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