Unpacking the gated approach for a successful research assignment Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
In a previous blog, we began our exploration into what makes a successful postgraduate research assignment.

In a previous blog, we began our exploration into what makes a successful postgraduate research assignment. In this post, we’ll continue this discussion by looking at some of the factors that influence the success of your research project. While this piece is primarily focused on USB’s approach to research assignments, there are still a number of critical points that will help you tackle your assignments, regardless of where you study.

At USB, we ensure that you are properly prepared for the research assignment process. The foundation for this success is USB’s gated approach.

How do you eat an elephant? USB’s secret to ensuring a high through-put rate.

Research assignments can seem overwhelming – like the metaphorical “elephant”. But how does one “eat an elephant?” The answer is: “One bite at a time.” This means splitting the task into smaller chunks, after which it becomes a much more manageable process. At USB, this is referred to as the gated approach.

The gated approach in action

At USB, the completion of a research assignment has several phases. These phases are:

  1. Submission of topic
  2. Literature review
  3. Proposal
  4. Results

The gated approach ensures that the work you complete at each stage of a research assignment goes through a submission, assessment, revision and reassessment process. It is only upon successful completion of a phase that you will be allowed to continue to the next stage of your project. In essence, each phase of the research assignment has a “gate” which you must pass through. This can only be done once a specific phase of the process has been completed at a satisfactory level.

USB’s gated process allows you to clearly identify problems during each stage of the assignment. This will prevent you from investing significant time and energy into your work, only to discover at the end of the process that you have been continuing problems that could have been rectified early on.

You can also take additional steps to avoid this problem by ensuring you are getting proper iterative feedback from your project supervisor, regardless of whether you are using the gated approach or not.

This system has some similarities to the staggered approach in project management, a term used to describe the completion of projects in sections.

How does USB support students through the completion of the gated approach?

At USB you will receive additional support to ensure that completing your research assignment using the gated approach runs as smoothly as possible.

USB’s Writing Lab has dedicated staff who are available to assist you with the writing process at no additional cost. At USB, we also understand that not all students come from a statistical background. This is why we offer statistical consultation services to assist you with research and analysis.

Prof Charlene Gerber, who lectures in Marketing Management and Research Methodology at USB, says, “You don’t need to be a statistician. You just should be able to report results”.

Should you find yourself with a more complex project, you can make use of data gathering services offered by a number of research companies associated with USB. While these services are not free, USB makes these services available to you at a reduced cost.

“You don’t need to be a statistician. You just should be able to report results”
– Prof Charlene Gerber

Common challenges faced during the research assignment writing process

While we have covered the basics of the writing process in our first blog, here we’ll expand on a number of key challenges.

Submission of a topic

One of the main challenges that you may encounter is defining the problem that you would like to solve. We already covered in our first blog how it is critical for you to clearly outline your topic. However, there is another unique challenge that many students face when it comes to this phase.

Many students pursue additional funding for their studies through the organisations that they work for, and in doing so, some organisations will suggest research topics. However, this suggestion may not be a suitable task or goal to complete during your studies and will then need to be revised.

In some cases there may be some merit to the topic, but usually these ideas will require a large amount of downscaling in order to make it manageable for you to complete at a master’s level. Your supervisor will help you unpack and explore any ideas that you may have to ensure that you are able to successfully complete your research project.

Literature review

Peer-reviewed journal articles should be your go-to when doing a literature review, and should be the backbone of your academic research. Many courses have strict requirements when it comes to literature review, with the expectation that a minimum of 80% of your content is sourced from academic journals. You can stumble across two challenges when doing your literature review.

The first problem is sourcing relevant content. While these journals may be focused on the “global north” (countries like Europe or America), and it may seem like the content is irrelevant to the “global south” (developing countries), it is important for you to remember that the global north has been through many of the challenges that the global south is still facing. You must perform your research diligently to find the information in these journals that is relevant to the challenges they are unpacking.

If you seem unable to find suitable content, it is recommended that you visit the library. Information scientists there will be able to assist you with improving your search process so that you can find the information you need to build the foundation of your research project.

Another challenge that you may face is about access to the right resources. If, as a registered student, you are unable to access the journal networks for any reason, you can still find a large amount of information through the Google Scholar search engine. In addition to the abstracts of paid journal articles, an increasing number of open journals offer quality content for free.


Something that frequently comes up during the proposal stage is the lack of detail when it comes to “how” students intend to accomplish their research projects. For example, students will say that they intend to gather their data via LinkedIn. Here are a few questions you might have to ask to properly unpack the process you intend to follow:

  • How do you intend to gather your data? Will you create a post and ask people to engage with it?
  • How will you draw people to this post?
  • Is it publicly accessible on individuals’ profiles?
  • Have you considered the ethical and legal issues associated with this type of data?

As you can see from these examples, stating that you will gather data from a specific source is far from adequate. Clarity around method is vital for the success of the project.


One of the biggest challenges when it comes to results is students failing to interpret their data. They will report back the content of their results, but be unable to filter or interpret the results in order to extract clear findings. While there’s no doubt that you might be dealing with a large amount of data, it is still critical that you be able to unpack your results and attempt to find a connection with your research objectives.

Presentation is also important when it comes to presenting your data. Where possible, you must try to present your results in an easy-to-understand graphical format.

Use the guidance offered to you

If you are currently a student at USB and haven’t found a solution to your particular research assignment problem, speak to your supervisor or contact our support staff for assistance.

If you aren’t a student at USB but are interested in finding out more about our programmes, use our Programme Finder to find the course that best suits your needs.

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