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Thesis Workshop: Overview of How to Write a Thesis

Alison Fischer A.L. University of Amsterdam February 2013

Legal Scholarship is
the story of the legal tradition.
Legislatures & Parliaments make laws Citizens interact with laws Courts and tribunals interpret laws as applied Legal scholars

Observe Assess Influence

Writing = communication
Good writing is: Clear

Choose the message you want to send Deliver your message in the most direct way Send your message to the right audience Make the audience care about the message




Amsterdam Thesis Manual:

In general, the learning objectives of a thesis are as follows:
The ability to formulate and set a problem within the field of

law, and to apply an appropriate research structure to it.

Choose a Topic and Research

The ability to gather, classify, analyze and evaluate

data relevant to the research.

Research & Analyze

The ability to make creative use of the knowledge and

understanding obtained from the research.


The ability to report clearly, systematically and

soundly, verbally and in writing, on the structure, conduct and results of the research.


Amsterdam Law School Thesis Manual 8

Steps to Your Thesis

1. Choose a Topic

Narrow down to a research question/issue

2. Research 3. Analyze 4. Plan 5. Write 6. Edit and Revise

Part One:


Choosing a Topic
You and your research will be spending a lot of time together. Make sure you will get along. Ask yourself:

What do I like to read?

Law Review Articles Legal Opinions Class discussions Conversations with professors Social debates

What do I like to talk about?

Choosing a Research Question

What was missing from what I like to learn about?

What could my research add to the discussion?

A thesis makes a claim about the world that is:

Novel Non-obvious Useful Sound Seen by the reader to be all of the above
Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing (3rd ed, Foundation Press 2007) 9

Choosing a Thesis/Problem
Four types of problems


What is it? How does it work?

What new constitutions have been enacted in Country X in the last 25 years?


Why is it like this and not like that? What are the connections?
Why are so many defendants acquitted in Country X?


Should it be like this?

The legal system of Country X is dysfunctional


What should be done

Country X should adopt the following procedures. Thesis Manual 20-21

IRAC Part One

Issue Rule Analysis or Application Conclusion

IRAC Example:
The Role of the Individual in International Law.*
Issue: Does the individual have civil legal obligations

under international law? Rule: The decision-making process of international courts Analysis: The individual has international criminal law obligations. The individual is also developing rights under international criminal law. These rights will lead to civil obligations. Conclusion: Individuals have certain civil law obligations under international law.
*Andrew Clapham The Role of the Individual in International Law (2010) 21 European Journal of International Law 25

Part Two:


Targeted Research
Start with the rule (the original source) Read the statute/guideline/treaty in question. If not relevant, what is the current practice? What is its plain meaning? Existing interpretations of the rule What relevant bodies have already interpreted the rule? Courts, tribunals, administrative bodies? Where have those decisions been cited? What legal scholarship already exists expanding on those interpretations?

Targeted Research Part Two

Where to Research Internet

Journal Databases

Two faculty of law libraries The Law Library (JB) at Oudemanhuispoort The Documentation Centre of the Institute for Information Law (IVIR) at Rokin 84

How to Research Students in the English master program will receive a course from library staff Thesis Manual gives resources
Thesis Manual, 23

Organize Your Research

Two questions What have I found out? Where did I learn it? Develop a system that works for you Note cards Case tables Outlines Keep track for eventual list of sources and


IRAC revisited.

Issue spotting Rule Finding Application

Consistencies Counter Argument Types of logic Deductive/Inductive Reasoning


Issues From Your Research

What are the issues (new questions/claims) raised by your research?

Are there smaller/sub-issues into which they can be broken down? Example Issue:

Does Xs action make her liable under Y law?

Potential Sub Issue What is the jurisdiction of Y law? Does Xs behavior fall into that jurisdiction?

Analysis or Application
How do the relevant rules apply to the facts

underlying my thesis? Is there a general principle that unites all the rules relevant to your thesis?


Or, do you want to compare and evaluate

inconsistent approaches?

That have changed over time? That are legally consistent because of different facts? That represent different approaches in different jurisdictions?

Counter Arguments
Presumably, you will have found support for your

position. This goes into your analysis.

Dont forget, however, to address counter arguments

and show why they do not invalidate your thesis.

Because they are from irrelevant jurisdictions Because their logic is unconvincing Because relevant courts are unlikely to follow them Other reasons

Reconsider Your Claim

Does it still make sense in light of your

research and analysis so far?

Do you need to tweak, revise, throw it out and

start again?

Better now than later.

Do you need to do more research?

Part Three


Plan Your Paper

If you dont know where your going, and how

you will get there, your reader has no chance of following you

Madman Architect Builder Janitor

Garner, Brian Legal Writing in Plain English

Brainstorm Madman
Get the ideas on paper however it works for

you. Madman cluster Dump draft

The Text Plan* (Architect)

1. Write down the problem/issue/question 2. Write down your proposed conclusion 3. Separate them. Now write the steps you

need to get from one to the other.

Let the problem guide the structure See the conclusion coming Dont be afraid to kill your darlings

Thesis Manual 30

Outline Your Plan (Architect)

Visual representation of where you are going.


First Point
I. II. Sub issue of first point I. Detail of sub issue Second sub issue Sub issue of second point


Second Point

Fill in more and more detail until you have a cohesive story.

Structure of an Essay (Architect)

What are you going to say?

Body Say it. Conclusion

Remind us what you said
See also, Thesis Manual 32 for detailed summary

Where are we going?

State the main point of your essay and summarize your conclusion. Engage the reader in the subject Provide necessary background information Summarize the structure of your paper so the reader knows what to expect.

Why do we care?

How will we get there?

Body: Structure
Organize your essay into chapters or sections, as

necessary, depending on length of essay.

Stay consistent with your introduction (or go back and revise later)

One idea per paragraph: Topic Sentence Support the topic sentence with evidence, examples, and sources Conclude and transition to the next paragraph either here or in first line of next paragraph.

Body: Transitions
Paragraphs should progress logically and


ChronologicallyIn order of importanceFrom the general to the specific

Signal words or phrases* Time: before, prior to, meanwhile, during Relationships

Similar: Moreover, furthermore, for example Different: Contrary to, on the other hand
Thesis Manual 34

Body: Analysis
IRAC works everywhere:

Can help organize the whole paper (main issue) as well as individual paragraphs (sub issues) Strongest to weakest Dont ignore adverse authority or counter arguments

Support your arguments with evidence

Sum up Restate argument Perhaps a vision for future scholarship,

broader significance
DO NOT introduce new arguments or


This is not a novel surprise endings are not appreciated.

Reader should have seen it coming

Part Four


Why cite?

To avoid any allegations of plagiarism To give credit where credit is due To give authority to our arguments

No one cares what you or I think (yet)

To allow others to find our sources easily and efficiently

Your opinion isnt really what matters (yet)

its the authorities you find that support it.

Proper attribution and citation allows readers to confirm those sources

Omitting a citation where one is required,

even inadvertently, implies the ideas on the page are your own, and effectively steals them from the original author.

This is not only bad karma, its plagiarism and will get you into trouble.

See also Amsterdam Law School Thesis Manual, 37-38

Fraud and Plagiarism

Fraud and plagiarism are defined as any act

or omission, on the part of the student, which makes it difficult or impossible to assess his/her knowledge, insight and skills correctly.* * Regulations Governing Fraud and Plagiarism for UvA Students, Article 1:1

Fraud and Plagiarism

WARNING: Intent is NOT an element of

Plagiarism is taken to mean any event

making use of, or as the case may be, taking over another persons text, data or ideas without complete and correct acknowledgement of source.*
*Regulations Governing Fraud and Plagiarism for UvA Students, Article 1:3a (emphasis added)

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Use quotations correctly Use citations consistently and as often as


You must cite any idea that belongs to someone else, even if you have paraphrased the material

When in doubt, go back to your notes.

Citations in Theory
When do I have to cite to an authority? Every time you include a statement, proposition or idea that is not your own.

Background sections may include fewer than analysis sections as it is not necessary to cite generally known information.
The world is round. December 1 is a Thursday.

The point is to provide a consistent way for

readers to find your sources.

Citation Format
Good citation is uniform Within your work and Within the community Makes it easer to find a source Include page numbers, paragraphs and sections UvA requests the use of the Oxford Standard for the

Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) Footnote based system

Quotations Format
Use quotation marks if

Same text More than four words are the same Distinctive or unusual language

Include a citation or attribution if

You have paraphrased, borrowed, or relied upon any idea not your own.

Quotations Format* pt 2
Quotations of up to three lines are included in the


Single quotation marks, unless a quote within quote, then double. (UK, not US style) Punctuation outside of the closing quotation mark, unless the whole sentence is a quotation.

Quotations of longer than three lines are made into

block quotes.

Be careful about too many of these too much writing that is not your own.

*OSCOLA Rule 1.5

Citations in Theory pt 2
Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal


Preferred standard for all UvA writing, but also for European law journals and courts.

Blue Book is the American standard

Ok if you know it already, but dont start now.

Sixty-plus pages of fun: edn.pdf
Print it out Keep it on hand When in doubt, check it out.

Citations in Theory pt 3
OSCOLA is a minimalist system Uses as little punctuation as possible No full stops (periods) after abbreviations, initials etc. Rule 1.3 Short-forms refer back to original footnote Rule 1.2.1 No signal words or Latin gadgets Avoid the use ofsupra, infra, ante, op cit, loc cit and contra, which are not widely understood. Ibid is allowed if you are repeating the information in the immediately preceding footnote. Rule 1.2.3

Footnotes in Practice
Include footnotes in superscript numbers, after any

relevant punctuation in the text,

Unless, for the sake of clarity, they must go in the middle of a sentence.

Close footnotes with a full stop (period) and separate

footnotes within the same reference with semicolons.

Rule 1.1

Always include page numbers Use as few numbers as possible, but always at least

two for a final number

Rule 1.3.2

A simpler system, except.


[Square brackets] around the year when the year also indicates the volume (Round brackets) around the year when there is a separate volume number.
Tip if you can cover the year up with your finger and still tell the volume, then use round brackets. If not, then use square.

True for cases, books, journals etc.

Citing a Case OSCOLA example

OSCOLA Rule 1.1.1 and examples

In the text:

Case name in italics No punctuation

It is well represented in the case law, perhaps most notably in the expression of the no-conflict rule advocated by Lord Upjohn in Phipps v Boardman,31 and in the earlier Court of Appeal decision in Boulting v Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians.32
31 [1967] 2 AC 46 (HL). 32 [1963] 2 QB 606 (CA).

The relevant footnotes appear at the bottom of the page:


case name | [year] OR (year) | volume | report abbreviation | first page | (court) Not necessary because already in text.

OSCOLA example pt 2
Second reference in the text (also known as short form):

In Boulting [or in the Boulting case], Upjohn LJ said that the rule
must be applied realistically to a state of affairs which discloses a real conflict of duty and interest and not to some theoretical or rhetorical conflict.33 In Phipps, Lord Upjohn developed his view of the rule further by adding that there must be a real sensible possibility of conflict.34

Give the name of the case in full when it is first mentioned in the text or footnotes; it may be shortened thereafter.

Rule 2.1.2.

OSCOLA example pt 3
The footnotes for the above passage would appear

as follows:
33 Boulting (n 32) 638. OR 33 ibid 638. 34 Phipps (n 31) 124.

Refer to the short name of the case, then the original

footnote, which contains the full citation.

Rule 2.1.1

The numbers at the end of footnotes 33 and 34 are

called pinpoints; they give the page on which the quotation can be found. It is also acceptable to include the full case reference in all footnotes.

Rule 1.1.1

Cases from non-UK Jurisdiction

Rule 2.8.1

Cite cases from other jurisdictions as they are cited in their own jurisdiction, but without any full stops in abbreviations. If the name of the law report series cited does not itself indicate the court, and the identity of the court is not obvious from the context, you should also give this in either full or short form in brackets at the end of the citation. When citing a decision of the highest court of a US state, the abbreviation of the name of the state suffices.

Henningsen v Bloomfield Motors Inc 161 A 2d 69 (NJ 1960) Michael v Johnson 426 US 346 (1976) Waltons Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher (1988) 164 CLR 387 BGH NJW 1992, 1659 Cass civ (1) 21 January 2003, D 2003, 693

CA Colmar 25 January 1963, Gaz Pal 1963.I.277

International Law Sources

OSCOLA Appendix Part IV (2006) Treaties International Cases and Decisions International Court of Justice International Criminal Tribunals WTO decisions Non-Governmental and other International Organizations The United Nations Regional Bodies International Law Associations International Law Digests

Secondary Sources
In general, Rule 3.1 Authors names exactly as they appear

First name, last name in footnotes Last name, first name in bibliographies

Italicize titles of books, journals. Articles are capitalized within single quotes. Part (pt), chapter (ch) and paragraph (ph) when necessary Page numbers stand alone (no p. pg. pp) Cite the hard copy whenever possible

Rule 3.2
author, | title | (additional information, | edition, | publisher | year)

Timothy Endicott, Administrative Law (OUP 2009) Gareth Jones, Goff and Jones: The Law of Restitution (1st supp, 7th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2009)

See full rule for multiple authors, anthologies etc.

Journals and Periodicals

3.3.1 Hard copy journals

When citing articles, give the authors name first, followed by a comma. Then give the title of the article, in roman within single quotation marks. After the title, give the publication information in the following order:

year of publication the volume number if there is one; the name of the journal; full or abbreviated form, with no full stops (See 4.2.1 for list of abbreviations); and the first page of the article.

author, | title | [year] | journal name or abbreviation | first page of article [author, | title | (year) | volume | journal name or abbreviation | first page of article

Internet/Electronic sources
When possible, use the hard copy cite

If website, see if PDF of the hard copy is available Author, Title of Article (Website Name, Date) <website address> accessed 18 November 2011

Date of access is important because websites can change

Part Five


Re-reading, revising and re-writing is the

most important part of writing.

NO ONE gets it right the first time. Revising is more than just checking spelling

and reading for typos

It is the real writing the process by which you turn your thoughts into something a larger audience can read and wants to keep reading.

Revising Structure
Read your piece through from beginning to


Do the paragraphs flow naturally from one to the other? Does the reader have the information she needs to grasp the points by the time she reaches them? Does your introduction still make sense in light of your conclusion?

If not, go back and do it again

Revising Content
I didnt have time to write a short letter, so I

wrote a long on instead.

Mark Twain

Streamline as much as possible. If you need to reread something to understand it, so will your reader. Rewrite it first. Read your paper out loud. Consider revision where you trip over the words.

Common Style and Grammar Errors*

Passive vs Active Voice


The bicycle is ridden by Peter.

Object, passive verb, subject Clumsy, remote, boring

Active voice

Peter rides the bicycle.

Subject, verb, object

* See also Thesis Manual 35-37

Do use active voice

Make sure the subject performs the action on the


The object should not receive action from the subject YES: Ms. Watson signed a covenant-not-to-compete. NO: The covenant-not-to-compete was signed by Ms. Watson.

Passive sentences lack clarity, is less forceful and

contains unnecessary words.

NO: It was insisted by Carrolton that the covenant had been breached by Ms. Watson. YES: Carrolton insisted that Ms. Watson had breached the covenant.

Use strong paragraphs

Thesis sentence as opposed to topic sentence A topic sentence identifies what a paragraph will discuss

Means we arent sure of the point Material within the paragraph will prove the position Reading each thesis sentence should summarize your reasoning, point by point

A thesis sentence asserts a position

Keep the paragraph content within the thesis Keep paragraphs moderately short

About half a page, double-spaced Quarter page single-spaced See handout on Transitional Phrases pay attention to meanings

Use transitional words or phrases to move to the next point

Write strong sentences Do

Do keep it short No more than 20 words Omit needless words Do keep Subject and Verb close together Avoid separating them by long modifying phrases

In the first month of his marriage, the defendant, who was only 19 at the time, had never finished university and just lost his part-time job, was charged with robbing a convenience store. The defendant was charged with robbing a convenience store in the first month of his marriage. He was only 19 at the time, had never finished university and had just lost his job.

Do use parallel structure

Do use parallel structure to communicate parallel


Make sure all items in a least and all repeated structures use the same grammatical elements Repeat the last word if the list is complex With simple sentences, no repetition necessary

Yes: Acme Pest Control selected the plaintiff for lay off because she had the least seniority and because she was consistently late for work.
because she + verb

NO: Acme Pest Control selected the plaintiff for lay-off because she had the least seniority and because of her tardiness.
because she + verb because + descriptive noun

Do Show. Dont Tell

Telling Informing your reader/audience about a situation or conclusion.

Showing Providing evidence that leads to that conclusion using specific examples.

interpretation of adjectives, instead of your version of what happened

Will be reinforced with evidence Guides reader/listener to your version of events.

for example
Telling The human rights treaty is important. Showing The United Nations estimates that over 14,000 people lose their lives each year because border countries do not abide by the current human rights treaty.

Avoid Nominalizations
Nominalizations began life as verbs, then

tried to be nouns they should have stayed put

Wordy Are in mitigation of Conduct an examination of Make accommodation for Provide a description of Take into consideration Make a provision for

-ion words
Efficient Mitigate Examine Accommodate Describe Consider Provide for

Avoid throat clearing

The following phrases waste time and you should

eliminate them:

It is important to note that.. It is important to remember that It seems that It is clear (or obvious) that It is widely understood that As noted above As to With respect (or regard) to

Acceptable in a FIRST DRAFT not a final.

DO NOT leave Editing to the screen.

Print your work. Read through for errors in spelling and grammar. Dont stop reading for content and structure

Read out loud

Give to a friend to read Put aside for a few hours then do it again

Scripties Online

Database of all UvA Theses use for examples of what to do, and what not to do Check to make sure your thesis hasnt already been written How to Write a Thesis Page Thesis Manual