The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Student essays: how to write a good piece?

Students often ask me how they can write a good essay (which would also make them eligible to receive a good mark). 

This is a question that is not always easy to answer, also because when structuring and writing an essay there is arguably more room for different types of approaches than what is, instead, possibly the case of so called 'problem questions', ie real-life scenarios in which students are asked to provide legal counsel to a fictional client.

I have tried however to come up with some sort of informal 'checklist' [available here] of issues that law students may want to consider when approaching and preparing to write an essay. Any feedback and comments on how to improve the ‘checklist’ are very welcome!

This is part of my "student materials collection" which IPKat has covered in previous instances and can be found here.

So, student essays. Here we go:


How can the checklist be applied in practice though?

Here's an example:

Let's assume that you need to write an essay that has the following title:

In my judgment the test of quality has been re-stated but … not significantly altered by Infopaq” (per Proudman J, NLA and Others v Meltwater and Others, [2010] EWHC 3099 (Ch), para 81): do you agree with Proudman J that the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Infopaq, C-5/08 and its progeny has left the traditional UK standard of originality unaffected?

How do you use the checklist? Point-by-point. So:

1.   STUDY THE RELEVANT ISSUES UNDERLYING THE TOPIC OF YOUR ESSAY, AND UNDERTAKE APPROPRIATE RESEARCH (LEGISLATION, CASE LAW, SCHOLARLY LITERATURE, ETC)

In order to write an essay of this kind you should be familiar at least with issues such as:
1.     the traditional understanding of originality in UK copyright law;
2.    the limited harmonization of the originality requirement occurred at the level of EU legislation;
3.    the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Infopaq;
4.    post-Infopaq CJEU case law, including BSA, C-393/09; FAPL, C-403/09 and C-429/08; Painer, C-145/10; Football Dataco, C-604/10; SAS, C-406/10;
5.    the scholarly discussion of whether and to what extent CJEU case law has affected the standard of originality for works other than software, databases, and photographs (for which the originality requirement is already ‘author’s own intellectual creation) under UK law.

2.   READ THE QUESTION: WHAT ISSUES NEED TO BE CONSIDERED AS A MINIMUM?

As a minimum, this essay requires one to consider:
1.     the Meltwater High Court decision;
2.    Infopaq;
3.    post-Infopaq CJEU case law;
4.    the traditional UK understanding of originality;
5.    the impact of CJEU case law on the UK test for originality.

3.   IDENTIFY FURTHER ISSUES THAT COULD IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF YOUR ANALYSIS

In order to appreciate the full extent of CJEU case law on UK law one could – for instance – refer to other UK decisions (following the High Court decision in Meltwater) that have tackled the originality requirement

4.   ONCE YOU HAVE IDENTIFIED WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DISCUSS, ORDER THE VARIOUS POINTS IN THE WAY THAT YOU FIND MOST EFFECTIVE

These are the points that at this stage you have identified as being deserving of consideration:

·      the Meltwater High Court decision
·      Infopaq
·      post-Infopaq CJEU case law
·      the traditional UK understanding of originality
·      the impact of CJEU case law on the UK test
·      other UK decisions (after the High Court decision in Meltwater) that have tackled the originality requirement

You have now to order them in the way you think is going to serve your analysis best: be strategic!

5.   START WRITING, FOLLOWING THE STRUCTURE THAT YOU HAVE CREATED AND BEARING IN MIND THE NEED TO PROVIDE APPROPRIATE SUPPORT (LEGISLATION, CASE LAW, SCHOLARLY LITERATURE, ETC) TO EACH AND EVERY SUBSTANTIAL POINT YOU MAKE

6.   OTHER POINTS THAT MAY LOOK SUPERFLUOUS BUT THEY ARE REALLY NOT
a.     GRAMMAR
Simplicity is a virtue, also when you write: avoid passive forms, complex and long sentences … In other words: clarity is your goal. Double check whether what you have written can be expressed in a more concise and clearer form. If so: make changes.

                         AND SPELLING
For instance, writing “author’s own intellectual creation” as “authors own intellectual creation” does not look great …

b.    REFERENCING
Several universities indicate a preference for certain referencing systems, eg OSCOLA. While it is important to follow these indications, what is key is really to keep it consistent: if you have chosen a way to reference a certain kind of source, eg journal articles, use the same system throughout the whole essay.

c.     FORMATTING
Again, there might be some guidelines at University/School level. In any case, while looks might not be all you need in life, the appearance of your essay can be important: make your work look good, not just substantially sound!

d.   READ, RE-READ AND RE-RE-READ WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN: BE AS CRITICAL AS POSSIBLE TOWARDS YOUR WORK, SO THAT OTHERS WILL NOT NEED TO BE 

               Reading your essay 1-2 times after you have written it is clearly not enough.

4 comments:

Eddie Cooke said...

Very useful. I would add (although this may be implicit) that steps 1-3 are iterative.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, but why was this article posted on IPKat? Is this meant to improve the quality of the other authors? Or is this a student blog now?

Anonymous said...

I don't mind student essays reading as student essays. What I do have a problem with is law firms charging several thousand pounds for a student essay that doesn't answer the legal issue raised and gets other important legal points wholly incorrect. So-called IP attorneys who know very little about patent matters charging hundreds per hour, completely missing the key company and contractual legal issues that they should be capable of dealing with, and then waffling on about patent issues, incorrectly.

As a patent attorney, I am put in a difficult position with my new client who has used this law firm for some time - a law firm with a good reputation, I believed, in IP contractual matters. The client doesn't to pay to re-open discussions on the matter (for which I can't blame them), but they are now proceeding with student essay quality legal advice they don't understand (C minus at best) and ignorance of the severity of the problems they face.

Painful!

IP Draughts said...

Interesting. My understanding is that IPKat is intended to be for both practitioners and students, so I don't object to the article. But I wonder if there should be a companion article about how to write a note of advice for a client, and how to make it NOT like a student essay (and also, usually, NOT like a submission to the court).

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