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Getting the RAP topic right!

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Will Trevor shares his advice on choosing the right Research and Analysis Project (RAP) topic, part of the BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting at Oxford Brookes University.

Having mentored many ACCA students as they complete their RAP I know that they can feel daunted by the task of identifying a suitable topic. With twenty topics to choose from, the task can seem bewildering but can be made much easier with the guidance and support of your mentor who can help you select a topic that is right for you, culminating in a project of which you can be proud.

Below are four questions that students often ask when selecting a topic:

Does the topic genuinely interest me?

I consider this to be the ‘acid test’ as to whether the topic is right for you. Is the topic something that you genuinely find interesting and will it hold your attention until you make that final submission? Perhaps the topic covers an area of expertise that you are familiar with – auditing or budgeting – or it relates to a field that you would like to work in at some point in the future. Maybe you would like to base your RAP on an organisation you admire, or even one that you aspire to work for in the future. There is nothing more likely to impress a prospective employer than being able to say that you have already undertaken a research project about their company.

Is there sufficient scope to conduct some research?

Once you have decided whether the topic interests you, you need to do some initial research to check that there are sufficient sources of information that cover this area and the organisation of your choice. Are there internal policies and sources of secondary research that you can access and will you be permitted to make use of them for your project? If you are using a business other than the one in which you are currently employed, can you access the accounts, either via the corporate web site or from Companies House launch? Take a trip to your local library, because you are going to need to use some relevant and authoritative textbooks on business and management, together with journal articles or websites, providing they are written by a leading practitioner or academic. Wikipedia and other quick-reference websites are not going to impress the examiner and should be avoided. As a Kaplan student you will have access to many of the leading international business and management journals though the online library.

Do I have to choose a topic that enables me to do some primary research?

The simple answer is ‘no’. The Oxford Brookes topics have been chosen so that students will be able to find a topic that suits them, whatever their circumstances and wherever in the world they happen to be. Primary research is research that you have conducted yourself, for the specific purposes of the project, and this usually takes the form of survey questionnaires, individual in-depth interviews, and, in some cases, students have even done focus groups. However, you are in no way disadvantaged if you choose a topic based on secondary research alone. Topic 8, for example, analyses the financial performance of a business and is usually only completed with secondary sources; whereas topic 6, which relates to the motivation of employees, has often been approached by students who have surveyed fellow employees. Quite simply, if you work within the organisation that you are studying, then you might like to consider whether the topic is appropriate for you to conduct some primary research, but if your workplace is unsuitable as a subject for your RAP, then you would be advised to focus on a topic that is more suitable for secondary research.

Are there any topics or subjects that I should avoid?

Provided your chosen topic is likely to hold your interest and there is plenty of scope for research, then there is little reason why you should not be able to study your chosen topic and organisation. Having said that, you might like to be creative in your choice: there is nothing guaranteed to make an examiner groan than the sight of yet another project on Tesco!

I hope that these few questions help you in making your selection and aid you in seeing the task as a little less daunting. Whilst your mentor cannot make the choice for you, they can give you the benefit of their experience. Choosing a topic can be challenging, but the rewards in terms of seeing those initial ideas turn into a well-researched report are worth the weeks of effort.

Will Trevor is an online Research and Analysis Project Mentor at Kaplan Open Learning.