Literature Review For Law Dissertations

1. Select Research Questions

A research question is a precisely stated question that guides the review.

2. Select Bibliographic Indices, Databases or Websites

The bibliographic databases of interest in research reviews contain full reports of original studies. Other sources for literature reviews include experts in the field of interest, the web, and the reference lists contained in the books/articles.

3. Choose Search Terms (Ask Experts)

Search terms are the words and phrases that you use o get the appropriate articles, books, and reports. You base them on the words and concepts that frame the research questions and you use the particular grammar and logic to conduct the search.

4. Apply Practical Screens

Preliminary literature searches always yield too many articles, but only a few are relevant. You screen the literature to get at the relevant articles by setting criteria for inclusion into and exclusion from the review. Practical screening criteria include factors such as the language in which the article is printed, the setting of the study, and its funding source.

5. Apply Methodological Screens

Methodological criteria include criteria for evaluating the adequacy of a study’s coverage and its scientific quality.

6. Do the Review

Reliable and valid reviews involve using a standardized process for abstracting data from articles, training reviewers to do the abstraction, monitoring the quality of the review, and plot testing the process.

7. Synthesize the Results

Literature reviews results may be synthesized descriptively. Descriptive syntheses are interpretations of the reviews findings based on the reviewers’ experience and the quality and content of the available literature.

8. Produce Descriptive Review

Primarily qualitative synthesis of results.


Fink, 2010, 5, c.f. Hart, C. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination (London: Sage,1998)

How to Structure a Law Dissertation

rodrigo | March 10, 2012

The following guide outlines how to structure a LLB or LLM dissertation.

  • Title Page – showing the title of the dissertation and the author.
  • Abstract – summarising what the reader can expect to find in the dissertation. Be concise and don’t reference or use quotes in this part. This is like an advert for your work so make it excellent and carrying some weight (150 – 300 words)
  • Table of contents – As it implies!
  • Introduction – This should be about 10% of the dissertation in total. So if the dissertation is 15,000 words then the introduction should be 1,000 – 1,500 words and should be a very crisp and accurate introduction of the dissertation (which of course should reflect the conclusion).
  • Methodology – what you are going to do and how you plan on doing it. In a legal dissertation it is most likely that qualitative research will be conducted. There are ways to do quantitative research (eg survey of cases perhaps) but it is likely that most legal dissertations will be derived from either scholarly journals/books or statute.
  • Literature Review – a review of relevant theory and the most recent published information on the issue. Again there are dissertations with no literature review: it really depends on the topic and whether you judge it to be necessary (eg is there a lot of published literature/theory?).
  • Evidence – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This most not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
  • Conclusion – what you have discovered and what you have concluded from it. This must not simply be descriptive but must make a considered analysis of the findings, moving towards a detailed and visionary strategy for development.
  • Recommendations – In a legal dissertation I would always include these to give an indication of how analytical your mind is. If we take the Corporate Homicide Act example above some of the recommendations could be, for example, to repeal the duty of care element or to refine the aggregation doctrine. The recommendations should be sharp and precise. Definitely no waffle here or philosophy extracts!

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