Tona graduated from the University of Leeds in 2017 (Bachelor of Laws- LLB Hons) with a distinction for her dissertation, which was published by the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. We had a conversation with Tona to hear her story and to get some tips on getting top grades for dissertations. Here’s how the conversation went…
Q -What inspired your dissertation topic?
A- I’ve always been interested in the philosophy of law. Why do we have laws? How do they affect society? What influences laws? So I decided my dissertation would be on the subject of jurisprudence. It is important that when writing a dissertation, you pick a subject that you have a keen interest in. This is because you are going to be doing hours and hours of research a week, for about a year and this research is made easier if you somewhat enjoy the topic you will be reading about.
After I picked my subject area I had to decide what particular area of jurisprudence I wanted to focus on. Having lived in Uganda my whole life, I knew I wanted to write about the legal environment of Uganda. More specifically, I wanted to speak about how it is very complex as there are different types of law present in one territory. There is state law, international law, customary laws and I wanted to understand and comment on how these laws interact. Therefore, I decided to research legal pluralism which is the existence of multiple legal systems within one population or geographical area.
While I was researching legal pluralism, I realised that majority of the state laws in Uganda were transplanted during the colonial period. After realising this, I began to focus on legal transplants as well as legal transfers and how they affect society. All in all, I knew I wanted to analyse the Ugandan legal environment from a comparative law perspective. In order to focus my work, I had to pick a case study. I chose the laws relating to homosexuality in Uganda and how they differ from the laws in Western countries. I knew most of the commentary on the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda had come from a western perspective, so I wanted to fill the gap in the literature by writing from a Ugandan perspective.
Q- What was the process flow of your dissertation writing? Start to finish.
A- After I decided what my topic was, I had to think of a structure. This was particularly difficult for me because I knew what I wanted to write but I couldn’t decide what would be the best way to lay out my argument. So I consulted my dissertation tutor. It is important not to undervalue your dissertation tutors. They can help you with so much. They are good to bounce ideas off, as well as give you direction. I also consulted a family friend who is an academic. You must consult people around you, especially if they have an understanding in the topic you are writing about. Seek help WHEREVER you can, do not limit yourself to your lecturers and people in your university.
I decided to divide my dissertation into five sections: an introduction, legal pluralism, legal transplants, legal transfers and a conclusion. I focused my research on the different sections, on one week I would research legal pluralism, one week I would research legal transfers and the other week I would research legal transplants. As all topics were comparative law, some of the research would intertwine but I had a notebook and if I found a good article on legal transplants while I was researching legal pluralism, I would write it down and go back to it on legal transplant week.
I found that structuring my research made it clearer and it was easy to go back to when I started writing. I think its important to indicate that I did not spend 3 weeks researching, I spent 4 months or so, but I alternated my research every week. After the research phase, I had to start writing. Its easy to get lost in the researching sauce but you should give yourself a date and say this when I will start writing, at least that is what I did. I then gave myself a clear timeline of when I should have a first draft and the final piece and stuck to it. I would say give yourself about 3 months to write. I also advise that you tell the people closest to you about your timelines because they will hold you accountable. I told my dissertation tutor as well as my family and friends and they would always ask, how far along are you? Or have you finished section 2? And this helped me because it applied positive pressure on me.
Q-What kind of sources are most important during your research process?
A- My dissertation tutor gave me a few interesting articles and this is what ignited my research process, I found these were the most important sources. This is because I could find a lot more commentary from the sources that the articles cited. I was also able to search for more work by the same authors. Academic writers tend to keep their articles within a particular theme, so analysing all their work allowed me to analyse many arguments of a certain theme. I also found that in their articles, academic writers often contend arguments brought forward by other academic writers within their field. Not only is this mildly entertaining, you are also pointed in the direction of articles that do not agree with your argument. It is important to bring out opposing arguments as you want to highlight them and indicate their weaknesses and why you think your argument or your perspective is better.
Although articles are very very crucial to your dissertation, you must also explore other sources such as newspaper articles and case commentary. By reviewing Ugandan newspapers, I gained a lot of insight to some of the opinions on my case study. This was very helpful because as I said, there is a big gap in the literature coming from a Ugandan perspective.
Q- How important is constant engagement with your supervisor and how did it impact your process flow?
A- YOUR SUPERVISOR (We called it dissertation tutor) SHOULD BE YOUR BEST FRIEND IN THIS PERIOD! GO TO THEM WHENEVER YOU CAN! In my University, our supervisors were only allowed to review 6,000 words of your dissertation. You were however, able to go to their academic hours if you ever needed any guidance. Go to alllllllll the academic hours. Let them know how you are progressing. They have been where you are before, they will tell you if what you are doing is right, wrong, crazy or cool. They are there for you, so use them. Get your fees worth. If you don’t understand an article, go to them. If you are having a confidence crisis when it comes to your work, go to them. If you want to debate whether to include a certain opinion, go. to. them.
Q- How do you manage writing your dissertation alongside your work for other modules?
A- Planning is key. Start writing early enough so by the time you get your final assignments from other modules and exam period comes up, you are ready. I was fortunate to have had a holiday, two weeks before my dissertation was due. I knew I didn’t want to feel guilty on my holiday so I completed my final draft beforehand. Then I was able to take a week off from the dissertation (this is also extremely important – you need a break once in a while!) and then go back and review it, then make necessary changes before finally handing it in. I also broke down the dissertation. I aimed to do 1,000 words a week for 12 weeks. I found this helpful because the 12,000 words wasn’t so daunting. It also allows you to focus sometime on your other work as 1,000 words a week is very possible.
All in all, a dissertation seems like a very scary piece of work but planning, time management and break down will make your life so much easier. I hope this helps someone. Good luck with your dissertations!