Yesterday, I had the honour of receiving an invitation from the law student organization ELSA to present a seminar. This event was attended by third-year students who are gearing up to craft proposals for their upcoming dissertations next year, as well as fourth-year students who are currently working on their dissertations. I was also joined by Rebekah Borg, a fifth-year law student whom I had the privilege of tutoring last year in her dissertation work, where she analysed the definition of “development” within the context of the current Development Planning Act. I am pleased to report that she received an excellent grade from the examiners for her efforts. The event garnered a remarkable turnout, even though it took place on a Friday afternoon, and a significant number of fourth-year students are currently abroad as part of their Erasmus programs.
Right at the beginning of the seminar, I made it clear that I would be conducting the entire session in the Maltese language. This served as a reminder to the students that Maltese judgments are one of the fundamental sources they should rely on in their research.
The core message of the seminar was quite simple: before choosing a specific area of study, it’s crucial to have a genuine passion for that field so that you can build a strong connection with it. Personally, I can’t envision myself engaging in any area of law other than planning law, property law, or public law.
Additionally, it’s essential to seek out a theme that exhibits knowledge gaps. These gaps can frequently emerge due to unexplored territory in the theme or the presence of significant contradictions. To pinpoint intriguing areas for investigation, one might initially glance at online news portals to identify themes that capture attention. Online news portals primarily assist in recognizing potentially compelling themes that warrant further research.
The true gaps in knowledge, however, may be best discerned through a subsequent comprehensive literature review. By examining the findings of other scholars in the specific subfield, you can identify areas where they did not venture. Once you identify that unexplored territory, it’s essential to step through the door where other researchers may not have had the time, opportunity, foresight, or circumstances to delve deeper. Then, you can formulate a research question that aligns with the theme of your dissertation.
Next, you need to determine your research methodology, specifically whether you will primarily rely on the black letter method, which involves analysing existing written materials, or if you will incorporate human input through questionnaires and interviews. It’s crucial to exercise caution with the latter approach, as it can sometimes lead you away from the expected research path. Either way, always keep in mind that your core research should, under any circumstance, involve consulting inter alia law journals and books, court judgments, and parliamentary debates to understand the legislator’s intentions.
After deciding on the methodology, the next step is to structure your dissertation into chapters. Before you proceed, however, make sure you have a coherent outline of your content, even if it’s provisional. This approach will assist you in steering clear of redundant repetitions and circular arguments when you begin the writing process. Within your chapters, it’s essential to reference relevant research and, at the same time, maintain an argumentative approach. Your arguments should be based on how the cited material influences your perspective.
The conclusive chapter is the pinnacle of your dissertation. Here, you must accomplish two crucial tasks: firstly, provide a clear and concise answer to your research question, and secondly, offer meaningful recommendations based on your findings.