Department of Political Science


Normative Methods, Legal Analysis and Research Skills

Course Code


Course Tutor

Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia (Department of Political Science)


One 3,000 word paper

Credit Value


About this course

This module introduces students to the key skills in reading legal materials and texts containing normative arguments, and develops their use of methods and techniques in developing and testing arguments, both legal and normative. 

It is designed to complement students’ study of human rights ethics and human rights law on other modules. The first part of the course covers how normative arguments/critiques/positions can be analysed by using clear methodological procedures. The main methods in constructing and evaluating ethical arguments are worked through using human rights examples. 

These include: intuitionism, reflective equilibrium, and interpretivism. The second part of the course covers legal arguments and interpretation with special reference to human rights law. Students are shown how to analyse human rights legal materials such as legislation and case law, and how to use these as evidence of law in legal arguments and legal essays. 

The module addresses how legal sources should be interpreted, using the main methodological approaches in legal analysis, including: plain text meaning, author intention, historical and judicial authority, and value-based purposeful interpretation. Both parts of the module use real human rights examples and cases that students are invited to analyse from moral and legal perspectives using the methods that have been covered.

In addition to this, students are introduced to Masters' level essay writing (argument construction) skills, and these are connected with the appropriate methods for different types of essay (normative; legal; empirical). Students will also develop key research skills and scholarly skills for Masters level work: essay writing format; structure and style; research sources for law; literature review writing; research proposal writing and research report writing for human rights organisations. 

This highlights skills students should use in developing a methodology for their dissertation work, and in carrying out original research and dissertation preparation, and beyond that in any research organisation in the field. We also cover a real research case and how student would go about preparing a research report as part of a project for an organisation using these research skills.

By the end of this course students will:

  • understand the difference between normative methods and non-normative/descriptive methods;
  • be aware of the main approaches to moral analysis and legal analysis, and the difference between them;
  • be able to analyse normative arguments in terms of their key methodological commitments;
  • know how to develop and test arguments using clear normative methodologies and techniques;
  • know how to find, engage, and interpret legal sources;
  • be able to analyse and evaluate legal arguments and their relationship to legal sources;
  • know how to evaluate legal arguments in terms of interpretative commitments/theories of interpretation;
  • be able to write clear essays making conscious essay structure choices;
  • know what is expected from different essay grades for modules on the MA;
  • know what the key components of a dissertation are for this MA;
  • be able to write a clear dissertation proposal with clear components, including a methodological statement;
  • know how to write a clear literature review, as opposed to literature report or literature survey, using thematic and conceptual structuring.

* Please note that this course is only available to MA HR students.