GUIDELINES FOR THE PREPARATION OF
The regulations of the University for the degree of MBA state that the final part of the specialisation stage of the degree, following on the successful completion of the examinations and coursework relating to the taught part of the programme, “shall take the form of a Business Project of notmore than 10,000 wordsembodying the methods and results of a research project”.
Two copies of the project, printed soft copy on plain paper (fast back binding), must be handed in to the MBA Programme Secretary in the MBA Office (Room A04), who acts on behalf of the Convenor of the examining board. An electronic copy must also be provided on flash drive, CD or DVD. Any student failing to submit by these dates will be deemed to have failed by non-submission. If a project is failed for academic reasons by the board of examiners or if a student fails by non-submission then one further opportunity to submit may be granted, not more than twelve months from the date on which the student is notified that the original submission is unsatisfactory or from the original submission date in the case of those failing to submit. Any resubmission opportunity is ultimately at the discretion of the board of examiners.
Each copy of the project submitted must include:
(a) a summary of the project not exceeding 300 words; and
(b) a statement signed by the candidate indicating to what extent it is a result of his/her independent work or investigation, and indicating any portions for which the work is indebted to other sources.
(c) a statement giving consent for photocopying, interlibrary loan etc. as outlined in the University guidelines for submission of projects.
Explicit references should be given and a full bibliography should be appended to the work.
A project submitted for the MBA shall normally be openly available and subject to no security classification or restriction of access. However the University may, in special circumstances, place a bar on photocopying and/or access to a project for a specified period of up to five years. Any requests for such a bar on access should be made to Professor Ogbonna as Chairman of the Examining Board as soon as possible.
Where students are prevented by illness or other justifiable cause from meeting the time limits for the submission of projects, they may apply in writing for an extension to Professor Ogbonna as Chairman of the Examining Board. Professor Ogbonna has discretion to grant an extension of up to one month; if an extension of more than one month is requested, he will submit such request with his recommendations to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) who is empowered to decide the appropriateness and length of any extensions to be granted. Normally extensions can only be granted to cover events outside the student’s control and of sufficient seriousness to warrant a delay in submission. In all cases independent supporting evidence, medical or otherwise, must be provided.2 CHOOSING A TOPIC
A wide range of topics is possible for MBA projects. Clearly, to be legitimate, the topic must be encompassed by the scope of the MBA programme as presented in the various lecture courses in the core and electives and must be in the chosen area of specialism. For example, a student studying the Accounting & Finance Pathway cannot undertake a project in HRM.
As the project will involve a very considerable amount of work it is obviously desirable to pick a topic which provides substantial motivation in order to carry it through successfully.
The topic for an MBA project should not relate exclusively to practical problems but should relate such problems to some part of the theoretical literature. It is also the case that an entirely theoretical project would normally be inappropriate for the MBA degree scheme.
The topic chosen should relate to some body of literature that can have practical significance and indeed the linkage of theory to practical issues should be one of the guiding principles in selection of a suitable topic. Students are reminded that one of the main problems is the time-scale, and therefore it is essential to pick topics which are worthwhile but capable of being researched at an appropriate level for an MBA project within the time provided. Once a topic has been chosen and a supervisor allocated the topic of the project cannot be changed without the prior permission in writing of Prof. Ogbonna as Chair of the MBA Examination Board.
It should be clear that the role of the supervisor is to provide guidance for students on matters relating to the research project and structure of the subsequent project for the MBA degree. It is notpart of the supervisor’s role to carry out the research, or to write the project, or to provide tuition in the English language to enable students to write it in appropriate English. Students should make clear arrangements with their supervisor concerning the frequency and timing of meetings and should ensure that the work agreed for each meeting is done in advance. Where contacts are made with outside individuals or bodies the supervisor’s permission should be obtained in advance and the consequences of such contact should be reported back to the supervisor at the next meeting. Ethical approval is required for work involving primary research in which individuals are interviewed or asked to complete questionnaires.4 TIMING
One of the greatest problems in successfully carrying out a project through to writing and submitting a project for the MBA is the timescale on which this has to be executed. It is therefore imperative that students develop a programme of work suitable to carry out the project successfully and agree this with the supervisor at an early stage. This programme must allow sufficient time at the end for a rigorous checking of the finished work for content, style and English as well as typographical errors. It is the student’s duty to ensure that the manuscript can be typed and bound in sufficient time to meet the deadline for the degree scheme. The following schedule roughly outlines the progress that is typically needed in order to submit successfully.
(1) During the summer term at the same time as studying for the three specialisation modules, students should carry out preparatory work on the project topic including:
(a) agreeing an overall programme of work with the supervisor;
(b) agreeing a method of working with the supervisor;
(c) working up a fairly detailed outline of the business project to be conducted; including consideration of the methods to be employed;
(d) carrying out an initial literature review in the area of the business project;
(e) making initial contacts with any outside individuals or organisations essential to the completion of the business project and obtaining any ethical approvals that may be required.
(2) After the specialisation examinations and through to 10 September the student should work full-time on the project in order to ensure a satisfactory completion. Normally any data collection should be completed by the earlier part of August in order to allow sufficient time for the latter stages of the process. It is important during this period that the student has regular meetings with the supervisor to report on, and receive guidance on, the progress of the research; they should submit chapters of the project for critical review as soon as available. It is highly advisable that the work is largely completed by early September in order to leave sufficient time for the final checking of the text, including the bibliography, and for having the project bound for submission on 10 September or before.
In many cases students do not leave themselves enough time for the analysis and writing up of their project and so do not do justice to the data they have collected. Careful planning and strict adherence to target dates is vital to avoid this.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly the need to set clear target dates for completion of parts of the work and to keep to these dates in order to ensure satisfactory completion. The latest date for submission of the printed copies of the project, together with the disc copy, will be 2pm [date to be confirmed]. Students should aim to submit regular drafts of their projects, section by section, to supervisors; a project submitted with little or no prior consultation is much less likely to gain a good mark simply because it does not reflect the input and advice that supervisors, can provide – and is also, based on our previous experience of such cases, likely to be regarded with great suspicion and subjected to additional checks for unfair practice.5 THE PROJECT ITSELF
There is no one best way of writing a project or one model for an appropriate format. However, certain aspects are conventionally found in a good project and should only be varied after discussion with the supervisor for good reason. These are:-
(1) The first chapter should be an introduction to the project which should state very clearly the purpose of the project on which the project reports, the methods employed and the logic for choosing those methods, and a brief outline of the subsequent chapters of the project. (Note: It is usual, somewhat paradoxically, to write the introduction after most of the project is complete in order that the student has a clear idea of what is being introduced).
(2) A review of the relevant literature on which the project builds, indicating, in a critical way, the relevant theoretical ideas and previous empirical findings. This should show familiarity with the literature on the topic but must go beyond merely recycling other people’s ideas: students are expected to show engagement with, and critical evaluation of, these ideas.
(3) A report on the main information collection stage making clear the methods employed. It should be noted that even in a project based entirely on library research there should be a differentiation between the general literature and the specific literature which is re-analysed in order to form the basis of the discussion and conclusions.
(4) A discussion of the information gained in the light of the literature reviewed earlier.
(5) Clear conclusions setting out the main findings of the project. This should include what the findings contribute both to the general literature on the subject and the specialist field and/or practical problems which have been covered empirically. These conclusions should include a discussion of any results which conflict with accepted ideas on the subject and which may appear, at first sight, counter-intuitive to others. Further areas for research suggested by the conclusions should also be discussed.
(6) It should be noted that it is a requirement to write a summary of less than 300 words which should summarise all sections of the project.
(7) An important part of the project is the self reflective element that will be included at the end of the report. Students must include a section of no more than 1,000 words at the end of their report in which they reflect on how the previous phases of learning helped them towards this final project.
(8) There should be a complete bibliography of all works which are referenced in the project, whether as part of the literature review or as sources of information. This should be done in a standard format listing works alphabetically by author. It should be noted that one of the routine sources of presentational problems comes in mistakes in the bibliography and therefore students should take considerable care in the compilation of the bibliography and ensure that every work referred to in the text is in fact listed in the bibliography, and vice versa. In cases where significant use has been made of Internet or other electronic sources, specific references should be provided in the bibliography that will allow the original source of the material to be traced (for example, the exact URL of any material quoted or paraphrased, rather than the overall web address of the site used). See also section 6 of this document on avoiding unfair practice.
(9) Appendices to the project are legitimate but should be kept to an absolute minimum.
(10) Footnotes should normally be avoided. Where the point to be made is important it should be included in the main text. Where it is less important it should be removed entirely.
It is important that the project should be as much the student’s own independent work as a formal examination script. A project should not merely consist of a patchwork of other people’s thoughts and interpretations stitched together with a few threads of the student’s own devising; even if every item of source material is correctly cited and referenced, there should be substantial original input from students themselves.
The whole project should be written in good English making the meaning at each point entirely clear to the reader. It should be free of spelling, grammatical or typographical errors. In this context one cannot emphasize enough the need for checking and re-checking the final product. It is not the supervisor’s role to check English. If necessary the student should seek the assistance of competent English speakers. Projects may be failed for poor presentation and poor use of English.
All copies must be presented in permanent and legible form in typescript or print and the characters must be not less than 11 pt (2.50mm). Typing must be of even quality with clear black characters, and capable of photographic reproduction. Double or one-and-a-half spacing should be used in typescript but for the Summary, indented quotations and footnotes single spacing should be used. Drawings and sketches must be in black ink; unnecessary detail should be omitted and there should be at least 1 mm between lines. Copies produced by xerographic or comparable permanent processes are acceptable.
The project must be printed on A4 paper of good quality and sufficient opacity for normal reading. This must show on the front page the surname and initials of the candidate, the full or abbreviated title of the project, the name of the degree for which the project is being submitted and the date of submission. A third copy be submitted on floppy disc, CD or DVD disc in Microsoft Word format. This copy may be subjected to electronic checks for plagiarism of any sort.
Each candidate, when writing a summary, should bear in mind that this may be the only part of the project that is read by other workers. It should be written in such a way as to help researchers in the same field decide whether to read the project and to give those readers who are only marginally concerned with the subject enough information to make it unnecessary for them to read the work in full. The summary should consist of a piece of connected prose and should not be more than 300 words in length. It may be much shorter. Abbreviations should be avoided. The overall length of the project (including appendices) must not exceed 10,000 words.
Plagiarism is defined as “deceiving or attempting to deceive the examiners by passing off as the candidate’s own written work the work of another writer” and is regarded as unfair practice. All projects submitted may be put through electronic anti-plagiarism software which can detect passages plagiarised either from internet sources or from a variety of other published sources such as books and journals. Severe penalties, up to and including the loss of the degree, may be imposed on students who are found guilty of plagiarism. In order to avoid inadvertently committing plagiarism the following should be observed:
(1) Each use of the ideas or words of another must be individually acknowledged in the text of a project. In addition each source acknowledged must be listed, with full details, in the bibliography.
(2) Any use of the exact words of another must be acknowledged by enclosing the words in quotation marks and by stating their source. For example:
“Inequality of bargaining can arise either from the general structure and circumstances of the market place, or from the individual personal circumstance of one of both parties.” (Peden, 1982: xxx )
Here the name of the author, the date of the work and the page of the book from which the words are taken are acknowledged specifically in the text. Full details of the author, the work and its publication details must also be provided in the bibliography.
(3) If only part of a passage from a book is being used, this should be indicated by replacing the omitted words with a short series of dots. For example:
“The common law doctrine of unconscionability is based upon certain elements of justice ... but it never sought to achieve distributive or commutative justice.” (Peden, 1982: 3)
Here the dots indicate that words in the original text have been omitted but the quotation marks also indicate that the words around the dots are a direct quotation.
(4) You may wish to alter the words being quoted so as to fit them into the context in which you are using the quotation or to overcome the problem that the quotation may not make sense when taken out of context. Omitted words should be dealt with as above. Any words added should be enclosed in square brackets. For example:
“This principle [sanctity of contracts] is closely associated with that of freedom of contract ...” (Peden, 1982: 8)
The words in square brackets have been added so that the quotation makes sense and to avoid quoting a longer passage than necessary simply to set it in its context. The series of dots at the end indicates that the quotation has been cut short.
(5) If you do not have access to the original source of a quotation but have found it quoted in the work of someone else, you should give the original source (which the author you have found should have quoted) and the reference to the work where you found it.
Both works should be listed in the bibliography. For example:
“It is a thin line from that’s interestingto that’s in my best interest”
(Weick, 1989: 528 quoted in Noon, 1992: 25).
(6) If you are not using the exact words of, but are making use of the ideas of, another person in the body of your project you must also provide a reference in the same format that would be provided for a direct quotation:
As Peden (1982, 8) has argued, etc.
As Peden (1982, 8) in his work on contracts has argued, etc.
Once more full supporting details of the author, title, publication date etc must be provided in the bibliography.
It is important to note that paraphrasing another person’s ideas should involve a substantial change of the original. A direct quotation in which only a few words have been changed to make it appear different from the original and where the largely verbatimnature of what remains is not indicated by quotation marks would still meet the test of unfair practice even if the source is acknowledged.
(7) Material taken from electronic sources such as the internet or electronic journals is subject to the same rules as outlined above. Any direct quotation that is “copied and pasted” must be indicated by quotation marks; any shortening or expansion of an original quotation must be indicated by dots or square brackets as appropriate; and any use of ideas obtained from such sources which are discussed in the student’s own words must also be referenced to the original source. If the author’s name is known, a suitable form of referencing might be as follows:
"This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right.” (Edmunds, 2006, web reference 1)
And in the bibliography:
Web reference 1: Professor Mike Edmunds, Cardiff University, quoted in 2006 and available at:
http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/newsevents/22801.html(accessed on 11 January 2007)
If the author is not known then the full URL of the material quoted or paraphrased should still be provided, along with details of the date of accessing the site.
For more detailed guidance on the issues of plagiarism and unfair practice, students are referred to the ‘Unfair Practice Booklet’ already issued to all CARBS students at enrolment as well as to the general university pamphlet entitled ‘Student Guide to Academic Integrity’ which has is available on the Cardiff University Website at:
A list of all books, journals, etc referred to in the text of the project should be appended to the work. The following referencing pattern should be followed.Books
Author, date, title of book, publisher and place of publication, e.g. D.L. Davies, French Music, A.S. Barnes & Co, Cranbury NJ (1968).Articles
Author, date, title of article, periodical title, volume number, page numbers, e.g. C.K. James and P. Evans (1969) Cavitation, Engineering, 40 82-84.Internet references
A separate list of internet references, numbered sequentially, should be provided in the bibliography where substantial use has been made of web-based material. Each reference should contain the FULL URL of the source used, rather than the general web address.The list might read as follows:-
Armstrong, M. and Murliss, H. (1988) Reward Management: A Handbook of Salary Administration, London: Kogan Page.
Bevan, S. and Thompson, M. (1991) ‘Performance Management at the crossroads’, Personnel Management, November: 36-39.
Brindle, D. (1987) ‘Will performance pay work in Whitehall’,Personnel Management, August: 36-9.
Charam, R. (1982) ‘How to strengthen your strategy review process’, Journal of Business Strategy, 3(1): 16-24.
Web reference 1: Professor Mike Edmunds, Cardiff University, quoted in 2006 and available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/newsevents/22801.html(accessed on 11 January 2007)
The important thing to stress about correct referencing is traceability: anything cited or referred to in the text of a project must be capable of being traced by a reader, via the details given in the bibliography, directly back to the exact page or pages of the book, journal, article or other publication from which it was sourced. Similarly, anything listed in a bibliography is expected to have been cited or referenced in the text of the project.
Increasing use is being made of material from the Internet and a particular problem in recent years has been that some students have simply copied and pasted whole sections of material from Web sources into assignments or projects without properly acknowledging the source – or what is often the verbatimnature of the quotation. This is a frequent cause of unfair practice cases. The same principles as set out above apply to Internet and other electronically-sourced material. The full URL for each piece of material used should be given in the bibliography, so that a reader can trace the material back to its exact source. It is acceptable to summarise a website name in the text of a project provided that this is spelt out and fully traceable in the bibliography. As websites change frequently, the date of consulting the site should also be indicated in the bibliography. If web material is used extensively then a separate bibliography of web addresses, identified in the text as “web reference 1”, “web reference 2” etc., may be helpful.
Please also note that unfair practice is defined more widely than merely copying another person’s words or using another person’s ideas without acknowledgment. It includes the falsification of data, the copying of tables, charts or diagrams without acknowledgment, the fabrication of interview material or responses to questionnaires, making false claims to have carried out experiments, observations or other forms of research, or distorting the results of research even if the research has been carried out.
Once the general topic area has been decided it is vital that the purpose or purposes of the project are defined as accurately as possible and as clearly as possible. This must be done very rapidly in order that other work may continue. The purpose should be agreed with the supervisor on the basis of a written submission from the student.
It is inevitably true in many cases that the purposes may be varied during the course of the project. However, it is dangerous to do this and almost certainly disastrous to do it too frequently. When further consideration of the literature or of the practical problems of carrying out the project or indeed other factors cause the student to believe that a redefinition of the purpose or purposes is required, they should discuss this immediately with their supervisors and agree a new version in writing as soon as possible. It is important that the purpose is defined with sufficient clarity to guide the work of the student and when finally incorporated in the introduction to the project, to guide the reader in assessing the student’s work. It is also important to state the purpose in a way which is capable of fulfilment within the confines of an MBA project. There are many projects which may be interesting and potentially valuable which are totally unsuitable for MBA projects as they would require far too much time and/or resources. This is a project, not a doctoral thesis for which three years’ work may be needed.(2) Defining an Approach
The purpose of a project will in large measure dictate the range of possible approaches available. Some purposes could only be realised by the collection of new empirical data whilst others may be capable of being realised solely by the use of library resources. Other variations or combinations of approaches are of course possible. In deciding the approach to be adopted the student should be guided partly by consideration of the purpose, partly by consideration of studies already reported in the literature (including previous projects) and partly by discussion with the supervisor. In deciding the approach to be adopted the student should translate this into a timing sequence in order to ensure that it can be carried through at an appropriate level within the defined timescale.
In deciding the approach to be adopted it is vital that the student has sufficient knowledge of the methods required for data collection and analysis and of library sources. One should also take account of the availability of materials, the possibilities and difficulties of gaining entry to situations where data can be collected, and all other factors relating to the conduct and timing of the project and project writing.(3) Reviewing the Literature
Any MBA project should, at least in part, be based on a knowledge and appreciation of the previous literature relevant to the purpose of the project. Advice should be taken at an early stage from the supervisor concerning likely literature sources.
In most cases it is sensible to commence the literature review with a consideration of journals which are likely to be immediately relevant to the topic. These should be systematically searched starting with the most recent issue and going back for at least a five year period. Where material is found relevant to the purpose of the project this should be read and a note taken of any references which appear to be of importance which should be followed up in turn. By proceeding in this way one should quickly get a picture of the relevant literature by working back through references suggested by current authors. It should be noted that an MBA project does not require an encyclopaedic review of literature but an appreciation of the key current issues. For most topics, sufficient material should be available in the Aberconway Library and only exceptional use should be made of inter-library loans. It should be noted that references to previous projects should generally be rather limited as these will not have gone through the refereeing process imposed by major journals.
Notes on the literature reviewed should be made systematically. It is vital that students keep a full bibliographic reference for any work they may wish to refer to in the final project, in order to save the time needed to look up references again at the end of the writing process. Most students find it convenient to do this either on a computer database or by a card index to allow a rapid re-ordering of references at the end. Collecting references as you read (including all details such as year of publication and EXACT page numbers) will save an enormous amount of time in the long term.
A helpful guide to the process of researching projects has been prepared by the staff of the Guest Library. This is available on the MBA Noticeboard on Blackboard in the “Projects” section and is downloadable as a PDF. file.(4) Empirical Research
Where empirical research is an integral part of the project to be carried out it is important that a number of simple guidelines are followed. Firstly, approaches to any individuals or organisations external to the Business School should be discussed with the supervisor prior to contact being made and ethical approval received where appropriate for the contact and general approach to be adopted. Secondly, it is imperative that in approaching outside individuals or organisations you explain the purpose of the research making clear your status as an MBA student at the Business School. You should make totally clear at the outset the extent to which any communications will be treated confidentially and whatever is agreed shall be followed exactly. In dealing with outsiders please remember that the Business School is often judged by the conduct of its staff and students and you should therefore at all times act in a professional manner.
It should be noted that gaining access to individuals or organisations in order to collect data can often be problematic and it is therefore essential that the work is planned and contacts made well in advance to avoid significant delays preventing the satisfactory completion of the project.
Students wishing to send out questionnaires or conduct interviews as part of their research should ensure that they discuss in detail the nature of the questionnaire or interview guide with the supervisor and ensure that they have the supervisor’s approval before going forward. This may also involve approval from the Business School’s Research Ethics Committee and time should be allowed for such approval to be gained.(5) Data Analysis
For many projects it will be necessary to analyse data using computers. There are a wide variety of statistical packages available which make data analysis relatively straightforward although many students will find that a spreadsheet is more appropriate to their level of expertise and data handling requirements. Students wishing to analyse data in this way should ensure that they obtain appropriate advice from the supervisor, or others suggested by the supervisor, well in advance to prevent delays and problems at a later point. Although in theory the data for most MBA projects can be analysed sufficiently within 24 hours it is wise to allow a significant period to complete the data analysis to allow for the necessary checking and further analysis based on the initial outputs, as well as for time lost by mistakes.
It is obviously the case that, if data is fed incorrectly into a computer, then the results are likely to be meaningless or misleading. It is therefore essential that every stage of a data analysis, and particularly the data input, is checked and double checked with great care to avoid misleading or meaningless results. Original material such as questionnaires, notes or recordings of interviews, along with spreadsheets and copies of data used in generating tables and results, must be retained. Supervisors may wish to review such material as part of the marking process, as may external examiners. Any project may also be subjected to a viva voceexamination for which such material MUST be available. Without such evidence there is a risk that students may be accused of inventing or falsifying data – another serious offence that is treated as unfair practice.(6) Writing Up
Because of the timescale within which the project must be completed it is useful to start the writing up process early and in many cases it should be possible to do a first draft of the literature review before starting on the substantive research. Interim drafts during the research can make the final writing-up much easier. It is however crucial that sufficient time is left after all the data has been analysed to allow for considerable thought and work to go into the final writing-up of the various sections. Different students have different ways of working but generally it is sensible to try and develop a first draft as rapidly as possible and then work on improvements. As suggested earlier in this document, it is much easier for supervisors to comment on a work section by section as it progresses – and much less of a problem for the student to rewrite a single chapter in the light of supervisory comments than to redraft the whole work.
8 STANDARDS AND MARKING
Given the diversity of legitimate topics covered by MBA projects it is difficult to lay down firm guidelines for the marking of the ensuing projects. In this context it should be noted that the timescale for the research project on which the MBA project is based is exceedingly limited and it should therefore not be judged in the same way as a project or thesis for a research degree. However the following points should be borne in mind.
The purpose of the project should be appropriate for the MBA degree scheme and should be clearly explained in the project.
The methods employed should be appropriate to the purposes of the project and should be fully explained such that the reader can understand each stage of the processes involved.
The literature review should be adequate to outline relevant prior work and set the project in the context of earlier work in the area.
The data should be presented with sufficient fullness that the reader fully understands the basis of the subsequent analysis and discussion.
The analysis should be explained in a full way and presented clearly to the reader.
The discussion of results and implications should relate to the previous literature and to the analysis in a way which makes clear its value and logic.
The project should end with conclusions derived from the discussion which are clear.
Bearing these points in mind an approximate weighting of each aspect marked should be as follows:
for a clear statement of the purposes and methods of the project – 10%
for the appropriateness of the methods employed and their rigorousness and the extent to which they have been implemented – 10%
for a relevant and clear critical review of the relevant literature upon which the research is based – 15%
for a thorough presentation and discussion of the results, including any implications of the methods employed – 30%
for clear conclusions derived from the discussion – 10%
for a clear self reflective element at the end of the report on how the previous phases of learning helped them towards this final project (1,000 words) – 15%
for the organisation, logic and coherence of the project and its presentation, English and spelling and correct use of referencing – 10%
It should be noted that failings of presentation, English or a lack of logic in the argument can lead to the removal of marks in any part of the marking scheme outlined above and can lead to the failure of an otherwise acceptable project.