Posts Tagged Business

Redefining reality: an example of how to focus essay questions

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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Last week we looked at redefining the question to make it easier to answer. Now, there is a danger if you take this advice out of context: you will lose many of your marks – maybe even all of them – if you change the substance of the question. Remember, analysing the question correctly is the basis of a good essay answer. Dreaming up your own essay question is not completing the required task. So remember this: narrow the question, don’t try to twist it into encouraging wild thoughts and tangents.

By the way, did you notice that the above clarification is a nuanced argument? Not only are they useful tactics to use when doing writing; they’re also useful when learning how to write!

To make the concept of ‘redefining the question’ clearer, below are some examples of what you should and shouldn’t do.

You should not do this:*

*Answers are not written in essay form. The tone is purposefully colloquial and facetious; this is not how you would write an actual academic essay.

1. Compare and contrast the two poems “Thistles” by Ted Hughes and “Tall Nettles” by Edward Thomas.

Thistles by Ted Hughes is about prickly thistles and the thistles grow in the wilderness and the thistles annoy people because they grow where they want to grow plants… [basically, only writing about one poem].

2. Discuss the theme of power and authority in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare is a play about betrayal, revenge, fate and justice… [never mentioning the given themes of power or authority, or only mentioning them briefly – probably at the end of the essay when you reread the question before writing your conclusion, when you suddenly realise you should say something about the given themes].

You should do this:

Here’s an example question that gets narrowed down in many ways. Let’s highlight then redefine parts of the question.

3. Discuss ethics in business organisations and how they can affect stakeholders.

Businesses today face a phenomenon of growing ethical concerns from groups on all sides: consumers, regulators, employees (Samson & Daft, 2005).

Some thinkers consider ethics to be a purely individual matter, and therefore focus on training responsible managers (MacLagan, 1998, cited in Knights & Willmott, 2007). However, this essay will focus on the ethical attributes of multi-national organisations themselves, as entities distinct from their constituent members, and the positive benefits with which multi-national businesses can endow society. Overall, this essay will argue that organisations have an ethical capacity in themselves and can pro-actively respond to the various ethical perspectives by being a source of positive transformation in modern society.


Notice how the coloured parts of the question are narrowed down to more specific sub-sets in the introduction of the essay? The concept of “multi-national organisations themselves” having “ethical attributes” is more specific than a general discussion of “ethics” which includes the idea that “ethics [is] a purely individual matter”. Similarly, “multi-national organisations” is a more specific focus than any size “business”, and so on. So the question hasn’t been changed, but the essay has been focused so that part of a broad topic can be covered in more depth.

So that’s what you can and can’t do when redefining the question. Use this technique correctly and it will make your essay-writing projects a lot easier. Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions or comments. See you again next week!

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Is a conclusion, an introduction in disguise? – Analysing an example

Henri Fayol and Pumpkin Patch

Last week we looked at whether a conclusion is roughly just a paraphrased introduction in past tense by comparing the formulaic introduction and conclusions. In this post we will continue with this analysis by looking at an example.

Introduction – Conclusion

1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!

Introduction: Fresh from successfully reversing his mining company’s fortunes, French engineer-cum-manager Henri Fayol developed and later published in 1919 his Administrative Theory (Hatch with Cunliffe, 2006).”

Conclusion: Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.”

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

Content-wise these two sentences have very little in common. Also, the introductory sentence is neutral (they’re accepted facts) and the conclusion is not – find a few successful businesses you think don’t apply any of the principles and you’ve got a counter-argument. So the only similarities are their tone; both are powerfully written and get the marker’s attention, and that they address the broader context.

2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene

Introduction: “In this book, General and Industrial Management, Fayol introduced 14 principles of management (Samson & Daft, 2005); four of these will be discussed in this essay in relation to Pumpkin Patch.”

Conclusion: “This essay has considered the applications of four of Henri Fayol’s 14 principles of Administrative management in the modern organisation, in regards to Pumpkin Patch.”

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

These sentences are nearly identical. It is quite common for the sentence in the introduction to contain a little more detail and for it to not be quite so similar diction-wise to the conclusion’s sentence; but in this case you couldn’t paraphrase the conclusion’s sentence much more. No, don’t reach for that thesaurus!

3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

Introduction: “Due to its age, it is easy to disregard Fayol’s work as not being relevant in today’s fast-paced modern environment (Fells, 2000).”

Conclusion: “However not all of Fayol’s principles are applied in modern organisations and some principles are more useful in certain situations than others, so therefore these are more rigorously applied (Rodrigues, 2001). While the four principles discussed in this essay (Authority and Responsibility, Division of Work, Unity of Direction, and Esprit de Corps) have all had a dramatic impact of turning this home-grown New Zealand business global, this list is not exhaustive, as Fayol (1967) concludes, there is no limit to the principles of management.”

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

These two sentences are pretty much completely different. While they both show the writer’s intelligence, they go about it in very different ways. The sentence in the introduction sets the context of the essay – applying an old management theory to a modern business. On the other hand, the sentences in the conclusion that make up the twist look at what the essay specifically discussed and made a judgement – not all of the principles are equal nor is there a fixed amount of them.

4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question

Introduction: “Contrarily this essay shall argue that Pumpkin Patch’s massive growth in just 16 years (Brookes, Shepherd and Nicholson, 2008) can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles.”

Conclusion: Examining key parts of the organisation from executive directors to the ordinary part-time employees, in addition to important production models, it has shown how Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today.”

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

Both these sentences are saying very similar things: “can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles” = “Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today.” The only real difference is that the conclusion’s sentence mentions some of the evidence used to prove the essay’s argument.

5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!

Introduction: Overall, this essay will focus on the importance of the principles of Authority and Responsibility, Unity of Direction, Division of Work and Esprit de Corps.”

Conclusion: Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.”

Introduction in disguise? Close.

The sentence in the conclusion essentially covers what the sentence in the introduction says, however it goes much further. While the introduction’s sentence is focused on what the essay is going to discuss, the conclusion’s sentence relates the essay to the broader context – Pumpkin Patch extrapolated to “modern businesses” and the four specific principles to Fayol’s principles as a whole.

So is a conclusion, an introduction in disguise?

No, but it is rather close.

The real key difference as discussed in my previous post, is the comparison: “3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist” which is very obvious in the example above. This is not much of a surprise because the twist is what sets the conclusion apart. It makes a conclusion a conclusion – and it’s the bit that gets you marks.

The main difference that sets the introduction apart from the rest of the conclusion (i.e. minus the twist) is the first sentence – “Hook them!” You shouldn’t need to hook the reader in your conclusion as they should have been reading from the start! It is the first sentence of the introduction that is going to draw the marker in; so write a good one.

Other than those two differences, the two paragraphs are rather similar. However, make sure you know the slight differences, and don’t get lazy and fall into the trap of copying the sentences in your introduction word for word and then paraphrasing them – that trick only works when you want to “Re-state the scene”!

Do you agree with my conclusion? Are there any more similarities and differences you think I’ve missed?

Below are the complete paragraphs:

Introduction

Fresh from successfully reversing his mining company’s fortunes, French engineer-cum-manager Henri Fayol developed and later published in 1919 his Administrative Theory (Hatch with Cunliffe, 2006). In this book, General and Industrial Management, Fayol introduced 14 principles of management (Samson & Daft, 2005); four of these will be discussed in this essay in relation to Pumpkin Patch. Due to its age, it is easy to disregard Fayol’s work as not being relevant in today’s fast-paced modern environment (Fells, 2000). Contrarily this essay shall argue that Pumpkin Patch’s massive growth in just 16 years (Brookes, Shepherd and Nicholson, 2008) can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles. Overall, this essay will focus on the importance of the principles of Authority and Responsibility, Unity of Direction, Division of Work and Esprit de Corps.

Conclusion

This essay has considered the applications of four of Henri Fayol’s 14 principles of Administrative management in the modern organisation, in regards to Pumpkin Patch. Examining key parts of the organisation from executive directors to the ordinary part-time employees, in addition to important production models, it has shown how Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today. However not all of Fayol’s principles are applied in modern organisations and some principles are more useful in certain situations than others, so therefore these are more rigorously applied (Rodrigues, 2001). While the four principles discussed in this essay (Authority and Responsibility, Division of Work, Unity of Direction, and Esprit de Corps) have all had a dramatic impact of turning this home-grown New Zealand business global, this list is not exhaustive, as Fayol (1967) concludes, there is no limit to the principles of management. Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.

Photo Credit: Henri Fayol via Wikimedia Commons, Pumpkin Patch logo via Human Synergistics International’s website

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Essays for generals (Part V) – divide and conquer

WWII Divide and Conquer 5

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome back, generals.

Today’s briefing covers an important lesson: effectively deploying your regiments to get more marks. This clever trick not only helps you when you’re planning your paragraphs, but it also helps you adapt as you write (as long as you’re using a word processor).

Tip: combine similar and related ideas into single paragraphs; split paragraphs that are too large.

Too many students feel that they have to write paragraphs based around the way the concepts first came into their heads and then got scribbled in a margin to make a bullet-point plan. This is not the case. Don’t be restricted by your first thoughts. You have the freedom to experiment and change how they’re put together and expressed.

For example, say your essay is about marketing and you have a paragraph on one mini-argument. It’s about how using advertising is crucial in supporting a broader marketing strategy, say. If this has ended up as a huge paragraph, you have two options:

  1. Cut it back
  2. Split in two

You could consider splitting the advertising paragraph into one about advertising in traditional media and one about online advertising, perhaps. Splitting a humongous paragraph retains more information in your essay, but it also ensures that all of that information is easier to read. I suggest “cutting back” egregious paragraphs as much as possible first, though. Cull out the unnecessary words, thoughts, phrases – and even full sentences. Make your essay clearer by removing written clutter.  If you streamline your big paragraph first, you may find that you don’t need to split it after all. However, even if you still split the monster paragraph later, you have higher quality content to split.

Conversely, if you had two small paragraphs on these topics, they will probably make a stronger case together – you may have to adjust your topic sentences, but once that’s done, the new ‘super’ paragraph will be all the more persuasive with it’s ‘extra’ pieces of evidence. Here’s an example of a paragraph with opening and closing topic sentences.

Combining and splitting paragraphs gives you more flexibility when you’re planning – and writing – your essay. It’s a useful strategy to employ if you want to unlock all the potential of your writing by structuring it in paragraphs that persuade your marker.

Now, go forth and “divide and conquer”.

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