Legal Research Design and Structure

Legal Research Design and Structure

Research design is a fundamental element of scientific investigation in the fields of law and social sciences. Legal research demands a logical structure. A research design is a logic that links the collected data to the study’s initial questions.

Research work should be designed to clarify the research questions and the methods of answering them. The research design provides a guideline for researchers and a framework for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data.

In short, a research design is “the overall structure and orientation of an investigation. This structure provides a framework within which data are collected and analyzed”.

Thus, research design refers to the basic plan or strategy and its logic, making it possible and valid to draw more general conclusions.

There is no magic format of design that will work in every context. It depends on a particular problem that one is addressing and the particular audience for the research.

However, research works require considerable thought, planning, patience, and skill. Good research work involves consideration of the following issues:

  • Facts – analyze the facts.
  • Issues – determine the legal issues.
  • Law – find the relevant law.
  • Analysis – analyze the law and apply it to the facts.
  • Communication – communicate the results of the research.

How To Narrow Down the Research Topic?

Narrowing down the scope of research to a specific subject is an excellent challenge for a researcher. If the topic is formulated broadly and open-ended, it can lead to the collection of too much data, and when it comes to writing up, it can result in a lack of focus.

Narrowing down the topic to make it more focused requires intensive and broad reading.

Based on existing knowledge, previous theories, and established methods, the researcher should formulate the topic precisely so that he will be able to say in advance exactly what will be investigated, for what reason, and using what data.

Usually, at the earlier research stage, a legal researcher takes one or more legal propositions as a starting point and focus of his study.

The more one reads, the more he can realize that his original idea is too expansive and ambitious for the type of work in view. Narrowing the topic deepens the focus of the research work.

General Structure of Main Body of Research

The structuring of a research work depends greatly on the particular purpose that the research is intended to address. In particular, a Ph.D. or MPhil thesis requires a well-organized presentation and analysis.

Introductory Part

Usually, every research starts with a general introduction to the topic.

A readable, interesting introduction is important because it persuades people to read further and summarises the basic argument to those who do not read further. The introductory part should set out the problem research question, general background, context of the study, and literature review.

The introductory part should also begin with a statement of the ultimate conclusion. The introductory part consists of an introduction, the study’s objectives, rationale, scope, assumptions, limitations, study organization and methodology, and tools and techniques.

It should also give the background of the research problem, research question, and the hypothesis formed for the study.

The introductory part of the research paper should contain a general statement about the study topic. The general statement consists of one or more sentences describing the basic proposition(s) that one is attempting to demonstrate in the body of work.

The general statement provides the reader a focus and a basis for evaluating the significance and persuasiveness of the research itself.

It should address why the topic is important, and the methodology applied. The general statement should identify a legal problem or issue that is worth investigating.

Thus, identifying and formulating the problem is the starting point of any research.

Middle Part

The middle part of the research should contain a critical analysis of key points and the data results.

However, an analysis of key points may be combined with a descriptive statement of relevant facts. The researcher should look for the applicable legal rules and principles and apply them to resolve the issues in the middle part.

It should contain an analysis of both primary and secondary sources of information, analysis, interpretation of information, and application of information to resolve issues.

Excessive detail of facts should be avoided. There must be a balance between description and analysis.

Interpretation and application of issues constitute an important part of the middle body of research. Interpretation is an efficient approach used in policy-oriented socio-legal research areas.

One should go beyond the narrow boundaries of the topic and connect to broader, parallel, and subsidiary issues. Statutory interpretation is an important part of legal research.

Researchers must not merely find the statutes applicable to a problem but also apply inappropriate context. One must go beyond the black letter approach of the statute and search for the intended meaning for specific provisions of the statute.

To do this, researchers may look at the statute’s legislative history. In analyzing case materials, they should try to identify the policy behind the decisions and the societal interest the judicial decisions serve.

The middle part should contain the main chapters, which may be analytical or descriptive. The middle part should highlight the data analysis and presentation, including interpretation and generalizations and the study’s main findings. However, there should be a logical linkage between chapters.

Summarise the key point at the end of each chapter. Thus, separate summaries should be drawn in each chapter, while the main conclusion should highlight key findings and future guidelines.

There is a general tendency among young researchers to include as much information as possible in the middle part of the research.

But putting irrelevant information can detract researchers from proper legal analysis, and including too much information can obscure the important points one is trying to make.

Conclusion Part

The conclusion part should reveal the findings of the study. The research findings should be presented clearly, persuasively, and in an acceptable way. The concluding part should also reveal whether the research question is answered and focus on the contribution of research work.

Conclusions generally reveal the implications of the research findings and should respond to the aim stated in the introduction.

However, the conclusion may not be definitive or perfect. It may either prove or disprove the original hypothesis.

But it must be logically sound. It should substantiate the main arguments.

To be valuable, the conclusion must be novel. It must say something that has not been said before by others. To be original, it must add something to the state of expert knowledge about the field.

The conclusion should focus on the normative aspect of how the law should be based on the study’s findings. The argument should be persuasive and appealing to the readers.

However, the conclusion is not a mere summary. The summary can be a repetition of what is already said in chapters.

But the conclusion should demonstrate the new knowledge and real contribution to the existing knowledge. The conclusion should answer the original question or state why no answer is possible.

The conclusion should highlight key policy implications or proposed solutions for problems identified. It is often important to propose areas of further research in the conclusion in light of the study findings.

General Format of Thesis or Report

Usually, before the main body, the thesis or report should contain a cover page, acknowledgments, declaration page, a list of abbreviations, table of cases, table of international agreements, national legislation, an abstract of the thesis or report, and a table of contents.

After the main text, it should contain a bibliography.

The cover page contains the title of the thesis or research work, the researcher’s name, the submission date, and the institution’s name where it is presented. Supervised work also contains the supervisor or guide under whose supervision or guidance the work was carried out.

The acknowledgment page is devoted to that help, inspiration, or guidance obtained in completing research work.

Forward or preface follows the acknowledgment page and contains an overall summary of the work and a brief statement of the study’s rationale, scope, and general findings.

Sometimes a summary of research work is required for Ph.D. or MPhil thesis. Sometimes research articles in journals also require abstracts.

Most universities require a declaration that the work in the thesis is the researcher’s original work and has not been used for the award of any other degree. This is contained on the Declaration page.


The abstract needs to concisely state the research problem or hypothesis, the description or crucial aspects of the research, including a brief indication of methodology, the results, and a conclusion.

Table of Contents

The table of the content page should be used after the preface or foreword. A well-designed table of contents enables the reader to choose rapidly and judiciously the topics or sub-topics he may like to read.

It should include the chapter, headings, sub-headings, the bibliography, and appendixes. It should be remembered that each point of heading follows logically from the ones preceding it.

Table of Cases

After the table of contents, the table of cases should be placed. Cases should be arranged in alphabetical order with their details, i.e., name of the report, year of the report, name of the Court, the page number of the report on which it is reported, and then the page number of the thesis on which that case is referred.

Unless there are very few cases, divide the tables into separate sections for separate jurisdictions. If there are tables and figures used in the thesis, then a list of all these should be given after the table of cases with the page number they have produced.5


It is neither possible nor desirable to mention every detail in the text. The less important information may be separated from the main body and supplementary material for references.

Usually, all material relevant to the research work but of a character that hinders the smooth flow of the main argument should be placed in the appendices.

Generally, pictures, statistical tables or data, and the text of the law or treaty are placed separately. It may also include letters, questionnaires, surveys, a list of interviewees, text or part of the legislation, etc.

Each appendix is numbered and started on a new page. Appendices may be placed between the final chapter and the bibliography or immediately after the bibliography. Appendices serve the function of providing greater clarity and authenticity for the readers of the research work.


The index is a useful addition to any research work. It contains topics, sub-topics, and authors’ names arranged alphabetically. Index saves much time for the reader in locating the information required by him.


Sign-posting is important in establishing logical linkage in the whole research work. The chapter outline should be clearly spelled out, and the use of headings and sub-headings should mark each chapter. A heading is a concise statement of a conclusion.

Headings divide the argument into major sections, and sub-headings divide those sections. Together, the headings and sub-headings create an outline of the argument of the research work.

Headings are essential in writing an organized, logical, and persuasive argument.

A well-written heading identifies the legal issues involved. It sets out the reasoning supporting that position by relating the rule to your specific situation.

Sub-headings and tables should be ordered in their logical sequence.

Use heading for each subsection. They will help organize your thinking and help you make sure that each sub-section stays focused on its key points.


Presentation style is decisive because poor presentation styles could diminish good research work.

The researcher should keep his reader in mind while writing that each word in use must have a purpose. The research theme should be seen running throughout the text from beginning to end.

The ABC of the writing: Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity- these three expressions are key to quality research. Sometimes shorter sentences should be used to achieve greater clarity.

Quality of content needs quality of presentation to be persuasive. The linkage between concepts, principles, theory, and evidence must be established.

Certain points in the texts will need to be brought to the reader’s special attention. To emphasize those points, you can repeal important aspects of the subject.


There must be consistency in the approach. The same writing style should be used throughout in paper. Emotional language should be avoided. The sentence must have a purpose, meaning, consistency, and be as clear as possible.

Argumentation should minimize proverbs and adjectives, avoid too much philosophy or theory, and avoid random opinions of authors. Coherence in argumentation should be maintained throughout chapters.

Consistency in punctuation, style, headings, references, and footnotes of a research paper, article, or dissertation is essential. There should be consistency in British or American spelling. Ambiguity should be avoided.

But it does not mean oversimplification. On the other hand, researchers should always strive for clarity of thoughts. Jargon is sometimes unavoidable, but it should be used with due care and attention.

Ph.D. and MPhil Research

Ph.D. or MPhil research is intellectual entrepreneurship toward the creation of new knowledge.

Both are formalized and institutional processes of undertaking research work guided by known expert Ph.D., an abbreviated version of the Doctor of Philosophy, awarded as a recognition of a substantial contribution to the discipline chosen by the researcher.

The doctorate is named differently depending upon a university’s tradition and the discipline’s nature.

For instance, UK universities such as Oxford, Sussex, and York use the term DPhil. Still, most use the designation PhD.7 Traditionally, the doctorates have been used for a particular subject.

For example, MD (Medicine), LLD (Law), DMus(Music), DSc(Science), DLitt(Letters, i.e., Arts). In the USA, doctorates are traditionally abbreviated as SJD (Doctorates of Juridical Science).

Ph.D. is a more advanced qualification than the MPhil; therefore, the MPhil dissertation is usually shorter than the Ph.D. thesis.

An MPhil dissertation or thesis may be limited in scope and degree of originality, while a Ph.D. thesis involves greater depth and originality than an MPhil thesis.

The MPhil is often used as a training course in advanced research work and can be the preliminary stage for the Ph.D.

The main objective of research leading to acquiring a Ph.D. degree is contributing to one’s chosen field. The holder of a Ph.D. is recognized an authority by the appropriate faculty and fellow academics outside the university.

Obtaining a Ph.D. is often a lifetime experience for a researcher. It provides one license to undertake unsupervised research. A Ph.D. holder is expected to supervise and examine others’ Ph.D. thesis with authority.

Managing Time

Setting time frames and time management is a key to the success of all research projects. Set up your completion target after detailing the different stages of research work.

But make a reasonable deadline and stick to it to ensure the steady progress of the thesis.

Time management is crucial for a Ph.D. or MPhil, which requires considerable effort and resources. Timely completion of a Ph.D. thesis requires self-discipline for daily time arrangements.

The general time frame for the completion of Ph.D. thesis can be described in the following way:

  • The first year: assemble and organize information, general structure, draft chapters, draft bibliography, literature review, and make oral presentations to obtain feedback from the academics.
  • Second-year: research and writing up major chapters-data collection, fieldwork, writing up, analyzing, discussing, filling in general gaps, obtaining more specific in-depth information, and refining content, style, and legal argument.
  • Third-year: first draft and revision. It also involves deleting irrelevant parts, final editing of style and format, proofreading, re-edit, final check, and writing conclusions.

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