Reviewing the causes of failure after each submission period confirms that students have problems with the research process. This can be seen in students “reflections on the research process” mentioned in their skills and learning statements.
“Research” is viewed as remote, the domain of academics rather than practitioners, surrounded by a certain mystique. For many students it is a new experience, unlike taking exams with which they are all too familiar.
In such circumstances it is perhaps not too surprising that many of you have some difficulty in getting started; the blank page also acts as a block, as some writers would confirm!
The results of these problems can best be understood by comparing and contrasting “good” projects with “weak” projects.
Good projects are characterised by:
- Specific and achievable report objectives;
- A logical structure to the research report, underpinned and guided by a clearly explained overall research approach;
- A systematic approach to information gathering, relevant to the topic issues in the organisation studied, and the report objectives;
- An analytical and evaluative approach to information gathered based on integrating and applying knowledge of relevant theories /concepts/models from accounting and business to meet the original research report objectives.
In sharp contrast, failed projects reveal:
- Either no objectives or objectives which are too general or unrealistic given the constraints;
- An absence of a clear statement of overall research approach and inappropriate report structure and content;
- Information gathering is haphazard, not appropriate to the issues in the organisation studied or research report objectives;
- Information gathered, including that derived from relevant academic theories /models etc. is described rather than applied to analyse and evaluate the issues in the organisation studied in order to draw conclusions and make recommendations relevant to the research report objectives.
Given that some of these problems exist, how can students learn to get to grips with research and thus improve their chances of success in their RAP?
A useful first step is to demystify research and the research process as it relates to your RAP.
In everyday use of language, to research means to investigate, to enquire, to look into, to explore, to find out. If you think of researching as investigating, then you would conduct some research if you were about to buy a car. This includes deciding on your requirements such as size, economy, reliability, the price range etc. You might study reviews of selected models in the motoring press to assist you in evaluating alternatives. Finally, after test-driving some of them you would buy the car, which best met your specification and which in your judgment represented the best overall “deal”.
There are some similarities between this everyday view of research as an investigative process, involving a number of stages or phases, and the RAP.
The RAP is an example of applied business research, with a focus on business problems and issues set in the context of a single organisation. The purpose of applied business research is to contribute to the solution of that problem or issue, or increase understanding of its significance. It may result in certain recommendations being made to an appropriate person in the organisation studied. There is a highly practical and problem solving aspect of such work, with some similarities to a consultancy project.
However, there is also an academic purpose underpinning the design of the RAP, namely to ensure that certain transferable or graduate skills are mastered, demonstrated by achieving a pass.
These skills include those of:
- Completing an independent research based project;
- Information gathering and referencing appropriately;
- Effective written and oral presentation;
- Using information technology;
- Problem solving, analysis and evaluation;
- Self-managed learning.
All of the above are assessed, primarily in the Research Report, while reflecting on the learning experience of completing the project is assessed through the completed Skills and Learning Statement, the second component of the RAP.
Applied business research requires the use of a systematic investigation process. The key word here is “systematic”, which implies that it is planned and methodical, in line with established research methods and takes account of other published work in the relevant field.
The practical implications for the student are that there must be a systematic approach to:
- Information gathering;
- Interpretation and analysis of information gathered; and
- An overall evaluation which provides either answers to, or increased understanding of, the original problem / issue studied.
Understanding the importance of the overall research approach
In the published guidance on the RAP the requirement to “explain your overall research approach” causes some confusion among students. The further explanation that it is “the framework …developed to meet your project objectives and answer your research questions” does not seem to clarify matters sufficiently either.
So what exactly does it mean and why is it important?
It is best understood as the underlying structure which shapes and guides your research report. It links a statement of what it is you are trying to find out to an outline of the methods you have used to provide the required answers. It sets out a series of important parts of the research process. These, related to the RAP, are set out below.
- The original problem or issue – defined by the approved topic you select – in the context of your chosen organisation.
- The specific research questions and report objectives which you set and propose to answer or meet.
- Reviewing relevant literature on accounting and business concepts/ theories/ models in order to determine which you will use, and their limitations, to develop your understanding of the issues in the context of your chosen organisation
- Methods of information gathering you use including a discussion of the limitations of your information gathering, and any ethical issues arising and how they were resolved.
- The analysis and evaluation you conduct, based on the business/accounting techniques etc. applied to provide answers to your research questions and meet your stated report objectives
- Conclusions and any relevant recommendations of practical benefit arising from your report.
Although this explanation makes the whole research process seem orderly and sequential, in practice it is likely to be more tangled and disorganised. However, it is helpful to establish a plan of how to proceed before you begin.
Try to write a brief statement outlining your proposed approach before you commence your detailed information gathering that is after 2c above and certainly before stage 2d. Then ask yourself some important questions
- Will this approach enable me to answer the research questions and meet the report objectives I have set?
- If not, do I need to gather more information from a wider range of secondary sources, or conduct some primary research, or both?
- Or do I need to review and revise my research questions or project report objectives?
Once you are reasonably satisfied that you are on the right lines then you can proceed further with your investigation. Thinking clearly about your overall research approach and writing a clear statement about it will act as a guide through the research process which will shape and structure what you do and how you do it.
In addition, a clear statement about your overall research approach enables the marker to see that you have adopted a systematic and appropriate approach to meeting your report objectives.
Understanding the RAP constraints – and being realistic!
This is a 7,500 word report, assessed against specific criteria, with a recommended report structure and content. Currently, there are 20 approved topic areas, which form the basis of your RAP. These are drawn from the ACCA qualification syllabus covering papers F1 to F9, and you will be familiar with them to some extent.
Once you have chosen a topic area, then your RAP must focus on one organisation, which again you will choose. Your project research must be a business analysis and evaluation, not just a financial analysis, of the topic area issues in your chosen organisation. Your conclusions and any appropriate recommendations must answer the specific research questions and meet the project objectives you set. These are all constraints, which you must take fully into account in conducting your research and writing up your research report. The following suggestions should be helpful to you.
- Set realistic, achievable research questions and report objectives. You are not producing a Masters or Doctoral dissertation – so limit yourself to what you can achieve within the constraints of the word count, structure and content of the research report. Many students do not do this, and produce either a long list of objectives – or else no objectives at all – both of which can lead to failure.
The criteria for effective objectives are sometimes defined as SMART objectives: that is:
And it is just as well to think about these criteria in relation to the objectives you propose to set. Do discuss your proposed objectives with your mentor before you begin!
There is a recommended structure and content – so follow it, and take account of the suggested word count in each of the three sections.
The benefit of following the recommended structure and content is that it acts as a checklist and reflects the assessment criteria. Many students still continue to ignore the recommended structure and content, and substitute one of their own. While this is not a reason for failure in itself, it often leads to certain important requirements being omitted from the report, which is a cause of failure. Remember also that presentation is important, so check your report carefully for style, use of language, clarity of expression, appropriate use of tables, diagrams, graphics and appendices-and make sure you stick within the limit of 7,500 words!
The nature and type of information you need to gather will be determined by your choice of project topic area and the specific research questions and report objectives you set. Depending on the specific research project objectives you set in the topic area, all of the approved topics could be addressed using secondary sources of information only. There is no requirement to conduct primary research although in selecting your topic and organisation and setting your objectives you must consider whether or not you will need some primary information.
You do need to look at a wide range of information sources, including Internet sources. A common error is to rely far too much on a single source of information – e.g. company annual reports, without considering additional information sources, such as analysts‟ reports, the financial press, consumer journals etc. for an alternative viewpoint.
You must consult academic sources in order to judge which accounting and business concepts, theories, models and techniques are likely to be of use, both in understanding related issues in your chosen organisation, and also in analysing and evaluating all the other information you have gathered.
A business relevant “model” in this context is a representation of part of either what may be termed as the business system or business processes. Its purpose is to facilitate understanding, analysis and assessment of that part of the business system or business processes to which it relates. There are a variety of such models or tools, which can be used. For example,
- A PEST model identifies those factors which shape and influence the business environment in which the organisation operates;
- A SWOT identifies the key issues emerging from an examination of the organisations internal strengths and weaknesses in the context of the opportunities and threats which its business environment presents;
- PORTER‟S 5 FORCES identifies those factors which determine the level of competition in the industry in which the organisation exists, and thus key aspects of the competitive environment which an organisation faces;
- The VALUE CHAIN model enables an organisation to analyse and assess its competitive strength.
A common fault here is to outline and describe a number of these models without discussing their limitations or applying them to increase understanding of relevant issues in the organisation and its business environment. Neither are they used in analysing and evaluating the information gathered in order to judge how well the original report objectives have been met. The lesson here is to use a smaller number of relevant theories/models etc. but to discuss their limitations and apply them both to evaluating the issues in the organisation studied and in explaining your findings and drawing conclusions related to your report objectives.
Remember also that a common cause of failure relates to failure in both analysis/evaluation and information gathering/referencing. This arises when a lot of information, not referenced in the text, is included in Section 3 of the report: Results, Analysis, Conclusions, and Recommendations.
For example, a detailed SWOT is listed without any referencing at all – there are no sources shown regarding any of the information presented. In some cases parts have been extracted from an annual report, in others from other sources, but none have been properly referenced in the text. When this occurs, you must realise that you are likely to be failed both in both the technical and professional skill of “analysis/evaluation” on the grounds that it is not possible to judge where the information used comes from and in the graduate skill of referencing.
Referencing is an important graduate skill. It acknowledges the work of others, thus avoiding plagiarism, and provides evidence of the extent of your reading. It also enables markers to check cited sources and evaluate your interpretation of them if required. You are required to reference information sources in your report, both in the text and in a comprehensive list of references.
If you do decide that you must conduct some primary research in your chosen organisation, then there are a number of additional points to watch:
- You must obtain permission from a relevant senior person in that organisation. Students often experience difficulties in getting access to the information required from the organisation they select, so you need to clarify what you need and obtain the appropriate permission as soon as possible
- You must also explain the methods used, sample size and sampling strategy, and comment on the response rate
- Finally, you need to discuss the ethical issues involved in conducting your primary research and how you resolved them.
You should note that where questionnaires or interviews are used, then you must include a copy of the questionnaire used, a summary of responses, a list of interview questions plus details of interviewees and a summary of the main points in their responses in Appendices to your report.
You should then extract significant points for comment and as support for your analysis in the main body of your report. Remember also to be aware of the limitations of your information gathering in primary research. Given your likely sample size and response rate, and the word count limits of the RAP you can probably only draw tentative conclusions from your primary research. These constraints generally mean that a complex statistical methodology is not likely to be appropriate. Again this reinforces the need to set limited and realistic research report objectives at the outset of your research process. Finally, and of great importance, is the need to remember that a major cause of failure stems from insufficient analysis and evaluation of information gathered and presented.
Students seem to have some problems with analysis and evaluation. Analysis implies a detailed study of the elements of a complex phenomenon in order to explain or interpret it more easily. For example, Topic Area 8 concerns “The Business and Financial Performance of an Organisation over a 3 year period”. “Business and Financial Performance” is a complex phenomenon. It contains a number of elements such as market share, market growth, revenue growth, profitability, liquidity, productivity and other efficiency indicators. Such indicators may be quantitative or qualitative. Any study of business and financial performance over a 3-year period must of course take account of the business environment or context in which the organisation operates. This is why a situation analysis, such as a PEST or 5 C analysis, can be of great help, but only if properly applied to the organisation in its business context. Aspects of financial performance may be highlighted by appropriate use of ratio analysis. However, any attempt to explain why these indicators have changed must be grounded in the business context which includes some consideration of actions by government, competitors and the organisation itself.
Evaluation is a process of forming judgments about something, in terms of its significance, size, quality or impact. It implies processes of measuring, appraising, estimating, and judging. In order to do this just looking at the organisations performance year on year is insufficient. It needs to be considered against the performance of similar organisations. Hence the use of comparator organisations, “benchmarking ” against the best in the industry, or using industry norms is required if one is to arrive at a more objective conclusion about performance – that is, establishing in relation to others performance, whether or not the performance of the organisation you have studied is judged as good or poor.
When considering performance, students also need to recognise that the judgments of different stakeholder groups are likely to be based on different criteria or indicators.
Shareholders will look at indicators related to capital growth and dividends;
Customers will tend to focus on a price/quality dimension –such as “value for money”;
Suppliers may be much more concerned with liquidity /longevity of a business relationship, and
Employees may be most concerned with those indicators related to increased security of employment and promotion opportunities, such as growth and liquidity etc.
Thus a perspective, which takes account of such different indicators and viewpoints, and includes both short and longer-term criteria is likely to be helpful in evaluating performance. The actual perspective which is taken in this case will ultimately be determined by the specific objectives established for your research report.
The need to ensure that your report demonstrates the required analytical and evaluative skills will be important whatever your choice of topic area.
If you select the topic on corporate governance you need to able to define what it is, the factors or elements which it consists of and how you propose to judge or assess whether or not it is good, and in comparison with which particular yardstick. You might, in this topic, select one of the reports which sets out a code of good practice and use this as the basis on which to judge the quality of corporate governance in the organisation you have studied.
If you select the topic on motivation you will probably evaluate your findings against predictions originating from one or more of the motivational theories you have reviewed. Again, the important point here is that if your report demonstrates that you have applied appropriate analytical and evaluative techniques to the information you have gathered, which enables you to meet your report objectives, then you will meet the RAP requirements in this very important assessment area.
Do read carefully all the advice on how to approach your RAP in the Information Pack on the ACCA website, and pay particular attention to the defined assessment criteria. If you have concerns about tackling the RAP then you should note that in addition to providing you with a mentor, many Approved Learning Provider institutions also include a brief introduction to research methods, tailored to RAP requirements, as part of the package. Mentors from Approved Learning Provider institutions are more likely to be familiar with both research methods and what it takes to achieve a pass in the RAP, and should be able to provide the support and guidance you may require. Completing your RAP can be a significant learning experience, and paying attention to the points outlined above should help you to succeed.
Every Research Report requires information as the basis for analysis. Information sources can be categorised as either primary or secondary data. There is no requirement for you to collect primary data within your Research Report; it is wholly acceptable to undertake your Research Report using only secondary data. The difference between primary and secondary data is identified below.
Primary data is original data that has been collected by a researcher by whatever means appropriate in the answer of a specific research question. i.e. it has been collected specifically for the Research Report. Examples of primary data include questionnaires, interviews, e-mail contacts and surveys.
If you decide to collect primary data as part of your research work, then you should state and justify the following:
- The data collection techniques you intend to use e.g. questionnaires, interviews.
- Your sample size and an outline of your sampling strategy.
- The method you will use to select your sample and the likely response rate.
If you intend to collect primary data from staff within your chosen organisation you must obtain permission to do this from a senior member of staff within the organisation. You should do this as early as possible during your Research Report, since if you are denied access to your desired information sources you may have to reconsider how to meet your project objectives and research questions.
Collecting and analysing primary data
Some students have misunderstood what is meant by „primary data‟. It is not their „main‟ data, such as the company accounts used for Topic 8. It is data which doesn‟t already exist and has to be collected to achieve the research objectives/answer the research questions of the RAP.
Many RAP topics, notably Topic 8, don‟t require the collection and analysis of primary data. It is rare that primary data collection undertaken for Topic 8 enhances the analysis.
Some topics do require primary data collection, notably Topic 6, (unless relevant data already exists, such as employee satisfaction survey data).
When primary data is required, it is important that the student‟s overall „research approach‟ is fully explained in the RAP, and the need for primary data in addition to, or instead of, secondary data is justified. The suggested structure for the RAP report is explained. It is stated that Part 1 of the report should include „an explanation of your overall research approach. This should provide the reader with an understanding of the overall framework that you developed to meet your research objectives and answer your research questions.‟
(It is not expected in the BSc RAP that students develop a „research methodology‟, or have a „research philosophy‟, as would be expected in a postgraduate research project).
Some students declare an intention to test a hypothesis (possibly referred to as a positivist study); particular care is needed when marking a project with this approach as it sometimes leads to inappropriate or incorrect statistical analysis and an ultimately narrow and inadequate analysis.
The research approach must explain:
- Why primary data is required, e.g. information on individual employee attitudes to motivation at work.
- Who will be the sources of this primary data, e.g. employees, managers, company directors, etc., and why these are the required respondents.
- How the student has secured access to these providers of primary data (accosting employees outside the gate of their place of work is unlikely to be satisfactory!). This is a particular aspect of research ethics, and other ethical issues associated with primary data collection need to be recognised as such by the student (See Appendix 4 of the RAP Information Pack)
- What method of data collection is to be used (survey questionnaire, interviews, observation, etc.), and why.
- The sampling strategy must be explained. Students should demonstrate awareness of probability and non-probability sampling, and the approach chosen should be appropriate. Whilst a statistical calculation of the required sample size isn‟t expected, students should demonstrate awareness of the size of the population being studied, and of whether their sample size is likely to be representative. Saunders quotes the advice of The Economist (1997) that a minimum sample size of 30 for statistical analysis provides a useful rule of thumb.
- Whilst the sampling strategy is critical for a questionnaire survey, it should also be considered when planning to collect data by interview. A small number of interviewees are acceptable, e.g. fewer than 10, but students should justify a small sample size, explain their selection process, and demonstrate that the interviewees are representative of the population from which they are drawn.
The design of a questionnaire, or of a set of interview questions, is of critical importance. The recommended structure for the RAP requires students to explain in Part 2 both the methods used to collect information and the accounting and/or business techniques to be used in the analysis. For those RAP topics like Topic 6 which rely mainly on primary data rather than secondary data, the questionnaire or interview design must clearly relate to one or more business models. Theory must be used to structure the questionnaire or interview, and should clearly influence the wording of the questions. Questionnaires adopting the Likert scale facilitate rigorous analysis, though a combination of closed and open questions can be acceptable. Students should take care not to use irrelevant questions (e.g. employee‟s marital status) and seek to correlate their data (e.g. different age groups‟ ratings of the importance of different product attributes in a marketing survey). A copy of a blank questionnaire or list of interview questions should be provided in the RAP appendices.
- Analysis of questionnaire or interview responses should be systematic and comprehensive. The total number of responses should be clearly stated, and any analysis of percentages of responses should relate to the declared total. A quantitative analysis of the responses (% of responses to each question or to each element of the Likert scale) covering all of the questionnaire questions should be included in the body of the report or in the appendices. The analysis, and application of relevant theory, should cover all of the questionnaire or interview questions.
- Throughout the RAP report, use of data from surveys of interviews should be properly referenced. Questionnaire results should be referenced as „author research survey, date‟, or similar wording. Sources of interview data could be given their job title and interview date, name if not confidential, or some other form of anonymous but informative title (See RAP Information Pack, Appendix 3, Section 3.4 Personal Communication)
- Whilst it is important to present the results of primary data collection in a detailed and informative way, using tables, charts and diagrams where appropriate, presentation isn‟t analysis. To meet the analysis requirements of the RAP, the primary data must be critically evaluated using the business model(s) identified in Part 2 of the report (or other models if appropriate).
Secondary data is data that has been collected by others for their own purposes, but which may be used by a researcher for his or her different purposes. Examples of secondary data include reference material, books, CD ROMs and financial statements. You should always evaluate the appropriateness and relevance of secondary data sources. Information included in internet sources may not be reliable from an academic perspective and may not be appropriate for use in your Research Report.
If you decide to use secondary data as part of your research work, you should state and justify your choice to do so. Where you use published secondary data you must provide precise references using the Harvard Referencing System. This is discussed in more detail in the following section.
You must retain all of the information that you collected during your project work until you have received official notification of your RAP grade from Oxford Brookes University. This includes any questionnaire responses, copies of financial statements, extracts from journals, reports, magazines etc. Oxford Brookes University may wish to ask you to provide additional evidence of your information gathering following the marking of your Research and Analysis project.
The programme requirement is that you use the last 3 financial reports that are available, or will be available, at the start of the submission period. If the results are not going to be published in time for you to include them in your report, then you should use the previous 3 year’s results. The Programme Director has advised that any Company results that are published (in any form) less than 90 days before the start of submission do not have to be used.
|Year end examples –||Submission start – 1st of||Must I use these?|
|April 2014||May 2014||No, but you may do so|
|January 2014||May 2014||Yes – this is a requirement|
|June 2014||May 2014||No these are not publically|
|available – you may use 3|
|yrs to 2013|
|June 2014||November 2014||Yes – this is a requirement|
|September 2014||November 2014||No, but you may do so|
Referencing of information sources
You are required to reference information sources in your Research Report. This is part of the graduate skills that you must demonstrate in preparing your Research Report. Referencing is essential for the following reasons:
- To acknowledge other people‟s ideas.
- To allow the reader of your work to locate the cited references easily, and so evaluate your interpretation of those ideas.
- To avoid plagiarism (i.e. taking other people‟s thoughts, ideas or writings and using them as though they are your own).
- To show evidence of the breadth and depth of your reading.
You should use the Harvard Referencing System, or an equivalent, for the referencing in your Research Report. This system and how you apply it to individual references in the text of your Research Report and the preparation of your ‘List of References’ at the end of your Research Report, is explained in the Oxford Brookes University Faculty of Business guide to citing and referencing for Business Faculty students which can be found in APPENDIX 3
You should read this document very carefully. You must comply with its requirements to demonstrate your graduate skills in information gathering and referencing. If you identify the correct reference for every source that you use, at the time that you first identify the source, then it will be straightforward to prepare your list of references when you complete your research work.
Oxford Brookes University requires all students undertaking research to comply with the University‟s Code of Practice ‘Ethical Standards for Research involving Human
Participants’. Before starting your Research Report you should consider the following questions:
Does your proposed research involve any of the following:
- Deception of participants,
- Financial inducements,
- Possible psychological stress,
- Access to confidential information,
- Any other special circumstances?
- If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the issues identified above, how will you deal with these issues?
Are you likely to need to preserve participants‟ anonymity and/or confidentiality? If you have answered ‘yes’, how do you intend to do this?
Even if your Research Report will only use secondary data sources and will not involve any interaction with staff within your chosen organisation, you should still read the University‟s Code of Practice to ensure that you understand the possible ethical issues associated with undertaking research.
The Oxford Brookes University ‘Ethical Standards for Research involving Human Participants’ can be found in APPENDIX 4.
Confidentiality and anonymity
In principle, Oxford Brookes University requires your Research Report to contain full details of the organisation that you have investigated in your research, the information sources that you used and the actual data that you collected. This provides reassurance to Oxford Brookes University about the originality and the genuineness of the information gathering and analysis in your Research Report.
If you intend to collect primary data from staff within your chosen organisation you must obtain permission to do this from a senior member of staff within the organisation. However, although you may gain such permission, the organisation may request that your research findings remain confidential because of concerns over confidentiality and / or commercial sensitivity. .
If you want your Research Report to be considered confidential, to satisfy the organisation who has sourced of your data, then you must write to the BSc Programme Director/Lead at email@example.com and request permission. You should give the reasons behind your request and how you intend to resolve such issues in the preparation and presentation of your Research Report. In your request you will have to identify the organisation which is the focus of your Research Report. The BSc Programme Director/Lead will decide whether to give approval to your request and will set conditions which will have to be met to submit the requested project.
Please note that it is not permissible to submit the project with data amended to try to disguise the organisation‟s identity.
However it may be helpful to note that all Projects are confidential, never published, seen only by a marker and moderator and sometimes by an external examiner, and are kept in a secure system.
This issue must be resolved before you submit your Research Report to Oxford Brookes University otherwise your project will be returned to you unmarked. In some cases the Programme Director/Lead may undertake to mark the project him/herself and allow only the Chief Moderator to moderate the project.
As part of your demonstration of graduate skills you have to show reasonable evidence of having accessed online information sources and having used a spreadsheet and / or other software in preparing your Research Report.
It is important that you consider how you will meet this requirement in your initial planning for your Research Report. Your choice of information sources may be influenced by this requirement and you should carefully consider the possible impact on your project objectives and research questions.
You have to word process your Research Report document and this contributes towards meeting this requirement. However Oxford Brookes University also needs evidence of the use of other software used to process data. For example, this could be done by using a spreadsheet to prepare financial ratios / performance indicators or by the preparation of graphs / tables / pie charts from a database that records questionnaire findings. You should include sample spreadsheets as an appendix of formulae or database queries to illustrate how you processed your data.
As part of your Skills and Learning Statement, you may wish to reflect on how you have used your existing IT skills or how they have been improved by doing your project research work.
Preparing your Research Report
Oxford Brookes University has prepared a process model which identifies the key activities and their timing in undertaking the Research Report. It also shows links to the meetings with your Project Mentor. You do not have to follow this approach but we stress the importance of preparing a plan for how you will undertake your research and prepare your Research Report by the deadline that you have set yourself.
The Research Report process model can be found in APPENDIX 5.
Ensuring the academic integrity of your project
The University requires that your project is all your own work. Specifically that you have not copied your work from any other student, textbook, journal or similar source, either in small or large amounts. Students are permitted to use small amounts of quoted text, which must be fully referenced, but must not copy large sections of text and pass this off as their own work. See APPENDIX 3 for more details.
The University recommends that student check their own work against standard databases, and has identified WriteCheck™ ( http://www.writecheck.com) as a suitable product for formative checking. as this does not permanently place the work in the database.
Structure, word count and presentation
The word limit for your Research Report is 7,500 words (this is a maximum not an absolute number). Oxford Brookes University recommends the following structure and approximate word distribution for your Research Report. We believe that this will allow you to demonstrate all of the required technical and professional skills, and graduate skills in sufficient depth.
The word limit includes everything from the start of the title page to the end of the conclusion It is important to note that words included in tables, graphs and pictures within the body of the report are included in the word count, appendices including financial statements and the list of references are not included in the word count. Your Title Page should include your full registered name and ACCA number
PART 1 – Project objectives and overall research approach – approx. 1,000 words
The first part of your Research Report ‘sets the scene’ It should include the following:
- The reasons for choosing your project topic area and choosing the particular organisation that was the focus of your research work
- What you wanted to find out in your research work. i.e. your project objectives and research questions
- An explanation of your overall research approach. This should provide the reader with an understanding of the overall framework that you developed to meet your project objectives and answer your research questions.
PART 2 – Information gathering and accounting / business techniques – approx. 2,000 words
The second part of your Research Report should provide more detail about (i) the information that you have gathered and (ii) the accounting and business techniques you have chosen to apply to this information. It should include the following:
- The sources of information from which you have obtained relevant data
- A description of the methods used to collect information, including online access
- A discussion of the limitations of your information gathering
- Identification of any ethical issues that arose during your information gathering and how they were resolved
- An explanation of the accounting and / or business techniques you have used, including a discussion of their limitations.
PART 3 – Results, analysis, conclusions and recommendations – approx. 4,500 words
The third part of your Research Report should provide a detailed account of what you have found from the application of your chosen accounting and business techniques to the information that you have gathered. It should include:
- A description of the results you have obtained and any limitations
- Presentation of your results in an appropriate form e.g. tables, graphs, pie charts
- A critical analysis / evaluation of your results which includes an explanation of your significant findings
- Your conclusions about your research findings and how well you have met your project objectives and research questions
- If appropriate, recommendations on specific courses of action to identified individuals within your chosen organisation.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Word count and appendices
You must stay within the specified maximum word count. Oxford Brookes University reserves the right to fail Research Reports which contain more than the maximum 7,500 words. You will be asked to declare your word count of your project on the Title page of your RAP.
The 7,500 word limit includes everything from the start of the title page, the table of contents, to the end of the conclusions; it does not however include the List of References and the Appendices.
If you choose approved topic area 8 ‘The business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period’ then it is likely that you will use the published financial statements of the organisation as an information source. You must include appropriate extracts from the organisation‟s financial statements as an Appendix.
However, these extracts are not included in the word count. You should use appendices only for supporting data and information. You should not include written text that properly belongs in the main body of your Research Report. You should keep the number of appendices as low as possible and no more than 8 sides excluding any extracts from financial statements.
Penalties for exceeding the word limit
The recommended rule of Oxford Brookes University is that only the parts of the submission within the word limit will be marked, and the rest will be ignored.
Your Research Report must be word processed using A4 size pages. You should use black text on a white background. Avoid background graphics or pictures behind the text and remember that italics and heavy bold type are less easy to read.
You should use an appropriate standard business font such as Arial with a font size of 11 or 12. You may use a larger font size for section headings. We recommend a maximum of 1.5 line spacing. When using a spelling and grammar checker, be careful to ensure that you do not unintentionally change the meaning of your text.
Oxford Brookes University does not wish to prescribe all of the different aspects of presenting your Research Report and you should identify best practice in business report writing as part of your information gathering activities.