An analysis of the textual practices of undergraduate and postgraduate novice writers in law

Lesley Anne Greenbaum, Abongwe Bangeni


Criticisms in the media and in the law professions about the writing skills of law graduates have drawn attention to the challenges that novice law students experience in acquiring these skills at the foundation level. Our research project attempts to understand the nature of these challenges from multiple perspectives: firstly, by sourcing students’ understandings of their challenges with legal writing through semi-structured interviews, followed by a close textual analysis of samples of their writing, as well as through feedback from teaching staff. In this paper, we present the findings of our textual analysis of their writing. We illustrate how their difficulties with legal writing manifest at the levels of content, concept and lexico-grammar and how the students’ struggles with legal concepts had implications for their overall engagement with the content of the subject matter. At the level of content, students exhibited problems with the appropriate presentation of subject matter, achieving precision in their writing and showing evidence of an appreciation of what counts as tacit knowledge within the discipline, while at the lexico-grammatical level they struggled with tense, preposition and article use. The paper concludes by recommending some strategies for responding to these challenges while taking into account their resource implications.


textual practices; legal writing; novice law students;

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ISSN 2224-0012 (online); ISSN 0259-2312 (print)

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