Essays Legal Writing Writing Research

Using Sources in Legal Essays

This exercise is intended to get you thinking about the sort of sources that you should be using in your legal essays and how you should be using them.

The Original Source

Access Stuart J Barnett, ‘Sir Harry Gibbs and a Representative Bench’ (2000) 25(3) Alternative Law Journal 148, available here.

Before Reading

Consider the following questions:

  • Where is the article taken from?
  • How authoritative do you think the source is?
  • What underlying biases or assumptions might have influenced the author?
  • Who is the author? What are his qualifications?
  • What kind of analysis do you think the author will be using for this article?

Reading the Article

Read the article, annotating it if possible. You may want to read this article beforehand. Make sure to indicate what is:

  • Facts – that is, a statement that is more or less indisputable, such as ‘there are seven judges on the High Court’.
  • Arguments – Any assertions that are based on the opinion of the author, or contribute to the author’s conclusions.
  • Secondary sources or citations – Every time the author is citing the work of another person, make sure that you indicate this.
  • Conclusions – The summary of the author’s arguments.

Using an Article in an Essay

When thinking about how you would use this (or any other) article in an essay, you should always consider:

  • How authoritative the source is.
  • What arguments the source makes. Are there any other sources that make the same or similar arguments that you could use to provide additional support to the points that you are trying to make?
  • Are there any sources that make the opposite arguments?
  • What criticisms could be directed at the article. Are its premises sound? Do the conclusions follow logically from the arguments?

Having considered this, move on to the Comparing Essays exercise, where you will see how an excellent and a satisfactory essay applied the above source.

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