TOP TIPS for 4th Year Law students – Writing your dissertation
The count down is on. We are now in September and the Autumn/fall brings something very exciting to all us legal geeks. Yes, the beginning of the academic year.
Do you remember starting first year? I bet it feels like a long time ago now. Every year as I moved forward from First year to second and second to third I swore to myself that I would be better organized. That I would have set times for study and that I would cope with the workload better.
Every single year after the initial weeks I felt one thing ‘SWAMPED”
I realized that 4th Year Law really was hard. I was determined to get through It
You will make it. You can choose the hard way ( if you like) reading and gathering all your notes and sweating and panicking or you can follow these very simple TOP TIPS I learned during my final honours year of LL.B (Hons) at the University of Glasgow.
It really isn’t rocket science but these tips worked for me.
So as you spend the last few weeks on having a lie in, going to the pub or just frantically panicking about your final year, have no fear.
Your fairy godmother is here. Get your self a nice latte and read, slowly and do.
The difference in your final honours year is that you have elective classes plus the dreaded D word. Yes, the dissertation.
Here are MY TOP TIPS for you
1. Time Management
Time management is probably the most important part of 4th year. Before you even step back into a seminar or lecture theatre, before you buy a new rucksack or even look at dissertation topics the first thing to do is make a detailed plan for managing your time.
I worked on a very simple 20 minute principle. It has been reported that the brain operates better during the first 20 minutes of reading. So structure your time in 20 minute chunks
Once the 20 minutes has ended get up, go for a walk or just switch subjects that you are reading. Read outside of Law too even if it’s just a newspaper, twitter a magazine or something unrelated.It helps to switch off for a while.
2. Plan your Work Schedule
Your dissertation is a large part of your 4th year course usually consisting of 30 credits and consisting of around 10-11,000 words.
This isn’t something you should leave till the end.
Start working AS SOON AS YOU CAN – NOW EVEN Before you start back
Do a little bit on a regular basis ( yes EVERY day)
Decide in advance when you’re going to work on your dissertation – set aside time each week or have a particular day to work on it
Give yourself a specific task to do in that time
Do difficult tasks at the times of day you work best
Do easy tasks when you’re tired / less motivated
3. The Library is your friend
Find a quiet spot, you know where they are and make yourself at home You will be here for a long time this year.
Law Libraries are your friend. When you start to tire there will always be someone who will come with you for a chat and coffee.
Read ahead for as many of your classes as you can. Don’t leave your reading until the day before. BE PREPARED
4. D –Day Your dissertation
Your dissertation will be a piece of work that will stay with you forever. I wrote my dissertation in 2008/2009 and It is etched in my brain now forever.
The key to your dissertation management is again Planning and I would suggest working backwards. If your final deadline is the 15th of March give yourself two days and aim to finish and hand in on the 12th.
This way you have a couple of days for catastrophes like binding,dog ate my dissertation or printer breaks.
I found having a think about firstly what area I was interested in and choosing a broad topic/ subject helped as a start.
Then I asked myself some questions. My area was Criminal Law as the broad topic. I asked my self what part of criminal Law interested me.
I decided that I would look at a question spanning different jurisdictions. A comparative question perhaps.
I wrote a few examples of questions and mulled it over ( you could be doing that now as You’ve already studied Law for three years)
Next I met with My supervisor and had a chat about my broad subject.
The next stage was narrowing my topic down. I chose to look specifically at the Law of Double Jeopardy and consider If the Law in Scotland should be changed to allow for a re-trial if fresh DNA evidence became available after an acquittal.
Whooo Hooo I Had a topic. Now to begin
5. READ READ READ some MORE
Lots of people will tell you different ways of working on your dissertation. This way really did work for me.It involves three words
READ, READ and READ
then whilst you are reading
Think about your methodology
Identify primary sources
Identify secondary sources, if appropriate
Make notes / mindmaps BUT DO NOT Write as you go
Organise and analyse your material
ONE WEEK Write up ( This is the easy part – people often think It is the difficult part but I disagree. Once you have crystalized your arguments then committing it to paper is easy.) Don’t let the panic of others stop you for staying calm.
One WEEK HOLIDAY – Once it is finished.Put it down.Walk away. Don’t look at it for a week and then revisit if with a fresh mind.THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT
ASK yourself your question AGAIN
Redraft ( if necessary) / check / proofread
Submit It / Turn It in
6. Structuring your dissertation
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. ( as many Chapters as you need )
Chapter 3. Methodology
Chapter 4. Results and Analysis
Chapter 5. Discussion
Chapter 6. Conclusion
Bibliography & Appendices / Table of Cases
I Hope my Top Tips give you something to think about as you enter your final year of your LL.B (Hons) . Enjoy the challenge and If I can be of any help, please get in touch.
Michelle L Hynes LL.B (Hons) DipLP
You are close. The coursework is completed and you are about to embark on that one final part of your journey – producing that master’s law dissertation and earning that degree.
You and your advisor have met and agreed upon your topic. And this should be a topic in which you have great interest. To write a dissertation in law on a topic that you find uninteresting is a law students’ definition of hell. So, whether it’s the issue of illegal waste dumping by corporations in under-developed countries or the issues of personal injury lawsuits when the defendant’s corporate headquarters is in a foreign country, get a research topic that will motivate you to research and write.
The Basics – Structure and Content
This is all new to you. While you may not understand how to write a good law dissertation, many others have successfully done so. In your research, you will review many outstanding dissertations, so take your cue from those. It will be a good idea to spend some time reviewing an example of law dissertation writing in your topic area to get a better idea of structure.
In general, however, there is a basic structure for the piece, and this structure should guide your planning and writing. Here are those structural elements:
- The Dissertation Proposal
Before you can begin your research and writing, you must craft that proposal for advisor approval. You may not know how to write a law dissertation proposal, but others have done this before you. Check with some of your peers or recent graduates and get some advice. In general, your proposal must include the following:
- A solid statement of your research topic. It should include a hypothesis that states what you believe your research will reveal.
- A brief summary of the early initial research you have done so far that has piqued your interest in the topic
- A justification of why you think your research topic is important. How will others benefit from your work?
- A timeline that will set benchmark dates for completion of each part of your work and the final piece.
- The Dissertation Abstract
This is a one-page summary of your work (200 – 250 words). It will include the purpose of your research, your hypothesis, and make reference to the conclusions you have reached. This will not be written until the piece is finished. Writing a law dissertation abstract can be a challenge – you are reducing a huge amount of work to a single page.
While some institutions may have very specific guidelines, in general the structure of your law dissertation will be as follows:
- Length: Generally, law dissertations are about 15,000 – 20,000 words – approximately 80 pages, excluding your appendices (if any) and your reference and footnote pages.
- Title Page: This will be a separate page. The title itself should be a structured as a single stand-alone phrase or as a shorter phrase followed by a longer phrase that provides more detail. “Legal Redress of Illegal Waste Dumping – a Case Study of Trafigura and the Ivory Coast.
- Table of Contents: This will list each chapter and any main sub-headings, with appropriate page numbers. Important chart or graphs should also be listed with page numbers. Appendices should also be listed, if you have them.
- Chapters: You will structure your chapters as you believe to be best. Remember, you are telling a type of story, so keep that in mind.
- Introduction: this chapter will introduce the topic, its importance, and the hypothesis that you have developed. If it is a case study, introduce the “players.” Often, your literature review may be contained in the Introduction, depending upon the guidelines of your department.
- Background: This chapter is included if you need to provide a more detailed description of the legal issue. In the example above of Trafigura, you may want to provide a historical context, including applicable UK, Ivory Coast, and international law.
- Substantive Issues: Each chapter from this point forward should address one of the issues in your study. Make sure that you have a good introduction for each chapter, cover the issue, and the provide a transition to the issue of the next chapter. There should be a logical flow from chapter to chapter. Sub-headings within each chapter are a good idea if the issue is complex.
- Summary/Conclusion Chapter
This chapter should provide a summary of all of the issues you addressed in your research and chapters, and their implicimplications specific area of law. You are not expected to come up with some new contribution to your field – that is reserved for the Ph.D. thesis. What you are demonstrating is that you are a “master” in a specific area of law. Regarding conclusions, this is an area that many students gloss over. Conclusions might include, for example, the implications of issues for future legal situations involving the same body of law.
- Appendices, Footnotes, and Bibliography
Follow the department guidelines for formatting.
It’s a Lot of Work
Yes, you will struggle at times; and you will have challenges that are really frustrating. When you become too anxious or stalled, you may want to look to buy law dissertation assistance from a professional writing service – one that has law experts to act as consultants as you move through this process.
Additional Law Dissertation Writing Tips
Here are a few things that may help:
- To identify your topic area, start with a broad area and then narrow it down to something that really interests you.
- Don’t scrimp on the research. You want to become an expert. And as you do your research, keep the content organized into sub-topics so that you can synthesize everything before you begin to write.
- Craft an outline, so that you have a good idea of chapter divisions. Make the large divisions like the chapters in a novel.
- Do not ignore your institution’s formatting requirements. If you don’t follow them, you will be getting it back for corrections.
- Start early and give yourself plenty of stress-reducing breaks. The biggest obstacle to completion is psychological. You cannot just forge ahead and think you will get it hammered out. You will lose focus and motivation.
- Count on having a number of revisions – it’s just the “nature of the beast.” But don’t become such a perfectionist that you never “put a period on it” and get it submitted.
- Be bold. You can state an opinion; you can take a stand on something; you can be creative (in fact, you should); you can add human interest. Some pizzazz will keep your reader engaged.
- Be careful about plagiarism. This usually happens when sources are not cited correctly, so check and double-check your citations.
- Get another to review and edit your final draft. You are too emotionally involved in your piece and will miss some clear errors.
There you have it. You law dissertation is a huge project. Divide it up, take breaks, eat and sleep right, and do not give up your social life – you will become really resentful. Most of all, remember this – many of done this before you, and you will get through it too.