An informative essay may look like a straightforward task – after all, you simply have to provide reliable and objective information on a subject. You do not have to invent anything, offer your own opinions or persuade your audience to share your point of view. However, the need for objectivity makes this sort of academic work quite difficult for many students. Throughout high school and college, we are taught how to prove our points, find arguments in support of our opinions and overcome contradictions. To write a good informative essay we have to forget all this and concentrate on providing pure information, devoid of any subjectivity. Without habit, it may be quite hard.
It may be particularly hard when it comes to criminal law – a discipline that is by definition built around contention about application and different interpretations of legislative acts and precedents. This is why we prepared this guide for you. Follow it, step by step, and you will be able to avoid problems that often arise when one writes this type of assignment.
How to Write an Informative Essay in Criminal Law – Where to Begin Your Work
1. Choosing a Topic
When choosing a topic for an informative essay, it is important to realize and remember what kind of assignment you are writing and look for subject matter that would meet the demands of the occasion. In an informative essay, you inform and educate the audience about the topic. You do not try to prove a point – you simply tell about something, providing a comprehensive outline for an audience that is supposedly ignorant about it (or give a deeper description to those who only have a superficial knowledge of the subject).
This means that when choosing a topic you should follow some principles:
- Choose something you are well-informed about. Ideally, it should be something you have first-hand knowledge about that goes beyond what is taught in your course or what you can learn simply by studying secondary sources;
- Choose the topic you are interested in. The more enthusiastic you are about a topic, the easier it will be for you to write about it, collect information and analyze it;
- Choose something you can gather enough information about but something not too obvious (so that it requires explanation). If you choose too obscure a topic, you will have hard time finding enough sources, if the topic is too well-researched, your essay will be pretty much superfluous;
- Choose the aspect that easily presents itself for explanation. For example, if you choose to speak about an obscure ruling of a court related to a case you do not well understand yourself and cannot find coherent explanations of it anywhere, it may present certain difficulties to write a meaningful informative essay about it.
Follow these guidelines, and eventually you will end up with something along these lines:
- Criminal Justice System in the 20th Century United States;
- Codes of Ethics as Present in Criminal Justice Systems;
- Capital Punishment in 19th Century Great Britain;
- Juvenile Delinquency and Its Correlations with Bad Parenting and Other Causes;
- Drunk Driving and Associated Forms of Punishments in Different Legal Systems.
2. Define the Questions You Have to Answer
Informing an audience about a topic means answering certain questions about it. Think about the topic and ask yourself: what issues do you have to cover for the audience to deepen their understanding of it? Think of what you would ask about the subject yourself if you were completely new to it. Formulate the questions you have to answer and use them when looking for information.
3. Locate Sources of Information
No matter how much you personally know about the topic you chose, you are going to need additional sources of data, the more the better. You will not necessarily use them all, but it is still good to have them for reference. Here are some easy ways to locate usable sources:
- Use your college library’s reference system;
- Ask a librarian. It is an especially good solution if your library has individual librarians working in different sections;
- Ask your professor to recommend you a few publications to start with;
- Whatever sources you find, look through their bibliography sections. Take notice of any publications that appear in multiple bibliographies, but if there are not enough of them try out every source that seems relevant for your topic;
- Use online academic databases and search engines. Google Scholar and EBSCO Academic Search are good places to start with more general-purpose texts, but you can find more narrowly oriented resources, such as National Criminal Justice Reference System.
4. Evaluate and Rank the Sources You Found
Quality and trustworthiness of sources vary dramatically. You are most likely to find objective and reliable information in peer-reviewed scholarly magazines – they have strict standards of quality and a system of checks and balances that prevents questionable information from being published. However, even such publications are not immune to mistakes, and occasionally even the most respected magazines and publishing houses print something that turns out to be of poor quality.
The situation is even worse with other sources of information, especially what can be found on the Internet, because it has no verification system, and the responsibility of checking everything you find lies on you yourself.
In general you have to check every source you use for bias (both obvious and potential), currency (the situation may have changed since the publication) and quality (the author may simply be mistaken or have insufficient knowledge on the subject).
5. Write an Outline
An outline is an extended plan of your essay, although how extended you need it to be depends on your approach to work. You may jot down the contents of each section in a couple of words or write down in detail what you will speak about in each paragraph, how you will connect different parts to each other and so on. Both approaches and everything in between are equally fine, as long as it helps you organize your work.
How to Write an Informative Essay in Criminal Law – Specifics of Writing
1. Essay Structure
Informative essays in criminal law usually follow a relatively stable structure.
- “Hook” the readers. Start with an interesting, unexpected, peculiar first sentence to draw the audience’s attention;
- Move on to a more detailed description of a problem or an issue the audience is presumably not aware of;
- Explain what is so unusual about it and why it is important to know more about it;
- Tell what you know about the subject. Divide your writing into paragraphs, each covering a specific point. Make sure you connect paragraphs between each other using proper transition words and sentences;
- Present the latest and most reliable research in the area;
- If there are several opposing viewpoints on the subject matter, mention at least the most prominent of them, compare what they have to offer and the body of proof behind them;
- Get back to the importance of the issue you study;
- Summarize what you have already said about the subject;
- Do not introduce any new information at this stage;
- Draw a meaningful conclusion from everything you said up to this point.
2. Maintain the Balance between Your Own Thoughts and Referring to the Existing Sources
An informative essay on criminal law by definition heavily relies on other sources: legislative acts, court rulings, precedents, works by legal experts and so on. However, this does not mean that you can simply turn your essay into a string of quotations and paraphrases roughly covering the topic in question. Of course, they should be present, but they are supposed to constitute only a small portion of your text. The rest should be based on your own thoughts, analysis of the topic and the sources you gathered, your evaluation of the evidence in favor of different views upon the subject and so on.
3. Vary the Sources You Use
You will probably not quote all the sources you have gathered during preparation, so try and select sources of various types. Put emphasis on publications from peer-reviewed magazines, but do not shy away from including popular books, newspaper articles, online resources, reference books and so on. This will prove that you did not just look through a couple of magazines but gathered your data far and wide.
4. Follow a Consistent Paragraph Structure
Not just the entire essay, but each individual paragraph as well should follow a predetermined structure. The details may differ, but usually it is as follows:
- A topic sentence – this sentence states the main subject or idea discussed in the paragraph;
- Supporting sentences – here you elaborate on the topic of the paragraph, provide additional proof for this idea, introduce quotations, statistics and suchlike;
- Conclusion (optional) – if a paragraph is long enough, you can take one sentence to sum up everything that has been said so far.
Remember that paragraphs should have transition words either in the beginning or in the end.
How to Write an Informative Essay in Criminal Law – Proofreading and Editing
1. Check Your Essay for Bias
If you allow yourself to support any point of view related to the topic, either directly or implicitly, you undermine the very nature of your informative essay. It is easier to slide towards evaluations than you may think. You do not have to say “I support this viewpoint” for your position to become obvious. Alternatively, you can do it by:
- Omitting crucial information that supports a contradicting opinion;
- Paying much more attention to one viewpoint to the detriment of others;
- Using emotionally charged words or expressions (or words with evaluative connotations).
Make sure your essay is purely objective and cannot be accused of bias.
2. Check Your Essay for Completeness
The primary goal of an informative essay is, well, to inform. Did you provide comprehensive report on the topic? Did you leave anything out? If you did it due to the strict word limit, are the topics you covered really the most important ones? Did you miss anything crucial?
3. Check Your Essay for Accuracy
Information is of little value if you make mistakes while presenting it. Check your facts. Are all numbers correct? Did you make mistakes in proper nouns? Did you cross-check the information you took from your sources?
4. Check Your Quotations
Informative essays in criminal law always heavily rely on preceding sources of information – you cannot write such an essay without referring to the existing body of research. And references these should be – whenever you use information from one of your sources, you should make it obvious that it is not your own thought. Carefully study the quotation manual according to which you have to format your paper and make sure you follow it to the letter lest you are accused of plagiarism. Also make sure you have quoted everything correctly.
5. Keep Your Writing Simple
It is always a wise decision to keep your writing laconic, simple and straightforward, but especially so when you try to provide your audience with information. Therefore, strive for this ideal while you write and spend some time with the text after you finish, looking for ways to improve it by:
- Removing unnecessary words, expressions and sentences;
- Replacing ambiguous and vague words and expressions with straightforward ones;
- Removing wordy and long-winded sentences and expressing the same thoughts with laconic and simple ones.
Writing an informative essay may look like a challenging and demanding task, but that’s because it is! However, there is no problem that cannot be solved with a judicial application of effort, especially if you have a comprehensive and detailed guide. Follow it, and we are sure that you will be able to emerge from this predicament with flying colors.