Writing a law research proposal

First it should be noted that not all departments insist on this so before spending any significant time on this issue check their particular guidelines.

Whether a research proposal is appropriate for your law dissertation may also depend on the particular methodology you have chosen.

Having said that, a research proposal is still an important exercise in that it gives your tutor or supervisor the opportunity to cast their eye over your proposal in order to access its feasibility and whether it meets your institution's requirements. They will also be checking whether the results are likely to be significant, whether you have selected an appropriate methodology and whether your conclusions and recommendations are consistent with your aims. Do not be surprised if you need to submit several drafts before it meets with your supervisor's approval. As such, be careful not to invest too much self-esteem in your first draft so as not to lose motivation.

Your research proposal needs to include the title, even if this is likely to change over time, and a clear explanation of the academic as opposed to personal importance of the topic you have selected, making reference to existing published research on the same.

One advantage of a research proposal is it will give you a clearer idea of whether you can manage it all in the time you have available. It will also help you focus on the big issues. In the search for an original and interesting idea it is far too easy to overlook the gaps in your knowledge and skills base. If needs be it may help you pinpoint an alternative research method that would better suit your skills.

The purpose of your proposal is to emphasise three things which will ultimately dictate whether you are successful. First, is practicality, given your skills, knowledge and the resources available, including time and access to people and materials. Second, whether it will be effective in producing answers to the questions posed.

Finally, does it meet your institution's requirements of a dissertation assignment. In order to answer this, you need to structure your proposal around 3 themes : what do you want to know?, How do I go about finding it out ? and what is the likely significance of my answers? In order to answer the first, you need to state clearly the research topic or problem you wish to investigate. With a law dissertation, this is likely to be a general proposition. It will define the purpose of your research such as tracing the development of a judicial precedent or recommend a change in sentencing policy. From the general proposition you then develop a hypothesis. In practical terms this translates into a general question which breaks down into sub-questions. These are in effect the research aims and objectives respectively.

You should also indicate what ideas you have obtained from your preliminary reading and indicate what your research might lead to or be useful for. This is particularly relevant for socio-legal orientated studies where law reform is being suggested.

Avoid being vague in your research proposal with phrases such as 'try to', 'see if' and 'have a look act'. Instead, make positive statements such as 'examine', 'evaluate', 'analyse' and 'assess'.

You may need to modify your research proposal depending on the level at which you are studying. Higher levels such as Doctorate require greater complexity and you may need to present your submission to a committee.

Should you require help with drafting your law research proposal, we at Law Teacher are here to help.