“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!’’
With Diwali just over, and Christmas poised to loom large, I’m feeling particularly festive. The truth is I have much to be grateful for; my health, two wonderful children, a beautiful partner, and as a psychoanalyst, a job that never ceases to amaze.
But much as Scrooge on that most joyous of Christmas mornings, today you’d find a particular spring in my step, and the reason is simple enough: 10,015 words of completed dissertation. It came at a cost, perhaps not requiring the same kind of existential soul-searching that was asked of poor Ebenezer, but a cost nonetheless. One that on completion merits at least one large glass of red and a few oven warmed mince-pies; even if I say so myself.
But the aim of this piece is not simply to gloat, for that would be most un-Christmasy, nor to simply expound on my efforts which would be nothing short of tedious; the aim is to both encourage, and guide other would-be dissertation aspirants.
For starters I would ask you, albeit rhetorically, why not give this module a try? Indeed, why wouldn’t you? It’s challenging, has an high pass rate, relatively high mark averages, but most importantly… pause for effect… it has to be better than sitting another three hour ‘unseen examination’ whilst being circled by vulturous invigilators that would strip search you if they even notice a misplaced eraser.
There you have it… we’ve established the why. But what of the how?
Well in the first instance, as part of your study pack bundle, it comes with an excellent study guide that will guide you through the all important process of writing your initial proposal. I cannot overestimate the importance of formulating a good research question.
For brevity’s sake at this stage let me make a few simple points:
i. You need to formulate a research ‘question’, not simply delineate an area of law that interest you. Perhaps for example you find the law of ‘joint enterprise’ interesting, and no doubt it is, but that does not in and of itself constitute a research question. However an outcome study considering the appeals that have followed from the Supreme Court decision Jogee  for example might be more apropos.
ii. Consider preparing more than one proposal. I ended up preparing three; two property related topics and one criminal law. Of those, I think possibly the latter was the most interesting, it concerned the ‘insanity plea’ and aimed to be an essentially empirical continuation of RD Mackay’s scholarship in this area. But after several e-mails to the Ministry of Justice (invoking the Freedom of information Act 2000) it became apparent that I just wasn’t going to be able to access the data I needed to complete the research. So in the simplest of terms, the research question asked needs to be realistically answerable.
iii. Try to become au fait with basic research ‘methodologies’. This really constitutes the ‘how’ you will attempt to answer the question you propose to answer. Is your study to be qualitative and/or quantitative? Where will you source your data? What will be the scope of your analysis? In truth hardcore empirical research (the stuff that scientists are more than familiar with) and law rarely overlap. I personally think that it is both a shame (it softens the usefulness of many of the research papers written, reducing them ultimately to at best opinions) and a pattern that is beginning to change. So one way you might think to make your research stand out is to add an empirical component: “since Jogee  there have been 12 appeals 7 of which were unsuccessful, 3 of which led to sentence reductions, and 2 of which remain as yet undecided…” (data) reads far better than “I think Jogee was a really bad decision as it doesn’t seem to have changed anything …” (opinion)
iv.Finally (for today) I would suggest you choose a topic that really interests you, for (as we’ll discuss further in Part II) you’ll soon discover that 10,000 words don’t just write themselves. Considering the ‘common intention’ constructive trust I ended up downloading over 100 cases and probably a similar number of journal articles.
That hopefully should get you started, and be enough for you to see your proposal both written and ultimately accepted. In a subsequent blog (just keep writing – Part II) I hope to explore in greater depth how you might tackle writing the actual body of the dissertation itself.
- Charles Dickens 1843 novella – A Christmas Carol
- R v Jogee  UKSC 8
- RD Mackay – Fact and fiction about the insanity defence