Whether it’s a problem solving question or an essay, when it comes to law school assignments the real marks, the ones that take you from a credit to a distinction or a high distinction, are all in the critical analysis.
Follow our critical analysis checklist and write a convincing assignment every time…
What is the question asking? Consider what the boundaries of the question are and whether there is more than one possible approach. Also consider whether the question makes any assumptions and whether these are valid.
What do I want to say/prove? What points will I need to prove in order to get my argument across?
What examples do I need to include? Don’t exclude examples (particularly well-known ones) just because they don’t agree with your argument. Engage with the argument and show why your position is the correct one – it will create a stronger assignment.
Be careful not to simply regurgitate quotes or arguments; instead relate them back to the point you’re trying to make. When it comes to problem solving questions, it’s tempting to explain everything that happened in your example cases. Only include the most relevant facts from cases in the body of your assignment.
Have I used the best examples?
Different sources will hold a different level of value to your argument. For example, anecdotal evidence is good, but statistical evidence of a trend is more persuasive.
If you’re working on a problem-solving question, it’s a similar story with cases: an authority from a higher court will likely hold more weight than a lower court or a decision from a court in a different jurisdiction.
What are the weaknesses of my examples? Where you can’t find stronger examples, acknowledge any shortcomings in your information, particularly where legislation or a judgment is new and untested. Your sources may have made assumptions on particular points, or examples from interstate and overseas may not apply to your jurisdiction in the same way.
Are there any ambiguities? This is an important one to address in problem solving questions. If the scenario is silent on certain points that could sway your conclusion, say what additional information you need and how it would influence the outcome.
Are there any exceptions? Consider whether there are any loopholes and if existing exceptions are appropriate.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments? Consider the weaknesses of your position and try to address them. Beware of common logical fallacies (flaws in reasoning) such as:
The strawman – distorting or simplifying an example so it is easier to discredit.
Attacking the author– focus on the point that’s being made, rather than the person who is making it. You’ll need to apply the best authority in a problem solving question, but when it comes to essays, don’t dismiss the decision of a lower court or a minority judgment based solely on where or who it came from.
The slippery slope– this is a popular one in assignments about law reform. For example, lowering the voting age to 15 won’t necessarily mean that we’ll soon be seeing toddlers voting in elections. It’s important to address the unintended consequences of a law, but only address the most likely outcomes.
Check out the Your Logical Fallacy Is website for more examples to help you write incredible critiques and win arguments.
Are my arguments clear? Ensure your language is clear and unambiguous. Big words look cool, but they rarely help to make arguments more convincing. When you’re trying to be persuasive, plain English is the way to go.
If an assignment is easy to follow, it’s likely to be more convincing. Make it clear when you’re moving onto a new point, and tie off your thinking at the end of a section so that it’s clear where you’re going. Headings and sub-headings can be useful for signposting the progression or your thinking.
What is the solution? Where there is more than one possible approach available, weigh up the evidence and explain why one is preferable to others.
If you’re writing an essay, your research may point to there being only one or two possible outcomes, but you may see an alternative answer – that’s okay, as long as you can back it up with relevant, persuasive examples. Interstate and overseas examples may be appropriate, but it depends on the assignment.
Does my conclusion make sense? Do your examples support your conclusions? Does the overall conclusion make sense in light of the points you’ve made along the way?
FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 17 September 2012.
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