Dissertations: Schedule

Good luck with your upcoming assessments!

In the mean time (over the summer term), don’t forget to think about your dissertations!

It is a good idea to also stay in communication with your supervisors, so you can develop your own ideas and so that they know how you’re getting on!

Remember: it’s your responsibility to stay in contact and do the necessary work! Although 15,000 words sounds like a daunting task, splitting it up into manageable chunks is a good way of approaching dissertations. This is where your dissertation plans/outlines come in handy!

It is also a good idea to think about a schedule/timetable of deadlines/targets. Draw up a table that divides the month into weeks and what you aim to accomplish by the end of each week.

1. Targets and deadlines

I like to think of some deadlines as ‘soft’ targets. For my own purposes, I set deadlines for completion of chapters. If I hypothetically set my target for the 26th April for completion of one chapter, I also allow myself 4-5 days flexibility because we all know life can become busy! Therefore, if I don’t finish the chapter exactly on the 26th April, I still don’t feel too demotivated, as I still have a goal in sight.

Of course, these ‘soft’ targets are set within the boundaries of ‘finite’ deadlines. For example, the deadline for submission of the dissertation. I try to aim for completion 4-5 days before submission so I can edit my footnotes, bibliography, text and central argument and the possibility of something bad happening!

2. Reading and note-taking

Factor in time to read and take notes. Your brain needs time to process the information, so give yourself time to read when you draw up your schedule!

3. Time for editing and refreshing your footnotes

OSCOLA referencing is a difficult thing to master; it takes time and practise! Give yourself time to put in cross-referencing (if using it) and making sure you have the right citations and footnotes when using work that you need to correctly attribute.

4. Time to write

I hate writing but love to read! Starting to write from scratch is really difficult for me, especially when I’m starting at a blank page but once I start, then the process becomes much easier. If that’s the case for you, then factor that in! Give yourself time to write and away from distractions!

Yes, no distractions! You’ll find you write better and more effectively when you don’t have zombie sounds from the latest episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ on!

5. Take a break!

Take a break from researching and writing. You’ll find that writing is more enjoyable and less stressful when you give yourself time to! Go have some leisure time with friends, as long as you remember to come back to the dissertation with a clear and fresh head – it’s probably not a good idea to do it after too many drinks the night before!

And finally, enjoy! It’s not everyday that you get to study such interesting topics at the postgraduate level!

Written assessments: Marking criteria

In the run up to assessments, I’m running two workshops in the coming weeks:

  • Essay Structure and Assessment Criteria (02/03/2017)
  • Presentations and Poster/Pitch (30/03/2017)

As examiners, members of staff will be marking your essays and presentations based on objective criteria.

Note: If you want to access the marking sheet in the LLM Programme Handbook, which can be accessed online via Blackboard. The LLM Handbook is a handy reference point because it gives you examples of dissertation title pages, permission form for the dissertation, and deadlines.

For written assessments, examiners are looking for 5 main elements, which you should bear in mind as a ‘checklist’ to see whether you are meeting all of the following criteria.

  1. Identification of the principal legal concepts and issues – i.e. what are the main legal problems or relevant laws?
  2. Understanding of the law – your ability to apply the law to the question/issue you’re examining.
  3. Critical analysis – Synthesis of the legal arguments, law, theories, ideas for reform and the wider context, as well as engaging with academic literature.
  4. Originality and creativity – Are you adopting an interesting stance or arguing in a persuasive way that reflects solutions/challenges with regards to the law?
  5. Research process and presentation – Spelling/grammar, use of OSCOLA, bibliography, structure of your essay, use of subtitles and clarity of your work.

Of course, the above is just a short summary of the marking criteria and feedback sheet, which is more detailed (see: LLM Programme Handbook). But it gives you a quick introduction as a starting point.



Handy Tip: Using Google ‘Define’

When studying law, understanding the terms that you use and how to use them is important. This is because a level of precision regarding language is needed within legal studies.

A lecturer once told me, “You can physically take a glass out onto the terrace, but you may not!” In these circumstances, knowing the difference between ‘must’, ‘shall’, ‘may’, ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ may help with your essay writing. It can improve the style of your writing and make the central argument and analysis more convincing.

Other times, you will be expected to use specialist legal terminology. If you are unsure, you  you should look up the terms in a legal dictionary. There are lots of physical copies of legal dictionaries in the UWE library, as well as, electronic copies that you can access online.

Additionally, you may read something in a journal article or book that you may not understand. I often underline this word and use ‘Google define’ to help me understand what it is and write a note in the margin to myself.

Using Google, if you type ‘define’ and then the word that you are looking for, it acts as an online dictionary. For example, if I were looking for the term ‘sanction’, I would type in ‘define sanction’ into Google. A box with definitions will then appear on your browser, like below!


Just be aware that there may be one or more definitions for a given word. A sanction in law means something different from that used in ‘normal English’, so in that case, it would be worthwhile to consult a dictionary specifically for law.

Workshop: Assessment Criteria & Essay Structure

It was lovely seeing you at the workshop on ‘Assessment Criteria & Essay Structure’ yesterday.

Here are the slides that were used: Assessment Criteria Powerpoint Slides

We highlighted that it is important to have a good structure to help develop your arguments and make it easier or the reader/marker to understand the point that you are trying to make. To do so, we revisited the burger analogy from an earlier post.parts-of-a-paragraph

A good essay like a burger, will have an introduction (the bread bun), analysis (the filling – with different/separate components that support each other) and a conclusion (the bread bun base). It should have a logical and coherent structure, where the central argument is evident and the sections complement each other.

  1. Introduction

The introduction should outline the rationale behind your approach/work – that is, why it is relevant. Also, what is relevant i.e. what law you will use; scope and limitations – recognising the parameters of the task, as well as, your central argument. From there, it should also briefly touch upon how you’re going to answer the question, which primarily refers to the structure of your essay e.g. Part 1… Part 2… Part 3…

2. Analysis

In a burger, the ‘filling’ is arguably the best ‘bit’ of the burger, so the analysis should be the main section and ‘best bit’ or bulk of your essay. It will be formed of different components, which should be linked to each other and your central argument.

As per the assessment criteria, you should:

  • Summarise and synthesise issues arising from the law;
  • Be able to use academic arguments to support your work in a concise manner;
  • Be able to engage with these academic arguments;
  • Narrow and focus on relevant issues;
  • Consider areas for reform or recommendations

(For further details, please refer to the LLM Assessment Criteria in the LLM Programme Handbook, which can be found on UWE Blackboard).

To help your analysis, sub-headings can help ‘sign-post’ different aspects of your work and help break it down into specific sections.

3. Conclusion

The conclusion will finish your essay. It should link back to your introduction and the central argument that you introduced and summarise the earlier analysis. Because you’ll have already undertaken the analysis, the conclusion can draw on these earlier arguments. It should be noted that the conclusion is not a place to introduce new arguments or concepts.




Plagiarism – and how to avoid it

It was brilliant to see some of you at the workshop on plagiarism yesterday. Here are the slides on plagiarism: Plagiarism and good academic practice

The key things to note are:

  • Plagiarism includes intentionally stealing someone else’s work, or unintentionally copying it without acknowledgement by not following good referencing guidelines
  • Collusion (working with another student, or copying their work with or without their knowledge) is an academic offence
  • It is also an offence to pay someone to write all or part of your coursework
  • You can self-plagiarise – never submit all or part of the same assessment more than once
  • Plagiarism can be avoided by the correct use of OSCOLA. This includes:
    • Knowing when to use quote marks or OSCOLA quote formatting (see the guide to Using Microsoft Word – Referencing)
    • Knowing when to put a reference in your text
    • Keeping a full Bibliography

There is further detail on all of these issues in the slides. For a full example of the use of referencing and good academic practice, see the Essay Structure guide.