Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Careful note-taking and paraphrasing ideas

"Much preparation for assignments involves taking notes from books or materials that you are reading. In taking notes, you should be careful not to copy sentences or paragraphs directly, unless you place them in inverted commas. If you omit the inverted commas, you might forget when you get around to writing that you copied directly and therefore plagiarise without realising.
It is good academic practice to learn to paraphrase arguments. To do so, you should read, say, a chapter of a textbook and use your own words and your own sequence of ideas to record the arguments as they relate to the issues raised by the assignment."  (Royal Holloway, 2011)

Bibliographic reference:
Royal Holloway, (2011) Essay writing and referencing guide. www.rhul.ac.uk [accessed 24 April 2012]

The above paragraph (carefully identified as a direct quotation) is taken from:

Royal Holloway School of Management Essay Writing and Referencing Guide

I strongly recommend that you are very familiar with each and every line of this document.

A short example from me using O'Brien, J. (2012) The allure of VW camper vans http://royalhollowaymarketing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/allure-of-vw-camper-vans.html [accessed 24 April 2012]

You will see in the first paragraph there is a blend of a short quote and some paraphrasing.  The style of the second and third paragraphs could be criticised in an academic submission because they are both rather over reliant on quotations and lack sufficient re-engineering from the author (oops ! that's me...).  Please note all of the ideas have come from research and these are carefully referenced in text before any new ideas are introduced.  Use direct quotation sparingly and make sure you know the two different ways to demonstrate a direct quote (hint: short and long quotes are shown differently).

Thinking about doing an MBA ?

Good MBA programmes will require candidates to have at least three years post graduate work experience.  Thus the decision for prospective MBA's appears much harder than others who might be following on from their undergraduate studies for an extra student year, after all they are used to being in debt, studying and making the most from modest financial resources.

MBA Director Justin O'Brien

The most important question that not asked is this; "Will I fit in ?" We believe that any decision to undertake an MBA needs careful consideration to assess the value an MBA offers and which University offers you the best fit.  Many applicants want reassurance that an application is worthwhile and I happily receive such requests to my personal email:  justin.obrien@royalholloway.ac.uk 

I spend quite a lot of time with applicants to ensure that our programme is going to offer them what they are looking for.  Frankly, the decision is too important to get wrong, and I certainly do not want unhappy MBAs under my watch having been sold an unrealistic dream.

I strongly encourage everyone I speak with to do their research (it is after all an important life skill) and consider a number of options carefully.  Whilst most MBA programmes are quite similar, offering a broad covering of all the key areas of management without requiring previous study, the feel of the institution, the  orientation of the teaching team, the personality of the business school and key staff are crucial factors to consider.  Academic credentials, quality accreditations (we have AMBA) and cost are also important factors.  This blog is indeed an attempt to share some of the more fuzzy insights to life at Royal Holloway and what being an MBA student is like and I encourage you to take the time to have a good look around.

Having made the decision to study for the MBA at Royal Holloway I am often asked "What can I do to prepare for the MBA programme ?", and over the summer period prior to commencing on the campus based programme at Royal Holloway we mail out preparatory readings, which our students find very useful. 

Recently I have reviewed a single text that might well be useful for anyone thinking about applying for an MBA programme.  It is called "The Essential MBA" edited by Susan Miller from Hull University and published by Sage.  SAGE: The Essential MBA: Susan Miller: 9781847870612

It will have a strong UK MBA orientation and provides a chapter length introduction/overview of many of the core subjects found in most MBA syllabuses.

Priced modestly (under £30) each chapter seeks to offer a summary of the subject areas development and also provide insights into emerging topics.  Students are likely to benefit from this introduction. 

Link to Royal Holloway, University of London MBA programme link: www.rhul.ac.uk/mba

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Possible dissertation shell document framework

What I have often found helpful is to take all the different advice (& paying particular attention to formal guidance given in the dissertation handbook) to create a shell document.  This lays out what each of the sections should be and a short form of text (often put into italics & small) and left until the final edit - to ensure each of the elements has been fully covered, and nothing overlooked.  The below is merely offered as guidance and should not be used blindly. 

Remember the format should be typed.  One side of the page. Double-spaced. A4 paper. Left margin >4 cm, right 2 cm to allow for binding.  All pages are to be numbered. Font size 12.  RHUL allows some flexibility in the report structure, according to subject matter and approach to the topic.

TITLE PAGE: This must follow the standard layout. Candidate's full name, title of the dissertation, a statement that the dissertation is submitted as part of the requirement for the award of the Master’s degree (MA/MSc/MBA), month and year of submission, name of the supervisor. (see example in dissertation handbook appendix) 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Included at the front. Cover main points and conclusions in not more than 200 words.   

CONTENTS PAGE: Give page numbers for headings and sub-headings.  Consider TOC (table of contents) function in Word to create this, if headings and sub-heading  style formatting is used consistently.  Remember to update the page numbers before final print.  Useful navigation aid for reader.

INTRODUCTION or The Problem/Opportunity to Be Addressed: What is the problem or opportunity that has been investigated ?  Why was it chosen ? Why is it important ? What were the terms of reference (project scope) you set for yourself ? Effective introductions often use engaging hooks (including quotations) to introduce the paper, using a more functional navigation of how the dissertation is laid out. May also include discussion of the papers originality and any gap in the literature.  

LITERATURE REVIEW or The Theoretical Framework: Present an original narrative of relevant academic theory.  Using frequent (every new idea) Harvard in text referencing you will show deep and wide reading, reflecting a variety of (differing) opinions.  An objective and critical tone will consider and weigh different arguments.  The use of a 'cone' structure that sees perhaps up to six different areas (sub-headings), starting at a high level and becoming more specific towards the end/point of the cone.  All material used during the analysis section should be introduced here. 

RESEARCH METHOD or methodology:  Requires two key elements: justification of the approach taken and detailed explanation on how it was undertaken. 
Justification of research approach, use research methods texts in the library to justify why the approach chosen was the optimal, consider strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.  Use research methods references to justify (using expert opinion) your rationale. 
Sampling, use appropriate terminology to describe the approach you have used (note snowballing is one).  No research approach is perfect, highlight any mitigation (ways to over come short comings) that you have put in place. 
Think of science experiments or cooking recipes, you should detail how the research was undertaken with sufficient detail so that another researcher could take your notes and exactly duplicate your approach.

RESULTS: Quantitative approaches often use graphical approaches to present findings (consistent colouring, take care to label each chart/diagram clearly and effectively) often supported with a very short description in text, highlighting key data facts.

ANALYSIS and interpretation: Knits together findings from primary and secondary research.  Does the primary research strongly or weakly support the literature ?  Where was there agreement ?  Where were there big differences ? Small differences ? Key themes may be used to present the data (rather than following the follow of a questionnaire).  Possible explanations for differences (timescales, sample, method) may be put forward, using the conditional tense (e.g. might be, could indicate, may suggest...)  Combines referenced ideas from the literature review with primary results findings.  Crucial here to demonstrate both analysis and the ability to be critical (academically).  

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS: The majority of the word count in this section should concentrate on summarising the key findings.  Care should be taken not to over generalise (making conclusions that go beyond what has been proven or the scope of the research question).  No new material or ideas should be presented here.  In shorter sections the following should also be covered:
Practical and Managerial implications; how managers (which ones ?) might be able to use the research findings.
Limitations - take care to present modest primary research "reasonable time and financial resource use in the scope of a masters degree dissertation" but identify learning (what could be done differently next time) for improvements. 
Recommendations for further research might highlight other topics/questions that follow on researchers might usefully consider to undertake.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: alphabetical list of sources used.  Ensure Harvard referencing is fully complied with, do not use first names and take care with full stops and commas.  Four pages or more.  Show extensive use of academic journals and relevant text books.  Limit use of web sources. 

APPENDICES: questionnaires, write ups of focus groups and in-depth interviews or detailed statistics, should also be placed at the end.

Remember:  RHUL academics will be marking your work.
Each section/chapter should start with a new page (insert page break). 

How to find a good/great/amazing dissertation title ?

How to find a good/great/amazing dissertation title ?

My name is Justin O'Brien  and I thought it might be a worthwhile experience to create a series of blog posts to support the project supervision work I undertake as part of my academic role at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

First up is the requirement to identify a good subject.  Standard advice here suggests you select something that you are interested in, or perhaps passionate about.  This might not be that obvious, particularly at the end of a challenging academic programme.  The dissertation road can be long and hard, having some deeper level of motivation is important.

Other more pragmatic approaches might include starting by working backwards from your career aspriation or perhaps where you have access (through family, friend or work connections) to a company or industry.

There is an opportunity on your CV/resume to include the title of your dissertation (particularly if you got a strong mark) and this can be picked up as a discussion point at interveiw as one of the easy 'warm up' questions.  This may be one of the helpful points of differentiation that makes your application stand out from the crowd. 

Clearly your topic must fit within the scope of your degree, but aside from this constraint, pretty much anything goes.    Thus there are no right or wrong topics, what is crucial is that you are interested in the subject, that there is accessible written material at least in the academic literature and ideally from wider industry too and you can link the conceptual ideas to an appropriate primary research method.
Justin O'Brien

Take a look at past dissertation titles, I have been lucky enough to supervise a very wide range of projects that include topics such as gender differences in UK and Korean computer gaming, ambush marketing at major sports events, differences between UK/Finnish males attitudes towards grooming products, even sex tourism on a Greek island !

Once you have identified an interesting topic you need to find a link between academic theory and the kind of research you will be undertaking.  It makes no sense to link marketing strategy theory to human resources staff retention in a small organisation.  Equally asking 100 undergraduates using a qualitative questionnaire about their experience of being a middle or senior manager shows a clear mis-match in expertise. 

Emotionally the topic selection appears monumental, I have seen many students in very agitated states as they go through this early stage.   Ideas change quickly, as many as 10 different topics can be considered in a few days.  Try not to exhaust your supervisors good will at this stage, use their time when you have settled on a subject area.  Talking to friends and family is helpful, even if it just about articulating your own ideas our loud.  Some people rather panic at this stage.  It is a very large part of your final grade, so perhaps not surprising.    Perhaps rather than over focusing in the early stages on the precise formulation of the title, more focus should be put on undertaking research.  Here I do not mean spending a couple of hours on Google search.

A crucial tip is to spend time using the academic journals accessed via search engines such as EBSCO, Science Direct and Emerald.  Here you will see PhD level and above papers and begin to assimilate useful vocabulary ideas for the title, start to uncover relevant models and theory and also get an understanding of the expected 'academic writing tone' (formal (not slang/spoken English), third person ('the researcher' not I), past tense, evidenced based (using in text references), objective (use shades of grey not black and white, moderated adjectives). 

Be disciplined from the start.  Try to write up paraphrased notes in your own words (note: careful referencing will save panics later) and why not start adding useful papers to your bibliography - I always suggest the creation of a shell document.  Whilst you undertake your research you may feel like you have worked really hard, but have generated absolutely zero words too show for it all !  At least creating a bibliography will give you some measure of progress.  I would expect a good dissertation to have four or more pages of references (double line spaced) that have mostly academic journals, a wide range of texts and some industry sources that may be internet based.