By January 1, 2019 Academic Papers


Analysing the essay question

Students should consider using the key word approach to reading essay questions. This approach looks for three key features in any essay question. Namely

The knowledge key words The relevancy key words The instructional key words


The essay question for the essay is as follows:

Critically evaluate, in relation to the common law duty of care, the liability of employers for references. How, if at all, does the liability of a university (such as the University of Sussex) differ regarding references given to potential employers in respect of current (or former) students.

The knowledge key words are: the liability of employers for references. The relevancy key words are: in relation to the common law duty of care. Put in other words what is the scope of an employer’s liability in the tort of negligence for references given to current or former employees? The question also asks for a view to be expressed as to whether references given by universities in respect of current and former students are to be treated the same as references given by employers to employees. It is a bad mistake not to give an answer to the additional sub-question.

The instructional key words are: critically evaluate. The adverb “critically” is often applied to question verbs such as “evaluate”. It invites students to challenge received wisdom and to offer an alternative to a dominant interpretation of an issue. The verb “evaluate” requires an assessment of the different aspects of a subject area or phenomenon. Evaluating often requires a consideration of the advantages and disadvantages (pros and cons) but try to avoid a “list-based” approach.

Structuring your essay

The essay length is 1,200 words. The essay should be up-to-date and referenced in an appropriate way (i.e. the Harvard or name-date referencing style) demonstrating

that you have consulted a range of decent and reliable sources. The essay should contain the following elements with approximate word allocations:

  •   Introduction (5-10% of word allocation)

  •   Discussion (75-85% of word allocation)

  •   Conclusions (10-15% of word allocation) References



Appendices (if applicable)

A common mistake is an overlong introduction and an overly generalised approach i.e. don’t try to write everything you know about the tort of negligence.

Some advice on content

The key case is the House of Lords decision in Spring v Guardian Assurance plc [1995] 2 AC 296 (HL). The judgments are split between rejecting liability of employers on policy grounds (Lord Keith dissenting), imposing liability on the basis of the Hedley Byrne principle (Lords Goff, Lowry and Woolf) and imposing liability on the basis of the Caparo decision (i.e. is it fair, just and reasonable – Lord Slynn).

For better marks, students should not only dealt with Spring v Guardian Assurance plc

but also with subsequent decisions including (but not limited to):

  •   Kidd v Axa Equity and Law Assurance Society plc

  •   Bartholomew v London Borough of Hackney

  •   Cox v Sun Alliance Life Ltd

  •   McKie v Swindon College

  •   Desmond v Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire

Don’t forget to deal with the issue of liability for references given to students!

The General Feedback from previous years please take this advice to heart!

The standards of referencing and presentation were generally poor. The names of cases need to be either in italics or underlined. With the name-date referencing system, the information that allows the case to be looked up by the reader comes immediately after the case name in the text. When referencing books, try to pinpoint the page not just the author(s) name(s) and date of publication (e.g. Jones, 2017, 358). The Study Direct course website for N1584 contained a section entitled “Possible Readings for Assessed Essay”. It is a source of deep concern that VERY few students made use of these materials. Those who did tended to do very well. A particular problem was the significant number of students who ignored the question set to write about [a specific event in the news]. This was sadly not relevant! Some students also made reference to non-UK cases (google?) without explaining why a first instance case from a foreign jurisdiction should be considered in preference to UK Court of

Appeal and House of Lords/Supreme Court authority on the point. In some cases, the research all seemed to be based on “googling”. BMEc expects essays to show evidence of reading a wide diversity of material (not just the internet) and well developed arguments based on this reading (see the critical thinking section of the Sussex S3 website for further advice on reasoning skills).

© Paul Eden 30th October 2017