Sound selection and application of models and frameworks are key assessment criteria in postgraduate-level assignments and dissertations/theses. Equally, well-considered and presented tables can add tremendous value to an analysis or argument. However, throughout my reviews of assignments and dissertations/theses, I see the same problem arising time and time again – that is, bad utilisation of models, frameworks and tables.
In this post, I’ll show you how to incorporate models, frameworks and tables (MFTs) into your assignments using a straightforward five-step process. By following these steps, you will maximise the effectiveness of your MFTs and thereby increase your likelihood of earning marks.
Step 1: Introduce and justify the MFT in the preceding paragraph.
There’s nothing more annoying to a marker than when an MFT just appears out of nowhere with no introduction or justification. You (as the writer) may know exactly why it’s there, but you should always assume the marker does not. One of the key criteria on which you will normally be assessed within an Master’s program is a demonstration of knowledge regarding when, where and why to utilise specific models or frameworks. Therefore, just plonking a model or framework into your document without any introduction or justification provides the marker with no basis on which to assess your understanding of the underlying theory. Yes, you could argue that your actual use of the model should demonstrate your understanding, but when it comes to earning marks, clarity of your thought process is king.
In short, always (briefly) introduce the MFT and (briefly) explain why you used it. For example:
Step 2: Populate (customise) the framework/model to your specific topic.
The number of times I have seen models and frameworks copied and pasted verbatim into assignments is surprisingly high. Copy/pasting demonstrates absolutely nothing to the marker, other than the fact that you read that part of the textbook or module material (and have the skill required to take a screen shot!). It adds absolutely no value to an assignment (PS – the marker already knows the model).
Models and frameworks are made to be applied to real world problems (just as an MBA is developed to help you solve real world business problems). Therefore, you must always demonstrate application by populating frameworks and customising models. If this sounds obvious, that’s because it is – but it is, nevertheless, a common problem in assignments.
To be extremely clear, I’ve included an example of a copy/paste model insertion, versus a well-populated and customised model insertion, below.
Verbatim copy/paste model:
Customised and populated (i.e. applied) model:
Step 3: Caption and cite the figure or table (correctly).
Poor citing and referencing is a persistent problem within assignments, but incorrect captioning and citing of figures and tables is even more common. For some reason, this presentation matter seems to be largely ignored by students – an afterthought at best. Depending on your school, this completely avoidable issue can cost you substantial marks.
So, what’s needed? At the very least, every figure or table should be accompanied by the following components:
- A figure or table number.
- A brief, clear description of the MFT.
- A citation (when including a model or framework – usually not required for tables, unless the table is based on another piece of literature).
Below is an example to help you visualise these components in action:
The exact layout of these three components will vary from school to school (for example, placement above or below a figure, reference style, etc), but it’s safe to say that the three components should always make an appearance when MFTs are involved.
Step 4: Discuss the key insights from the MFT in the paragraph that follows.
If you recall, in Step One I discussed the importance of introducing and justifying the incorporation of a model, framework or table. Equally important is the discussion of the MFT after its inclusion. In other words, don’t make the mistake of leaving the reader (marker) hanging, asking “so what?” or “what’s your point?”. As with the introduction and justification, while the key insights produced by the presentation of the MFT may be completely clear in your mind, it is extremely important to explicitly communicate the resultant insights or conclusions in the paragraph that follows the MFT. For the most part, MFTs present a lot of information – what are the key insights that you want to communicate to strengthen your analysis or arguments?
Given the previous steps, I would understand if you’re becoming concerned about your word count (where do I fit all this stuff, Derek?). While that’s a valid concern, I must stress that both your MFT introduction and insights needn’t be long winded. In fact, the more brief and concise you can be, the better. Effectively, you’re just highlighting the most important points. Your key insights post-model, could, for example, look something like this:
Short. Clear. Simple.
Step 5 (BONUS): Note the relevant limitations.
For those of you that really want to impress the marker, one final matter that you can discuss is that of limitations. In other words, in Step Four, you identified the key insights or takeaways from the MFT, and in Step Five, you proceed to take a critical view by highlighting the potential weaknesses of these insights.
In the case of models and frameworks, you may wish to note their theoretical weaknesses, as identified by other academics, your textbook or study guide, or even yourself (be careful here though).
More broadly, in the case of model, frameworks and tables, you may wish to note the weaknesses that emerge from your own application thereof (i.e. practical limitations). For example, was there a risk in terms of the quality of your data? Was there a risk of subjectivity or bias? Was your interview sample too small?
Essentially, by discussing limitations and weaknesses (whether theoretical or practical), you are demonstrating critical thinking, accepting and highlighting the potential pitfalls of your analysis. This is a good thing, and you should apply a critical view throughout your assignments, not just when using MFTs. Taking a critical view of your work (i.e. balanced view of strengths and weaknesses) is rewarded, not punished, in academia. Just don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis.
In this post, I’ve discussed how to incorporate models, frameworks and tables (MFTs) into your assignments for maximum impact. The five steps are:
- Introduce and justify the incorporation of a MFT.
- Populate and customize the MFT to your assignment’s context.
- Caption and cite the MFT in line with your school’s requirements.
- Briefly highlight the key insights and/or conclusions derived from the MFT.
- Bonus – discuss the limitations, both theoretical and practical.
By following this process, you will ensure that your MFTs are well considered, well presented and well understood, thereby allowing you to earn higher marks. You will also be forced to critically consider the value of including an MFT. This may result in you deciding to drop a few lower value MFTs. Remember, quality (of contribution) is far more important than quantity. A handful of well justified and applied MFTs can be extremely impactful.
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.