Ep. 04 – Writing a Research Paper with Adv. Anshuman Sahoo
Mr. Anshuman Sahoo is an advocate from Odisha High Court, Cuttack. He has several publications and book chapters to his name from several noted publishers including the likes of IIT Roorkee. He also has served as the editorial board member of few journals including the Journal of Sports Law, Policy and Governance by NLU Assam, BELRG etc.
In this episode, he explains very lucidly what research means and also shares many tips on writing, for young lawyers and law students.
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Prasanna: Hey budding lawyers welcome to the podcast. Today we have Mr Anshuman Sahu who is an advocate from Odisha High Court, Kathak and he has several publications and book chapters to his name from several noticed publishers including the likes of IIT Roorkee. He has also served as an editorial board member of few journals, including the journals ‘Sports Law Policy and Governance’ by NLU Assam. He also is the founding director of an NGO named ‘Law Matters Centre’ for research education and social action which acts as an active resource think tank, focusing on the rural parts of Western Odisha. So as we all know now that Anshuman has a good experience in legal researching. So today we will be talking about tips and answering all those questions, all those how-to’s regarding legal research. Let’s start from the basics. What is research and what is a research paper? I mean one can guess it right, in a literal sense but I’m sure you have some more valuable definitions to add here.
Anshuman: Thanks Prasanna, for the wonderful introduction. So let’s start with research before focusing on the research paper. I think we should get a clear idea of what is research. [INAUDIBLE] the literal meaning that people assign to research, many of the research methodology books, they start with this definition, that research simply means ‘re’ and ‘search’, to search again. But I think first, it is doing justice the concept of research. I think its a very reductive definition. Secondly, I think it is very ambiguous [INAUDIBLE]. Like search again? What do we search? What do we search again? It doesn’t tell us anything. So I think we can try to understand research in a better way. So it’s a [INAUDIBLE] to answer 2 questions. What type of questions? It can be any type of questions. Research can be understood as the process of finding answers to a question in a scientific manner, following a scientific process. So what do I mean when I keep saying scientific process, scientific manner. What do I mean by this? What does the scientific process mean at all? I mean a positive answer, not a negative one. It should be an answer that is not merely an opinion of the researcher but an attempt to discern the truth. It’s a quest for the truth. It should be a commitment to neutral, rational and unbiased thinking, an investigation. The researcher always promises the audience to come up with the high standards of rigour when analysing an answer for a question. So how does one do that? That is the question. In fact, it is not as complicated as it may seem. The whole process is quite defined.
Prasanna: This is a very comprehensive definition I have heard from someone, regarding research. I doubt people who are researching, like maybe those who are professional researchers as in working as researchers in many fields, even they’ll define it in a way that you have defined. But in general people like us who are researching for maybe for a moot court competition or for some other paper or something else like a class assignment. When they are asked the definition of research, one will not be able to define in a such a way. It is just like finding facts, finding resources, arranging your facts, that’s it.
Anshuman: Actually that’s interesting because the way that… actually the main teachers think that students do not need to know the whole answer. So they do not tell them this definition, they don’t explain research in this way. So I think that’s a terrible crime because… see let’s take a different example. Let’s say you are explaining IPC to someone. or explaining what is criminal law. So the definition of crime will be the same for Ram Jaitmalani and even me. Well the levels of understanding may be different, the levels of application may be different but crime is the same for him and the same for me and same for everyone else. So I think research should be always be explained and understood in a very comprehensive manner. And in fact, there are specific applications, like for moot courts, there is a different type of research. Legal research, that’s sort of different. Academic research, that’s a bit different. But the basic foundation is the same for everything. It’s a pretty defined process. It starts with asking a question and after asking a question of what the researcher, he is expected to get some background knowledge bout the question. So we read things related to this so we can go to any other sources to get some background knowledge about the question. After we get some background knowledge which will review literature, to get an idea where the people basically scholars. So whether scholars have ever told anything about this question ever before. So in simple words, the literature review is all about finding out whether people have asked this question before us or before me. So we can go through their answer and we can go through and determine whether this question has been asked before and if this question has been already asked then there is no point of wasting our time. But in fact most of the time it turns out that your question has the potential to be a new question. Because let’s say what’s the law relating to crime, many people have asked that. What is the law relating to certain crime like theft? So many people have asked that. So chances of very high that many people have asked that in a very different context. So context may vary. The situations may vary. sugar is a high chance of the question you are asking that it has some sort of uniqueness. Now after doing literature review we do a gap analysis to discover what is the uniqueness of our question? What is the part of a question that has never been answered ever before in the history of law in the history of knowledge?
So now our motivation. Aur motive becomes to discover the answer to that part of the question, that unique part that has never been asked before. So to find out the answer to that part we must collect data, the data that will support us in answering the question. Then we analyse the data and reach the conclusion. So this is the whole scientific process. Asking a question, doing a literature review to know if a question has ever been asked before. And if it has been asked then whether it was different or the exact same question.
Prasanna: What was the context?
Anshuman: Yes and if that question was asked in a different context then how it was different. What is the uniqueness what is the Novelty in my question? That’s the second step. The third step is selecting data to find answers. The fourth step is analysing the data i have collected and the last step is reaching to a conclusion. So this is a scientific process. Now, what is a research paper? Now that we have understood what is a research paper, it becomes very simple. a research paper is nothing but simply a report and all these things.
Prasanna: To put it simply. Whatever you said about research the whole 5 to 6 steps, putting that thing in a document well-formatted.
Anshuman: Actually talking about the format. The format may differ from journal to journal. Some journals may want you to include a literature review. Some may not want you to so that differs journal to journal. But the main research is the thing.
Let’s start with the legal example. Let’s say the question we have in our hands is what is the law relating to the requirement of originality in corporate law in India. so how original my work needs to be in order for it to be protected like corporate law. So how do we go on with the scientific process? Soin the research context is called a research question. First, we need to background research. Background research I must specify its research question and literature review, they both are mentioned in a research paper background research part is not mentioned in the research paper research report nothing. the sole purpose of background research is to gain knowledge get an idea of what things are. So we need to do background research on what is original…
Why copyright should be original. There is a very specific definition of what is literature. we cannot pick up any article and say it is literature. This literature in simple terms may include legal journals judgements law commission report and then we will go on to collect data. So when we say legal data it doesn’t mean lab data. Illegal research data simply means case law and judgements. Statutes judgements these things.
Prasanna: Sometimes it may also include numbers right? For example data from the [INAUDIBLE] website.
Anshuman: Exactly that is empirical legal research. That’s a whole new emerging field of legal research and it’s quite interesting. So what I was trying to point out is that in law we don’t need to think…. many people get confused what is data in law. Because numbers come very rarely. We don’t have much numbers in law. So most of us took up law as career choice because you are weak in mathematics We don’t see numbers and get all confused. We don’t see any numbers or what is the data. Here I just want to clear this up data doesn’t mean numbers it can also be case laws, can also be judgements. So data can be anything. Then we analyse the data and come up with conclusion. That this is a requirement for [INAUDIBLE]. I think that example was..
Prasanna: So you touched the second point regarding literature and then the third, fourth, fifth and sixth points.. can you just quickly go through?
Anshuman: Okay. Actually see, first point is coming up with the research question. Many people actually what they do, they say I’ll be writing a research paper and they start directly in front of a laptop opening a word document. So that doesn’t work. First you have to come up with the question. Inquisitiveness that’s the beginning of research. Then the next apps are all about answering that question. The first step is research question second step is literature review third step is data collection and then data analysis. It’s simple. In fact if you see whenever we have a question be it research or not, we exactly follow these steps.But we just don’t know that we are following these steps. Whenever we google something in fact we follow these steps exactly. But what scientific research does is, it sort of makes these steps obligatory. So you note these steps formally. So it’s nothing new. [INAUDIBLE].
Pasanna: Yeah, the point is because when we do any random research, we don’t go in the sequence. We might go from the fifth step to the first step. So this is a sequence which is very good to get the research done fast and get quality research.
Anshuman: Yes quality, it’s mainly quality.
Prasanna: Now can you tell us any types of research papers. like there’s scientific research paper now and something called legal research paper. But are there any further divisions in legal research paper also.
Anshuman: First the very foundational answer actually my teacher who taught me research methodology so he had the strong belief that he was saying all this people categorising research saying doctrinal research, non doctrinal research legal research empirical research biological research scientific…He says he strongly believed this was all meaningless useless. He said research is simply the quest for truth. And you should view it as such. In fact we often [INAUDIBLE]. I am into interdisciplinary research. So whenever I have to interact with people from other places like computer science or say chemical engineering. Whenever I have to interact with them and they don’t understand legal research and they says research means scientists in white robes they’re working on something in the labs. Research means that image process are on their mind.So what you do in legal research in fact they go to the extent of asking do you have a PhD in law. The thing is there are various types of research. But there are different steps in the research methodology. But there is some commonality across types of research. So let’s start with the types of research. One type of research which is frequently encountered in legal research is doctrinal research. What is doctrinal research? Actually many law teachers, the gave the students the idea the research that you do sitting in the libraries that is doctrinal research. I think that doesn’t clarify a lot of things. Like why shouldn’t we just call it library research. Why doctrinal research? And if you are doing it simply sitting in a library then why is it not called literature review only.
Prasanna: Yeah. Because what I understand is like anyone if we take the literal meaning, doctrinal research may mean that students who are pursuing PhD or who have completed their PhD and the research done by them is called doctrinal research. Because they have been given title of doctrate and all. So even that can be an assumption from layman who does not know meaning exactly.
Anshuman: In fact many people in the legal profession so I go to conference seminars so many people don’t know the difference between doctrinal research and non doctrinal research. And what we exactly mean when we say a doctrinal research? So a historical footnote may be helpful in understanding what is dotrinal research actually. So in fact see many around 200, 300 years back when British ruled us. We can see in the mid 1850 we did not have any codified law but we had a legal system so British judges they used to roam around the country in the provincial courts and they used to set up a temporary court room and they used to hear the problem, grievances of the local people and they used to pass judgement. Let’s say someone a judge starts from Delhi then goes to Gujarat then takes a whole tour of India and maybe passes 100 or 200 judgements and then he gets back to Delhi. Why doctrinal research because after getting back to England they all sat together in a sort of meeting and the note down all the judgements they have passed. What were the facts and what was the judgement. This ensure that they will be passing similar and consistent judgements in the future so what they did passed a judgement without paying heed to any of the laws. They pass judgements. And out of those judgements, like wearing a thread of garlands out of those judgements they picked out consistent points of law and they made a provision for law.
Prasanna: Now it’s completely opposite right?
Anshuman: But the name lingers on because we derive doctrines from judgements, it is called doctrinal research. And in fact when we say law nowadays most of the work is that only. Because when we say what is a contract the contract act defines any agreement enforceable by law is a contract. It is a single line single sentence but when we get to some more nuances of very complicated situations then we have to derive many doctrines from case law. We have to look at how the case was decided before the courts and from the way the courts reacted to the cases we have to draw a doctrine. Because we are deriving the doctrine from various judgements it is called doctrinal research. Actually many people do not understand this and there assign various meanings to doctoral research. It’s like the differentiation between [INAUDIBLE]. So everyone knows there is something but nobody knows exactly.
Prasanna: So what is non-doctrinal research then?
Anshuman: Ok so non doctrinal research actually it is about top to bottom and bottom to top. If you are familiar with concept of deduction and induction actually it is simple. Deduction simply means you have general principal and then you are applying those general principles to specific cases and then you are determining what should be the application and induction is you are speaking about specific cases[INAUDIBLE]. And from those specific cases [INAUDIBLE]. So if you want to draw a parallel analogy I think the case or you have to apply to various situations that would be sort of a deduction method. In the doctrinal method that will be sort of an induction method.
Non doctrinal research simply means when we don’t derive the doctrines from the cases but when we apply the doctrines we have we already have codified doctrines we apply to cases.
Prasanna: Ok got it. One first needs to understand what is doctrinal research. Non doctrinal research is just the opposite of it. We have the codified law, we have the doctrines and we use it for the research. Instead of picking it up from the already established judgements right?
Anshuman: In fact talking about my personal opinion I don’t believe in knowing the difference between doctrinal and non doctrinal research. I think people should know it because the word doctrinal research is used very often in the legal faternity. But I don’t think there is any relevance to legal research. I think the relevant categorisation the people should know that students should actually know is empirical research and non emperical research.So when we say empirical research, legal research it is mostly doctrinal right? We go through what are the codified provisions. We look at what the courts have said and then we make a conclusion based on that. I think there is another kind of research empirical research that people should know and familiarise themselves with because it’s important. Empirical research can be in two ways. 1 is purely empirical legal research another is interdisciplinary research. So when I say empirical legal research an example will be better. Let’s say I am analysing or being treated what is the secularism what is the perception of court towards secularism in the last 5 years right. So what I am I do instead of going through all the judgements and reading between the lines, I may simply set up an artificial intelligence software count and count the number of times the word Dharma has been used in all the judgement in the last 5 years.And by counting the number of times a specific word or specific phrase has been used we can then infer that maybe. Now let’s say Dharma has been used very frequently in the recent judgement. And lets say in the not more recent judgements in the ancient judgements the judgements that date back to more than 10 years let’s say the word Dharma was not used but religion was used.So now the court the judgements are using the word Dharma and religion that points towards a trend that now we are recognising a sort of [INAUDIBLE]. We are recognising that religion is not the same as Dharma. So we are sort of indianizing or localising the concept of secularism. It may not be also I am just giving you an example how empirical legal research could work. This is purely legal but this is using the empirical means. Another I said interdisciplinary so in this research we use in size from other [INAUDIBLE] like insights from Economics, [INAUDIBE], insights from psychology or computer sciences.So we use insights from various disciplines to answer legal questions. Taking the example of such research will be it’s very popular research topic nowadays. What should be the legal personality of artificial intelligence. Should the works created by AI receive same protection as works created by humans. What should be the protectivity of whats created by artificial intelligence. These are the questions.
Prasanna: So here you may be referring to insights from technology space and behavioural sciences and psychology.
Anshuman: See there is no hard and fast rule as to which disciplines you want to bring you’re insights from right.
Prasanna: In this particular case these 3 are more relevant I guess.
Anshuman: Yeah. In this particular case maybe there are sciences with that… see if you can make it relevant then it will be relevant.
Prasanna: Yeah but more of psychology is relevant than the other sciences
Anshuman: So it will be more of jurisprudence and political philosophy. One thing that law students often miss out on is political philosophy. In fact, much of the law is shaped by political philosophy and economy. So it is a terrible blunder that mos law students make is miss out on political philosophy and economics. So i think every legal research should be informed by by insights from political research, political philosophy and economics. See whenever you talk of concepts of philosophy like state what is a state, what is rights what is duties why should people obey state. So in evidently you are bringing some element of political philosophy.Whenever you say policy, public policy or whenever you say state should do that instead of this. State should focus more on education rather than [INAUDIBLE]. So whenever you are forcing the state to choose between two iternities we are bringing insights from economics. So I think those two things law students should always keep in mind.
Prasanna: So let’s move on to our next question. What does plagiarism mean and tips to avoid it?
Anshuman: See this question I often… Maybe it’s just my opinion it’s not researched answer so it’s just an opinion. Simply clearing the air around plagiarism. So plagiarism simply means you are copying someone you are stealing someone’s idea you are mentioning some idea that is not your own but you are not sitting the source. So you are sort of using someone else’s idea without giving them due credit. So in one way you are [INAUDIBLE] the moral right because someone creates something or comes up with an idea they have a moral right. It;s only moral that we give them due credit for what they have done. So you are sort of robbing the person of their moral credit and secondly even cheating. You are showing off something as your own which is not exactly yours.
Prasanna: Bascally, whatever research publications you have written if I take it and write done my name on it and publish or promote it as my research paper then that is plagiarism.
Anshuman: Exactly. And in fact we don’t need to take the whole research paper you can simply pick up a paragraph and that will be plagiarised. Simple paragraph even if you are taking a simple sentence from research paper you need to give credit. You need to cite this source.
Prasanna: Yeah. That’s why all these textbooks and papers on the bottom of it we can see the footnotes, from where the sources have been taken.
Anshuman: Exactly. And that is the sure shot way of getting a read of this plan. Because see you cannot come up with some idea that is entirely novel right. I cannot come up with an idea that has never been talked about before. So whenever we say something we often stand on the shoulders of giants. So what about Einstein said if I am saying something after Einstein I stand on the shoulders of Einstein.but I cannot take the whole credit for myself. So I may stand on the shoulders of giants but its only moral the right thing to do is to give citations give credit. Side the giants you are standing on. I have had this question because see it rarely happens that you are totally innocent and innocent plagiarism rerely happens. So most of the times the researcher knows that he is doing something wrong. So I think the best way to ever plan to avoid plagiarism is to be honest.
Prasanna: So how much time does it take to write a research paper, like can you give an average figure? And how can we reduce that time?
Anshuman: See, it depends on the topic and it depends on the type of research paper. For example you are doing purely a legal research like doctrinal research, a few weeks should be sufficient. but ok 1 month 2 months is also understandable. If you are working really hard and if you are devoting at least 2 to 3 hours everyday then it will take around 3 to 4 months.
Prasanna: How can we reduce it?
Anshuman: Ok so for empirical legal research it may take much more time because for empirical legal research it depends on how you collect the data. how to reduce the in fact there are a lot of ways in which you can make the legal research much more time efficient. The most helpful tip I think I can share is see there are general tips like be consistent be punctual don’t procrastinate, general tips right. I think the most practical tip I can share here it’s the notecard system by ran holiday. So it can be found on YouTube search on YouTube. What is the notecard system of ran holiday. He is a very famous author and he uses this notecard system. So to state in simple terms what it does when I was doing literature review or whenever doing background research for anything, or any reading or attending a lecture, he comes up with any great interesting Idea he simply notes every single point Idea onto 4*6 notcard. Index card. So what happens actually even I follow the same pattern.say when you take notes you find a lot of difficulty in a range in them. [INAUDIBLE]. When you note idea per note card you can jumble of the note card as you wish. So what I do is keep notes whenever I am doing literature review. I keep taking notes so by the time I am finishing literature review usually I end up with thousands and thousands of note cards and then I arrange them according to topic. It makes writing very easy it makes a whole research process a cakewalk. So just try it, it’s very interesting.
Prasanna: It sounds maybe difficult. But I think it is a better way because you have a clear cut idea of what is to be done when and how it will take place. Right?
Anshuman: And in fact you can type it and print out. I personally prefer when I write it. so that way when I write it with pen I am also like giving my mind something to see feed on. I am thinking about it. I am memorizing it.
Prasanna: So what is the common problems you have faced while drafting a research paper?
Anshuman: See procrastination is a very big problem. It may seem like everybody is talking about it so maybe it is on top because it is so talked about but it is a very real problem. For some people once in a while some Einstein’s come they get ideas out of nowhere. But it rarey happens at that. Most of us have to work really hard. We have to work consistently. Another actually real and very practical problem is that nobody talks about is i expertise in in intellectual property and still I am saying this copyright is the biggest hurdle in the face of research. It restricts access to many scholarly literature. See the very purpose of knowledge and research is what’s the point of researching something if you cannot pass on that knowledge to my next generation or to anybody else. But copyright law defeats that very purpose of research. In fact it is sort of my personal opinion like that can be debated from the other side also.
Prasanna: And also your fellow copyright lawyers will be against you.
Anshuman: But I think copyrighting music, stories [INAUDIBLE]. What’s the point of copywriting legal research that is done by university professors. See the University professor are being paid by the government. We are paying taxes to the government and the government is paying the copyright professors solely for this objective that University professors can create knowledge, public knowledge. now the university professors who are paid from our taxes they create knowledge and the knowledge is a game protected by private companies. We again have to pay [INAUDIBLE] to access their research. So it’s a sort of double taxation. The second problem it’s not a problem for legal research but if you are trying to embark on a journey empirical research or let say interdisciplinary research that is a real problem. I’ll be giving you an example. Recently I was having this idea actually I embarked a recent project. So I was about to examine the link between copyright law and social economic inequality. So copyright as a system which is actually expected to promote the production of public goods and at the same time it depends inequality divides. So I was about to embark on a journey that will be collecting data across India. So I was about to write a powerful research paper on that. I was expecting that would shape copyright policy in the years to come. But the biggest problem i faced, the first thing this covid pandemic restricted my travel. Show the data connection could not be fastened out. In the second problem the access to data. Actually much of the data regarding the buy train of people and how people buy goods. The book buying data, these are held by corporate companies like Amazon or Flipkart. And they don’t share it with any researcher. They have this corporate fixed policy and all that. So availability of data that’s a real problem. So here what was my problem I didn’t plan my research through. So lack of research plan, a thorough research plan needs to be there. Like which data are you going to collect from where are you going to collect from where are you planning to get the data. So lack of a thorough research plan that can be your problem. So that is the 2 mqin problems. one is accessibility to quality literature and second is access to data.
Prasanna: So these 2 points if one follows it would be very easy. Like first is a thorough research plan and second one is the note card system. I think even people if they follow these two things it will be very easy for them to get into this. So for a young law student, or a young lawyer, what would you suggest, how they should start a research paper if they want to start writing? Would it be better to start writing from when they are studying itself, in the college or even they can start after that.
Anshuman: Actually writing research paper there are two elements. One is research and the other is writing. Doing research investigation, that is a different thing writing a research report is a different thing. In certain fields like biology or natural sciences the writing skills do not matter that much. The data is all. But fields like law and humanities, writing skills matter a lot. So getting the data and analysing the data is one thingBatra presenting data in a very legible manner that is a different thing. And that is equally important. So I believe regarding the writing part I believe people should train themselves from a very early age and by early age I don’t mean even college I mean school itself school life. So essay writing I think should be a habit. Talking about the law school actually in the first year of law school first semester I think for the first year people should focus extensively on developing the legal writing, writing their legal essay. So i think for the first initial you are they can ignore this research thing, they can start with essay writing class. They can cover with legal articles. Legal articles legal essay they are not exactly legal research. It is sort of an essay writing on a legal document. I think they can do that if you have the habit of essay writing from school life itself and if you know the law then I think legal essays should not be a problem. From the second or third year onwards, I think student should try to inculcate this legal research. Because from the second year onwards if I say something let say a moot court in fact moot court research is a type of legal research only. So if i go to moot court and say this man should be punished nobody will hear me. I have to present it in a very legible manner. I have to say that ok this literature says that he has committed this crime these are the facts then the question is whether he should be punished then i have done a literature review the literature talks about these things about the nature of crime has committed then we can go to data this statute this punishment for this crime then you can analyse data. that this data and all the statues can be applicable to the heinous nature of crime that this man has committed. And then we can go to conclusion. Therefore i strongly argue that this person should be punished for this crime. So I think legal research is less of a professional skill and is more of a very personal skill. It will be useful in your day to day life. Whether be it a denoteable debate, we often debate on a denoteable regarding political inclination, whether Modi is doing right or Rahul is doing right. So irrespective of which party you support it is very necessary you take a scientific approach to your arguments. So I think there is no time to start legal research there is no particular time. [INAUDIBLE]. Whenever you wake up that is your money that is your money.
Prasanna: That was a good conclusion by the way. So thanks Anshuman for this informative conversation on legal research and thank you so much for listening to this podcast. If you liked this episode then you must also check out other episodes available here and follow us so that you don’t miss out the new episodes. Thanks Anshuman.