Writing legal essays is not easy. Each module will require a slightly different plethora skills and for the essay to be written and structured in a specific way. Nonetheless, the more essays you write the better you’ll get, until you’re consistently working at 70% or above. Nonetheless, you don’t need to sit around and wait for your essay writing ability to improve over time. There are things you can do now, to help aid this progression of skills and to ensure the next essay you write is the best that it can be.
This is something that is so important to making your essay stellar. Simply, don’t wait to start writing it. If you have four weeks to write an essay, don’t decide that you’ll use two. Use all of the time you’ve been allocated – and the only way to do this is to start that essay as soon as you get it. Within two days of receiving the essay question you want to have completed a plan for it. The time frame I set for myself, is that I aim to have a first draft of the essay done seven days after receiving the question. Not only does this relieve a large chunk of pressure, due to the fact that the bulk of the essay is done and all that’s left if to revise and improve, but it also means that you have four or three whole weeks to keep going over it and making it perfect. Chances are you’ll have perfected it before the four weeks are up, meaning you’ll have a week or so to breathe before getting your next essay.
Two brains are better than one
One thing I’ve found key to helping me get good grades in my essays is planning them with a friend. Two brains really do work better than one – chances are you and your friend know and understand slightly different things better, meaning that your combined knowledge and perspectives of how to answer the question are going to be much better than you trying to tackle the question alone. However, with planning together, you also have to consider the issue of plagiarism – you don’t want you and your friends essays to end up being too similar. That’s why you have to collaborate differently depending on the type of question:
Problem / Scenario Question: For problems questions, you and your friend can plan the answer together, entirely – even using the same cases. This is because with a problem/scenario questions there’s usually only one correct answer that relies on a set of specific cases that you are meant to use. Thus everyone’s answer for these questions will be relatively similar and use the same cases and there’s little to worry about in regards to plagiarism.
Essay / Opinion Question: These are the questions where you do have to be careful that your work isn’t too similar to your friends that you’re planning with. This is because due to the openness and opinionated nature of these questions, everyone’s answers are going to be widely different, drawing on different cases and sources. Therefore, any similarities between yours and your friends essays will be fairly apparent, especially when it comes to cases and sources cited. Thus, the way you plan these types of essays, with others, needs to be slightly different. With these questions, you should plan the structure and points of your answer together. Basically, you plan what you want to say in your answer and what each paragraph is meant to be about – but that’s it. Don’t plan any further than this with someone else. Once you have your skeleton, you both go off and find your sources and evidence, to support the points you’re making, separately. This way your sources and cases will likely be quite different, and therefore you avoid any chances of being accused of plagiarism, whilst still being able to utilize the power of two brains.
As per the point above, another really important thing to do is to plan your essay. Do not go into it blind, or try to write it as you go. This will not only take you longer, as you’ll be trying to think and research as you write, but it will also mean that you’ll either fall under or over the word count. Getting the planning right is the hardest part. It’s also a bigger part of getting that 2:1 or 1:1, than the writing itself. If you’ve got a solid and watertight plan the writing is the easy part. I always find that, personally, the planning takes me longer and that once it’s done, I can write out my essay in around two hours (for a first draft, of course.)
I’ve gone over a lot of how to plan in my previous point, but as part of this, a really important thing to bear in mind when planning is the word limit and whether this in inclusive of footnotes. Then, depending on how many points you want to make, you can split your words between the paragraphs equally, leaving around 300-400 for the introduction and conclusion combined. If you plan and account for your word limit in advance, it’s likely that you’ll end writing just the right amount and face no issues of being too under or over.
Don’t leave your referencing till the end. Bibliography, yes, but referencing no – make a point to reference as you write. I’ve always referenced as I’ve written, but I’ve known people who have left it to the end and it’s caused them so many problems; they’ve forgotten which source is for which point, they’ve lost the sources they’ve used, they’ve forgotten to reference something. Referencing as you write is vital to making less work for yourself and ensuring you can’t be accused of plagiarism. Whilst referencing, or rather OSCOLA, can seem tedious and intimidating, it’s really not and there’s a really simple and easy way to do it – or rather a simple method that means you don’t have to work out referencing at all – it will be done for you. I’ll have another article up, later this month, detailing how I navigate through, or rather around, the monster that is OSCOLA.
If you can utilize these tips effectively, I can assure you that you will consistently achieve high grades on your essays, ensuring that when it comes to your exams, you produce absolutely stellar answers.