How to Write a Dissertation in Criminal Law: Easy Guide

Writing guide
Posted on September 3, 2019

Writing a dissertation can be a daunting task for any student, especially those who study criminal law. When writing a dissertation in criminal law, you need to meticulously examine all facts which you found during your research before you can frame any research questions. The process is rather time-consuming and you need to have the perfect knowledge of legal terms in order to appropriately use them in the text of your criminal law dissertation.

But the main problem is that no dissertation can be written in a couple of weeks because it requires plenty of time for formulating a research question, doing research, planning your draft, writing, and revising. You need to stay organized while you are working on this complex project so you need guidance on how to do it right. To help you get started, we created a step-by-step guide on how to write a dissertation in criminal law which covers all essential aspects of the writing process. And if you need help with any other college project, we offer you full guides to all writing assignments out there.

What Is a Dissertation in Criminal Law?

As a student, you have written a variety of papers but the dissertation in criminal law is a completely new experience because this project is much larger and more independent than your previous academic work. Many scholars compare writing a dissertation to writing a book because it is a self-directed process. No one tells you what to do, you do it on your own and the writing process is much longer than when you are working on other coursework assignments. It’s a stressful but at the same time, rewarding experience because you will build valuable research and writing skills that you will use throughout your career.

Dissertation in criminal law is a long project of 100 to 200 pages so you should start working on it as early as possible. And the first important step is choosing a good topic. Let’s discuss this step in detail.

Choosing a Topic for a Dissertation in Criminal Law

It’s important to choose your dissertation topic wisely because it’s a large project that accounts for a major part of your degree. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pick a topic that interests you. You will work on your dissertation for many weeks. It will be easier for you to stay motivated if you like what you do. Or you may choose a topic which will be related to your future career.
  • Try to find something unique. It’s not easy to find really original topic but you can try to look at a popular research topic from another angle.
  • Be objective with your research topic. Analyze the idea you like from the outsider’s perspective and try to understand the scope of your topic.
  • Don’t choose too broad topic. If your idea is too broad, you won’t be able to explore it in a given word count and come to convincing conclusions.
  • Don’t pick a topic if it’s too narrow. You won’t be able to expand your argument and meet requirement for a certain word count.

Still not sure how to come up with a good topic for a dissertation in criminal law? Here are some interesting ideas for your inspiration:

  • Causes of College Violence;
  • Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony in Court;
  • Scope of Capital Punishment in Law;
  • Criminal Insanity and Mental Health;
  • Domestic Abuse Legislation;
  • The #MeToo Movement vs the Presumption of Innocence;
  • Murder of Dee Dee Blanchard;
  • Anti-abortion Legislation in US;
  • Gun Control Debate;
  • Illegal Drug Trade in Colombia;
  • Harvey Weinstein Sexual Abuse Allegations;
  • Prostitution and Human Trafficking in India;
  • False Confessions and Wrongfully Convicted;
  • Cybercrimes and National Security;
  • Anti-terrorism Legislation.

Writing a Research Proposal for Your Dissertation in Criminal Law

After you choose and topic and narrow it down, it’s time to start a formal research. That’s why you need a research proposal. The purpose of writing a research proposal is to show that you have an expertise to conduct your proposed area of research. It’s an important document that gives a concise and logical summary of your proposed research and demonstrates its originality. Your research proposal should be about 2,500 – 3,500 words in length and include the following basic parts:

  • Title should include the key question of your proposed research;
  • Background: issues of the research you propose, review of existing literature, brief summary of key debates in the field;
  • Research question – explain what issues you want to explore and why they are important;
  • Methodology section should explain your choice of specific methods for doing research;
  • Plan of work – outline stages of your research with corresponding time lines;
  • Bibliography – you need to include a list of articles that you discuss in your proposal and a list of resources that are appropriate for your research.

Keep in mind that before you start doing a research, you need to formulate your research questions that have not been answered in the previous research. For example, if the topic of your dissertation in criminal law is sentencing trends in environmental crimes, your research question may look like this one:

‘What are criminal sentence variations for environmental crimes according to data from EPA Criminal Online databases?’

How to Structure a Dissertation in Criminal Law

There are specific conventions that determine the general structure of a dissertation in each discipline. A typical dissertation may consist of the following essential parts:

  • Abstract gives a summary of your dissertation findings;
  • Introduction sets the context of your criminal law dissertation and explains what issues you are going to investigate and why;
  • Literature review provides theoretical foundation for your approach, establishes gaps in existing research, and connects your research question with the gaps;
  • Methodology section tells about methods that you will use for gathering data;
  • Findings show the data you have gathered during the investigation;
  • Discussion interprets and analyzes the collected data;
  • Conclusion answers the question “so what?” and tell about the significance of your investigation.

Steps in Writing a Draft of Your Dissertation in Criminal Law

After your topic has been approved by the committee, you need to start working on your project. First you should start doing research and collecting data and document your findings as you proceed. When the research stage is over, the writing process begins. It can be divided into several steps and each step requires considerable work so the key factor to succeed is time management. You should write chapter after chapter and submit them to your mentor for approval. Let’s discuss the content of different chapters in detail.


This is the first chapter so it has to provide background information for your research, describe the research problem, and provides reasoning behind it. You should speak about the significance of the problem, include theoretical definitions of important terms, identify research questions and hypothesis, and speak about the limitations of your study. The chapter may be about 600-700 words in length although for some topics, the introduction can be longer

Literature review

Literature review sets the context of your study. Your task is to describe the current state of research in your field area, and determine an existing gap where you think further research may solve the existing problems. You should also explain how you are going to address the existing gap. This can help in formulating problems or/and research questions you will be exploring in your criminal law dissertation. You can present your literature review in the form of classification, critical analysis or comparison. This chapter should justify the purpose of your research and your research question. The length of this chapter may be 3,000-4,000 words.


First, state the objectives of your research. Then you need to introduce the methods you have chosen for doing research and tell about the philosophy behind each method. Every time you choose a new method or technique, you need to explain why you made this choice and why you rejected other methods. The length of this chapter should be about 1,000-2,000 words. In the sections of this chapter, you may write about participants, materials, procedure, and analysis. You should also provide a general description of research design in accepted terminology.


The chapter presents results of your research and analyses. Keep in mind that you should present the results without interpretation because you will interpret them in the next chapter. You should present data as answers to research questions and hypothesis and organize the material into table and figures. Don’t forget to reference all your tables and figures in the text.


Now it’s time to interpret results in the light of research questions and discuss how they relate to the existing literature. It would be a mistake to analyze data that are interesting in a general way but are not linked to original hypothesis and research questions. You can include that data into an appendix. You need to apply your analytical and critical thinking skills and highlight where your data differ from the literature or is similar to it.


Use the evidence from your dissertation to form conclusions but don’t use any new material. Make sure that all the claims you make here are supported by evidence that you presented in the previous chapters. This chapter should also include suggestions for further research but you should also speak about limitations.


Write an abstract of about 250-300 words to give a brief summary of your findings. This section allows people to learn about your research without reading the full paper. You need to include information about your research objectives, methods you used, your key findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

Revise, Edit, and Proofread Your Dissertation in Criminal Law

When you finish your dissertation in criminal law, you need to put it aside for a couple of days and then revise it and improve the content and logic by adding or deleting some material or making changes. Editing and proofreading are often neglected but in fact, good writing is actually the results of good editing so you should devote substantial amount of time to ensure that your project is clear, concise, and error-free. First, you read your dissertation aloud and should focus on a big picture to improve logic, flow, and sentence structure, eliminate wordiness and inappropriately elevated language, and make sure you use precise words (use thesaurus and a good dictionary for that).

After that, you can start fixing grammar and words in separate sentences. You should look for confused or misused words, typos and misspelling, minor grammar mistakes. Finally, you should your formatting for consistent use of the same citation style.

Useful Tips for Writing Consistently

Now you know what to do and have created a schedule but when you sit down to write, you can’t write a single word. Here are some tips on what you should do when you don’t feel like writing.

  • Create a list of little things you need to do for a specific section of your criminal law dissertation. When you feel that you don’t want to work on your arguments during the scheduled time, you can do something from that list.
  • Freewrite about how tired you are of your project. Expressing your emotions will help you overcome the writers’ block and find some creative solution.
  • Work on your acknowledgements section. Think about all people who helped you and you may feel more inclined to work on your project.

It’s the independence of work that makes a dissertation in criminal law a daunting and stressful project but you are sure to cope with it if you follow our guidelines. Know that you are contributing new knowledge to the field of criminal law and that will help you stay motivated.

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