In my last post Laying the Ground Work, I outlined the first steps I took when starting on my dissertation. This post covers how to pick your topic/area of law and thesis question.
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. For the other steps and overview of the Dissertation Series, refer to London Law Student Dissertation Writing Series Guide.
Basically, don’t reinvent the wheel, this is already hard enough:
- Think back over the last year / your degree so far, what topics and questions immediately come to mind? Mind map those ideas and identify what jumps out at you or any themes.
- Ask your supervisor / the relevant lecturer for that topic for advice and pointers.
- What interests you? Focus on that. More often than not, doing a dissertation is optional so think back to the reasons why you chose to do this. If necessary, use the A2B method to tease out what your thoughts are.
For a more detailed overview, see my last post on how I was ultimately assessed. In short, I had to hand in a dissertation accompanied by a portfolio of critical self reflection. My final grade for my dissertation was a 1st.
The context and how I picked my thesis topic/theme
When it came to picking my area of law/topic to focus on, for me it was thankfully relatively obvious. Over the final year of my time at UCL, I had also been going to the Information Technology Law class led by Professor Andrew Murray at The London School of Economics and Political Science. Fairly early on, I realised that I was interested in exploring some of the themes and subject matter in more detail for my dissertation.
In my second year at UCL, we had to take a compulsory module in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory. Over the course of this module I developed an interest/curiosity around the theme `What is law?` and `Why do we obey the law?` when we studied The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.
While studying Information Technology Law at The LSE, I had lightbulb moment.
When one examined this traditional jurisprudential understanding under this context, the question of what it is law and why do we obey it begins to change. I realised that the ideas, questions and answers became significantly different when you factor in the impact of living in the digital age.
The philosophical arguments change when you ask, what is law and why do we obey the law in the digital age? For example, laws are becoming increasingly borderless. Think Twitter and defamation – where does publication occur? Does retweeting constitute publication, if so, does this mean that in every country or territory where this tweet is seen you would fall under that territory’s laws? If so, what does this mean for the rule of law that laws should be clearly published in advance and so on.
So I knew that I wanted to explore this theme in a little bit more detail.
Picking my question
My options were made a bit easier because under the Lawyers, Practice & Ethics course, the lecturer had also provided a list of pre-approved set questions we could work form. Otherwise, I would have had to come up with my own thesis question and then go through the process of approving it with him. I decided to make my life easier. In the end I chose the question:
Will the increasing use of technology in law invigorate or diminish legal professionalism as the nature of information in the Digital Society changes?
You can see the result here:
I was lucky in that I had an idea of the theme or area of law I wanted to explore. However, if you’re not in that position there are still some practical steps you can take to discover this.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Think back over the last year or your degree so far, what areas of interest or topics and questions come to mind?
In whatever way is useful to you, take some time to think about topics and what interests you about them and why. From this, you’ll start to get a feel of what naturally draws your intellectual curiosity. I would argue the greater your intellectual curiosity for the topic the easier it will be to write your thesis.
Alternatively, think about the formative essays or exams you’ve done, were there any questions there you could easily expand on and turn into an essay?
Don’t pick something because you think a law firm or potential employer will like it etc
The main reasoning for this is simple, if you pick something because you think it will make you look good with someone else when it inevitably gets hard, it may be more difficult to stay motivated and remember your why. That also goes for most things in life.
As cliché as it is, focus on doing something you love. Now when it comes to studying Law, love may sometimes be a strong word, but you get the idea.
Do something you love and it will practically (almost) write itself. It’s easier to stay engaged and motivated when you’re doing something you like even if it’s difficult. I am not saying it won’t be hard but, it will be easier for you to keep going
If you have no idea, really question why you’ve picked a dissertation and explore your why.
For example, think back to why you started studying law and what interests you about it or how it affects the world. If you’re really struggling, speak to someone else. Whether that’s bouncing ideas off of your friends or asking a lecturer or mentor for guidance. Hopefully, from these discussions, you’ll begin to get some ideas.
That’s how I came to my thesis question. Let me know in the comments below if anything is unclear or if you need more help!