Intercultural Issues in Business and Management

Heriot-Watt University

School of Social Sciences

Programme: IBM / BM / IBML

Course: C48IB – Intercultural Issues in Business and Management

Activity: 2nd Assignment: 2,000-word essay

You may already be quite comfortable writing essays and if so, you will have a definite feel for what works for you. If, on the other hand, you have not written academic essays before or don’t seem to be getting the marks you feel your efforts deserve, then we encourage you to follow the advice on preparation and research. The same applies to sections on structure, content and style. These sections can also serve as a basis for self-assessment – even for the experienced – before that final draft is submitted.

There is a checklist at the end – we recommend you use it!

1. Planning

· list the points you intend to cover, then try to group them according to some common factor

· summarise your answer to the question in one line, then list the evidence you have for that conclusion (strongest evidence first…?)

· start writing and see what develops

· summarise each intended paragraph in one line, and see how they relate to the question

· write a series of separate paragraphs (one for each area you want to cover), each on a separate piece of paper, and then try to order them

· leave the introduction and conclusion until you’ve written the rest of the essay (a strong favourite)

1.1 Relevance to Question

Although this may sound obvious, many essays lose marks for containing material that is simply irrelevant. Make sure that you read the essay question thoroughly and are sure about what it asks for before you start the reading for the essay. While you are reading, bear in mind what sort of material you are looking for in order to address the assigned topic. Even if you do come across a lot of interesting material when researching for your essay, be selective. Interesting material won’t gain you extra marks unless it is relevant.

Remember that relevance does not only apply to the material you use, but also the way that you use it. Summarising each relevant research area for an essay does not constitute an answer: you have to orient the material you use towards the assigned topic. Part of what you need to learn consists of relationships among ideas.

It is also a good policy to check your final draft with this in mind. Read each paragraph and ask yourself whether it addresses the topic. It is all too easy to drift away from the point.


An important skill of essay writing is learning how to structure what you want to say. All essays should have an introduction and a conclusion. In most cases, this will be your first and last paragraphs respectively. The order of parts in an essay is often prescribed or logically dictated by the contents. The following order of parts is suggested:

· Title page with word count stated
· Introduction (10% of word count recommended, i.e. 180-200 words)

In your introduction,

· Contextualise the topic (why it is relevant, latest developments, current importance, different opinions).

· (in the case of a quote as the essay question: relevant information about the author, publication and date).

· Identify the focus and the purpose of the essay.

· Explain how your essay is going to progress (different parts).

· State what argument you intend to follow ‘This essay will suggest that…’

Make sure the transitions between these points are smooth. Avoid presenting them as if they were bullet points.

· Body of the Essay (80% of word count recommended, i.e. 1,500-1,600 words). This consists of:

· Theoretical framework (approx. 200-300 words)

The theoretical framework aims at identifying most relevant theories linked to the topic under discussion and also at clarifying the meaning of the crucial concepts involved. This is where you provide definitions of the concepts you are using – do not use dictionaries for definitions, but academic sources! Your course reading list is the first port of call.

· Argumentation (approx. 1,300-1,400 words)

· Orderly progression: A well-structured essay should consist of a series of paragraphs which progress logically through the series of points that you intend to cover. Obviously, the difficult part is working out what that order should be. In essence, an essay is an argument, so your structure should be based on what your argument is.

· Establish first the main issues to be discussed (and explain why you believe them to be the most relevant).

· Explain and analyse your arguments. Make sure you have selected the appropriate sources for your arguments and make sure you reference them properly.

· Critically evaluate. You must take into account conflicting ideas, evidence and information, in order to be critical. Critical evaluation is crucial for your essay. Remember that good essays don’t just give evidence for their point of view, but also demonstrate why opposing views are flawed. Imagine a reader, then try to predict their objections to your argument, and then demonstrate why they are wrong. You may not be the first to make these connections, but that doesn’t make them any less valid or interesting. This shows the person reading your essay that you have engaged with the topic, and really thought about it, rather than just regurgitating what you read in the course textbook.

· Quotations: Don’t quote for the sake of quoting. You should only use a quotation when you are unable to say it better, not just because you can’t be bothered to summarise a point of view! For example, if an author has summed up their argument in one pithy phrase, then it might be worth repeating. If you do use quotations, they should be enclosed in quote marks ‘like this’. Longer quotations – if absolutely necessary – may also be set off from the main body of the text, slightly indented and perhaps in a slightly smaller type size. All quotations should always be referenced by author, date and page number!

In a 2nd year level essay, you should look around to see whether anyone else has already made an argument which you believe you have been the first to work out.

Reading through some other books/papers, in addition to, say, the two or three that everyone else is using, is also likely to help you to gain a wider perspective on the question you are studying. All published academic works contain bibliographies which can point you to other papers. Use the on-line library catalogue to search for the books held by the University Library. In some areas, the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI), now available from the University Library on-line (via Web of Knowledge, for example), will allow you to search for any publication mentioned in the bibliography of any journal article. It will also let you search for any publication citing your target article in its bibliography. The Librarians at the service desk will be happy to advise you.

You are encouraged to always stick to academic sources and official websites, and avoid popular accounts of ideas, including those appearing on unofficial websites on the Internet (including Wikipedia).

· Conclusion (10% of word count recommended, i.e., 180-200 words)

Your essay should have a definite ending, in the form of a conclusion. Here you should summarise what it is that you have said in your essay, stating what your answer to the question is and why. Often, there is no simple answer (which is why you are writing an essay, and not a two-mark answer on a class test), so you should state what the complexities of the issue are. You may feel that you are repeating yourself, as the body of your essay should have made your argument clear already, but the reader will appreciate a good summary. Do not offer any new arguments in the conclusion.

· Reference list

Lastly, you should provide a list of references at the end of the essay. This list is not included in the word count. The list of references presents all the in-text citations in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

There is no set number of references you need to use (although 10-15 would be appropriate), but you need to use a combination of books, academic journals and other relevant and reliable sources. Please see referencing guidelines below!


Length (2,000 words, ±10%). Please state the word count on your title page.

Use this requirement to gauge the level of detail, and degree of coverage that is expected. Being able to extract what is important about a particular paper, and summarise it, is an invaluable skill that can be applied in all kinds of real-world situations (to use the jargon, it is a “transferable skill”). Note that markers will penalize essays which are too long. Keeping to the limit tells the marker that you understand what is important in your argument.



Although there is no strict convention on layout, do consider how the essay looks on the page. Several studies have shown that presentation does have a subconscious effect on markers, even when they’re not explicitly marking on that criterion.

It is recommended to use headed sections referring to the different parts of the essay, as explained in these guidelines (Introduction, Theoretical Framework, Argumentation and Conclusion).

All essays should be double-spaced.


What constitutes “good style” is one of the hardest things to state explicitly, and is perhaps the criterion most open to personal variation, but there are some points that you should bear in mind. One important thing to remember is that you are writing an academic essay, and as such, this requires a reasonably formal style of writing. This does not mean that you should be obscure, or use impossibly long sentences with multisyllabic words, but you should avoid being overly colloquial.

More importantly, you should:

· Be explicit. Remember that you should be writing your essay for someone who has a general background in the general subject area, but doesn’t necessarily specialise in that particular topic. Also, don’t leave the reader to infer your conclusions: state them explicitly.

· Use signposts. Make your essay easier to read by being explicit about your essay structure, e.g. ‘As it has been argued previously…’

· Avoid long sentences. Be wary of convoluted syntactic structures: they might be fun to analyse, but they can be difficult to read. Go for short sentences: if you have a sentence more than three or four lines long, then it probably needs to be broken into simpler structures.

· Avoid long paragraphs Try to avoid writing paragraphs more than 15 lines long. Long blocks of text have a negative subconscious effect on the reader. Of course, sometimes points take more space to make, but if you find yourself writing a long paragraph, ask yourself: Should I break this point in to sub-points? You could then connect the sub-points with linking sentences at the beginning and/or end of each of the smaller paragraphs.

Stylistic conventions

A few stylistic points are listed below. Use your own judgment: don’t use complicated structures simply to avoid these forms, but don’t deliberately wave the red flag if you don’t have to. Your tests should be ‘Does it sound awkward?’ and ‘Is my meaning clear?’

· Use of the First Person In any academic writing, the usage of I is generally inappropriate (although this in itself is a debated point). For the purposes of this essay, use passive sentences to convey the same meaning (i.e., ‘as it has been explained before’ instead of ‘as I explained before’; ‘it could be argued’ instead of ‘I should argue’.

· Masculine Generic Terms The use of masculine generic terms such as man and he to refer to both males and females is now avoided in most academic writing. A useful alternative to generic he is to use plural constructions that will permit the use of they.

· Poor spelling, reasonably or not, gives the impression of carelessness and laziness.  Your essay will be word processed, so use the spell checker.  But don’t rely on it exclusively – many common typos (such as that for than) can slip through if you do. Take the time to proofread your essay carefully as well.


Referencing is most important in academic writing. Here are some pointers that can help you understand why academic referencing is important:

Credit the work: When an idea is taken from the text of any other writer or author then you must cite the source to provide credibility to that author’s work. Through referencing you could easily credit the work of authors.

Proof: References are a sort of proof that allows the readers to consult the sources in case of confusions or further discussion. By referencing you allow the readers to verify the information that has been taken from the source.

Plagiarism: You will develop your opinions by researching about the topic of the assignment. The ideas which are taken from the work of other writers and authors must be cited accurately. Submitting the paper without adding citation to the main body of the paper may result in plagiarism. To keep yourself away from the plagiarism accusation you must cite the sources accurately (see referencing guidelines).

Heriot-Watt students now have access to Cite Them Right Online – a web-based citing & referencing resource from Palgrave MacMillan Higher Education. Use it to find out how to reference sources ranging from a printed book to a live performance in a number of different styles (Harvard, APA, MLA, Vancouver). Please note that Heriot-Watt favours Harvard system of referencing.

The site also has information on the basics of referencingtop 10 referencing tipsunderstanding plagiarism and lots more. An accompanying textbook called ‘Cite Them Right’ is also available in the library. For more information, see: /  (p. 10).


· Have I used the Course Cover page? (On Vision)

· Are my name, student number etc. on it?

· Is the word length OK? Have I stated it on the title page?

· Has the spelling been checked?

· Is the list of references correct?

· Is all cited material referenced?

· Are any handwritten symbols, diagrams, etc. correctly inserted?

· If someone read my introduction would they have a rough idea of the body of the essay?

· Does the conclusion encapsulate the main arguments of my essay?

· Were any of my arguments unsubstantiated or biased?

· If I changed anything while going through this checklist did I start again at the top of the checklist?

7. OTHER SOURCES (Only URL. All accessed September 2017)

C48IB essay guidelines 2017/18

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