This post is part of the series: “How to write distinction-earning MBA assignments”. Check out the rest of the series for straightforward, actionable MBA assignment ideation, planning, research and writing advice.
Analysis is distinctly different from description. The former earns you marks in an assignment, whereas the latter typically just serves to annoy markers, consequently losing you marks. Sadly, the overuse of description in MBA assignments is extremely common, leading many students to both throw away marks and waste (oh so precious) word count.
So, what’s the difference?
Simply put, description merely communicates the “what” – in other words, it describes a situation as it is. Plain and simple. Contrasted to this, analysis communicates the “so what?” – in other words, the impact or consequence of a given situation.
A practical example.
Let’s play a little game of ‘spot the difference’ to make the distinction between analysis and description a little clearer.
Description: Recently, President Jacob Zuma made the decision to reshuffle the parliamentary cabinet, including the firing of finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. This decision was not well received by many South Africans.
Analysis: President Zuma’s firing of popular finance minister, Gordhan drastically impacted investor confidence. This led to a sharp decrease in the value of the Rand. Such devaluation means that all USD-based imports (including petrol) will rise in cost, thereby raising the cost of living for South Africans, and reducing disposable income. This puts both cost and price pressure on Organisation X as an importer of USD-based goods Y, requiring it to consider doing Z. Furthermore, political instability has the added impact of encouraging immigration, particularly amongst skilled workers whose expertise is valued abroad. Organisation X, which employs such workers, therefore needs to review its talent management and retention policy to ensure it does not suffer ‘brain drain’.
As can be seen in this example, the description only tells us what happened (the president decided to reshuffle the cabinet), whereas the analysis extends to discuss the impact of this event on Organisation X. It also briefly discussed some potential actions that Organisation X may need to take in response to these consequences. This event vs impact distinction is important in understanding the difference between description and analysis, but it is not the only difference. Learnhigher provides an excellent tabular comparison of other differences – you can download a PDF version here.
So, what does this mean for your assignments?
When writing your MBA assignments, it is essential to keep this distinction between description and analysis front of mind. Some description is simply unavoidable and in fact quite essential, but you want to keep it to a minimum. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A good rule of thumb is to identify every what (i.e. descriptive point you make) and then check whether it is accompanied by a so what (i.e. the impact of its existence on the organisation). This basic practice should keep your description levels down to a minimum, maximise the amount of analysis that you incorporate in your assignments – and – earn you some marks.
A quick side-note on model and framework use.
Linked to the cardinal sin of excessive description is the verbatim copy pasting of models and frameworks into assignments, with no analysis and no application. The same logic applies here – a model or framework pasted into an assignment with absolutely no analysis or application is worthless. It will not earn you marks – in fact, it will probably just annoy the markers (trust me, they know the model – you don’t need to include it purely for reference sake) and end up costing you marks.
Therefore, when you decide to include a model or framework in your assignment (as you most certainly should!), be sure to (briefly) explain why you’ve chosen to include said model (i.e. justify its use) and populate and/or customise it so that it has clear application to your assignment topic and research question.
In summary, then:
- Understand the key differences between analysis and description – most basically, what vs so what.
- Minimise description, maximise analysis to earn marks.
- Populate and apply models and frameworks – don’t just copy paste.
Have a question, suggestion or counterargument?
I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below, or get in touch with me here. Also, if you’d like 1-on-1 assistance with your MBA or business course, check out Grad Coach’s tutoring services here.