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The law dissertation

The law dissertation is the final element of our Master of Laws (LLM). It is designed to support you in developing and completing a research project based on a topic drawn from your study of the individual LLM modules. You'll learn about the complexities of research, how to conduct a literature review, the range of research methods that exist, how to develop research questions and how to evaluate any ethical implications arising from your research plans. The module also covers the writing up process including structuring your dissertation. Throughout you'll consider sources of information and how information is critically analysed and evaluated to draw valid conclusions.

Vocational relevance

There is growing professional and commercial demand for highly qualified graduates who have a range of transferable skills. In particular skills gained from postgraduate legal study are highly valued for their relevance and application. This module is particularly useful preparation for environments in which research and the ability to develop persuasive arguments form a significant part of the work, and for any profession that requires skilled graduates who have a demonstrable ability in developing and managing an independent research project.

Universities are keen to admit doctoral research students who have completed most of their research training, finding them better prepared to begin and better able to complete their theses in the required time. This module provides some of that training in research methods and skills.


W800 is a compulsory module in our

  • Master of Laws (F64)
This qualification is no longer available to new students.

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

The module builds on the work undertaken in your previous LLM modules and equips you to undertake a significant piece of independent legal research. You'll learn how to:

  • conduct a literature review
  • select the appropriate research methods
  • define a clear purpose for your research
  • plan, organise, manage and carry out an extended independent research project
  • develop skills in the written communication of research suitable for masters level
  • write clearly and imaginatively, and with a sense of authority
  • create a persuasive argument drawing on analysis of a range of primary and secondary sources
  • consider any ethical implications of the research and how to manage these
  • use an appropriate referencing system with consistency and accuracy.

The module materials are specifically designed to support you in six key areas: developing your research proposal, undertaking your literature review, choosing an appropriate research methodology, undertaking and analysing your research to form your own conclusions and the process of writing up your research.

Your choice of research topic will depend on your interests. The only stipulation regarding the research topic for your dissertation is that it must be related to an LLM law module you have studied at the OU and be linked to one (or more) of the themes of the LLM (international, comparative, regulation, human rights). Your tutor will help you to decide what is feasible.

The work you produce for your dissertation is not expected to be entirely original (originality is a requirement for a PhD), however your studies will require you to undertake a survey of the relevant existing literature and to be up to date as far as possible with recent literature, commentary and developments in your chosen research topic. You are expected to make effective use of OU library legal databases and other appropriate resources as you plan and conduct your research. Your work should include use of both primary and secondary sources of law.

A tutor will support you throughout your studies. They will provide advice on the appropriateness of your research plans, choice of methodology, literature review and support you through the writing up process. Your tutor's comments on your written work will be a key part of your teaching for the module, as well as a way of monitoring your progress.

During the module you'll produce four pieces of written work before submitting the dissertation itself. The first will be a draft of your research proposal on which you will receive feedback from your tutor. The second will enable you to explore different research methods. The third will be your final research proposal which must be approved by the W800 Board. The fourth piece of work will be a draft chapter of your dissertation. The fifth and final piece of work is the dissertation itself which will be marked by two tutors. Their recommendations will help to determine the result awarded by the Examination and Assessment Board.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor, who you can contact by email or telephone, who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on three of the five pieces of assessed work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Your tutor will also run online tutorials, that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to take part in.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

The four tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) are designed to be assessments points that will lead you through the process of research design, understanding of common research methodology and design of a research proposal leading to independent research and a final dissertation. You will be expected to submit your TMAs online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. The TMAs are scheduled at regular intervals. 

Course work includes

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

The law dissertation starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in November 2022.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    As the final element in the LLM you must have already completed 120 credits towards this qualification in order to register on W800 (or alternatively to have completed 90 credits and be awaiting the results from the fourth and final 30-credit module).

    The module is taught in English, and your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you seek assessment under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see their website for details.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    07 Nov 2020 Oct 2021 -

    Registration now closed

    This module is expected to start for the last time in November 2022.

    Future availability

    The law dissertation starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in November 2022.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    You will have access to a dedicated module website which includes:

    • online university library access (including access to legal databases)
    • specially written study materials designed exclusively for this module
    • an assignment section
    • audio material
    • access to Law Postgraduate Home (which contains a range of study resources and advice)
    • online tutorial access
    • access to online forums
    The website also includes a study planner, the module guide, assessment guide and assessment questions. 

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.