The following materials are adapted from the Legal Academic Writing website.
All good legal academic writing shares common attributes: it is clear and concise, well organized, logical and persuasive, purposeful and relevant, and supported by accurate and current legal authorities.
However, the process of writing, and markers’ expectations regarding presentation, vary significantly, depending on whether you have several weeks to prepare an assignment, or a few days or hours to answer an exam.
How long do you expect to spend preparing a 2,000 word hypothetical problem response? Or a 5,000 word research essay?
Some people write well when under pressure and some people produce better writing when they have had time to reflect on a subject and attempt several drafts. Therefore, there are no hard and fast rules about how long it will take you to prepare your written assignment.
The time you will need to spend preparing an assignment will depend in part on how comfortable you are with the material you are researching, for that particular task. For any given student, this can vary within a subject, or from subject to subject.
If you are finding the content in one subject particularly complex, you will need more time to undertake the research for that assignment (including time to come to terms with the content disclosed by that research).
A rough guide
As a very rough guide, to prepare an ‘adequate’ response, you should probably allow a minimum of 20 hours to research and prepare a 2,000 word written assignment. A 5,000 word paper might need at least 50 hours, and so on.
Of course, you may need to spend quite a bit more time than this if you want to achieve a better grade. And note that preparation time for papers less than 2,000 words often does not decrease proportionately. Indeed, a 1,500 word paper is sometimes harder to prepare than a 3,000 word response.
Do you plan to begin work on each assignment at least 3 or 4 weeks in advance of the due date? Do you schedule time for research and reading, thinking and note-making, drafting and revising?
Preparing a written assignment should involve at least 3 stages:
- Research and reading to consolidate or extend your understanding of the topic, the relevant law and the issues raised by the question
- Drafting a written response
- Revising and editing your draft.
A rough guide
As a rough guide, you should plan to spend around 60% of your allocated time for an assignment researching and reading; 20% preparing the first draft; and 20% revising and editing.
This allocation emphasises the fact that the quality of your response depends largely on the extent of your research and reading. Writing quality is also improved by strategic revision of a first draft. Too often, students only think of the time needed to prepare a first draft – they underestimate the importance of the other stages.
Another mistake is to underestimate the difficulty of the writing process; or to think that everything must be known before you can start to write. As a result, some students keep researching up until the weekend before the paper is due and then try to do all the writing in a single intense ‘burst’. This is not a good idea.
Once you’ve done some research and reading and feel that you have an idea of what will need to be covered in a particular section of the paper, draft that section. Then you can do further research and reading for another section, draft that, and so on. As soon as you get some sections under your belt, it helps you feel in control of the task.
The 10 Step Process
Preparing a high-quality written assignment can be broken down into a 10-step process:
- Read all instructions carefully and analyse the question, topic or problem so that you understand ”exactly” what you are required to do.
- Conduct preliminary research and identify relevant legal sources and associated legal and secondary materials.
- Read generally and make notes on the current law on the topic and the main issues and approaches to it.
- Develop a tentative plan and begin to formulate your argument or opinion.
- Draft the sections that you can from your notes (made at step 3).
- Conduct more focussed research and reading for the sections where you have ‘gaps’ or need further information.
- Finalise a first draft.
- Review your draft for structure, argument and coherence.
- Edit you draft for clarity of expression, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
- Check all footnotes and prepare the bibliography.