It’s a new academic year and we’re heading into longer, darker days – at least that’s what you thought when you embarked on a dissertation.
I get it, choosing a dissertation topic is not easy and the first topic is unlikely to be the topic, area of law (or title) that sticks with you.
First, dissertations are not mandatory, unless you are doing a research-based degree. If you’ve chosen the dissertation module, you’re at least likely to have an interest in writing and research.
Why stop there?
A dissertation gives you the freedom to write a lengthy thesis on a topic of your choice. Now that those days are behind me, here’s what I’ve learnt since writing ‘A checklist for submitting your dissertation’.
Unsure where to look?
When it came to choosing my dissertation topic, it became obvious that law students are fortunate to have a library all to themselves. With a countless selection of books, this is the perfect place to start. Look around the different sections within the law area of your university’s library. From intellectual property or criminal law to EU law, and more. There’s bound to be a book that catches your attention.
Use other types of resources such as government papers, articles and the news. At the time of writing this, the humanitarian aid crisis in Afghanistan presents a legal dispute on the limitation of international military interventions to deliver humanitarian aid.
Read this LCN Says: ‘Afghanistan: the untold stories’.
Check in with potential supervisors in your university’s faculty. It may be that a book you’ve chosen has been written by an active research associate, lecturer or professor at your university.
At my university, there’s a financial crime professor who writes articles that regularly capture media attention. For me, this was a great way to develop an interest in the interdisciplinarity between finance and criminal law.
Use the module handbook to see available supervisors. If there’s an area you’d like to write about or know more about the potential research topics within that supervisors’ area, send them a quick email or arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss.
Course supervisors can signpost you to conferences and seminars you could attend to develop an interest in that area. They can also steer you towards any active research projects . Continue to use your supervisor if you are stuck on a title – they are there to help you with ideas, so make good use of them throughout the dissertation process.
Future practice areas
You might already know your desired practice area if you’ve secured a training contract at a specialist firm. Either way, your dissertation can be a great opportunity to develop knowledge in a practice area of your choice. Look at issues within those practice areas that have a good grounding for further research.
For example, if you’re interested in becoming a trusts lawyer, you could look at judicial discretion in ownership disputes between former cohabitants. But don’t pick a topic merely to stand out to the law firm. You must have a genuine interest in the topic and dissertation question to sustain interest for the duration of the process.
What have you enjoyed so far?
Ask yourself what you’ve enjoyed throughout your degree. It may be that you’re inspired by a topic in another module of your law degree. If you’re into criminal law, don’t write a dissertation on trusts law. Unless you are genuinely interested in those areas and can find an interdisciplinary question that interlinks both areas of law. Make that work for you whether you studied for a previous degree in computer science or have a background in an arts subject. Consider whether there is literature in another subject area that presents legal problems.
Title based choices
A dissertation revolves around reading. Reading titles is key. Some universities provide a list of pre-approved titles. These are usually like the ongoing research projects at your university or they’re based on the supervisor’s availability.
Once you’ve chosen your topic , conduct preliminary research. If you’re conducting literature-based research, ask yourself whether there are enough sources out there that will answer your hypothesis.
Pick a title that you want to gain a greater understanding of, not just because it will stand out on an application, but because it’s an area you love or want to get to know – as cliché as that sounds!
Too broad versus too narrow
Whatever topic you decide, remember that the research topic must not be too broad or narrow. So, what do I mean by that?
A dissertation that is too broad will lack precision, hindering the reader’s understanding of what it is you are trying to say. Check the timeframe for completing your dissertation and ask yourself; will I be able to write this dissertation in the next nine months?
If not, you need to narrow down your research questions. Building on or drawing from established concepts or theories to ensure that your question is not too broad or narrow, begins with a well thought out idea of what it is you want to prove or disprove about your hypothesis.
Provide new knowledge to your chosen field. Therefore, it’s important to choose a topic that will sustain your interest for a long period of time.
Take away questions
Whatever you pick, ensure it matches your university’s criteria and remember to enjoy it.
Writing a dissertation is a process that teaches you many useful skills and can be a good conversation starter, so ensure its original to make it count!
Find out more about writing dissertations via this LCN Says: ‘Three problems students face when writing a dissertation and tips to address’.