With a background in neurosciences, and currently practising as a psychotherapist I have always had a keen interest in how the brain (actually) works, and perhaps more importantly how we might utilise that knowledge to maximise our mental capacity when it comes to approaching the (undoubtedly) challenging University of London LLB (Hons) that many of us are harnessed to.
The last two/three decades have seen a considerable re-framing of the neuro-cognitive paradigm, and in case you don’t have a dictionary to hand, what I’m talking about is thinking, and how we conceptualise our capacity to think and essentially process cognitive data. The two biggest breakthroughs are what has been termed neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) and what we might term cognitive ‘compartmentalisation’; referring to the fact that intelligence is very far from an unitary concept, but is distinctly multi-faceted, multi-modular if you will.
Though the former is of great comfort to a mature student like me (it is now official: you CAN teach an old dog new tricks), with this the second of two blog articles concerning ‘how to write a dissertation’, I’m interested in focusing on the latter and, in particular, its implications when we come to tackling this 10,000 word marathon.
What compartmentalisation refers to, and as with many concepts it is glaringly obvious when it is stated in simple terms, is the idea that even though there is some degree of ‘leakage’, skill-sets are often, if not usually, modality-specific. So, to illustrate, simply because I play the piano very well does not mean I will be a world class boxer, the national chess champion may be an hopelessly nerve-wracked public speaker, the articulate playwright may not be good at downhill skiing.
The implications of this realisation are highly significant for any potential dissertation writers (and so far the University of London LLB Dissertation Group has over 100 active members). Stated in its skeleton form, it means that if you want to be good at writing, write; and if that task involves academic writing, write academically.
Let’s break it down into a few bullet suggestions:
- Take every opportunity to write; writing does generalise, so a good creative writer will learn the necessary skills of academic writing more quickly than someone who has never put pen to paper. So, long before I started writing law-related articles, I’d published a bunch of (as it happens politically-related) book reviews, been a That’s Shanghai travel correspondent for 24 months, and written a personal blog for a few years.
- Start learning to write in the specific language required of you within the legal profession. This may take the form of self-published articles, comments on legal websites and/or relevant Facebook pages. The law has its own glossary and it needs to be mastered. This process can obviously be supplemented by broad base legal reading, particularly academic articles and case law. But the word truly is supplemented; reading is not a substitute for writing. We can recall. They are different forms of ability.
- Start small. 10,000 words (equating to roughly 30 pages of 1.5 spaced paragraphs, typed) is no small achievement, and it is unlikely that you will be able to tackle it if your previous personal best was a 250 word Facebook post. Much like a marathon, build up.
And finally (for today) be patient with yourself. I wrote my draft in 20 days. Having prepared for around three months (downloading and reading relevant articles and cases etc.) I set myself the very reasonable (and for that read achievable) target of 500 words per day. Sometimes I did more and sometimes I did less, but there was not a day that went by during that period that I didn’t write something. Self-disciple is the name of the game.
So with that in mind, sharpen your pencils! On your marks, get set, go! Time waits for no man; and it will somehow not seem, or indeed be, any easier tomorrow.
Perhaps in these times we should remember the (slightly modified) words of Dory: “just keep writing… just keep writing…”
Mark is studying the LLB in China.