Starting research can be daunting. For me, I can also lack the motivation to start working in the first place!
Stage 1) Finding a place to start
To make it easier for myself and ‘ease’ myself into the research project ahead, I like to read the title/question set and ask myself these questions:
- What sources of law will I need to refer to?
- What am I supposed to be analysing?
- What do key academics think about the issue?
- What do I think about the issue?
I feel once I locate these reading materials, I’ve accomplished something, which motivates me to start in earnest.
Stage 2) Research and reading
After identifying the key issues in the assessment question, I start to compile a list and notes of the reading that I’ve already done. During this time to help me identify further reading, I ask myself these questions:
- Did the reading help me identify the sources of law?
- If so, where can I find them?
- If not, what sources of law are applicable?
- Were further sources of secondary literature identified i.e. in the footnotes or in the seminar hand-outs?
- Academics will substantiate their arguments by footnoting the work of other scholars. This forms a trail of ‘breadcrumbs’ that I will highlight and read as part of my research.
- I search on Westlaw and HeinOnline for further relevant sources and after reading the abstracts, I download the relevant ones to read.
My current research is examining the legal protection for the right to food in Tanzania. By asking myself the above questions, I know I need to examine the primary sources of law: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter and also, the Constitution of Tanzania.
I also tackling my reading list. These are usually secondary sources found via HeinOnline and Westlaw, as well as further reading list of books and other documents that I drew up after following the ‘bread crumbs’ from earlier reading.
Stage 3) Note-taking
I like tables. For me, they help me gather my thoughts. On a piece of A4, I draw up a table that looks something like this:
Here I’ve written the author, year, book/journal title, main arguments, critique and page numbers.
NB: Page numbers are extremely useful for writing and footnoting later on; there are times where I’ve neglected to pinpoint specific pages and regretted it later when I’m frantically trying to find the reference point!
Under critique, I include my own analysis. If it’s another academic has a different argument, I will write a note to myself. For example, “Henry Hillman: Contrasts this notion with xyz’.
Stage 4) Analysis and writing
Time management is an important aspect of work. Don’t spend too much time reading/gather notes and leaving yourself only 2-3 days writing, because if you’re anything like me, there will be days where you do not write anything or you stare blankly at your computer screen!!!
Personally, I start with the introduction. The introduction is subject to change but it’s a good place to start because I establish the central argument – what am I examining and my perspective. I also identify the scope of my research and the structure. The structure is important to me, as makes me think about sub-headings and sections I will need to write.
I create a skeleton structure for myself within Word. I then start to write in each section (often not in order). The structure will often change as you reflect on your writing; sub-headings will change and so will the introduction. This is why it is a good idea to leave yourself time to edit and proofread before submission.
The table I created at Stage 3 is then referred to during this writing stage, because I can refer back to academic arguments and help substantiate my own one. It allows me to pinpoint page numbers and authors without having to search for it again.
Stage 5) Proofreading and editing
Hopefully, I will have completed the assignment before the deadline. I give myself a day of rest and refer back to it. At this stage, I read it aloud to ensure that the grammar, punctuation and arguments make sense.
At this point, I also start compiling the bibliography in a separate blank Word document from the table I created in Stage 3. After reading/editing the assignment two-three times and I am happy with the content, I paste the bibliography at the end and submit!