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Your RAP: choosing a topic and subject organisation

John Playle, chief moderator for Oxford Brookes University BSc (Hons) in Applied
Accounting, provides expert guidance

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
Overall approach for the topic
The student needs to have a good grasp on the general approach to OBU RAP Topic 8 from
the beginning of the projects because only a clearly outlined approach enables the student
to stay on the correct track and uphold the main requirements of the topic.
OBU RAP Topic 8 – “Analysis and evaluation of the business and financial performance of an
organisation over a three year period” is the most sought-after topic among all 20 OBU
prescribed topics. This is the most popular topic because it can be prepared with the use of
readily assessable information from different sources like websites, newspapers, online
journals and publications, industry analysis reports and the like. The students prefer these
methods for obtaining the required information. Here are some key factors that need to be
considered by the student when preparing the RAP under Topic 8:

o For the preparation of the RAP under Topic 8, the selected company needs to be in the sectors
authorized by the Oxford Brookes University. These sectors are announced every year in June, and
for the current period these are: (1) Aerospace, (2) Food Products and (3) Hotels;
o The student needs to select a company for which they have a generous amount of data from
primary and secondary sources of information. The student needs to note that for completion of
Topic 8, the use of primary sources of information is not mandatory, but it is recommended that the
student has access to the information necessary for completion of this topic, as without it the RAP
will not be prepared per the OBU standards.
o An important part is a logical discussion on the different internal and external factors that have
their impact on the performance of the company in the last three years. This is important in order
to fulfil the topic requirements and the expectations of OBU and get good grades on the RAP.
o One of the main requirements of OBU RAP Topic 8 is the analysis of the performance of the
company in relation to the related sector/industry or a competitor. For the successful passing of the
RAP, the benchmarking performance of the company, industry, and competitor must be included in
the RAP.
o The adequate usage of the different secondary sources of information is very important, the
analysis should not be dependent only on few limited sources. The OBU examiners are very
meticulous and will award an “F” grade if they recognize the continuous use of similar information
as this points to the use of limited sources instead of the preferred widespread analysis of the
different sources.
o A proper balance between the main requirements of OBU RAP Topic 8 – “Analysis and evaluation of
the business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period” must be
provided. The first requirement is the Financial Analysis and the second is the Business Analysis for
the last three years, which means that an equal importance needs to be given to both aspects
instead of favouring one at the expense of the other. The inadequate balance may lead to low grade
or even failing the RAP due to the misunderstanding of the main topic requirements.
o The adequate use of IT skills is very important for every topic. For Topic 8, the proper use of graphs,
bar and pie charts, tables, etc, is especially important as the results of the research can be easily
shown through graphs that enable the reader of the report to quickly understand the findings on
the company’s performance and the comparison between the competition.

At the start of the preparation of the RAP, the student needs to understand the general
requirements that are outlined in the topic title, for OBU RAP Topic 8 – Analysis and
evaluation of the business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year
period. The specific approach needs to be aligned with the requirements of the topic title.
Many students rush and start working on the RAP without previous preparation or getting
help from a qualified mentor. These students usually get stuck in the middle of the project
as they do not have an adequately planned approach. The proper planning means that the
student has listed all the topic requirements and assessed the available information from
different sources. The next step is the preparation of the content and layout of the project
in respect to the OBU guidelines that are outlined in Section 7.d.xi) Structure, word count,
and presentation the Information Pack. The laying of the structure and layout means that
the student can easily follow the topic requirements and have insight into the progress of
the work.
The selected approach to OBU RAP Topic 8 – “Analysis and evaluation of the business and
financial performance of an organisation over a three year period” needs to be discussed
with the Project Mentor. The Project Mentor can provide the proper guidance that is based
on the selected approach, the selected company, the available information and the level of
understanding the student has on the selected topic. The Project Mentor also keeps in
consideration all the OBU regulations, the expectations of the OBU examiners and the
personal mentoring experience.

b. Benefits for choosing this topic


There are many benefits from this topic if the student is able to obtain quality information
from the reliable secondary source. For the preparation of Topic 8, the access to reliable
secondary sources of information is key. The selection of Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation
of the business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period will
give a chance to the student to implement their theoretical knowledge obtained via the
ACCA studies and during any other professional qualifications in a real-life practical setting.
This also helps in the professional grooming of the future ACCA certified accountant.
Through the preparation of Topic 8, the student will gain a better idea of the business and
financial performance of a company and understand the impact on the general
performance of the company and the on the general decision-making process.
If the student finds enough information and has a better grasp on the business and financial
performance of a company in a period of three years, then they will enjoy doing the
research and preparing the RAP which will result with good grades and a quality project.

c. Major aspects of the topic


Outlined below are the main aspects that need to be considered while preparing the RAP
under OBU RAP Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the business and financial
performance of an organisation over a three year period. These need to be completely
respected and not avoided as they have a major role in the grade of the RAP. These are the
important aspects:

o The topic title outlines the main requirements, for Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the business
and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period. The student needs to discuss
these with the Project Mentor at the beginning of the project in order to get advice on the
preparation of the RAP;
o A good balance between the financial and business analysis needs to be maintained in relation to
the selected company;
o It is very important to consider the analysis of the internal and external factors (and the included
micro and macro level factors) in the selected company. These factors influence the general
performance of the company and a proper research can’t be conducted without the consideration of
these factors;
o The approach to this topic and the table of contents need to align with the main topic requirements
that enable the student to stay on the correct track and also enable the OBU examiners to easily
analyse the project against the nine assessment criteria that can be found in Appendix 1 in the
Information Pack. This has a great impact on the quality of the RAP and the final grade on the
project;
o The student needs to be aware and understand the general business and financial performance of
the company in the last three years. The understanding of the topic requirements is a support for
the analysis of the requirements and preparation of a good quality RAP.
o The analysis of the business and financial performance of the selected company needs to be done
through different tools like quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis, use of charts and graphs,
Benchmarking, GAP analysis, etc;
o Some examples that explain the topic requirements on the performance of the company in a
business and financial sense (in a positive or negative manner) in the specific period of analysis
should be provided by the student;
o The goals and objectives along with the research questions need to be defined by the student. These
need to align to the topic requirements, for OBU RAP Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the
business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period. Also, the goals,
objectives and research questions need to correspond to the topic requirements and only these
need to find their place in Part 3 of the Research Report. Any other irrelevant information will be
dismissed by the OBU examiner and will result in low grade or fail the whole project;
o The proper sequence of the necessary aspects along with a balanced implementation of the
requirements is very important and no requirements must be ignored. The improper emphasis of
one requirement in respect to the other will bring a lower grade on the RAP;
o The conclusion that is provided by the student needs to be logical and include the results derived
from the student’s research work;
o An important factor that helps the student is the feedback from the Mentor. The experienced
Mentor knows how to guide the student through the important aspects of the topic and the OBU
prescribed rules and regulations. The Mentor also gives advice on better practices and options that
can help prepare the project with the available information. A major role in this has the previous
mentoring experience in this and similar topics.

d. Key considerable aspect (i.e.


availability of Information)
For the adequate completion of the RAP under Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the
business and financial performance of an organisation over a three year period, the
important factor is the availability of information from different sources. Topic 8 is related
to the business and financial performance, and the information on this topic is mainly
acquired through different secondary sources. The access to information from the reliable
secondary sources is very important for the proper completion of OBU RAP Topic 8. The
student needs to make sure they have proper access to enough information on this topic
from reliable secondary sources. If the student is not able to obtain the necessary
information at any stage of the preparation of the RAP, they bring the fate of the entire
project in question and risk getting a low grade or fail the RAP. The possibilities are best
discussed with an experienced Mentor that will help them align the approach and avoid any
possible issues during any stage of the preparation of the project.

e. Possible limitations for the topic


OBU RAP Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the business and financial performance of
an organisation over a three year period, requires the use of information from reliable
secondary sources, so it is likely that the student will not face any major issues with the
preparation of this topic. Here are some limitations that need to be addressed before the
student starts working on the RAP:

o It is not mandatory, but the student may still try to get the necessary information from primary
sources. If this approach is chosen, the student needs to be aware that some companies may refuse
to give out the required information due to confidentiality issues, legal concerns or business
secrets. These factors must be clear to the student if they select this option for gathering the
required information for completion of Topic 8. As this topic is related to the Business and Financial
Performance of a company, some of this information may be confidential;
o In many cases, the student may not find good literary reviews for the selected topic from online
sources and will be forced to look at other options like books, public libraries or archive records for
obtaining the necessary information. In-depth research in the online libraries can bring good
information on the topic;
o Due to limited knowledge and experience on the company and related sector, the student may not
be able to properly evaluate the Business and Financial Performance of the selected company. The
Project Mentor is the best person to discuss this issue with and they can offer the proper guidance
to overcome this problem.
o Some of the results gotten from the primary source may not be in alignment with the results
obtained from the secondary sources and some major differences and uncertainties may arise. This
can easily be solved by a discussion with the Project Mentor and their guidance will help you
through the resolution of the issue while still respecting the OBU prescribed rules and regulations.

f. Suitable company for this topic


The proper completion of the RAP is only possible by selecting the most appropriate topic
and company. The company is the object where the student administers all the topic
requirements based on the gathered information from the various sources.
For Topic 8, the selected company must belong in one of the specific sectors allowed by
OBU (only Topics 8 and 15 are required to do this). A good company under the allowed
sector is the company for which the student can get the necessary information from
primary and secondary sources. Topic 8 – Analysis and evaluation of the business and
financial performance of an organisation over a three year period usually requires the use
of information from secondary sources, the student can easily obtain all the necessary
information.
Here are the main factors the student needs to look over when selecting a company for
their RAP:

o For the proper completion of Topic 8, it is important that the student have a good understanding of
the general operations of the company, especially the business and financial performance of the
company.
o The personal interest of the student in the workings of the company and associated sector are
major factors for enjoyment and dedication to the research work.
o Topic 8 is very popular because it is easily completed with the use of information from secondary
sources like newspapers, websites, online journals, publications, etc, that are related to the
company and associated sector.
o Should the student use primary sources of information, even though this is not mandatory for Topic
8, then the student needs to ensure the management of the company will provide the required
information and provide answers to the different questions by the student at different i
o If student plan to use primary sources of information (not mandatory/ required for topic 8), he/she
should ensure that ,management is willing to provide “Letter or Authorisation” for usage of primary
sources of information for OBU project purpose. “Letter or Authorisation” from organisation is
compulsory requirement of OBU (if you use primary sources) as mentioned in section 7.d. iii (d) of
information pack.