Essay introductions generally serve three purposes. They:
- Orient the reader to the topic, its significance and the main issues to be explored
- Preview the author’s argument and main supporting reason/s
- Outline the essay’s organisation and approach.
In short, the introduction is a functional tool – a road map to prepare the reader for the journey ahead. As such, it is not necessary or even desirable to attempt creativity – clear and simple is best.
Points to note:
- The introduction is a guide to the text that follows; the body of the essay should be complete and intelligible without the introduction
- First person pronouns – ‘I’ or ‘we’ if there is more than one author – are often used in introductions to signal that the author is speaking as the ‘paper-writer’ to explain its features or elements. The ‘I’ may then be dropped in the body of the text, to let the arguments and evidence ‘speak for themselves’
- The length of the introduction is proportional to the length of the paper – usually no more than 10%
- The introduction is generally titled ‘Introduction’ – signalling that it is a functional rather than substantive section of the paper.
Some Suggestions for Introductions of Good Papers
- Title succinctly states the issue that the essay explores and the question that it answers
- Essay readers expect the introduction to orient them to 1) the topic of the essay, 2) the author’s central argument or position, and 3) the paper’s organization, including the main issues and lines of reasoning that will be developed in each section
- First half of the introduction meets expectation #1: orients the reader to the topic and explains why this topic is of current interest, for example following a recent Court decision
- Clear statement of the authors’ argument Outline of the main reason supporting the authors’ view that the court’s reasoning was wrong
- Meets expectation #2: authors’ central argument and main supporting reason succinctly stated
- Meets introduction expectation #3: previews the organization and content of the essay’s sections, including the main reasons and issues that will be developed in the body of the essay
- Consistency in language use makes it easy for the reader to ‘see’ the structure of the paper and its central arguments
- Note that the essay preview is functional – it tells the reader what is covered in each part of the essays and explains how the authors’ argument is developed across the sections.
There is no single method or formula for structuring the body of a law essay. How you structure the body of your essay will depend on your task/s, your approach to the topic and your central argument. There are, however, some common patterns.
Perhaps the most common pattern used in legal essays is a problem-solution format. In its bare bones form, this might be organised as follows.
- Legal situation and issues discussed; problem/s identified
- Possible solutions considered, leading to a recommendation
By convention, conclusions to law essays generally:
- Restate the author’s central argument and main supporting reason/s, perhaps in stronger terms given that the evidence and reasoning has already been presented by this point
- Review the main issues and sections of the paper and, importantly, the conclusions reached
- Do not introduce any new content material, although they may discuss briefly the implications of the findings or argument, particularly if you have considered law reform options
- Are shorter than the introduction; from 5 to 10% of the word length
- Provide, sometimes, recommendations