In my last post Picking Your Topic/Area of Law and Picking Your Question, I outlined the second step that I took when starting on my dissertation. This post covers how to pick apart your thesis question before you start writing in order to come up with a framework of thought.
I try to outline my thought process when I was approaching my question and to provide some tips on how to iteratively develop good ideas that eventually shape a good essay. I still use this process whenever I have to write a speech etc.
For those short on time, The TL;DR provides a quick summary of the main points and tips below. Otherwise, I also provide a more detailed outline and background of how I approached this below.
For the other steps and overview of the Dissertation Series, refer to The London Law Student Dissertation Writing Series Guide.
- Mind dump and note down your initial reactions to the question and start to connect the dots.
- Break down the question itself and mindmap around keywords. From this, your essay will (hopefully) flow.
- Using your mind dump and mindmaps create an essay roadmap i.e. a skeleton. I provide a helpful printable guide below: Essay Roadmap.*
*Note that the Essay Roadmap is based on how I approached my final essay but I did try to make it as generic as possible. Let me know if you have any feedback!
Once I had decided on the question that would form the basis of my thesis, I then had to decide what it was that I wanted to say! Sounds obvious right? But for anyone who has ever had to write 2,000 + words, this may seem like a daunting task, and in some ways it is. Below I will attempt to provide a guide through my process, something I wish I had read when I was trying to figure out how to start.
Again, I used a version of my A to B method, which I mentioned in my earlier post Laying the Groundwork. I asked myself a series of questions and attempted to build a framework out of that by picking apart my question. How could I get from A (having no essay written) to B (a fully formed, well-argued stance)?
1) Note down your initial reactions to the question.
Basically, I got two blank pages in an A4 notebook and had a mind dump of what I thought about the question for about 30 minutes. I was able to mentally offload and make room for ideas. This might sound obvious but if you’ve never had to write a long form essay it may seem daunting or you might think you have to have a final idea from the start. Not necessarily, good essays come from iteratively developed ideas.
By breaking down the initial problem i.e. noting down my ideas and seeing what came out, I was able to start to form an even better idea of what I actually thought. Seeing my initial reactions on paper, I was able to form an essay roadmap as I had a rough idea of the direction I wanted my arguments to take.
Below I provide a few pages from my initial thinking when it came to my own essay:
2) Break down the question itself and mindmap around key words. From your essay will ‘hopefully’ flow.
The next thing I did was to dig a little deeper with the question itself. I tried to identify the keywords from which I could write a good argument – thank goodness for all those years of picking apart poems in English Literature!
My thesis question was as follows:
When I thought about my thesis question, a few of my own questions jumped to my mind and these formed the basis of my argument in one way or another:
- When we say increasing, why is it described as increasing? Why is it increasing? Is this an exaggeration or is it true?
- Where it says “use of technology” what kind of technology are we talking about? Are all the technologies equal? Who is/isn’t using this technology?
- Who in ‘Law’/or how is this said technology being used?
- What do we mean by ‘Law’? Is it lawyers, barristers? etc Or do we mean the creation of Law?
- Are we talking about providing services vs application of said technology?
- What does invigorate mean traditionally? What does this word then mean in this context? Who is doing the invigorating and why?
- What does diminish mean traditionally? What does it then mean in this context, who is being diminished and why/ why not?
- What does it mean legal professionalism? Who is setting this standard and why? Where did it come from? Is it now different or still the same in the context of this supposed increasing use of technology i.e. digital disruption?
As you can see, I had more questions than answers when I started to think about my thesis question. Dare I say it, that is the ‘joy’ of doing a dissertation, being able to explore a series of questions in order to provide a solution or shed more light on an issue.
… At least that was what I told my nerdy self as the other side of me tried to make that word count and stress ate whilst listening to Drake. Specific, I know.
Below I provide some post it notes and notes from my bullet journal when I went through this process.
3) Using your mind dump and mindmaps create an essay roadmap.
I know, that’s a lot of maps! But on a perilous journey such as writing a 10,000-word essay, you need a good idea of where you are going if you are to keep momentum, make a well structured and without losing steam halfway.
I roughly knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The skeleton for my roadmap looked something like this:
a) Set boundaries of
) Set definition of
) Why does this definition make professionalism special? i.e. what gives the legal profession the power that they have?
d) What is changing? – Atoms to
) Why is the change good? – who does it
) THE THREAT: the nature of information – i.e. the four things that make information special.
g) The solution/what does it really mean?
h) Other threats.
Now I can’t tell you how to think about your own question, but hopefully here, I have illustrated how I went about this process. Bringing together the two steps above, as well as thinking back to my lectures so far and the information that I knew then, I was able to form a rough roadmap of my essay and where it was going.
To get you started, I have also created a rough generic guide which follows my own essay which you can find here:
Let me know below how you are all getting on or if you have any questions about this. Good Luck!