignment for me?”
“Yes, Doctor, I will.”
Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year.
For example, “Kathleen met her husband on December 5, 2003, in Mill Valley, California.”

If any part of the date is omitted, leave out the comma.
For example , “They met in December 2003 in Mill Valley.”
Use a comma to separate the city from the county or state and after the state. Some businesses no longer use the comma after the state.
For example I lived in Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire, for 20 years.
OR I lived in Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire for 20 years.

Use commas to surround degrees or titles used with names.
For example “Jennifer Wiss, LL.B, knew Sam Sunny, Jr.”
NOTE: Sometimes people having names with Jr. attached do not use a comma before the Jr. If they do not use the comma, then you should not.

Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt the flow of the sentence.
For example, “I am, as you have probably noticed, very nervous about this”.

When starting a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.
For example, “If you are not sure about this, let me know now.”
“Let me know now if you are not sure about this.”

Use a comma after phrases of more than three words that begin a sentence.
For example, “To apply for this job, you must have previous experience.”
“On February 14 many couples give each other chocolates or flowers.”
If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description following it is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.
For example, “Freddy, who has a limp, was in an auto accident.” – Freddy is named so the description is not essential.
“The boy who has a limp was in an auto accident.” – We do not know which boy is being referred to without further description; therefore, no commas are used.

Use a comma to separate two strong clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction-and, or, but, for, nor. You can omit the comma if the clauses are both short.
For example, “I have painted the entire house, but he is still working on sanding the doors.”
“I paint and he writes.” – this is short and does not need a comma.

Use the comma to separate two sentences if it will help avoid confusion.
For example, “I chose the colors red and green, and blue was his first choice.” – without the comma, it could be that green and blue were his first choice, or it could be that I chose red and green.

A comma splice is an error caused by joining two strong clauses with only a comma instead of separating the clauses with a conjunction, a semicolon, or a period. A comma splice creates what is known as a run-on sentence.
So for example, incorrect – “Time flies when we are having fun, we are always having fun.” (Comma splice)
Correct – “Time flies when we are having fun and we are always having fun.”
Also correct – “Time flies when we are having fun; we are always having fun.”
Also correct – “Time flies when we are having fun. We are always having fun.”
If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, do not use a comma.
For example, “He thought quickly when asked that difficult question but still did not answer correctly.”
If the sentance read “he thought quickly when asked that difficult question, but he still did not answer correctly”, a comma would be appropriate.

Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations shorter than three lines.
For example, He actually said, “I do not care.”
“Why,” I asked, “do you always forget to do it?”

Use a comma to separate a statement from a question.
For example, “I can go, can’t I?”
Use a comma to separate contrasting parts of a sentence.
For exampel, “That is my money, not yours.”

Use a comma when beginning sentences with introductory words such as well, now, or yes.
For example, “Yes, I do need that report.”
“Well, I never thought I’d live to see the day…”

Colons and Semi Colons
Good writing in English will usually make use of the colon and the semi-colon. Unfortunately many students fail to use these correctly. Although these look similar and have similar names, their functions are completely different.

The colon
A colon consists of two dots, one above the other:

The colon is often used to introduce a list of items. For example:

The animal enclosure contains four interesting species: crocodiles, gorillas, tigers, and lions.
This sentence contains a list of four animals. The first part of the sentence tells you that there will be four animals; then the colon tells you “here are the four animals”.
You can also use a colon to introduce an explanation or a definition of something. For instance:

I’ll give you the definition of boredom: watching soap operas on a Friday evening!

“Giraffe: a large fleet African ruminant mammal.”

The semi-colon
A semi-colon consists of a comma with a dot above it:

The semi-colon is often used to join together two independent clauses — in other words, it joins two clauses that could be sentences. For example:

Andy has white hair; Jessica has pink hair.
These two clauses could be separate sentences: “Andy has white hair. Jessica has pink hair.” However, when we use a semi-colon, we are usually suggesting that there is a relationship between the sentences, but we are not making that relationship clear. Usually, you can tell from the context what the relationship is.
In the example above, the relationship is probably one of contrast; we could also use “but” to make this clear: “Andy has white hair but Mary has pink hair.” When we use a semi-colon, it is often because we want to make the reader think about the relationship for herself. This is useful in many situations, such as when writing cautiously, ironically, or humorously.
One more very common use of the semi-colon is to join two clauses using a transition such as however, therefore, on the other hand, etc. Here are some examples:
She drives a red car all week; in addition, she drives a lorry at the weekends.
Muriel is a size 12; however, she wears size 14 jeans.
You should always eat healthily; otherwise, you might get ill.
Andrew does not eat red meat; therefore, it is necessary to serve him only white meat and vegetables

Final evaluation of your essay

You need to read over your work for a final time before you submit it. Initially this will be to check your spelling and grammar, but you must also consider carefully the most common mistakes made by students answering law essay/problem questions, which are costly in terms of marks. These are:
The student fails to answer the question or neglects part of the question. Usually every fact given in the question will be relevant so consider each in turn and look at whether they give rise to any legal issues.
The student fails to address what is being asked of them – for example, they are asked to ‘discuss’ an issue but they present a one-sided-argument
The essay is poorly structured, perhaps missing an introduction or failing to reach a conclusion based on the evidence presented
The arguments are weak, not supported by evidence/reason or authority, or are non existent
The materials used are not properly referenced or no supporting material is cited
The student has included too much background or description and not enough critical analysis

What ‘they’ are looking for in your essay

What is required will depend on the assignment set and the university you attend. In most cases, your lecturer will assess your work for its content, presentation and quality of analysis.

Your assignment should demonstrate accurate knowledge of the area under question. It is an opportunity for you to show your understanding of the key concepts, legal debates and legal authority surrounding a specific issue or series of issues. The content must be relevant to the precise question asked, and referring explicitly to the question throughout the assignment will help you stay focused.

Your assignment should show evidence of careful planning. You should present your legal concepts, ideas and arguments clearly, concisely and precisely, and ensure they are backed by legal authority or other appropriate evidence. Terms should be used carefully and the meanings they are being given should be defined explicitly where necessary (and you also need to define any acronyms or abbreviations where they are first used, e.g. “…as defined by the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA1998”)”. Your grammar, spelling and punctuation should be accurate and your essay should be organised into logical paragraphs, using an appropriate structure.

Quality of analysis
Your lecturer will be looking for both description and analysis; therefore, instead of merely describing the legal rules or concepts in any one area, you should attempt to analyse what they mean and their implications, and demonstrate that you are aware of the wider factors influencing the legal rules or concepts in that area. Aim to show you are aware of the debates at stake. Material should be carefully and critically considered (‘critically’, of course, does not only imply negative evaluation) – but consider the definition of any descriptives used in the question (see above). Legal authority or evidence must support all assertions. Ensure that you use a logical train of argument.

(Adapted from Source: Open University : Assessment Guide 1, W100, Appendix)

Guessing your Essay Grade

Most universities provide a copy of their grading scheme and a good student will be able to estimate their grade having reference to this. The following is a rough guide as to the characteristics of each grade band (the actual percentages will depend on your university grading system):

1st Class Standard:
A 1st Class piece will display most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

· special signs of excellence such as unusual clarity, excellence of presentation, originality of argument
· comprehensive knowledge of the subject
· excellent understanding of issues and debates
· confidence in the selection and interpretation of materials/authority
· logical and convincing development of an argument
· written style appropriate to the level of the work
· fluent and articulate expression
· correct use of academic referencing
· evidence of independent thought and judgment in answering the question

2:1 Standard:
A 2:1 piece will display most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

· a richer and more developed argument than a 2:2, with a clearly stated and well argued conclusion, showing the ability to range over appropriate areas of the subject matter with acuteness of analysis, intelligent challenges to the question set, and an abundance of appropriate authority or evidence intelligently applied
· thorough knowledge of the subject; few if any minor factual errors
· good understanding of issues and debates
· ability to select and interpret appropriate material/authority
· solid development of an argument
· a written style appropriate to the level of the work
· clear expression
· correct use of academic referencing
· a balanced and well considered answer to the question

2:2 Standard:
A 2:2 piece will display most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

· a considered argument marshalling some of the advantages and disadvantages, where appropriate, with well selected authority or evidence
· adequate, although incomplete, knowledge of the subject; some factual errors
· satisfactory understanding of issues and debates
· reasonable, although flawed, ability to select and interpret appropriate material/authority
· some flaws or gaps in the construction of an argument
· a written style not entirely appropriate for study at the level of work
· poor or unclear expression
· incorrect use of academic referencing
· a partial or incomplete answer to the question

3rd Standard:
A piece in this grade band will display most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

· some signs of use of relevant evidence to tackle the question, even though treatment may be one sided or scant
· incomplete knowledge of the subject; some factual errors
· some understanding of issues or debates
· some difficulty with the selection and interpretation of appropriate material/authority
· some flaws or gaps in the construction of an argument
· a written style inappropriate for study at this level
· expression that is not always clear or consistent
· incorrect use of academic referencing
· a partial or incomplete answer to the question

Fail – Below 39%
A piece in this grade band will display most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

· irrelevant content, vagueness, error, general lack of understanding
· limited knowledge of the subject
· significant factual errors
· little understanding or actual misunderstanding of the issues and debates
· severe difficulty in selecting and interpreting material
· illogical or incomplete development of argument
· a written style entirely inappropriate for study at this level
· confused, muddled or misleading, or incoherent expression
· incorrect use or absence of academic referencing
· too short



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