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Writing law dissertations

When it comes to the dissertation topic, choose something you are interested in. Firstly select a broad topic and then identify a specific legal issue, i.e. narrow the topic of your dissertation.

Become clear about the methodology you will employ. Are you following a black-letter law approach, i.e. are you conducting a doctrinal analysis, which is also critical? Maybe you want to employ the comparative method? In a few instances, students may not just follow positivism. Instead, a mixed method approach may be favoured to ascertain the effect of the law and they will therefore additionally opt for interpretivism and conduct interviews. Of course, choosing a black-letter approach narrows the scope and may help with remaining focused. Generally speaking, when writing a law dissertation it is better not to opt for the social science approach and to remain objective.

In terms of the structure of your dissertation, draft an acknowledgement to thank your teachers and university for their support, prepare an abstract, a list of abbreviations, a list of tables (if required) and a table of contents. Start with the introduction, explain your methodology and then have as many chapters as necessary, have a conclusion and finish with your bibliography.

Think about the research question. Asking a question helps you stay focused. For instance, you may want to ask whether the particular law is achieving its objective; is fair to those affected by it and/or whether the law govern a certain instance. Asking a question results in this becoming the focus of the research and will help with the writing up process, especially your introduction and conclusion. It will also help you removing redundant information. Quite often you just have to reword your dissertation title into a question.

When undertaking your reading, become clear what the primary and secondary sources are. Understand the different arguments which scholars are putting forward and how they can be contrasted.
Very often students start reading relevant sources for the law dissertation, but leave it to the last minute to start the writing up process. It is much better to write every day a certain amount of words than reading through many papers and forgetting many important points. Note taking certainly helps. Make sure that you properly reference everything you write. Sometimes students write many words, but forget to note down the sources, especially the page numbers. This can cost a lot of valuable time.

Aim to submit your dissertation one week earlier, so that you leave yourself enough time for last minute revisions.

Finish your dissertation in good time and stop working on it. Then revisit your work after a few days and you will probably detect new things, which will help refining your dissertation.