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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 will learn how to identify a research topic, about the complexities of research, how to conduct a literature review and how to develop research questions. The module will consider the uses and applications of information and data, research methods, deductive and inductive research, how to analyse information to draw valid conclusions and how to write up a research proposal.

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. The module is particularly useful preparation for environments in which research is a significant part of the work, and for any profession that requires numerate and skilled researchers who have experience of a wide range of methods.

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 for advanced students.


W800 is a compulsory module in our

Postgraduate Loans 

If you study this module as part of an eligible qualification, you may be eligible for a Postgraduate Loan. For more information, see Fees and funding.

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 consolidates your research skills. It equips you to undertake a significant piece of independent legal research. You will learn how to:

  • develop your knowledge of recent research in your chosen research topic
  • become competent in research methods appropriate to your research topic
  • develop the capacity to plan, organise, manage and carry out an extended independent study at masters level
  • develop skills in the written communication of research work at masters level
  • define a clear purpose for your research; an interesting or novel set of questions to guide it; an appropriate set of methods; and justification for the choice of research topic, questions and methods
  • be confident about the process of managing, drafting and redrafting large amounts of material and editing long documents
  • pace your workload and activities over a lengthy period, keep to a schedule and be flexible enough to make alterations to it when problems occur
  • construct and sustain a clear and persuasive argument through a long document without resorting to long descriptions that are not embedded in the structure of the argument
  • write and understand the purpose of an introduction, a conclusion and an abstract for a law dissertation
  • write clearly and imaginatively, and with a sense of authority
  • use an appropriate referencing system with consistency and accuracy.

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

Your research topic will depend on your research interests. The only stipulation regarding the research topic for your dissertation is that it must be related to an LLM law subject 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.

Throughout your studies you will be expected to make effective use of both primary and secondary sources, to understand, select and critically assess research methods, to make effective use of library and other resources, to construct sophisticated arguments in extended pieces of prose, to use resources efficiently and discriminately and to gain detailed knowledge of a specialist legal topic through your own independent research.

While the work you produce for your dissertation will not be expected to be entirely original (originality of that kind is a requirement for a PhD), you will be required 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.

A tutor will be appointed to support you throughout your studies and will provide advice on the appropriateness of your research plan for LLM level work. Additional specialist support will also be available through specialist forums. 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 will 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 section 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.

The module will enable you to use the skills you have developed during your postgraduate studies and deepen and diversify your knowledge and understanding of a specialist area. You will be expected to confront the uncertainties associated with project planning and decision-making as part of your work towards your dissertation. Your dissertation will need to be well written and must show that you are confident in creating the scholarly apparatus necessary to support your argument.

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

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

Future availability

The law dissertation starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2018. 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 Fee Register
    02 Nov 2019 Oct 2020 Not yet available

    Registration opens on 20/03/19

    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 2018. 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 a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    Ways to pay

    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. To find out more see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    As well as individual support from a tutor you will have university library access (including access to legal databases), specially-written study materials designed exclusively for this module (a mix of online and print items), audio-visual material and access to a dedicated W800 website. You will also have access to the LLM Qualification website.

    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:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

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

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    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.