“just keep writing…” – part II

my dissertation selfie…

With a background in neurosciences, and currently practising as a psychotherapist I have always had a keen interest in how the brain (actually) works, and perhaps more importantly how we might utilise that knowledge to maximise our mental capacity when it comes to approaching the (undoubtedly) challenging UoL LLB (Hons) that many of us are harnessed to. 

The last two/three decades have seen a considerable reframing of the neuro-cognitive paradigm, and in case you don’t have a dictionary to hand, what I’m talking about is thinking, and how we conceptualise our capacity to think and essentially process cognitive data. The two biggest breakthroughs concern what has been termed neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) and what we might term cognitive ‘compartmentalisation’; referring to the fact that intelligence is very far from an unitary concept but is distinctly multi-faceted, multi-modular if you will.

Though the former is of great comfort to a mature student like me (it is now official: you CAN teach an old dog new tricks) I’m interested, in this the second of two blog articles concerning ‘how to write a dissertation’, to focus on the latter and in particular its implications when we come to tackling this 10,000 word marathon.

What compartmentalisation refers to, and as with many concepts it is glaringly obvious when it is stated in simple terms, is the idea that even though there is some degree of ‘leakage’ skill-sets are often, if not usually, modality specific. So, to illustrate, simply because I play the  piano very well does not mean I will be a world class boxer, the national chess champion may be an hopelessly nerve wracked public speaker, the articulate playwright no great shakes at downhill skiing. 

The implications of this realisation are highly significant for any potential dissertation writers (and so far the University of London LLB Dissertation Group has 117 active members). Stated in its skeleton form, it means if you want to get good at writing, write; and if that task involves academic writing, write academically.

Let’s break it down into a few bullet suggestions:

i. Take every opportunity to write; writing does generalise… so a good creative writer will more quickly learn the necessary skills of academic writing than someone who has never put pen to paper. So long before I started writing law related articles I’d published a bunch of (as it happens politically related) book reviews, been That’s Shanghai travel correspondent for 24 months, and written a personal blog (http://markpummell.com) for some years.

ii. Start learning to write in the specific language required of you within the legal profession. This may take the form of self-published articles (https://ulondon.academia.edu/MarkPummell) comments on legal websites and/or relevant Facebook pages. The law has its own glossary and it needs to be mastered. This process can obviously be supplemented by broad base legal reading, particularly academic articles and caselaw. But the word truly is supplemented; reading is not a substitute for writing. We can recall. They are different forms of ability.

iii. Start small. 10,000 words (equating to roughly 30 pages of 1.5 spaced type written pdf) is no small achievement, and it is unlikely that you will be able to tackle it if your previous personal best was a 250 word Facebook post. Much like a marathon, build up to it. Write some 1,500 – 2,000 word articles first. When you have an half dozen or so of those under your belt, suddenly the task seems that little less Sisyphean. 

iv. And finally (for today) be patient with yourself. I wrote mine over exactly 20 days. Having prepared for around three months (downloading and reading relevant articles and cases etc.) I set myself the very reasonable (and for that read achievable) target of 500 words per day. Sometimes I did more and sometimes I did less, but there was not a day that went by during that period that I didn’t write something. Self disciple is the name of the game.

just keep swimming…

So with that in mind, sharpen your pencils… on your marks, get set, go… time waits for no man; and it will somehow not seem, or indeed be any easier tomorrow.

Perhaps at these times we should remember the (slightly modified) words of Dory: “just keep writing… just keep writing…”


i. https://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai
ii. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=239250946629830 iii. Finding Dory – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2277860/

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