The rhetorical structure of students’ legal problem essays: Towards a systemic comparison of student texts
The media in South Africa continue to report criticisms about the quality of writing skills of university law (LLB) graduates. But, while recent research in South Africa has focused mainly on the students’ vocabulary and wording, the research has not taken a comprehensive view of texts or made use of a systematic functional approach to language that illustrates how meanings in legal contexts are realised by wording and grammar. This paper is a comparative study of two students’ essays about an academic legal problem that illustrates how one student successfully used the standard moves of the genre to make an argument with more meanings of elaboration and extension in its representation of the law. These observations suggest that teachers in the academy can use a genre approach to illustrate the logical meanings and wording expected in each move of a text, and how language specialists can analyse texts to make comparisons both within and across genres. In this way, a learner pathway can begin to be developed for LLB students across the legal text types to illustrate how they function in terms of both their semantics and their grammar.