5 Tips for Writing a Better Law Essay Introduction
After reading the first few sentences of a law essay, most markers will start to formulate an idea of the mark range. If they start with a Credit, Pass or Fail mark in mind, it becomes incredibly difficult for the paragraphs that follow to drag the paper back up into the higher mark brackets. It is imperative that you give yourself the best chance to impress your marker by starting your essay with a strong introduction.
Writing a strong introduction is easier said than done. It requires clarity of thought and argument, and a coherent essay structure. However, while difficult, if you adopt the following ideas, you will be five steps closer to the perfect introduction!
1. Provide context
It somehow seems like rushing (or like getting bowled over!) to jump into outlining your points in the first sentence of your essay. As such, it is good practice to open your essay with 1-3 sentences of background information that situates the reader and provides context for the argument that follows.
For example, “In 2009, the […..] Act was introduced to remedy problems of […..] However, from its inception it has been criticised for […..].”
Background information such as this can then lead into a sentence that refers directly to the essay question like, “This essay will examine recent amendments to the […..] Act and explore their effect upon […..].”
It is important that while providing background information to the essay topic you remain focussed on the question at hand and link the discussion back to the relevant line/s of inquiry. A standalone descriptive paragraph does not belong in an introduction.
2. Refer to the question
As mentioned above, it is important that your introduction immediately ties your background information back to the question. References to the question do not need to be elaborate, but they must be clear. One way to make sure you are referring to the question adequately in your introduction is to draw upon the key words from the question throughout your paragraph. You know you have used the key words appropriately when a stranger can tell what question your essay is answering simply by reading your introduction.
3. Be specific
A surprising number of law essays I have marked over the last two years either give a general description of the topic area in their introduction, or simply rehash the question. For example, if the question is “What is the impact of the […..] reforms?” many introductions will either outline the legislative history of an Act or its founding report, or alternatively state that “The […..] reforms have impacted upon [the area of] law” without outlining which particular reform they will be exploring and the test or provision it has altered.
These approaches are not particularly helpful. It is far more useful to outline the scope of your essay in detail. Being specific involves being upfront about where your essay will go. Which reforms or mechanisms will you focus on? Which one/s will you avoid? Why? Will you draw on any comparative jurisdictions? Theories?
For example, “This essay will examine the effectiveness of civil litigation rules in relation to Summary Judgments only. Summary judgments have been chosen as the key area of inquiry because they are the major mechanism a judge can use to filter out cases that should not go to trial. This essay will draw upon the American experience to suggest that a higher threshold test is preferable to NSW’s current standard…”
4. Provide a roadmap
After you outline the scope of your argument, you should provide a brief outline of your essay’s structure. This roadmap situates the reader and improves the clarity of your structure.
For example, “In section I, this essay will outline the key recommendations of the […..] Report. Section II will examine the implementation of these recommendations in the current [……] Amendment Act. In section III, the effectiveness of this amending instrument will be critiqued, before possibilities for reform outlined in Section IV. “
5. Outline your conclusion/s
Students are often quite shy about putting their conclusion/s into their introduction. However, stating your essay’s conclusion/s at the end of your introductory paragraph exudes confidence and a strong authorial voice.
For example, “This essay will ultimately conclude that the threshold test for obtaining a default judgment is inappropriate and unfair, and should be raised to reflect the standard in [jurisdiction].”