Law Dissertation Proposal Outline

Important Notes

  • It is essential to include your full name on the first page of your research proposal.  
  • Your research proposal may be passed through originality checking software.

Proposal Content

Your research proposal should be approximately 1000 words and should include:

1. A working title of the topic area

This is solely for the purposes of your proposal. You will be able to modify your title during the course of your research.

2. The research context

This is the background against which your research will be carried out. It should be a brief introduction outlining the general area of study and identifying the subject area within which your study falls. You should also refer to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the subject. You need to reference this in the same way as you would do if you were writing an essay, for example any articles or books you refer to should be footnoted with the full details of author, title, publication date and so on.

3. The research issue, aims or questions you intend to address

Against the background provided in the research content above, you need to set out the contribution that your research will make. It is normally best to do this in the form of specific aims or research questions/issues.

4. The importance of your proposed research

This section should:

  1. Demonstrate how your research ‘fills a gap’ in existing research.
  2. Explain why your research is important – it is not enough to say that this has not been studied previously, you need to explain why it should be studied, that is why it is interesting/important.

This should be the longest section of your proposal.

5. Research methods

This section should:

  1. Explain whether your research will be library-based and/or will involve fieldwork/empirical data.
  2. Give some detail on exactly how you will obtain your information.

Most legal research is library-based, relying on information that already exists; such as journal articles, case reports, legislation, treaties, historical records. Some studies, however, might require the use of fieldwork or empirical data – that is, gathering information through direct interaction with people and processes, such as interviews, questionnaires or court observation.

Assuming you plan to rely on library-based research, you need to explain where your sources are located and how they will be accessed, for example via the library, internet, Lexis or Westlaw. If your research is a comparative or international study, you will need to explain how you will obtain the relevant international materials and whether or not this will involve travel.

If you plan to undertake fieldwork or collect empirical data, you need to provide details about why this is an appropriate research method, who you plan to interview, how many interviews you will carry out, and so on.

In this section, you should also explain any special skills you have that will assist you in obtaining information, for example, if you plan to look at French law and you can read/speak French.

6. Timetable

You should provide a very approximate timetable for the research. For example, for an LLM thesis comparing French law and Scots law:

  • Months 1-3 reading theoretical material and developing theoretical framework.
  • Months 4-6 reading and analysing French materials.
  • Months 7-9 reading and analysing Scottish materials.
  • Months 9-12 writing up the thesis.

How to Structure a Law Dissertation

rodrigo | March 10, 2012

The following guide outlines how to structure a LLB or LLM dissertation.

  • Title Page – showing the title of the dissertation and the author.
  • Abstract – summarising what the reader can expect to find in the dissertation. Be concise and don’t reference or use quotes in this part. This is like an advert for your work so make it excellent and carrying some weight (150 – 300 words)
  • Table of contents – As it implies!
  • Introduction – This should be about 10% of the dissertation in total. So if the dissertation is 15,000 words then the introduction should be 1,000 – 1,500 words and should be a very crisp and accurate introduction of the dissertation (which of course should reflect the conclusion).
  • Methodology – what you are going to do and how you plan on doing it. In a legal dissertation it is most likely that qualitative research will be conducted. There are ways to do quantitative research (eg survey of cases perhaps) but it is likely that most legal dissertations will be derived from either scholarly journals/books or statute.
  • Literature Review – a review of relevant theory and the most recent published information on the issue. Again there are dissertations with no literature review: it really depends on the topic and whether you judge it to be necessary (eg is there a lot of published literature/theory?).
  • Evidence – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This most not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
  • Conclusion – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This must not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
  • Recommendations – In a legal dissertation I would always include these to give an indication of how analytical your mind is. If we take the Corporate Homicide Act example above some of the recommendations could be, for example, to repeal the duty of care element or to refine the aggregation doctrine. The recommendations should be sharp and precise. Definitely no waffle here or philosophy extracts!

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Category: Dissertation Writing Guide


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