Whenever we carry out workshops for mentors for the ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting, we always tell them the following: when a prospective mentee first approaches you to be their mentor, always ask if they have read the guidelines. If the answer is ‘no’ you should refuse to see them until they have. If they have, you should ask a second question…
‘Have you decided upon a topic and subject organisation yet?’ Again, if the answer is ‘no’ you should also refuse to see them until they have.
This is because it is not the mentor’s job to tell you about the guidelines – it is your project. Similarly, it is not their job to tell you what to write about. Of course you may wish to discuss some concerns but it is your decision. You are the one who is going to spend hours researching and writing the Research and Analysis Project (RAP), so you need to be comfortable and confident about the subject.
Before deciding on a subject organisation, you must choose from among the 20 topics available. There are many myths about what is the easiest topic to pass or the one that has the highest pass rate. Not one of those myths is supported by evidence. The easiest topic is the one you know most about and will enjoy researching and writing and there is no evidence supporting the theory that some have a higher pass rate than others.
You do need to think about the kind of research that will be required or is appropriate for your topic choice. For example, topic 8 (the most popular choice – around two thirds of submissions) is ‘the business and financial performance of an organisation over a three-year period’ and this will almost certainly be supported 100% by secondary research of material in the public domain. Any attempt to try to arrange an interview with a senior executive of a major organisation will probably not succeed. Indeed, if all the interviews alleged to have taken place in student RAPs actually did take place, the executives concerned would have no time to carry out their duties! In any event, you are less likely to obtain objective comments and answers from the company than from an independent commentator. If you think about it, this view would also apply to some other topics.
Considering topic 6, however (the second most popular topic), ‘The key factors or indicators in the motivation of employees in an organisation’, it would be hard to imagine that it would be possible to complete such a project without extensive primary research. Again, this approach would apply to some other topics.
So, having selected your topic, you must now choose your organisation. Remember that you will be looking for a great deal of information about the organisation so my first piece of advice is to Google the name. Look it up on the internet and if you get very few hits it probably is not a good idea to make that the subject of your research.
I am often asked if it is possible to write a project where the subject organisation is a charity, government department or public authority. Of course, in theory it is but it will rather depend on the topic. For example, such organisations would not lend themselves to topic 8 or some others where business and financial performance is central to the RAP. On the other hand they could well be very appropriate for other topics such as 1 (dealing with budgetary control), 6 (motivation), 9 and others.
Another question that I am frequently asked is whether it is a good idea to use your own employer as the subject organisation. Of course, the first thing to consider here is the question of ethics. You are likely to have access to sensitive information that is not in the public domain. You must provide evidence from your employer that you have been given permission to reveal such data. From my own experience of marking and moderating many projects I have found that using your employer for any of the ‘accounting’ topics (particularly 8) is rarely a good idea, not just for ethical reasons, although they are important, but also because it is difficult not to have a pre-conceived conclusion about the company whether it is good or bad. Also, if the organisation is not well known and for whom information is not in the public domain, it may be impossible for you to provide sufficient referencing to enable the marker to verify the data and information that you are using.
Of course, there are other topics where using your employer is not only very beneficial but sometimes essential. Topic 6 will almost certainly require the completion of questionnaires or interviews that would be extremely difficult if you did not work there but don’t forget the ethical question. Writing about an organisation’s budgetary control system would also be very difficult from outside that organisation. There are other examples but I am sure that you can work that out.
One last thing. A lot of thought has gone into the titles of the topics you can choose from. They all reflect a part of the ACCA syllabus for the Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills exams. They are very clear as to what is required from each of them. Make sure that your RAP meets those requirements. You cannot write a report and then decide which topic it matches most. The RAP must be written specifically to fit the requirements of that topic heading.
So, in summary:
- You choose the topic and company that you want to write about
- Make sure there is plenty of data in the public domain – Google it!
- Think about whether the topic is appropriate for the organisation
- Be careful and think if topic is appropriate if using your employer and remember to consider ethics
- Make sure you write to cover all the requirements of the topic.
John Playle is chief moderator for Oxford Brookes University BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting