Crafting a successful research assignment at postgraduate level
Most MBA and MPhil degrees and all PhD degrees require students to undertake supervised research. This research will add depth to your learning experience as it provides you with a structured way to solve a business problem and/or to contribute to the betterment of society. If you are studying at an internationally accredited business school, it is likely that the international accreditation agencies will insist on these programmes having a research component.
In this blog, we take a look at some of the aspects you need to focus on in order to write an outstanding research assignment at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). And if you are not registered with USB, you will still find much of this advice applicable to any research project.
Clearly outline your topic
This is one of the most critical steps in the process of creating your research assignment, but it is also one that most students approach incorrectly. Let us suppose you are drawn to topics that will have a significant impact on society, such as finding ways to eliminate poverty. The problem with this is that even though your intentions are good, it is simply too broad a topic.
To narrow down the topic, it is recommended that you tap into your industry and work experience. What are some of the challenges you, your co-workers or your manager experience? By exploring the issues you encounter on a day-to-day basis, you can clearly define a challenge that is within your scope and that you will likely be able to answer. This can lead to research findings that will have a positive impact on your work environment or society.
It is also important to understand that it may take a significant amount of time to work your way through this phase of your research assignment. Once you have a clearly defined topic you will know where to start and where you are heading.
Understand the scientific method and research process
You can use various research methods to investigate an issue. For example, you can use a qualitative research method such as interviews, or a quantitative research method such as questionnaires. You also need to take into account the sample size at your disposal, the amount of time you have available, and existing literature on the topic.
Make use of sources that are scientific in their approach
When you first approach your research assignment, your first step will probably be to turn to Google and Wikipedia. While these resources are useful as a springboard, they are not reliable as academic sources. To ensure rigorous research, you should make use of peer-reviewed academic journals as your primary source of information. Journal articles undergo strict review processes, unlike many other online resources, where fact and quality checking may not be as strict. Students registered at tertiary institutions like USB have access to journal databases like EBSCOHost.
Master the academic writing style
Another potential challenge for students is their lack of experience in academic writing. To help its students, USB offers classes in argumentative writing. This approach will ensure that you are able to communicate your ideas clearly and persuasively.
Students can also benefit from a number of free Coursera courses. These writing courses cover a variety of topics on writing, including Academic English, Writing in the Sciences and Getting Started in Essay Writing.
Ensure you receive iterative feedback from your supervisors
At USB we ensure that our students receive iterative feedback on their assignments. This is done over several stages:
1. Submission of topic
2. Literature review
This is vital to ensure that you do not only receive feedback once you have completed the project. When this happens, problems that could have been resolved earlier are now compounded and much harder to address. Submissions for each stage of this process take place online to ensure optimal turnaround time.
Understand the expectations of your academic level
It is important to clearly understand what is expected from the research you will be undertaking for the MBA, PhD or other programme for which you have enrolled.
At Master’s level, we do not expect you to necessarily contribute to new knowledge in the field that you are researching. The primary goal of research on Master’s level is to demonstrate that you can do research independently, and that you gain experience in the research process if you decide to continue with a PhD. If you are working on your PhD, you are expected to contribute to new knowledge .
If you are unsure what your lecturers expect from you, have this discussion with them before you invest large amounts of time and energy into your research assignment.
Getting your research published
Aiming to get your research published in a credible academic journal or speaking about your research findings at a conference holds various benefits for you. Among others, it will help to establish you as an expert in your chosen field.
There are two main factors that will determine whether your work meets the strict requirements for publication in an academic journal.
Firstly, your work needs to meet the stringent quality requirements set by the journal. Secondly, even if your work is good enough, you might underestimate how difficult it can be to rework your research paper into a journal article format. However, your supervisor will have the experience to guide you.
At USB we encourage our Master’s students to consider publication. This means you do not have to wait until you get a PhD to have your research published.
Acquiring an area of expertise
Doing your research assignment as an MBA or MPhil student at USB will enable you to acquire research skills and an area of expertise that will serve you well in your career. You will be able to solve business problems in a structured way and to determine the value of reports and investigations in your work environment.
Doing research on PhD level will enable you to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field. You will contribute to new knowledge in your field.
To gain expertise through supervised research, enrol for an MBA, MPhil or PhD degree at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
If you need assistance with choosing a programme, our Programme Finder will look at a number of different factors, including your experience, areas of interest and job function to find a programme that suits you.