Critical thinking and writing critically

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Academic assignments:
Critical thinking and writing critically
T E R M 3 2 0 1 3
Study Guide
WEEK ONE
Academic assignments: Critical thinking and writing critically – WEEK 1 Study Guide
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Published by CQUniversity Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia.
© Copyright CQUniversity Australia 2013
Copyright material contained herein is either copied and/or communicated with the express permission of the Copyright Owner or under the provision of the Copyright Act 1968.
CQUniversity, Australia authorises the copying and/or communication to public access of this document provided that copyright material, other than that created by the author/s, or for which permission has been obtained, is restricted to CQUniversity, Australia and students through a password protected web site.
DEVELOPED BY
Richard Egelstaff
PMP, Ph.D.c, MBA (Adv), BA
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Contents
Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 4
Structure and Content of this Guide ………………………………………………………………….. 4
The AQF …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 5
Academic work at AQF 8 ……………………………………………………………………………… 5
Type descriptors …………………………………………………………………………………………. 5
Discussion on the Type Descriptors ……………………………………………………………….. 6
Bodies of knowledge …………………………………………………………………………………… 7
Vocabularies ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 8
Cognitive skills, …………………………………………………………………………………………… 8
Complex problems ………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
Judgement …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
Critical thinking …………………………………………………………………………………………. 10
Assignments …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 10
Basic English……………………………………………………………………………………………… 11
Referencing ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11
Plagiarism ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 11
Academic writing ………………………………………………………………………………………. 11
Essays ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 12
Reports ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 12
Quizzes …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12
Exams ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 13
Presentations ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 13
Project Artefacts ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 13
Electronic Portfolios ………………………………………………………………………………….. 14
Grading ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 14
The Essay ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15
Make sure you write in good English …………………………………………………………… 15
Short Sentences ………………………………………………………………………………………… 16
Proof Reading …………………………………………………………………………………………… 16
Don’t fall in love with your words! ………………………………………………………………. 16
Make sure you plan the structure ……………………………………………………………….. 16
Essay Examples …………………………………………………………………………………………. 17
Essay Example 1 ………………………………………………………………………………………… 17
Essay Example 2 ………………………………………………………………………………………… 19
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 21
References …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 21
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Introduction
Welcome to this study guide about how to undertake academic assignments through the application of critical thinking.
The purpose of this guide is to provide a short and succinct document that helps you to write academic assignments during your university career. You will also hopefully be able to include in those assignments the right arguments that are required by your courses and get good grades as a result.
If you are new to academic study then you may find that this guide also contains useful information that will last you throughout your academic career. If, on the other hand, you have been studying for some time then hopefully, this guide will add to your understanding of assignments and also improve your assignment grades.
As the title suggests, the guide looks at assignments both in terms of the thinking and the arguing that you need to do for the assignment. It does this in addition to the physical method of writing and completing the assignment.
I have been very kindly allowed to use real examples of assignments in this guide that some of my students have submitted in the past. I certainly appreciate the contribution that many students have provided to the development of this guide.
Structure and Content of this Guide
The first part of this guide will provide you with some background to the rules that govern academic work. This will be made by looking at the Australian Qualification Framework or AQF for short. The AQF is important because it governs the way that assessments occur in any vocational and academic institution.
The second part will discuss the method of undertaking critical thinking and making critical arguments. This is the heart of the academic process. Critical thinking has a long history, at least 2,500 years old, and so I’ll explain a bit of the background to critical thinking as well as methods you can employ.
The third part discusses the seven main forms of assignment that you might be asked to submit in a university course, namely; essays, reports, quizzes, exams, presentations, project artefacts, and portfolios. Each has its own role and purpose as will be explained.
The fourth part provides a generic grading schema. In most university grading schemes there is a hierarchy of grades, such as pass, credit, distinction. The difference between these grades is explained in this part.
The final part delves into more detail about essays. I feel that an essay is the most important type of assignment since it provides the greatest opportunity for you to state a point of view and provide an argument for that point of view. So having a good understanding of the essay will assist not only your essay writing, but also all of your assignment preparation.
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The AQF
The AQF is thoroughly explained in the dedicated web site of the same name.
http://www.aqf.edu.au/
This web site says that “the AQF is the national policy for regulated qualifications in Australian education and training. It incorporates the qualifications from each education and training sector into a single comprehensive national qualifications framework. The AQF was first introduced in 1995 to underpin the national system of qualifications in Australia encompassing higher education, vocational education and training and schools.” (AQF, Home Page, 2013).
There are ten levels within the AQF. Each corresponds to a level of complexity of achievement and autonomy. Level 1 or Certificate I is the lowest, level 2 or Certificate II is the next and so on until level 10 or a Doctoral is the highest (AQF, AQF levels, 2013).
In Australian Universities (or in Higher Education as it is referred to in the AQF) the focus is mostly on AQF levels 7 to 10. In other words; a Bachelor Degree (AQF 7), Honours Degrees (AQF 8), Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma (AQF 8), Masters Degree (AQF 9), and Doctoral Degree (AQF 10) (AQF, AQF Qualifications, 2013).
For the remainder of this discussion about the AQF I will concentrate on AQF Level 8 since this is where you will be spending most of your time studying in the project management courses.
Academic work at AQF 8
You can download the whole of the AQF definition or the specific levels as PDF files from the AQF web site. The Graduate Certificate AQF 8 PDF can be found through the following web link:
http://www.aqf.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/15_AQF_Graduate-Certificate.pdf
When you look at the definition then you’ll see that the levels are identified in terms of criteria and type descriptors. These are further broken into:
 Purpose;
 Knowledge;
 Skills;
 Application of knowledge and skills; and
 Volume of learning.
I’ll explain each one of those next.
Type descriptors
Knowledge
The knowledge type descriptor for the Graduate Certificate says:
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“Graduates of a Graduate Certificate will have specialised knowledge within a systematic and coherent body of knowledge that may include the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills in a new or existing discipline or professional area.” (AQF, AQF specification for the Graduate Certificate, 2013).
Skills
The skills type descriptor for the Graduate Certificate says:
“Graduates of a Graduate Certificate will have:
 cognitive skills to review, analyse, consolidate and synthesise knowledge and identify and provide solutions to complex problems
• cognitive skills to think critically and to generate and evaluate complex ideas
• specialised technical and creative skills in a field of highly skilled and/or professional practice
• communication skills to demonstrate an understanding of theoretical concepts
• communication skills to transfer complex knowledge and ideas to a variety of audiences.” (AQF, AQF specification for the Graduate Certificate, 2013).
Application of knowledge and skills
The application of knowledge and skills type descriptor for the Graduate Certificate says:
“Graduates of a Graduate Certificate will demonstrate the application of knowledge and skills:
• to make high level, independent judgements in a range of technical or management functions in varied specialised contexts
• to initiate, plan, implement and evaluate broad functions within varied specialised technical and/or creative contexts
• with responsibility and accountability for personal outputs and all aspects of the work or function of others within broad parameters.” (AQF, AQF specification for the Graduate Certificate, 2013).
Volume of learning
The volume of learning type descriptor for the Graduate Certificate says:
“The volume of learning of a Graduate Certificate is typically 0.5 – 1 year.” (AQF, AQF specification for the Graduate Certificate, 2013).
Discussion on the Type Descriptors
In applying the AQF to university courses then the course developer (which is me) has to be able to identify the mapping between the course content, assessment and the outcomes that will be obtained from the course and the AQF. There are not that many words in each of the AQF levels and in most circumstances it is quite easy for the course developer make the mapping.
Referring back to the list of the type descriptors the key items that need to be mapped or achieved at the AQF Level 8 course are (I’ve put them in italics to make it easier to follow):
• What is the “systematic and coherent body of knowledge” that the course is based on?
• How do students show they can or have:
o “cognitive skills to review, analyse, consolidate and synthesise knowledge”?
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o “identify and provide solutions to complex problems”?
o “think critically” and “creatively”?
o “communicate” about these things?
• Are students showing that they can:
o make “independent judgements”?
o and “take responsibility”?
I hope you won’t think that I’ve summarised things too much, but I think the fundamental criteria that you need to show to be compliant with AQF Level 8 are:

  1. That you know the body of knowledge,
  2. Have cognitive (or thinking) skills,
  3. Can solve complex problems, and
  4. Can communicate your judgement to others.
    I’ll break these down to their essential elements in the next few sections.
    Bodies of knowledge
    Every professional discipline is based on a body of knowledge. For example, if you search for a “Body of Knowledge” or “BoK” in Wikipedia you get lots of examples…
    • …Computer Science Body of Knowledge (ACM) – for computer science curriculum definition
    • Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) – for those following the business analysis discipline
    • Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge
    • Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) – for international information security professionals
    • Guide to The BPM Common Body of Knowledge (BPM CBOK) – for Business Process Management
    • Canadian IT Body of Knowledge (CITBOK) – for Canadian Information Processing Society
    • Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) – for the profession of software engineering
    • Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute – for those following the project management discipline
    • … (Wikipedia, 2013)
    Doing a similar search in Google also provides lots of new examples, some of which also have a very project management focus…
    • Association for Project Management (APM) Body of Knowledge (APM, 2013);
    • Project Management Institute (PMI) Library of PMI Global Standards including the PMBOK® Guide—Fifth Edition (PMI, 2013);
    • International Project Management Association (IPMA) Understanding Competence (IPMA, 2013).
    As I mentioned before BoK’s are an essential element of professionalism and professional associations. For a BoK to occur then the members of a profession must agree what the BoK consists of. It must have a vocabulary (as I’ll discuss in the next section), it must be documented, and most
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    importantly it must be accepted by the majority of the rest of society, who are not members of that profession, to be representative of the special knowledge for the professionals subscribing to the profession.
    Vocabularies
    The language of the BoK is the core foundation for the whole profession. The meaning of special words are agreed within the language and included in the BoK. Sometimes the words in the BoK may be normal everyday words, but to the professionals they will also have a unique extra meaning.
    Making sure that you use the word in the right context with the special attached meaning and implications is very important in the world of professionals.
    In project management there are many examples of everyday words that are used with great specificity, such as Cost, Time, Risk, and Quality. Other words may not be so usual in everyday use but also have highly significant meaning in project management, such as Stakeholder, Procurement, Gateway, and Constraint. Some words are also very specific and only occur in the context of project management, such as Gantt, Activity-on-Node, Finish-to-Finish, PERT. And, finally there are lots of words that are acronyms, such as EVM, PMBOK, PBO, PO, PDCA, WBS and many more.
    Sometimes the language and the vocabulary takes on such an important role that it gets enshrined into a standard, as has happened with project management where the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has defined ISO 21500:2012 as the guidance standard on project management (ISO, 2012).
    It is important, in your academic career, that when you undertake assignments and have discussions that you use the vocabulary in the correct manner. Part of the learning process in the qualification is for you to learn the vocabulary. In project management this is important because many non-academic practitioners have run project successfully. Yet at the same time they have no appreciation of the vocabulary or the BoK. This often occurs when they have grown in a particular narrow industry segment and have had the opportunity to learn everything about that segment. However, when they are exposed to other projects from other sectors or their environment changes rapidly they then unfortunately don’t have the depth of vocabulary or knowledge to cope with the change.
    Cognitive skills,
    Wikipedia states that cognition is a group of mental processes that includes attention, memory, producing and understanding language, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making (Wikipedia, Cognition, 2013).
    At CQUniversity you will be required to demonstrate that you can apply cognition! University education is not about you doing things by rote!
    You will be challenged to show the extent of your cognition. Your cognition will mean that you need to demonstrate that you understand the body of knowledge. You will need to apply cognition to solve complex problems (which I’ll discuss in the next section). And out of all this cognition you will need to make a judgement about things (which I’ll also discuss a little later on)!
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    Complex problems
    What makes a complex problem different from a simple problem is not so easy to define. To someone that is familiar with a body of knowledge then a complex problem might not appear as complex as compared to the same problem to someone that is not so familiar with the body of knowledge. In other words for the non-expert a simple problem might appear complex.
    The web site Ask.com says “A complex problem is one that is very complicated and hard to solve. If you happen to encounter a complex problem, it may be necessary to ask for assistance from people who have the capacity to solve or pull you out of the situation. In the case of a company or a large institution, a complex problem can be probably solved by engaging the services of appropriate consultancy firms.” (Ask, 2013).
    Unfortunately in the CQUniversity course you will not be able to ask someone to bail you out and you will have to solve the complex problem yourself. You will usually be set a series of complex problems around a case study. You will have to refer to the body of knowledge and use your cognition to solve the complex problem. And out of the application of your cognition you’ll need to make a judgement, which I’ll discuss next.
    There is a very good illustration of this process on the web site called The Art of Complex Problem Solving – http://www.idiagram.com/CP/cpprocess.html – you’ll need to roll your mouse over parts of the illustration to open up a greater explanation (Clemens, 2005).
    Judgement
    Judges are the most obvious example of someone that makes a judgement.
    The Queensland Government web site on courts and tribunals explains the role of a judge as…
    “The judge or magistrate is responsible for deciding what sentence to give the offender. The judge or magistrate:
    • hears submissions from the prosecution and defence
    • satisfies themselves about the facts of the case
    • applies the law, including any relevant sentencing principles, to decide the appropriate sentence
    • provides reasons for the sentence – if the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, the judge or magistrate must state their reasons for the sentence in open court and make sure these reasons are recorded, and
    • when making certain sentencing orders (for example, probation or a community service order), must explain the sentence to the offender and make sure the offender consents to the order and agrees to comply with it.” (QLD Government, 2012)
    In effect in the CQUniversity course you have to do the same as the judge in making your judgement.
    Like a judge, you must fair and unbiased. You must satisfy yourself as to the facts. You must explain your judgement in the context of the laws or body of knowledge and the circumstances. But you need to do that by applying critical thinking.
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    Critical thinking
    So far I’ve explained about the body of knowledge, cognitive skills and judgement. These are easy things to write about, but very difficult to do in a structured systematic manner. To be good at your academic work and get good grades then you need to develop the skill of critical thinking.
    Wikipedia says that “Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. Critical thinking is a process that leads to skills that can be learned, mastered and used. Critical thinking is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process. This process incorporates passion and creativity, but guides it with discipline, practicality and common sense.” (Wikipedia, Critical thinking, 2013)
    In effect, critical thinking should be the underpinning of the whole of your university experience. You are expected to apply critical thinking to everything you do. When you read a book or paper you should do so in a critical manner. When you have a conversation or attend a lecture you should think critically about what you’re hearing and also what you’re saying when you ask questions or make comments.
    There are lots of university web sites that have very good things to say about critical thinking. A couple of good examples are…
    • The University of Canberra http://www.canberra.edu.au/studyskills/learning/critical
    • The University of Wollongong http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/critical/
    …and if you want to go into the philosophy of critical thinking then the University of Oxford has a very good and free video series that you can download and view on your iPod, iPhone or iPad:
    https://itunes.apple.com/au/itunes-u/critical-reasoning-for-beginners/id387875756
    The most important aspect of critical thinking is being able to demonstrate that you’re doing it! You do that through your assignments.
    Assignments
    As I wrote previously there are seven main forms of assignment that you might be asked to submit; essays, reports, quizzes, exams, presentations, project artefacts, and portfolios. I’ll explain each a little further ahead, but firstly I need to emphasise that most if not all of the work that you do will require that you express yourself in English! It is important that you follow the few simple rules of the English language. Hopefully you learnt these rules at school. If on the other hand you have difficulty then I’d suggest stop doing any course you’re enrolled in and undertake the preparation courses that CQUniversity provide…
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/about-us/service-and-facilities/english-language-centre/cquniversity-and-the-english-language-centre
    …or undertake at a minimum a study of Basic English.
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    Basic English
    Basic English is a simple form of English words and English grammar formulated by Charles Kay Ogden. You’ll find more on Basic English on the following web site:
    http://ogden.basic-english.org/be0.html
    According to Ogden only need to master the fundamentals of the roles of; the noun, adjectives, operators, directives, adverbs, possessives, conjunctions, comparison, and word orders for 850 words! There are lots of places that will teach you Basic English and I’ll just let you find them yourself. Once you have mastered at a minimum Basic English then come back and start the course over again.
    In addition to being able to express yourself correctly in English then there are two other aspects of the assignment that I want you pay attention to, referencing and plagiarism.
    Referencing
    The CQUniversity web site says “referencing refers to the practice of acknowledging the sources of your ideas when you are writing assignments, examinations, reports and other material associated with your course of study”. Please visit the CQUniversity web site that explains the referencing methods:
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/about-us/service-and-facilities/referencing
    Then please download from the site (or buy from the bookshop) the guide to the Harvard method and study it! You must reference where your ideas come from. Remember you are like the judge. You can’t just say “he’s guilty and let him hang!” you must explain why, on what basis, what law is behind the judgement, what are the circumstances, are there other cases of a similar nature and what happened in them.
    Plagiarism
    Plagiarism, or stealing the work of others, is something that is not acceptable and immediate expulsion may result. The CQUniversity web site says “plagiarism means taking and using the thoughts, writings, inventions etc. of another person and using them as your own without acknowledging their source. In your academic writing, you will often need and be expected to draw on the ideas of others and sometimes to quote their exact words or copy their graphics”. Make sure you visit this site and understand the rules!
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/about-us/service-and-facilities/referencing/what-is-plagarism
    Again, like the judge, you must reference the law, or in our case the body of knowledge, you also must reference other cases or examples. You must show that your opinion or judgement is based on previous situations and those on other previous and so on and on.
    Academic writing
    Academic writing is a critical skill that must be developed and applied at an AQF Level 8. As part of your CQUniversity course you can access the CQUniversity Academic Learning Centre (ALC), who will be able to help you with assignment writing…
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    http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/course/view.php?id=511
    …please spend time studying the ALC web site and the topics it contains. And, if necessary go on one or more of the many preparation courses they provide.
    Other web sites that you may find useful for examples and explanations of the academic process are:
     JCU – http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/writingskills/models/critical.html
     UQ – http://www.uq.edu.au/student-services/Examples+of+critical+analysis
     …and finally there are lots and lots of examples and downloads from Harvard – http://www.writingprogram.fas.harvard.edu
     …and of course many more – BUT DO NOT BE TEMPTED BY THE COMMERCIAL WEB SITES – THEY ARE AFTER YOUR MONEY!
    Essays
    The essay is one of the most important forms of academic expression. The reason is that the essay has a definite structure consisting of an introduction, a body with a number of linked topics, and finally a conclusion. The essay allows the author the greatest scope for making judgement based on critical thinking and analysis. The essay allows you, the author, to delve into a body of knowledge and demonstrate your cognitive capacity that leads to a judgement about a complex problem. The essay is the ideal place where you can show how good you are in the course that you’re undertaking!
    Essays also have very few rules about their content and structure. You don’t use headings, bold text, put in diagrams, use bullet points, add appendices (unless you are asked to), or do anything else other than write words, sentences, and paragraphs in a structured manner.
    The CQUniversity ALC will explain more to you about essay writing:
    http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/course/view.php?id=3081
    You MUST master the essay!
    Reports
    Closely related to the essay is a report. This study guide is more like a report. In project management you will be required to write a few reports. Again the ALC will be able to explain to you how you should write reports:
    http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/course/view.php?id=3081
    Quizzes
    Come in many forms, such as:
    Multi-choice questions.
    A question is posed and a number of possible answers provided. The objective is to choose the answer that most resembles the correct answer. Usually in multi-choice questions there is more
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    than one answer that could be the correct choice. Therefore, the student has to make a decision to select the answer that they think is the most correct one. Sometimes multi-choice questions will have different scores for different answers.
    Short-answer questions.
    Is a question where a sentence or two, usually not more than 100 words is required to answer the question. Attention should be made to make sure that you (the student) understand the key words in the question.
    True-False questions.
    These questions require that a single answer is provided, this could be a yes/no or true/false.
    Matching questions.
    Are questions where you need to match the correct answer from a number of possible answers.
    Numerical questions.
    These questions expect that the answer will be a number, date, quantity or something of numerical value.
    Missing word questions.
    The missing word question requires you to complete a sentence by inserting a missing word.
    Exams
    Require that you demonstrate your knowledge in a location where you cannot refer to other external sources. You are on your own in an exam, but sometimes you may be allowed to bring a text book into the exam. Usually, though, it is just you and what you have in your head that is being tested through the examination process. Make sure to read the rules both on the paper and at the CQUniversity web site:
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/current-student/examinations/important-examination-information
    Presentations
    Are the means where by the marker can verify that you can talk about the subject, and also gives the marker opportunity to ask you questions to ensure that you know the subject. Have a look at the following CQUniversity paper for a greater explanation of the oral presentation.
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/28579/6OralPresentations.pdf
    Project Artefacts
    Developing and producing project artefacts is an important part of any project. The artefact can be any output that is created within the project to manage the completion and production of the outcomes from the project. Examples are; the project plan, charter, WBS, schedule, risk plan, and so on. Sometimes there may be templates that you need to follow to generate the artefact. Other times you may be able to generate the artefact from a software program, such as Microsoft Project.
    Your assignment instructions will tell you what artefacts you need to produce.
    You will however, find that at an AQF Level 8, artefacts are not so important since they usually only show that you can produce an output, and don’t test whether you understand the ideas behind the
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    artefact. At AQF Level 8 it’s much more important that you have the cognition, critical thinking and can make a judgement rather than just churn something out!
    Electronic Portfolios
    Portfolios are built over time and are a demonstration of your abilities and capability for critical thinking and self-expression. The idea is that you complete a diary or journal on a regular basis, such as weekly. In the journal you reflect on the course material, the readings you’ve been doing, the application, to possibly your work life, discussions, and anything else that shows that you understand the BoK, have cognition, and can make judgements in a critical thinking manner. Have a look at the following example:
    http://cquni.maharasites.com/view/view.php?id=2703
    Grading
    Obviously the work that you submit is graded and the sum total of the grades on the course provides your overall grade.
    There are a number of ways that assignments are graded. Usually the assignment instructions will tell you how you will be awarded grades for your assignment work. Any of the seven assignment types that I discussed can be graded individually. Sometimes collections of assignments are graded. In other words, you may do many short assignments, such as weekly quizzes, and in addition complete a portfolio. The final portfolio, in which amongst other things you reflected on the quizzes, gets an overall grade.
    However, there is also a general criterion. This is based on the degree, to which you have demonstrated your understanding and use of the body of knowledge, applied cognition, used critical thinking and made a judgement about a complex problem. Have a look at the following table that provides a general rubric for academic work at an AQF Level 8. Fail: A failure indicates that the assignment fails to meet the requirements specified. A serious fail indicates that most or all of the requirements set have not been met, a simple fail would indicate that some important elements of the requirements have not been met. The assignment will be incomplete in some manner, reveal a misunderstanding, or indicate that the material has not been comprehended or applied properly. A resit in the context of a specific assignment and is more a matter for judgement in the context of the course as a whole and might be considered under exceptional circumstances where the assignment fails to meet specified requirements, but there are extenuating circumstances. Pass: To obtain a pass students need to have as a minimum – 1. Properly adhered to the specified administrative process.
  5. Tackled all specified parts of the assignment.
  6. Properly adhered to format, stylistic and presentation requirements.
  7. Demonstrated a basic understanding of the topic.
  8. Shown evidence of the effective use and integration of sources.
  9. Constructed an essay/report that has a reasonable structure and logic flow.
  10. Made some attempt to integrate either personal experience or primary data.
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  11. Applied the course knowledge to the mandatory criteria contained in the marking sheet associated with the specific assignment. In addition to meeting the criteria above, students must demonstrate sufficient of the following – 1. Shown an ability to synthesise and integrate the material.
  12. Constructed a reasoned argument or position relevant to the topic.
  13. Displayed some degree of critical evaluation of the material they have studied.
  14. Shown an awareness of the application and implication issues associated with the topic.
  15. Some elements or aspects of their work that can be considered as excellent.
  16. Demonstrated a comprehensive grasp of the topic and related material. Credit: To obtain a credit all of the former criteria and one or more of the following criteria must be met – 1. Shown a clear capacity to make critical evaluations of material and to make discerning judgements in relation to it.
  17. Have a well-reasoned argument that shows analytical and/or logical capacity.
  18. Exhibit some degree of originality and creativity.
  19. Shown an appreciation of the wider issues associated with the topic. Distinction: To obtain a distinction all of the former criteria and one or more of the following criteria must be met – 1. Demonstrated a clear capacity to integrate theory and practice, including the relevant and thoughtful integration of personal experience and/or primary sources of information.
  20. Shown a rich and sophisticated understanding of the topic and related material.
  21. Produced work that is excellent in all regards.
    The marker will be able to differentiate between the different levels in this rubric and explain why what you have submitted is assessed at one or another level.
    The Essay
    As I discussed previously the essay is the most important form of assessment at an AQF Level 8 since it gives you the greatest means of expressing your competence in the subject. The CQUniversity web site has a good explanation of the structure an academic essay that you can download at the following web site:
    http://www.cqu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/28577/4EssayWriting.pdf
    Also the ALC is able to help you structure essays, reports and other assignments:
    http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/course/view.php?id=3081
    However, I also have a few pointers that I want you to pay attention to.
    Make sure you write in good English
    Although you might think that you should not be marked down due to poor English the reality is that you will lose marks because you can’t be understood. Making sure that your sentences make sense is important. That each sentence is related to the previous one and they comprise a paragraph that makes sense is very important. Then making sure that the essay or report has the right structure of
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    introduction, body, conclusion and everything flows seamlessly is important. Remember you need to show at AQF Level 8 that you can communicate.
    Short Sentences
    The maximum length of any sentence should be twenty words! The desired length is ten words!
    Proof Reading
    Two thirds of the effort of completing an essay or report is proof reading. So if the assignment took you six hours to write in the first place then you should allocate another twelve hours to make sure it is right. In other words your whole assignment will take eighteen hours!
    For example, it is easy to write long sentences (those over twenty words) in the first draft writing of your assignment. You will then need to review each sentence at the proof reading stage and ask yourself. Is it related to the previous sentence? Does it allow the flow to the next? Does it build the message that I wish to impart? Does it contain unnecessary and emotive words? Does it stick to the facts? Are the facts referenced? Plus many more questions that will require you to distance yourself from what you have written and look at the assignment though dispassionate eyes.
    Don’t fall in love with your words!
    When you write something you put a little of yourself into what you’ve written. It is easy to allow the passion to overwhelm the reality!
    Regardless of how good you think a sentence is don’t keep it if it no longer makes sense in the context of the paragraph, and overall message of the assignment.
    Make sure you plan the structure
    An essay should consist of:
     Introduction (10% of the words)
     Body (80% of the word count)
    o Topic one (20% of the word count)
    o Topic two (20% of the word count)
    o Topic three (20% of the word count)
    o Topic four (20% of the word count)
     Conclusion (10% of the word count)
    Each topic should start with an introduction sentence. Consist of evidence and examples that are based on facts and referenced.
    Each topic should link together to build an argument that is emphasised in the introduction and reiterated in the conclusion.
    If you don’t know what this structure is before you write your essay then you will write a rubbish essay! What you will do is start and drift. So that by the conclusion you are writing about something that is completely different to what you started with!
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    Essay Examples
    I’ll now give you some examples of that I thought were good essays. I’m assuming that you have read the essay writing paper on the CQUniversity web site and visited the ALC web pages too. The following examples are quite long but allow me to give you good cases from my personal experience.
    Essay Example 1
    Introduction
    It is important that your introduction states your central argument and the content of the essay. In this following example the student does exactly that.
    Systems thinking is a wholististic approach to problem-solving which holds merit due to the ever-increasing complexity of today’s management settings. The following is a critical analysis of the literature surrounding general systems thinking and management with the purpose of ascertaining its relevance to project, program and portfolio management. An explanation of the approach will be provided along with a comparison to traditional methods. Consideration of systems thinking in terms of organisational forms, organisational maturity and business value will serve to confirm the necessity of this approach to business success. Identification of the tools and techniques of systems thinking, with particular focus on risk management, value management and systems engineering, will further support the relevance of systems thinking to project, program and portfolio management. Finally, these tools and techniques will be theoretically applied to the real-life case study of Deepwater Horizon as a means of confirming the value of systems thinking to project managers as a framework for achieving valid solutions which avoid unintended consequences. By considering the benefits and applications of systems thinking and general systems management, the relevance of this approach to project, program and portfolio management will be established. (Hamilton, 2013).
    When I read this introduction I know what exactly the author is stating and will write about in the rest of the essay.
    Conclusion
    It should be possible to jump from the introduction to the conclusion without reading the body and find that the conclusion matches seamlessly to the introduction. The following example is the conclusion of the introduction above. If you read the introduction and then immediately the conclusion they completely match.
    Through consideration of the literature, theories and applications of systems thinking, it has been made apparent that this approach is of significant benefit to program, project and portfolio management settings. Systems thinking provides a framework for solving problems which takes a holistic view; acknowledging the various sub-systems and components which continuously interact, depend and impact upon one another. The major benefit of the systems thinking approach to managers is the increased level of information it provides. By avoiding
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    the reductionist style of traditional problem-solving methods and looking to the ‘total picture’, managers have invaluable insight into the potential impact and consequences their decisions will have. Another advantage of systems thinking involves the generation of alternative solutions. Key personnel are expected to integrate, share and discuss potential solutions so that optimal decisions which benefit the ‘entire system’ can be made. The use of organisational forms, models, systems engineering, value management and risk management are all valuable applications of the approach which have been proven relevant to program, project and portfolio management. This value can been seen when considering the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster whereby a systems thinking approach would have resolved many if not all of the major failures which ultimately lead to the accident. It can therefore be concluded that when faced with the complexity and challenges of today’s management settings; systems thinking is of substantial value and relevance to program, project and portfolio management. (Hamilton, 2013).
    Hopefully, you’ll agree that the author has done an excellent job. It may surprise you to know that this was the fourth individual essay assignment that this author has written since leaving school and completing an apprenticeship. The important point is that the author applied himself to understanding the concept of an essay and following the guidelines, and most importantly has taken time to get it right.
    Well, maybe not quite right… Are there criticisms that we can make?
    Have a look at the sentence in the middle of the introduction…
    Identification of the tools and techniques of systems thinking, with particular focus on risk management, value management and systems engineering, will further support the relevance of systems thinking to project, program and portfolio management.
    …it’s 34 words long. When you read it you have to pause and think. Because it is more than the magic 20 words, therefore this sentence needs to be split into two. I tend to run out of puff when I get to word 24 or 25. The sentence could be split in the middle.
    Identification of the tools and techniques of systems thinking, with particular focus on risk management, value management and systems engineering. This will further support the relevance of systems thinking to project, program and portfolio management.
    However, this makes the first sentence a little fragmented (in fact the grammar checker in my version of Microsoft Project tells me so too). You don’t have to do much playing round to remove the fragmentation and then make two much clearer sentences.
    When identifying the tools and techniques of systems thinking, it’s important to make focus on risk management, value management and systems engineering. Doing so will further support the relevance of systems thinking to project, program and portfolio management.
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    However, the two sentences are now 38 words long. I’ve added four more words. But with only a little juggling we can reduce the word count back to 34 words and make the message of the two sentences much more powerful in the process.
    When identifying systems thinking tools and techniques it’s important to focus on risk management, value management and systems engineering. Doing so will support the relevance of systems thinking to project, program and portfolio management.
    Essay Example 2
    In this example the author has made critical thinking and analysis the heart of his message. There are many instances where the sentence structure is too long. But the writing is sufficiently good to allow the reader to keep pace with what the author is arguing. This part of the essay comes from the body. It covers a topic and compares and contrasts between several sources before bringing everything together into satisfying conclusion.
    Systems thinking and a systems approach is a focus on the system as a whole rather than a focus on the points or elements of a system with relevance to a project, program or a portfolio of projects. It is an overview of everything that is required to accomplish a goal or solution to a problem and ultimately to enhance an organisations ability to obtain a strategic goal or objective. The ultimate goal of linking an oganizations objectives to an executable plan to achieve strategic goals can only be obtained by a complete understanding of those objectives (PMI, The Standard for Portfolio Management, 2013 p10). The systems approach is a framework for the identification, analysis and subsequent decision making process required across all disciplines within an organisation. General systems management theory as described by Kerzner (2009 ch2, p38) is the creation of a management technique that is capable of cutting across disciplinary boundaries while carrying out the functions of management. Kerzner (2009, p82), also describes systems thinking as “decisions and policies based on judgment, and that in the end analysis is but an aid to the judgment and intuition of the decision maker”. Furthermore, Kerzner adds that a systems approach has a phased development or life cycle structure. These phases are described as, Translation where the objectives criteria and constraints are defined and agreed upon. Analysis, where all approaches and alternatives to a known problem or requirements are stated. Trade off where the selection criteria are reviewed against selected alternatives and then finally Synthesis, the preferred solution to reach the objective (Kerzner, 2009 p83). In addition Kerzner, discusses systems thinking and advocates that systems thinking is vital for a projects success (2009, p85).
    Nicholas & Steyn (2012) would also suggest that systems thinking include a systems approach that applies when the focus needs to remain on the ultimate goal or objective (Nicholas J.M Steyn H. 2012, p47). Nicholas and Steyn (2012), also introduce additional considerations for
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    analysis into the systems approach which include the environment, interaction of sub systems and the elements of the sub systems then the overall management of the system. Generally the systems approach is a framework for conceptualizing the interdependencies and links of cause and effects among elements of a system and in contrast to Kerzner, Nicholas and Steyn (2012, p57) would suggest that the systems approach is implemented through a systems engineering methodology, advocating that systems engineering deals with the system as a whole by focusing on the technical aspects and interrelationships of the system elements and environment by decomposing needs into modules and subsystems to satisfy the functional requirements. Furthermore, that a systems development cycle broader in scope than systems engineering be utilized by way of a prescribed process to analyse all considerations related to a systems development (Nicholas J.M Steyn H. 2012, p57). Nicholas and Steyn also introduce modularization, an iterative analysis, synthesis and evaluation cycle. This comprises top down analysis, bottom up synthesis and evaluation that can be used for system and subsystems definition by way of a continuous decomposition of the overall objective or requirements into modules or components and then an integration of these components into the overall completed system. The process of systems management then allows the systems to be monitored and controlled to achieve the ultimate objective of the systems purpose.
    The PMI Practice Standard for Portfolio Management (PMI, 2013 p9), would suggest that the effective use portfolio, program, and project management processes in an organisation would enhance their ability to meet strategic goals and that the subsequent use of these processes and techniques is essential. Furthermore, that successful business realization begins with comprehensive strategic planning and management (PMI, 2013). This can be achieved by alignment of the required components to the organizational strategy (PMI, 2013 p10). To achieve this, an organisation surely must adopt a systems approach to defining and analyzing their requirements to ensure that these required components aid in the development of enablers to align them to the overall organizational strategy.
    In summary, Kerzners (2009) systems approach requires the objective be defined, the requirements to meet the objective to be identified, developed and analysed, alternatives identified and considered for alignment to the initial objective. Nicholas and Steyn (2012) introduce additional processes to decompose the requirements and then link interrelationships and elements for consideration and analysis. In addition, how the utilization of a systems approach and systems engineering can have a significant impact to an organizations ability to successfully deliver strategic objectives. To conclude, we find that Kerzner (2009) and Nicholas and Steyn (2012) would all agree that to achieve strategic organizational objectives systems thinking and a systems approach are crucial and must be considered. (Bailey, 2013)
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    Yes, I realise that there was a whopping 82 word sentence in the middle that took a while to work out what it was saying. But would you agree that the beginning matches the end and the author has brought into the discussion authoritative sources that although they are a little different nevertheless support the conclusion?
    What is interesting is that this 779 word extract can almost be read as a complete essay? This is the goal that you should strive for in the topics of your essay. Each is in effect a mini-essay. The structure is introduction, body, and conclusion; for the essay and for each topic.
    In this example the target for the whole essay was 2,000 words so this section represents nearly 40%. Given that the goal for the introduction and conclusion is of 10% of the total each, then there is a remaining 40% for the rest of the essay. You should aspire to make each topic approximately the same length. Therefore, in this essay the author only has opportunity for two topics. And, it was two topics that the author provided to argue his case. However, the overall length of the essay stretched to 2,117 words. This is getting a little too long. I suspect that the author did not allow enough time for the proof reading since the extract above could be reduced by more than 20% with the use of shorter sentences and better choice of words.
    Despite this the argument and critical analysis stands out through the whole extract.
    Conclusion
    Throughout this guide I have tried to keep my comments and advice simple enough yet at the same time comprehensive enough to provide the basis of everything you will need to complete assignments. In summary, you must use critical thinking in your assignments and show that you know the body of knowledge and can make judgements about complex problems. If you are new to academic work then this is the heart of the process at an AQF Level 8. Please make sure that you understand it and apply it.
    For more information that may help you during your academic career in CQUniversity then please have a look at:
    www.cqu.edu.au/greatguidetouniversitystudy
    There is a comprehensive overview to other aspects of your life at CQUniversity there too.
    References
    APM. (2013). APM Knowledge. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Association for Project Management: http://www.knowledge.apm.org.uk/bok-splash
    AQF. (2013). AQF levels. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Australia Qualification Framework: http://www.aqf.edu.au/aqf/in-detail/aqf-levels/
    AQF. (2013). AQF Qualifications. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Australian Qualification Framework: http://www.aqf.edu.au/aqf/in-detail/aqf-qualifications/
    Academic assignments: Critical thinking and writing critically – WEEK 1 Study Guide
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    AQF. (2013). AQF specification for the Graduate Certificate. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Australian Qualification Framework: http://www.aqf.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/15_AQF_Graduate-Certificate.pdf
    AQF. (2013). Home Page. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Australian Qualifications Framework: http://www.aqf.edu.au/
    Ask. (2013). What is a Complex Problem? Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from Ask: http://www.ask.com/question/what-is-a-complex-problem
    Bailey, B. (2013, March 24). PPMP20003 Assignment 1.
    Clemens, M. (2005). The Art of Complex Problem Solving. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from Idigram: http://www.idiagram.com/CP/cpprocess.html
    Hamilton, S. (2013, March 31). PPMP20003 Assigment 1.
    IPMA. (2013). Understanding Competence. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from International Project Management Association: http://ipma.ch/certification/competence
    ISO. (2012). ISO 21500:2012. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from International Organization for Standardization: http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=50003
    PMI. (2013). Library of Global Standards. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Project Management Institute: http://www.pmi.org/en/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards/Standards-Library-of-PMI-Global-Standards.aspx
    QLD Government. (2012). The role of the judge or magistrate. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from Department of Justice and Attorney-General: http://www.justice.qld.gov.au/justice-services/courts-and-tribunals/going-to-court/sentencing/the-sentencing-process/the-role-of-the-judge-or-magistrate
    Wikipedia. (2013). Body of Knowledge (BOK or BoK). Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_of_Knowledge
    Wikipedia. (2013). Cognition. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition
    Wikipedia. (2013). Critical thinking. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking

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