A crucial component of any law dissertation is the literature review and the subsequent research questions.

A literature review plays a fundamental role in academic research by rigorously and comprehensively analysing existing scholarly literature, research, and published materials in a specific field or topic. It involves systematically examining and synthesizing books, articles, reports, and various documents, to offer a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge within the chosen subject area. In short, the literature review aims to summarize, evaluate, and identify key themes, trends, debates, gaps, and connections within the existing body of literature to lay the foundation for further academic research, including the formulation of research questions, serving as the critical underpinning for research projects in the academic realm.

For instance, consider a dissertation focusing on “The Rule of Law in Malta” –  a structured guide for effectively navigating the literature review is as follows:

  1. Source Retrieval: To gather relevant sources, utilize academic databases, analyse court judgments, legal journals, and libraries. Avoid non-scholarly articles or contributions that lack legal credibility, as they often rely on subjective perceptions and emotional content. In your search, look for  foundational principles of the rule of law as well as the latest insights specific to Malta.
  2. Systematizing Sources: Organize your sources systematically by categorizing them into themes or topics related to the broader concept of the Rule of Law in Malta. Group sources that delve into issues like constitutional reforms, the independence of the judiciary, or human rights protections.
  3. Critical Assessment: Elevate your literature review beyond mere summarization by critically evaluating each source. Appraise factors such as quality, credibility, and relevance, elucidating how each source contributes to your understanding of the Rule of Law in Malta.

The literature review now serves as a step leading to the creation of a well-defined research question.

Within the context of a study on “The Rule of Law in Malta,” the research question is formulated by following these steps:

  1. Detecting Void Spaces in the Literature: Use your critical analysis to identify gaps and underexplored areas within the literature regarding the Rule of Law in Malta. For instance, you might find a ‘dearth’ of research regarding the impact of recent legal reforms on the practical application of the Rule of Law in Malta.
  2. Defining Your Research Objective: Clearly articulate your research objective, outlining what you aim to achieve through your investigation. Within this study, your objective might focus on assessing the implications and effectiveness of recent legal reforms in upholding the Rule of Law in Malta.
  3. Crafting a Precise Research Question: Building on the identified knowledge gaps and your research objective, formulate a sharply focused research question. For example, a question like “To what extent have recent legal reforms in Malta enhanced or compromised the implementation of the Rule of Law?” can be derived from this process.

After establishing your research question, it becomes crucial to select the appropriate research method. While I do not assert it as the sole method, my preferred approach is the “black letter law” method. This method emphasizes the legal framework and principles, with a deliberate effort to minimize reliance on empirical data or public perceptions. 

Once you have a well-defined research question (in this case, “To what extent have recent legal reforms in Malta enhanced or compromised the implementation of the Rule of Law?”) and agreed to use the “black letter law” method,  you can move forward with ‘provisionally’ labelling  your dissertation content, encompassing chapters like 2, 3, and onward, culminating in the final chapter, which can be aptly labelled as “Conclusions – Addressing the Research Question.”

As you progress through the individual chapters leading up to the final one, your approach should encompass a combination of restatements of existing content and a strong argumentative instinct to ensure a coherent and persuasive dissertation. In any event, it is crucial to revisit a wide array of legal documents, statutes, international agreements, case law decisions, official statements, and reports, not least those identified during your literature review, with the specific aim of grasping their relevance to the chosen topic, which, in this context, pertains to “the rule of law in Malta,” with a particular focus on the aspect of “recent legal reforms in Malta” (guided by the constraints and parameters set by your research question).  I reiterate – always keep in mind how these sources can contribute to formulating your responses to the central research question, which, in this case, is “To what extent have recent legal reforms in Malta enhanced or compromised the implementation of the Rule of Law?”

When you reach the conclusion chapter, your duty is to concisely summarize the critical legal findings that have surfaced in the preceding chapters. Moreover, your role extends to delivering comprehensive answers to the pivotal question: “To what extent have recent legal reforms in Malta enhanced or compromised the implementation of the Rule of Law?”  Furthermore, it’s essential to craft your own recommendations by, again,  drawing inspiration from the research question. Therefore, in this specific context, you would proffer recommendations aimed at advancing “legal reforms” with the goal of “enhancing” rather than “compromising” the implementation of the Rule of Law.