Writing Top Tips

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How to deal with an Essay Question

Get to the point! Thanks to richard_AM www.flickr.com
  • Read the question carefully and answer the question set. If you stray outside the question (or, worse, answer a completely different question) you will get very little credit - however good your answer may be.
  • Get to the point. The question, although apparently couched in broad terms, will almost certainly not ask you to write all you know about something. Ask yourself what particular aspect of the topic your question is getting at, and stick to that in your answer.
  • Criticise the law if you think that it is wrong or inadequate. Part of your training is to consider how the law might be improved. But make sure that you have answered the question set before you do so.

How to deal with a Problem Question

  • Facts:
    • Most problem questions will be in the form of a set of facts, followed by an instruction such as "Discuss", or "What is the liability of A, B and C?"
    • Do not argue with the facts stated in the problem (however odd or outlandish they look). But do not assume that the facts stated will give a firm answer to the problem. Do not worry about how they would be proved unless you are asked to do so, and do not go into hypothetical situations.
    • Always assume that every word in the question has some bearing on your answer. If you think that a given fact is not material, explain your reason briefly (although you will not often be given irrelevant facts, other than ones that set the scene). Occasionally an important fact is deliberately left out of the question: part of the test is then for you to identify it and assess its importance.
  • Be relevant!
    • Do not preface your answer to a problem with a general discussion of the law.
    • A brief introduction should demonstrate that you have identified the relevant area(s) of the law in the question and have set the problem in the correct context.
    • After that start straight away to answer the question set. Problems are designed to train and test your ability to apply the law, not to write all you know about it.
  • Rules and authorities:
    • A bald answer to a problem, even if correct, is useless. Reasons and authorities (that is, cases and statutes) must be given.
    • Assume that the reader will disagree with what you say, and persuade him or her by your reasoning and use of authorities that you are correct.
    • Unless a case is especially relevant (for example, because its facts and those in the problem are similar or because it had a major impact on the development of the law), be sparing. The name and principle of the case will suffice.

Thanks to Noella Lahai-Taylor for this!