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Legal skills - Writing and referencing

In this Guide you will find resources and advice on legal writing and referencing.

In this Guide, you will find resources and advice on legal writing and referencing.

Below we cover plain English writing, writing for legal problems and using authoritative versions of primary materials.

In the tabs to the left we have including AGLC3 referencing resources.

What is Plain English? 


Plain English is straightforward, concise language that is appropriate for the intended audience. This usually involves avoiding complex or verbose language, obscure terms, and jargon. It may also involve simplifying the structure and syntax of a document or communication to make it more accessible to its audience. Also known as 'plain language'. 
(Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary)


Materials to assist you:

(Found in the Australian Encyclopaedia of Forms & Precedents, Lexis Advance)

(In the Law Library) 

What style of writing should I choose? 

Before you start writing your assignment, it is important you are clear about the assignment type. You may be asked to write an essay, a legal memorandum or case note.  It is useful to look at examples of these writing styles to inform your own writing.

Examples can be found in the Australian Encyclopaedia of Forms & Precedents.

You will also need to consider what your assignment itself has asked of you, for example do you need to make a legal argument, present a critical analysis of the law or is it a discussion of the law? Each of these requirements has a distinct structure that your lecturer will expect to see.

How do I write my introduction?

The introduction to your problem essay should state the legal problem (the legal action or charge) and the related legal issues that you will identify and discuss in your paper.

Some common introductory phrases are:

  • This question raises issues of …
  • The principal issue raised by this question …
  • The issues to be considered are …
  • In this question, the principal issues to be raised are …
  • This question deals with …


Remember, don't restate the problem question nor should you begin your analysis of the legal issues in your introduction.

How do I write my conclusion?

The conclusion is a very important part of your paper or exam response. As you use IRAC to discuss each legal issue identified in the problem question, you will come to a number of conclusions. By the end of your essay, you will need to draw all the conclusions you have made for each legal issue into one general 'end of paper' conclusion.

Some common phrases for conclusions are:

  • Our advice to (client) is that it is likely/unlikely that …
  • In my opinion, ...
  • On balance, it seems that …
  • It is suggested that …
  • It is submitted that …
  • It is difficult to conclude whether ….
  • In conclusion, it can be stated that … unless …
  • In consideration of the facts presented, it seems likely that …
  • In conclusion, it appears that …
  • If ... then .... Conversely, …


Remember don't rehash what has already been said at length and don't raise a fresh argument not discussed in the body of the paper.


Are my references authoritative?


Case Law

All Australian jurisdictions have a set of official or 'authorised' law reports. Judgments published in authorised reports are checked and approved by Councils of Law Reporting. Whether citing such cases in your assignment or using in court, it is important to always use the authorised citation of the case where possible. The University of Melbourne has produced an excellent Library Subject Guide to assist you located authorised cases.

You can check whether you have the authorised version by looking through our list of Authorised Reports.






Online compilations of Commonwealth legislation are authoritative and can be used in legal proceedings, as outlined in the Evidence Amendment Act (Cth). An authoritative online compilation from the Federal Register of Legislation will always be in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format and will display the symbol  .

In Tasmania, the online compilation of an act is not recognised as authoritative. Paper reprints are the official authorised version of Tasmanian legislation, and it is this version which should be taken to court. Up to date paper statutes are held the law law library of Tasmania.