Everyone has an individual way of approaching legal research. Generally, academic writing in the legal field is required in proposals, thesis, and dissertations for higher university degrees. Like other disciplines, academic writing in law should be based on logical argument, interconnection of ideas, and internal consistency and coherence.
Legal language for academic writing for research purposes should be dispassionate, precise, unambiguous, and consistent. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to use long, complicated sentences, intrusive phrases and clauses, and redundant phrases in traditional legal writing, which is unsuitable for legal research.
However, in terms of techniques, the following issues to be considered in writing legal research:
- Researchers should always bear in mind two basic research rules: First, what is wanted is sound, publishable research, not unattainable highest level of perfection, and second, “Research involves honest and dispassionate investigation.”
- In general, repetition should be avoided. But repetition can be used effectively to stress important points and for impact conclusions.
- The researcher should not limit the search to cases that support his position. A competent researcher will anticipate both sides of an argument and identify the causes that indicate contrary conclusions. Do not hide information simply because that goes against you.
- Archaic and obsolete sentences should be avoided. Rhetoric or jargon that unnecessarily alienates readers should also be avoided. The word ‘jargon’ describes a common language of specialized terms used within a group of experts or professionals, which can be useful. Sometimes, it can be useful in legal writing. But frequent use of jargon can result in unclear writing. It should be borne in mind that the purpose of writing is to express, not to impress.
- Avoid long paragraphs. Usually, paragraphs should, on average, be less than seven sentences long. Each paragraph should be logically connected to the subsequent one. Paragraphing should also show the progression from one idea to the next.8 Write well-organized paragraphs. Each paragraph should mark the full development of a single idea. Properly used paragraphs will help a researcher achieve two objectives: first, they will aid comprehension by separating one theme. Second, they also provide a natural pause for the reader’s mind to absorb and reflect upon one theme before embarking on the next.
- Criticism of the argument of others is normal, but any unduly unharsh criticism should be avoided, even if one’s argument is very well-founded. A balance should be maintained between the appreciation and the criticisms in evaluating others’ work. Generally, constructive criticism of other work might include where the author is uninformed, misinformed, illogical in their argument, or perhaps where the account is incomplete.
- There is a tendency amongst lawyers and legal researchers towards long sentences. But unnecessarily lengthy sentences and complex language should be avoided. Sometimes, a shorter sentence can promote more clarity. The easiest way to keep your writing clear and readable is to write short sentences. The basic rule in constructing a sentence is that there should be unity of thought and clarity of expression.
- Make sure that you choose the words or phrases that express your ideas most precisely. Words or phrases should correspond to the context and purpose of writing. Complex, abstract and unfamiliar words or phrases should generally be avoided.
- Revise your first draft to take another look at what you have written. Revision gives a chance to check over for good word choice, sentence structure, accuracy, and general quality of writing.
- Contractions such as can’t hasn’t didn’t want may be acceptable in correspondence. But these should be avoided in legal writing.
- Try to frame the issues and link factual issues with legal arguments.
Updating information is important for legal research as law changes constantly. Therefore, the aim of the research should reflect the most up-to-date development of the topic.
The researcher needs to be fully conversant with all the latest information. For example, new laws may be passed, or old ones may be amended, or the courts may deliver new decisions in research projects.
Updating these new legislative or judicial development is particularly important for Ph.D. researchers. Researchers should check the statutes mentioned in the research to ensure that they have not been amended or repealed.
Similarly, judicial decisions should also be checked to ensure that they have not been reversed or overruled in the research project.
The researcher should also revise the statement of issues, and the sources initially included in the plan in light of what has been learned through research.
When to stop writing
The question of when to stop researching is difficult as it is to know where to begin. There is no uniform rule on how extensive research should be, and knowing when to stop research is a skill that can only be developed over time. Sometimes the limits to research are set by the nature of the project.
However, it can fairly be argued that the researcher should stop it when he is confident that a benchmark of analysis is achieved in finding the research questions. But, of course, an abrupt ending is not good, and neither is a simple summary of research work.
The conclusion should reinforce one’s argument as well as it may present new findings. It should be borne in mind that what sound legal research requires is not looking into every resource or case for investigating the issue. Rather, it requires identifying the most useful cases or sources and arrives a conclusion in light of that.