SOME GUIDELINES FOR WRITING A PAPER / THESIS

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1 SOME GUIDELINES FOR WRITING A PAPER / THESIS 1. Introduction Previous experience has shown that many law students have little experience in writing academic papers. It is essential, also for their subsequent career, that they learn how to do so. Students who have already developed their own technique(s) on how to write a paper may not need this information. These guidelines provide some guidance for writing a paper, they are not compulsory. It should be borne in mind, however, that the rules of academic communication apply at all times. The reader should be able to understand the author step by step, so as to be able to control, criticise and further elaborate the research carried out. These qualitative aspects can be supported by a clear and uniform presentation of the text. These guidelines deal with the following issues: getting started, narrowing down of the subject and developing an outline, gathering material, footnotes and citations, bibliography. The guidelines have been prepared by SIM staff members. Comments and suggestions from students and lecturers are welcomed Getting started: choosing a subject When aspiring to write a paper of high quality, a subject must be chosen that, first and foremost, interests the writer, because that makes the writing much easier. Secondly, the subject should lend itself to authentic discussion and the development of an original underlying thesis. Thirdly, the topic should be part of your programme/ course. In choosing a subject the programmecoordinator (in regard with your thesis) or the lecturer (regarding a paper) should be consulted at an early stage. During the first meeting a draft outline with a preliminary list of literature should be submitted. Generally, there are two sorts of subjects: subjects on which there already is a vast amount of literature; this literature should then be systematically presented and analysed, so that the analysis can lead to a critical judgement; subjects on which not much has yet been written; students should gather the raw material and organise it in order to prepare an analysis. 3. Narrowing down the subject and developing an outline 3.1 Narrowing down a subject Narrowing down the subject to manageable proportions is absolutely crucial for writing a good paper within the time limits allotted. Many times students keep their subject too broad and lose themselves in summing up all kinds of details without getting to the key question or proposition that they originally wanted to discuss. 1 The original draft was prepared on the basis of contributions by P.R. Baehr, I. Boerefijn and S. Kossen. Comments and suggestions can be submitted to Ineke Boerefijn Much of this information has been taken from: Fajans and E, Falk, M: Scholarly writing for law students, West Group, Minnesota, (1995) and from: Oost,H en de Jong, J: Scripties en verslagen ontwerpen, 2e versie, IVLOS Universiteit Utrecht, (1997). 1

2 There are some techniques that can help in narrowing down the subject through systematic exploration. One is to use your imagination like a zoom lens, moving from a large focus on your subject to a micro level of great detail and specificity. Another technique is simply to ask several questions on the large topic, for example, by putting it as a definition, a comparison, what caused the subject to develop like it did etc. Among these questions an issue for further elaboration may be found Developing a problem definition Once the preliminary research has resulted in an interesting and significant subject which is within manageable proportions, the next step is to develop the underlying thesis. The problem definition must be included in the introduction and should define the area of research as narrowly as possible. This is a crucial stage, since the problem definition will be decisive on the contents of the paper, sections included must be relevant to the problem definition. It contains the central question of the research, which must be answered in the conclusion of the paper. There is much that can be written about how to go about this. In the following section a few examples are included. - One of the best ways to search for a thesis, is to be a critical reader. Critical reading is more than summarizing. It means that the reader truly understands more than the basics of what the author has put forward. The reader will have to ask questions, play the devil s advocate. The reader tries to read between the lines to understand what has been said and what has been left unsaid. - Once a topic has been decided upon and the first articles have been collected for reading, it is useful to keep a reading journal out of which eventually the underlying thesis of the paper can be distilled. Besides, making notes during the reading will ultimately be time-saving in writing the actual piece, because the notes will indicate the contents of the large piece of text. Detailed bibliographic notes should already be included at this stage. - The underlying thesis of the paper is basically a problem definition. Here follows a, nonexhaustive, list of possible types of problem questions: - Comparative problem definition: the subject is limited to one or more themes, which can be anything from aspects, properties or features of the subject as well as situations, categories, phases, etc. - Explanatory problem definition: cause and effect. Sources, underlying reasons or explanations or motives will be explained for the present day situation. - Predicting problem definition: What will happen in the future, outcome of a certain process etc. - Evaluating problem definition: positive and negative aspects of the subject with an eventual opinion about the matter. After posing the question, a provisory answer has to be given to it in order to start building the outline Building an outline A paper is composed of at least the following parts: title page, table of contents, introduction, presentation of material, conclusion, list of consulted literature. After having become 2

3 acquainted with the subject, drafting a systematic plan of work is encouraged. This plan will constitute the basis of the outline of the paper and must be discussed with the lecturer prior to starting writing. The outline has to be structured. Usually, an outline contains a description of the subject and a brief introduction into the specific subject matter. Then follows an explanation of the facts and the legal significance, both constituting the background of the paper. After that the main body of the arguments, the analysis is presented, followed by the conclusions and/or recommendations. An outline is generally not longer than 2 pages The introduction The introduction should contain the problem definition. Further, it should contain a description of the main part of the material in connection with the questions that will be answered, and the way in which the material will be dealt with. The introduction should be brief and to the point, but it should not be merely an adapted version of the table of contents. 4. Gathering material Literature can be gathered through the catalogues of the university libraries and specialised bibliographies, consulting lists of literature in a handbook and/or by using the so-called snowball-method. The latter implies starting with a (recent) specific book or article and then search by using the literature referred to in that work. To the extent possible it is necessary to consult the publications in their original language. Much useful information can be found on the Internet. Although it is allowed to use such information as a source in a similar way as printed material, downloading it and handing it in as your own work is considered to be fraud and will be punished severely: the paper will be graded with the mark 1, with no opportunity for a re-examination. When material can be found on the Internet as well as in print, reference to the so-called hard copy is preferred. 5. Footnotes and citations The footnotes and a list of consulted literature constitute an important part of the paper. 5.1 When must a footnote be included When an idea is not originally yours, and copied from another author, this must be acknowledged in a footnote. If this is not done, it amounts to plagiarism. Every single time another author is cited, or another author s work is used or another person s ideas are copied, a footnote has to follow. Footnotes follow a rigid pattern which should be adhered to at all times. The main point of footnotes is that the reader (and the supervisor of the paper!) must be able to retrieve the paragraph or phrase referred to. What follows are the main general guidelines for footnotes, which are far from complete. Many sources do not fall within these general guidelines, which should not be seen as problematic. The main rule is to be clear and consistent when referring to these kinds of sources. 3

4 5.2. Guidelines for footnotes Footnotes: number to be inserted after punctuation, so after a full stop, comma or quotation mark. Reference to books: - Author s last name, initials, Title of the book (which means in italics just as it is written here), publisher, place of publication, year of publication, pagenumber(s). 2 Books from more than one author: - Author s last name, initials, Title of the article, in: name of editors (eds.), title of the book, publisher, place of publication, year of publication, pagenumber(s). 3 Articles from a Journal: - Author s last name, initials, Title of the article, in: name of editors (eds.), title of the journal, volume of the journal, number of the journal, year, pagenumber(s). 4 Websites: include the hyperlink and add the date when the page was last visited. Idem: reference to the same Ibidem: reference to the same, but different page number(s) op. cit. (note..) : subsequent reference to a book: e.g. Author, op cit. (note 3), p. 1. Loc cit (note..) : subsequent reference to an article: e.g. Author, loc. cit. (note 87.), p When citing case law, names of cases are referred to in italics, e.g.: Lovelace vs Canada. Information on the (quasi-) judicial body, type of decision, date of decision, source of publication and paragraph or page numbers should be provided. Example: ECHR, Soering vs United Kingdom, Judgement of 7 July 1989, Series A, No. 161, para Guidelines for citations of larger pieces of text Quoting requires accuracy. To the extent possible, the quote should be reproduced in the original language. In case of a translation, it should be indicated who translated the citation. The entire citation should be between quotation marks ( ), and should contain the punctuation marks as included in the original text. If there are citations within citations, use apostrophe ( ). When leaving out words from the original text, include ( ) NB: quotations are only necessary if rendering a text in your own words would result in losing something essential, such as a subjective formulation. Limit the quotation to the part that is absolutely necessary to comprehend the context and that is essential for the reasoning of the argument. Generally, paraphrasing a text in one s own words enhances the readability of a text if compared to quoting. Of course, it is required to indicate whether one gives one s own opinion or someone else s opinion. Formulating an opinion should be clearly distinguished from reproducing facts and other persons opinions and should be supported by arguments. - When borrowing seven consecutive words or more, use quotation marks; of course, where the wording is distinctive, it is appropriate to use quotation marks for fewer than seven words Goodwin-Gill, G., The Refugee in International Law, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2 nd ed., 1996, p. 4. Burrows, N., International law and Human Rights: A Case of Women s Rights, in: Campbell, T., et al. (eds.), Human Rights: From Rhetoric to Reality, Blackwell, New York, 1986, pp Mugwanya, G.M., Augmenting the Struggle for Gender Equality in Uganda: A Case for the Domestication of International Human Rights Standards, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2001, pp

5 - Put borrowed language in quotation marks when the quotation contains fewer than 50 words, however, use block quotes- that is indented and single-spaced quotations- when your use more than 50 words. When you indented and single-spaced quotations, do not use quotation marks List of consulted literature At the end of paper, a complete list of consulted literature must be included. Indicate all books, books with more than one author, articles, cases, and webpages etc. in the bibliography in exactly the same way as has been done in the footnotes. An academic paper is not complete without a bibliography. 6. Final remarks Plan carefully. Make sure that you finish the paper a few days prior to the deadline, and reread it prior to submission. If possible, ask someone else to read it. Make clear appointments with your supervisor about the submission and the discussion, take into account that a supervisor needs time to read. Timely discuss the size of the paper with the supervisor. Writing properly and presenting a neat version constitute important aspects of a good paper. Use the Law Library for your research as they have the largest collection of literature in the Netherlands and have a lot of digital memberships to important networks. The first time, it is good to make an appointment with one of the employees to help you with the computersystem and finding literature! Good luck! 5

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