Thursday, 24 May 2012

Using the research

Last week I talked about doing research for my thesis and what that meant. Obviously, the next step is putting that research to good use. Like doing the research, there are a couple of ways to present your findings that are pretty distinct. Here I focus on presenting the findings of research on relevant literature.

The first type is the most factual. You have found out some information, and you present it ordered by source. I did this with my bachelor thesis, talking about the desirability of minimum punishments[1]. I had collected articles of several prominent lawyers, summarized their opinions and arguments on the matter and presented them per writer. I called the chapter ‘views on authors on minimum punishments’ and started 9 out 10 paragraphs with the name of an author. Knigge wrote in 2000 about X. Duker agrees with Knigge on X1, but differs when it comes to X2.

The problem of course is that it reads very much as a summary and is not very useful for actual results. A better method is to use all the arguments and make your own framework. That is, use the substance of the views of the authors, without going into detail who said what. It is what I am trying to do as much as possible in my master thesis. It requires a lot of originality, which also means it is highly error-prone. Also, to make everything fit, it is very possible you will have to disregard some views. This happens mostly when different models have fundamental differences in their starting points.

This happens a lot in criminal law when it comes to the goals of punishments and penal law. Going back to minimum punishments, its desirability depends a lot on what you believe are the primary goals of punishment. When retribution is your mail goal, extra punishments are fully justified. When you actually care about the welfare of society and the criminal as a human being, more flexibility is desired.

A completely different alternative to present the findings is to simply look at one author and thoroughly explain their views, before applying it to another problem. I did this with a paper I wrote for Comparative Legal Cultures[2]. In it I used the model of Hofstede, who has tried to scientifically index facets of national cultures, to chart the acceptance of Same-sex marriage in Europe. The description of the model was far more in-depth than it would have been with the first method of presenting research, without all the risks of overlooking certain aspects that the second method has.

 Obviously, this all is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it is at least a nice introduction. Now, I am off to stop procrastinating and work on my master thesis… after I finish walking the dog.

[1] Minimum punishments: under certain conditions, a judge is required to give the guilty suspect a minimum amount of punishment; my thesis was about a minimum amount of prison time for repeat offenders.
[2] I have been meaning to put this paper online, but it has  delayed due to the complexity of the format.

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