Writing an Essay at LLM Level
A large number of LLM courses require students to complete a number of modules throughout the course, which relate to subject matter of the LLM as a whole. The student will be required to pass a specific number of these modules in addition to completing a dissertation in order to graduate. It is normal for these modules to be assessed by requiring the student to complete essay type answers throughout the course period.
The vast majority of students undertaking an LLM will have a great deal of relatively recent experience in writing essays at undergraduate level. Whilst the general writing process may be similar, the depth required is much greater at Masters level than may previously have been necessary.
At undergraduate level, in the main, the subject matter required for the completion of an essay will have been taught, or at the very least the student will have been pointed firmly in the direction of any research they are required to undertake. In most LLM courses there is inevitably an amount of teaching which takes place, but in general the courses require a large amount of independent thinking and research from the student. Additionally undergraduate law students, who are often given practical problems to resolve in essays, will be used to there being a right answer to many of the questions asked. Whilst there may be, in some LLM courses, an amount of practical problem type essay questions to complete, it is likely that the student will be required to present a much more in depth answer to a question which raises issues relating to their area of study and which will require them to draw a conclusion from their research rather than simply get the answer right.
Where to Start
The approach taken for the completion of an LLM essay answer differs little at the outset to that taken when undertaking an undergraduate essay. The student must first decide what the essay title is asking them to do. Whether it is to solve a problem, demonstrate an in depth knowledge of practice or procedure or discuss a situation relating to a specific point of law, it is vital that the answer given is exactly the one required.
LLM students will be required to demonstrate not only a highly in depth knowledge of the area of law they are studying, together with its influence on other areas; they will also be required to demonstrate an ability to carry out independent research and show a level of independent thought in their answers.
When completing an LLM essay question, students will be required to undertake a significant level of research in order to find the information they require for their work. They must be able to show that they have the ability to find relevant documents and that they are able to read these within the context of the essay title. They should also be able to demonstrate that they are capable of critically analysing the work of others together with Statute and case law. They must not only show an in depth knowledge of their field they must also display a wider understanding of the implications of their speciality on other aspects of the law.
The student should draw up a list of areas that must be considered in order to complete the essay and should methodically research each in turn in order to begin to draw possible conclusions in relation to the essay title. It is vital that any research carried out is documented fully at this stage so as to save time when completing referencing the work. Only when all relevant research has been undertaken should the student begin to write the essay. The student should also be aware that it might be necessary to undertake further research once they begin to write since further areas of consideration may come to light.
Beginning to Write
Before putting pen to paper, it is advisable to make a plan of the general structure of the essay, including any headings or sub-headings that might be required. Not only will this help simplify the writing process, but it will also help to clarify the student's arguments or answers in relation to the essay title. This of course is true to all essays at all academic levels.
Due to the depth of knowledge and the level of detail required for an LLM answer, the student should be prepared to complete a number of draft answers prior to submitting their work. It is important for the student to remain flexible throughout this process and they should be ready to undertake further research at any point should it become necessary. Throughout the writing period the student must constantly ensure that their answer is focussed on the essay title and that they are, in fact, still answering the question. Whilst the answer must be thorough it must also be concise.
Once the student is happy with the content of their essay answer they must ensure that it is comprehensively referenced. Each university will have their own requirements for the style and type of referencing they allow, but all will want to ensure that the student understands the importance of accuracy of the referencing procedure. Once again, LLM students will have a good knowledge of referencing from their undergraduate studies, but with the greater level of research required for an essay for an LLM course there will inevitably be a greater level of referencing. The importance of thoroughly documenting research becomes apparent at this stage.
As a result of the very diverse nature of LLM courses it is impossible to give a definitive guide as to what will be required when undertaking the writing of an essay for the LLM. In general students can expect their essay titles to resemble, in some respects, those they will have completed at undergraduate level but the level of depth of knowledge and research required will be considerably higher than at an undergraduate level.