Project contraints

Important Tip for preparation of Research and Analysis Project (RAP) – Understanding the RAP constraints about Information – and being realistic!

The Research Report needs to contain 7,500 words that are a product of the assessment of the gathered information and written according to a specific criteria, with a recommended structure and content. There are 20 OBU approved topics the students can choose from and base the RAP. All the topics are based on the ACCA Qualifications syllabus and cover F1 to F9 papers, and the ACCA students are fairly familiar with all of them.

After selecting a topic, the student needs to aim their choice on one company for basing the RAP upon. For topics 8 and 15, there are sector specific requirements for the selection of companies, that are based on the Industry Classification Benchmark (ICB). All the industry sectors are outlined in this Information Pack and are published on the ACCA website in June each year.

The project research needs to be a business evaluation and analysis, and not only a financial analysis, and needs to covet the topic area issues of the selected company. The reached conclusions and recommendations need to provide answers to the specific research questions and meet the set project objectives. The student needs to take in all these constraints while performing the research and later when writing the Research Report. Here are some helpful suggestions:

1. Set realistic, achievable research questions and report objectives.

The student is not submitting a Masters or a Doctorate dissertation, which means that there can be some limits that arise from the word count, content and structure of the Research Report. Some students forget this, and usually make a long list of objectives or a very short list of objectives – both these actions lead to low grade project of even failing the project.

The criteria for effective objectives are sometimes defined as SMART objectives which is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic and
  • Time bound

The student needs to think over these objectives related to the project objectives that have been set. It is advisable that the student discusses the proposed objectives with their Mentor before the actual work begins.

2. There is a recommended structure and content which the student needs to follow and have in mind the suggested word count for every section of the project. There are benefits from the close following of the recommendations about the structure and content, and the most important one is that it serves as a checklist that pictures the assessment criteria that later apply. Some students select to ignore the recommendations about the structure and content, and use their won structure and content. This may not be a reason for failure on its own, but it can easily lead to forgetting of some important requirements which can lead to failure. The presentation of the information is very important, and the students need to check their report for style, language, expression, the proper use of tables, charts and diagrams and the correct structure of the appendices, and be in the limit of the proposed 7,500 word count.

3. The nature and type of information you need the student needs to gather is determined by the choice of topic and the set research questions and report objectives. Depends on the project objectives that have been set, many (if not all) of the approved topics can be completed using information from secondary sources. There is no unique requirement to use only primary sources, but the selection of the topic and company and the setup of the objectives may lead to the consideration that the student will have to use the primary sources of information.

Every student needs to go over many sources of information including the Internet. Many students make the mistake of relying only on one source of information, like for example only on the company’s annual reports, and not considering any additional sources of information like analysts’ reports, financial press articles, consumer journals and more, in order to get an alternative point of view.

The student should also consult important academic sources so they are able to make the correct decision regarding the business and accounting concepts, models, techniques and theories they will be using in their project. The student should also use the academic sources to understand the issues that are connected to the selected company, and in the analysis and evaluation of the gathered information.

A “relevant” business model in the mentioned context is the presentation of the part that can be explained as a business system or a business process. This serves as a manner for facilitation of the understanding, analysis an assessment of the part of the business process or business system it is related to. There are several of these models – tools – that can be used, some shown below:

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.

Students can easily make a mistake of numbering several models without the appropriate discussion of their limitations or their application in the understanding of the important issues in the selected company and the business environment. None of these models are used for the analysis and evaluation of the gathered information and judging the level of the meeting of the proposed report objectives. The point of this is to use a limited number of important theories/models etc., and to know and show their limitations and correctly apply these theories/models…, in the evaluation of the company’s issues and for explaining the findings and the drawing of the conclusions that are important to the set report objectives.

A common student mistake that leads to failure is the failing to make a proper analysis/evaluation and mistakes in the information gathering process and referencing. This occurs when many information that is not correctly referenced in the text is included in Section 3 of the Report: Results, Analysis, Conclusions and Recommendations.

Example: a detailed SWOT analysis is listed, but without the correct referencing, there is a lack of sources that are related to the presented information. In many cases, parts of the company’s annual report have been extracted, or from some other source, but there is no proper reference in the text. If a student does this, they will probably fail in the professional and technical skills of the analysis/evaluation, on the point that there is no manner of knowing where the used information comes from and the lack of graduate skills in referencing.

The proper and adequate referencing is an important graduate skill. This points to the acknowledgement of the efforts and work used from others, and helps in avoiding plagiarism, providing evidence of the extent of the student’s research and reading material. It allows the examiners, if necessary,  to check the cited sources and evaluate the student’s interpretation. Every student is required to use proper references in their report, in the text and the appendix with a comprehensive list of references.

If the student selects to do primary research in the selected company, there are some important things to consider:

  • The student needs to get permission from a relevant senior staff member of the company. Many student come to difficulties when trying to gain access to the require information from their selected company, and they need to clearly outline who they are and what they need so they can obtain permission for obtaining the necessary information. The student is required to supply a Letter of authorisation and approval for taking the primary research, and this letter needs to come from a senior member of the management of the company. It needs to be a part of the Appendix of the RAP submission.
  • The student has to explain the used methods, the sample size and strategy, and give appropriate comments on the response rate they have gotten.
  • The student should include a discussion of the ethical issues they’ve encountered while conducting the primary research and their manner of dealing and resolving of such issues.

The student must remember that if they use questionnaires or interviews, then a copy of these needs to be included in the Appendix of the Research report, a copy of the questionnaire, a summary of the responses, list of interview questions and a sum of the main responses and points.

The student needs to extract the important points they have encountered that will be the support for the analysis in the main part of the Report. The student also needs to be aware of the limits the gathered information bring. Considering the sample size used and the response rate, and the proposed word count limit of the Research Report, the student can likely use a tentative conclusion based on the primary research. This points that a comprehensive, complex statistical analysis is not possible or appropriate. This is again a point into the fact that a limited and realistic Research Report objectives need to be set at the start of the research process.

4. A very important fact to remember is that a major cause for failing the Research Report is the insufficient analysis and evaluation of gathered and presented information.

Many students show that they have problems when it comes to analysis and evaluation. The analysis points to the detailed study of the parts of a complex phenomenon so it can be interpreted and explained easily. For example, Topic Area 8 is related to “The Business and Financial Performance of an Organisation over a 3 year period”.

The “Business and Financial Performance” is a complex phenomenon. This contains many elements, like market share, market growth, revenue growth, profitability, liquidity, productivity and many other efficiency indicators. These indicators may be of a quantitative or qualitative nature. The studying of the business and financial performance over a three year period needs to consider the business environment or context in which the selected company operates. A situational analysis like a PEST of 5 C analysis can be very helpful, but only if properly applied to the selected company and the business context. The financial performance is best analysed via the ratio analysis. But the attempt in explaining the reason why these indicators have changed needs to be based on the business context that has to include the actions by the government, competition and the company itself.

The evaluation is the process of creating judgements about something, viewed form a point of significance, size, quality, or impact. This implies the process of measurement, appraisal, estimation and judgement. It is not sufficient to evaluate the company’s yearly performance by simply looking at the reports. That is why the use of a comparator companies. The “benchmarking” against the best in the industry, or using the industry norms is necessary for preparing an objective conclusion on the performance of a company. This is in terms of establishing a relation to the performance of others, and not considering if the performance of the studied company is determined as poor or good.

While making a consideration about the performance of a company, the students needs to recognize that the judgements of the different stakeholder groups are likely to be based on various different indicators or criteria, like:

  • 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 or 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.

That is why a point of view that considers all the different indicators and viewpoints, and has included the short and longer-term criteria will be helpful while making the evaluation of the performance of the company. The perspective that is taken in such case is determined by the specified objectives that were set at the beginning of the Research Report.

No matter the selection of topic, the need to ensure that the Research Report clearly outlines the necessary analytical and evaluative skills is very important.

Should the student select a topic on motivation, they will most likely evaluate the findings against the predictions originating from the organisational theories that have been reviewed. The most important point of this is that the Research Report demonstrates that the student has applied the correct and appropriate analytical and evaluative techniques to the gathered information, and this enables the student to reach their set report objectives and with that, they will easily meet the established RAP requirements.

The ACCA website offers advice on the approach to the RAP in their Information Pack. The students need to read this, and pay attention to the defined assessment criteria. The completion of the RAP is a significant learning experience, and knowing and respecting the above mentioned points will serve as great help in the student’s success.

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