Structure + word count
The word count for the dissertation must not exceed 8,000 words (plus 10% leeway = 800 words – so absolute maximum of 8,800 words).
At the outset this may seem a lot of words, but generally students always end up going over the word limit, so do keep a close eye on it and plan section lengths accordingly as you write, and be prepared – and leave time – for a rigorous editing process at the end.
Your dissertation should follow the structure indicated below, with adaptations as appropriate.
The sections followed by the sign [R] are always required; those followed by [O] are optional and required only if they are appropriate or necessary to your work.
Title page [R] Summary [R] Preface [O] Glossary of terms [O] List of abbreviations [O] Table of Contents [R] Introduction [R] Dissertation Chapters / Sections and sub-sections [R] Conclusion [R]
Bibliography [R] Appendices [O]
The sections that appear in bold ARE included in the word count.
The sections appearing in normal font are NOT part of the word count.
Dissertation Sections – Detailed Information and Requirements
You must follow the electronic template available on studentcentral, which is also found as an appendix at the end of this handbook. It is not included in the word count.
Table of Contents
This is a straightforward section of the dissertation, but be careful to ensure that it accurately reflects the headings and sub-headings and page numbers of your work. Word can create this automatically for you, and there are useful videos online to show you how – just Google ‘Creating a Contents Page in Word’. See the contents page for this handbook for an idea of how it should look.
The Table of Contents acts as the main reference point for the reader who wants to understand how your work is structured, or find a particular part, section or sub-section of it. Because it immediately reveals the structure of your work, this is a very important section of your dissertation and you should make sure it makes sense. It is likely to be the first part of your work that is read by your readers/examiners and the table of contents is thus an opportunity to impress them, and give them an overview of your dissertation. Craft it carefully. Try to put the reader in a position to understand exactly what you will argue in your dissertation just by reading the table of contents. Of course, you will not be able to finalize the table until you have completed the main body of your dissertation. It is not included in the word count.
Glossary of terms
You should provide an explanation of any technical or foreign terms that you mention in your dissertation. This part of your work should be set out in an alphabetical list. It is not included in the word count.
List of abbreviations
List in alphabetical order the acronyms you use in the body of your work and what they stand for. Please note that the full title/word(s) should be used as they first occur in the body of the text, followed by the abbreviation (shown in parenthesis), which can then be used later. For example, at first instance, you will write: ‘Criminal Justice Act (CJA)’ and thereafter in your dissertation you can simply write CJA.
It is not included in the word count.
This is an opportunity for you to give a précis of your work. It is, in some respects, similar to an abstract that is commonly seen at the beginning of academic journal articles. It should be short (between 150 and 300 words). It should include:
ï an explanation of what your paper is about, highlighting the significant research question(s), issue(s) and/or problem(s) that you have covered;
ï the research methodology, which, for most, will simply be analysis and consideration of resource materials obtained from desk-based library sources;
ï your analysis of the question(s), issue(s) and/or problem(s) that you have addressed and, where appropriate, show the conclusions that you have come to and the reasons for you reaching them.
Whatever is included in the summary must accurately reflect the main points you consider within the main body of your work. It is not included in the word count.
This is an optional section and is your opportunity to give a subjective account of your experience of completing the research. It is a reflective text where you may include anything that you consider is important to explain how you came about and developed the reflective learning which is your dissertation. Like the summary, the preface provides you with an opportunity to create an early positive impression on your reader. You can think of including:
- Why you chose the topic
- What initially drew your attention to it
- Your experience of completing the research. You can, for example, mention why you found it interesting, any difficulties you encountered and what you have learned from the experience;
- Thanks to anyone who has been of assistance to you It is not included in the word count. Introduction It provides the background and context of your dissertation. It also sets the scene for what will be included in the main body of your work. You should therefore provide:
- An outline of the central issue/research question and why it is an important legal issue. You might want to briefly explain the socio-political or other implications of this issue/question and any other relevant contextual points.
- An outline of the aims and objectives of your research. You should be able to clearly and succinctly identify the purpose of the work and what it will achieve.
- An outline of the structural organisation of your work. You should explain what each part and subpart covers. N.B: The introduction IS included in the word count The Main Part of Your Dissertation This will contain an examination of the specific issues/questions prompted by your refined list of research questions, and is of course included in the word count. The way in which this part of your work is completed very much depends on your individual style and the subject of work. Although there is no prescribed way to write law-based work, you must follow the prescriptions contained in the Studying Law Guide.
This section offers you the opportunity to demonstrate your academic and intellectual ability. It needs to be properly structured, to review current law, to be properly referenced and to demonstrate critical understanding.
This is the section where you draw together all the principal points that you have discussed in the main body of your work. You should aim to leave your reader with the clear impression that you have identified and comprehensively explained the principal issues within the main body of your paper. It is here that you are able to provide a balanced view of the issues and controversies. You must not include any new points or issues at this stage.
You do not necessarily have to come to a definitive conclusion, or favour or side with a line of argument. The subject of your dissertation may be such that you feel that it is sufficient to point out the range of perspectives and comment on the validity, veracity or credibility of each. Where you do favour a line of argument and/or perspective, you should explain why. You may also think it necessary to comment on a possible or potential outcome and the likely impact. Again, no new information should be used to support your line of argument.
Note – The conclusion is included in the word count. Bibliography
You need to list the sources for your work; each item must be fully cited and listed alphabetically by the surname of the (first) author. You must comply with OSCOLA/Harvard protocols as discussed below (see page 23 of this handbook) and as demonstrated in the workshops.
Note – The bibliography / list of references is not included in the word count.
Structuring your work
The main body of your dissertation must be structured. For most students this will mean that the text is divided into headings and sub-headings. These can be titled ‘Parts’, or ‘Sections’ and ‘Sub-sections’ as you find most appropriate.
Do look at the Contents page for this handbook (page 1) to get an idea of how a structured piece of writing will look – and how this can give you a useful overview for the whole document.
Example of a possible structure: PART 1
PART 2 2.1
2.2 PART 3
It is for you to decide how you organize your work. Think very carefully about the structure that is most appropriate for your work.
Give a title to each heading and sub-heading you choose as this will help your reader follow your discussion and points made.
A good structure will enable you to explain how you have approached your topic, the issues you have researched, your understanding of them, and your conclusion(s). It is also crucial in order to enable you to avoid repetitions and to introduce any material as it were at the right place, when it makes sense and becomes required without having to go back to it over and over again.
You will already have presented a structure of sorts in your proposal. However, as you progress through the research process, do not be alarmed if you consider it necessary to revise the structure and the organisation of your work. On the contrary, this is a sign that your ideas are developing. Be prepared to have to continually think about and revise your structure.