Assignment Preparation and Critical Analysis

GUIDE TO ASSIGNMENT PREPARATION AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS CONTENTSPage 1. Introductions to assignments and their purpose3 2. The Critical Review5 i) The Purpose of the Critical Review5 ii) The Content of the Critical Review6 3. Meeting the Assessment Criteria7 4. Examples of two assignments showing the significance of critical analysis9 5. Writing assignment reports13 1. )Introduction to Assignments and Their Purpose How will I be assessed? To be awarded the Certificate in Management or the Diploma in Management, or Masters of Business Administration you will need to: Complete the relevant programme of study ? Submit one assignment per module To achieve the award you must pass all the assignments and projects with the minimum of 50%. All the work you submit for assessment must be original. This section provides information on how to prepare assignments and submit them for assessment. Assignments The assignments provide you with an opportunity to: ? apply your learning in the workplace.. ? make improvements to the way in which you and your team, department or business unit work.

Each module contains an assignment brief that explains what you should do and what your tutor is looking for when marking. In writing your assignment, you should show that you: ? understand the concepts described in the module and can introduce relevant concepts from your broader reading and from previous modules ? can analyse information, form conclusions and make realistic and relevant recommendations ? are able to apply appropriate techniques, for example, in problem-solving or when evaluating options. ? can relate management concepts and skills to your own business environment or to a given set of circumstances.

How assignments work Each assignment will follow a number of broad stages. These are as follows: ReadBackground reading including the CMDP module handouts, management journals and text books InvestigateResearch in the workplace, including data-gathering, interviews with team members etc. AnalyseReview of findings. Identification of trends, gaps, opportunities. Development of theories and ideas. ReportProvision of conclusions, recommendations and implementation issues 2. )The Critical Analysis i) The Purpose of the Critical Analysis

Your critical literature analysis will form the foundation on which your research is built. As you will have gathered, its main purpose is to help you to develop a good understanding and insight into relevant previous research and the trends that have emerged. You would not expect a scientific researcher inquiring into the causes of cot death to start his or her research without first reading about the findings of other cot death research. Likewise you should not expect to start your assignment research without first reading what other researchers in your area have already found out.

The precise purpose of your reading of the literature will depend on the approach you are intending to use in your assignment research. For some research projects you will use the literature to help you to identify theories and ideas that you will test using data. This is known as a deductive approach in which you develop a theoretical or conceptual framework which you subsequently test using data. For other research projects, you will be planning to explore your data and to develop theories from them that you will subsequently relate to the literature.

This is known as an inductive approach and, although your research still has a clearly defined purpose with research question(s) and objectives, you do not start with any predetermined theories or conceptual frameworks. It is believed such an approach cannot be taken without a competent knowledge of your subject area. There is, however, no need to review all of the literature before collecting your data. You do not want your own ideas to be drowned out by the ideas in the literature. If your analysis is effective, new findings and theories will emerge, which neither you nor anyone else has thought about (Strauss and Corbin, 1990).

Despite this, when you write your critical analysis, you will need to show how your findings and the theories you have developed relate to the work that has gone before. Your review also has a number of other purposes. Many of these have been highlighted by Gall et al. (1996) in their book for students undertaking educational research and are, we believe, of equal relevance to business and management researchers: ? To help you to better understand your assignment question(s) and objectives; ? To discover explicit recommendations for the problems you have identified at work. To help you to avoid simply repeating work that has been done already; ? To sample current opinions in newspapers, professional and trade journals thereby gaining insights into the aspects of your assignment question(s) and objectives that are considered newsworthy; 2. ii)The Content of the Critical Review As you begin to find, read and evaluate the literature appropriate any particular module assignment, you will need to think how to combine the academic theories and ideas it contains to form the critical review that will appear in your report.

This will need to discuss critically the work that has already been undertaken regarding the subject area you are working on. It will draw out the key points and trends (recognising any omissions and bias) and present them in a logical way. In doing this you will provide the marker of your report with the necessary background knowledge to your assignment question(s) and objectives and establish the boundaries of the required research area. It will also enable the marker of your report to see your application of ideas in your work place against the background of previous published research in the area.

This does not necessarily mean that your ideas must extend, follow or approve those set out in the literature. You may be highly critical of the research and seek to discredit it. However, if you wish to do this you must still review the literature, argue clearly why it is problematic and then justify your own ideas. In writing your critical review you will therefore need: ? to include the key academic theories within the scope of the assignment brief; ? to demonstrate that you knowledge of the relevant theoretical framework is up to date; ? to show how your application of theory relates to previous published research; ? o assess the strengths and weaknesses of previous work including omissions or bias and take these into account in your arguments; ? to justify your arguments by referencing previous research; ? through clear referencing, to enable those reading your report to find the original work you cite. In addition, by fully acknowledging the work of others you will avoid charges of plagiarism and the associated penalties. 3)Meeting the assessment criteria Your readers and assignment markers will be assessing your work against the assessment criteria, which apply to your research programme at CM, DMS and MBA level respectively.

Therefore, it is essential that you familiarise yourself with these criteria. Easterby-Smith et al. (1991) cite Bloom’s (1971) well-known taxonomy of educational objectives to illustrate the level which project reports should meet. At the lower levels project reports should show knowledge and comprehension of the topic covered. At the intermediate levels they should contain evidence of application and analysis. Application is thought of as the ability to apply certain principles and rules in particular situations.

Your methodology section should be the principal vehicle for demonstrating application. Analysis may be illustrated by your ability to break down your data and to clarify the nature of the component parts and the relationship between them. Whatever your assessment criteria, it is certain that you will be expected to demonstrate your ability at these lower and intermediate levels. The higher levels are synthesis and evaluation. Rowntree (1987:103) defines synthesis as ‘the ability to arrange and assemble various elements so as to make a new statement or plan or conclusion – a unique communication’.

The emphasis put on conclusions and, in particular, the development of a storyline in your report suggests that the marker of your assignment feels that you should be showing evidence of synthesis. Evaluation refers to ‘the ability to judge materials or methods in terms of internal accuracy and consistency or by comparison with external criteria’ (Rowntree, 1987:103). You have the chance to show this ability in the choice of theories and concepts (theoretical underpinning) you choose to use in your assignment and in the awareness of the limitations of your own research.

In summary, we think that each of the levels of educational objectives should be demonstrated in your assignment reports at CM, DMS and MBA level. Summary ? Writing is a powerful way of clarifying your thinking. ? Writing is a creative process, which needs the right conditions if it is to produce successful results. ? Your assignment report should have a clear structure, which enables you to develop a clear storyline. ? Your report should be laid out in such a way that your reader finds all the information readily accessible. You should try to develop a clear, simple writing style, which will make reading the report an easy and enjoyable experience. ? Spelling and grammatical errors should be avoided. ? Do not think of your first draft as your last. Be prepared to re-write your report several times until you think it is the best you can do. 4i)Example of an assignment plan where prudent critical analysis has been applied The following paragraphs look at assignments in more detail, as you will find it helpful to have at least some basic understanding of what a “critically analysed” assignment entails.

For this example, we have chosen a possible Managing Information assignment brief and a possible Strategy and Change assignment brief. : Managing Information The aim of this assignment is to enable you to: ? analyse current practices and systems ? identify ways in which you, and your department as a whole, can improve the handling of information. Read You will work through your module booklets and journal articles, and text books. InvestigateYou will collect and record: ? Date and time information is received/collected/sent ? Format – verbal, written memo, email, spreadsheet etc. Source/destination ? Storage – how and where ? Value to you/value added by you ? Type of action taken with the information, eg: read, stored, thrown away, passed on, used to make a decision etc. AnalyseYou will Review the information you have received/collected and consider the quality of the information with regard to the theories, concepts and literature you have read. Consider the value you add to information before you pass it on to others, by obtaining the views of the final recipients. Obtain the views of colleagues as to what they think are the barriers to information flows in the department

Critical Analysis the way information is stored, information with regard to the theories, concepts and literature you have read and assess the situation in your organization by checking records for completeness, accuracy, legibility, adherence to organisational procedures, retrieval by authorised personnel etc. Identify gaps in your department and organizations information systems and policies as a whole. By using a process of applying your theoretical knowledge from your academic reading to the situation, identify how you can improve the handling of information.

Consider findings and develop recommendations for improvements Identify how the improvements will save time, save money, improve products and services etc. ReportYou will produce a report detailing your investigation, analysis, recommendations, feedback from others, and implementation plans. You will also describe what you have learnt from the assignment. Relating assignments to the workplace It will obviously be a help to you and your department if you can align the assignments with the cycle of work in your department.

For example, suppose your department has an audit scheduled for this year, where your manager is hoping to demonstrate that some control issues, highlighted at the previous audit and relating to the maintenance of records, have now been resolved. Your team has put in some additional procedures, but your manager is not 100% sure that these are working as well as they might. You are aware from your Programme Schedule that you will be studying the Managing Information module so suggest to your manager that you look at this issue as part of your assignment. Your manager should be delighted that you are willing to dedicate some time to this. ii)Example of an assignment plan where prudent critical analysis has been applied Strategy and Change This assign consists of three separate parts. The example given here covers Part 3 only. The aim of this part of the assignment is to enable you to: ? undertake a critical analysis of the external environment for your business. ? write up your findings as a report ReadYou will work through your module booklets and journal articles, and text books. Clarifywhich part of the organisation you are focusing on and select appropriate tools and techniques to conduct your analysis. These may be derived from a range of sources: Your study of the module booklet ? Further reading or research ? The analytical tools and techniques commonly employed by your business. You must however, justify your use of specific tools and techniques and show that you understand their strengths and limitations. AnalyseYou will: Evaluate the competitive environment in which your business or organisation operates. Explain how you conducted your evaluation, the information you used and the strengths and weaknesses of your approach. Evaluate the basis for competitive advantage of your local competitors – those who are competing directly with your business or organisation.

Compare their activities with yours and evaluate their priorities, strengths and weaknesses in relation to yours. Identify key macro-environmental factors that influence or will influence your organisation or business and explain how you identified them. Explain the significance of these factors in terms of the nature of your industry sector or geographical location for example: Identify industry trends Identify areas of best practice in the industry which provide and early warning signal for the future. Identify the main opportunities and threats from your analyses

Consider the implications of your findings on your organisation or business ReportYou will produce a report explaining how you analysed the areas above and the strengths and weaknesses of your approach and discuss the implications of your organisation or business Relating assignments to the workplace The Strategy and Change module focuses on strategic management. You will be building on this framework as you work through the IMDP programme, so that by the end of it – for your MAP perhaps – you can develop a comprehensive strategic plan or manage implementation and change. Students are advised that at the end of each module they will undergo an assignment briefing in order to provide the student with an understanding of the critical analysis required for that particular assignment. ? Each student will be provided with an assignment checklist to supplement each assignment brief. 5) Writing assignment reports This section describes a commonly used format for producing management reports although the assignments will ask you to produce reports in various styles and for differing audiences. Reports are usually structured into five main sections: The summary

Sometimes called an Executive or Management Summary, this comes at the beginning and briefly summarises the content of the report. It usually only amounts to one or two paragraphs. For example: ‘This report concerns the current problems being experienced in Department/Business Unit C which have been identified as…’ The summary then includes some recommendations for future action. The introduction This sets the scene and should: ? define the purpose of the report ? set out the scope of the report, making clear any assumptions and stating any areas the report will not cover (due to lack of time or not enough evidence) Indicate your methodology that is how you gathered your information. If there are technical terms or jargon being used, you may explain it here, or indicate that a glossary is appended. The introduction might also briefly describe the current situation and should be as factual as possible. For example, it could include more detail on the current problems in Department/Business Unit C. The main section of the report In this section, you should detail the research/investigations carried out during your assignments and your findings. It should be analytical and ritical in approach – you have already outlined the situation in your introduction so it should follow on from the points you made there. This part of the report is likely to be the longest, and you will need to structure it into sections with appropriate headings. Conclusions These must follow on from the main body of the report. You should not give recommendations here. This section is an important summary of the analysis and valuation you have conducted, and the gaps and views you have identified and reached within your organisation as a result. It may be quite brief.

Recommendations Your recommendations are likely to be specific to the issues you raise in the main section of the report. Some of the assignments will ask you to go further than simply recommending actions or decisions. For instance, you might need to include a timetable for action or a list of priorities for attention. This section should be realistic, and justified as being practical and supportable and not a ‘wish list’. You should assess your recommendations suitability, feasibility and acceptability to ensure their justification as preferred options and recommendations.

Appendices and bibliography The appendices offer supplementary information that does not form essential reading, but might be desirable if the reader has more time or wishes to explore further. You should reference the appendices at relevant points of your report and should number (or letter) each appendix separately. The contents page, or the first page of this section, should list all appendices by their letter/number and title. In your reference and bibliography you should reference your sources for any non-original work which is included in your report.

You should use the Harvard Referencing technique to reference all your work. Submitting your assignment For each assignment 1. Include the following information on the title page: ? Your name ? Your organisation’s name ? Your group number (you can find this on your Programme Schedule) ? The qualification (e. g. : Certificate in Management) ? Title of the assignment (e. g. : Environment of the Manager) ? Name of your course tutor or module leader 2. Take a copy of your assignment for yourself and send one copy to your tutor so that it arrives on or before the deadline shown on the Programme Schedule.

Refer to the Open Learning Centre CMDP Administrative manual for the CMDP submission policy details. Assessing your assignment Your assignment will be assessed by your course tutor/module leader, and by Nottingham Trent University course tutors, and the relevant external examiners. They will provide you with written feedback and an appropriate grade. ———————– THE OPEN LEARNING CENTRE CORPORATE MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME GUIDE TO ASSIGNMENT PREPARATION AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS