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.
Right, let’s get started…
Being clear about what your MBA assignment is about (and why) is essential to writing a mark-earning piece of work. If you want to throw away marks by the bucket-load, simply be vague and ambiguous about what your assignment seeks to achieve. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s extremely common. This is because when you’re shoulder-deep in your assignment topic, it’s easy to forget that the reader (i.e. the marker) likely has no experience in your industry, and certainly has no knowledge of your organisation and its unique local context. The key problem or opportunity, as well as the associated research question is crystal clear in your head – surely the reader gets it, right? Wrong.
So how do you overcome this common problem? When writing your assignment, take ten steps back and think about the layman reader (i.e. someone not involved in your business). Assume they know nothing about your industry and organisation. This includes the ten acronyms you included in the first three paragraphs (which, by the way, you should list after your table of contents). If your granny’s bingo partner doesn’t know about the inner workings of your business, neither does the reader – even though they likely hold a PhD.
Therefore, make sure that you set a very well explained context in your introduction chapter which leads to an outstandingly unambiguous problem or opportunity, followed by a clear, logical research question (or set of questions) that your assignment will address. The order and hierarchy mentioned above are important. In other words, make sure that you demonstrate a strong alignment between the context, the problem/opportunity and the question. There should be a smooth, logical flow from one to the other – for example:
Importantly, the final question(s) (i.e. the one(s) that your assignment will seek to answer) should take the form of a crystal-clear one-liner. Moreover, the questions should be answerable within the constraints of an MBA assignment. In other words, keep your question(s) focused and reasonably narrow so that you don’t end up 15,000 words over word count trying to answer a vague question. When formulating a question(s), you should already be thinking about what models, frameworks and theories you might use to identify an answer(s) to said question.
Here are some example questions:
- Strategy assignment: “What has changed in Organisation X’s competitive context, and how should it best respond to ensure sustainable competitive advantage?”
- International Business assignment: “Should Organisation X internationalise to Country Y?”
- Strategic Marketing assignment: “What segments exist within Industry X and which segment should Organisation Y target?”
- Digital Marketing assignment: “Which digital business model should Organisation X adopt?”
Notice the clarity and focus provided by these guiding questions. By laying this sort of guiding question (and ultimately, research objective) out loud and clear in the introduction of your assignment, you inadvertently achieve a few things at once. In particular, you will:
- Provide the reader with clarity and direction, i.e. they know what your assignment will be about and where it may potentially go.
- Narrow the scope of your assignment to a manageable and achievable breadth, allowing you to add depth in your analysis, rather than floundering in a broad floodplain of superficial description, peppered with bits of analysis.
- Provide a guiding light for yourself throughout the assignment, ensuring that you stay relevant and on-track when you write.
Simply put, establishing this key research question (or set of questions) upfront provides a clear destination for the assignment. This allows the reader to have a rough idea of where you’re headed, thereby aiding their comprehension throughout the assignment. Furthermore, it helps you stay focused and on-topic – typically resulting in more meaningful, deep analysis. Failure to establish this goal post early in the assignment (ideally within the first chapter – introduction) means you risk going nowhere slowly – or going somewhere, but losing the reader (i.e. marker) along the way.
To summarise, then – make it outstandingly clear what your assignment is about (and why that’s important – i.e. the context and the resultant problem or opportunity), what you intend to answer and where you intend to go – both for the reader/marker and for yourself. Alternatively, accept that you’ll both likely get lost, as will your marks…
Have a question, suggestion or counterargument?
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