Writing a dissertation as part of my LLB was undoubtedly the most challenging thing that I have had to do at university, but it also turned out to be the most rewarding.
Like many, I was initially quite apprehensive about writing such an extensive piece. Universities recognize this and will provide students with detailed structural and formatting guidelines for writing law dissertations, as well as some high-level guidance with regards to being original and analytical. However, I found that there was a lack of law dissertation help from those who had been through the process and so I thought it would be good to share some wisdom from my own experience and that of others.
- Choose a law dissertation topic that inspires you
Students are likely to be given a list of potential questions to aid them in their search selection process. My advice would be to generally steer clear of these. It’s unlikely that you’ll feel truly inspired by a set question, however they can be useful as a basis for tailoring or simply generating ideas. From speaking to students that achieved the highest grades for their law dissertations, it’s clear that they all had a genuine interest in what they were writing about. Creating a unique question encourages original analysis and is likely to be more interesting from a marker’s perspective.
- Start your Research Early
The law library can become a bit like something out of Lord of the Flies as people turn their attention to reading everything that has ever been written about their chosen topic. Ordinary library rules of borrowing and returning may appear to go up in smoke and it can feel like every person for themselves. The earlier you start your law dissertation writing, the less likely it is you’ll encounter any problems. Whatever forms the basis of your research, ensure that you keep track of it. A great way to do this is by completing a bibliography of law dissertation as you go, rather than at the very end. There is nothing worse than forgetting in which case or by which judge you read a great dictum.
- Make the most of your time
It is oft said that the human brain can only focus for 30-40 minutes at a time, however students are often guilty of ignoring this in favor of cramming for hours on end. This is likely to have a negative effect on the quality of your law dissertation writing. I found that breaking my time up into 40-minute periods, with 20-minute breaks in between, increased my productivity. I also found that setting myself achievable daily targets made the task of writing an extended piece seem less daunting: 15,000 words to be completed in 3 months suddenly becomes just 170 words a day! Leave time for reviewing your finished dissertation and make sure you beat the queue at the local printing and binding business.
- Get in the zone
It is vital that you create and work in an environment that is conducive to productivity and creative thought. That doesn’t mean installing soundproof walls and non-reflective surfaces. Everyone is different but I found that sitting at a desk with just a pen and paper to jot down ideas. Temporarily blocking certain websites might be a good idea, otherwise the temptation to binge-watch ‘Making A Murderer’ again will always be there!
- Think about the bigger picture
The law doesn’t operate in isolation. Many students make the mistake of simply writing about what the law was or what the law is without necessarily considering the wider social, political or economic consequences of the legislation or case law.
- Know the law
This goes without saying, but one of the major problems that students come up against is the evolutionary nature of the law. You will begin researching months before the submission date and there are likely to be some changes in that time. It’s therefore essential that you read relevant publications, bulletins and updates on the area of law you are writing about. Reading blogs by law firms is often a good way to keep track of any changes. Every couple of weeks I would also check on Lexis that the cases I had referred to were still good authority for the points I wanted to make.
- Talk about it
Becoming isolated from friends and family as you focus your full attention on your dissertation is not good for either the quality of your law dissertation or your general well-being. A great bit of advice I was given was to pair up with another student to allow us to talk about our projects and bounce ideas of each other.
- Keep a notepad
Given the amount of focus and effort that you put into your law dissertation, random moments of insight are likely to arise as you carry out daily tasks. I would sometimes find myself returning home from work with something that resembled a sleeve tattoo drawn by a toddler. Better to avoid hastily scribbling notes on your arm and carry a notepad for law dissertation writing! Now and again I would also be awoken from my sleep by an idea and would have to write it down.