How to use supporting theory in your assignment Study skills | Kiran Kapur | 13 July 2018

You are expected to carry out wider reading and to include a range of references in your assignment. But what does this actually mean in practice?


Application of the literature versus description 

For a start, you should not copy out chunks of text: there are no marks for showing you can copy out words. What the examiner is looking for is how much knowledge you can demonstrate. So the examiner wants to see that you can draw on (and cite) relevant academic theory and apply it to your organisation within the assignment. 

Here are two examples:

Example 1

“Less is more” says DeMers (2013). Consumers are overwhelmed with daily information and messages (Court et al, 2012): the channels with the highest impact and influence are ones that are clean, uncluttered with great images (SMART Insights, accessed 1 January 2018).

Example 2:

Organisations may face industry contagion or spill-over effect, when one negative case with an organisation in the same industry may negatively impact other players in the same industry (Barnett and Hoffman, 2008). Organisations therefore need to differentiate themselves in the eyes of stakeholders. This requires building effective management of the identity mix (Van Riel and Fombrun, 2007).


Note how both examples apply material from the literature to EXPLAIN the issue and to then SUPPORT the argument. The assignment will continue to then explain why this is an issue for the student’s organisation, and this sets up the recommendations. For example 1, the assignment will recommend a new digital channel for the company. For example 2, the assignment will recommend a new branding strategy.

Paraphrasing versus quoting 

Try to avoid quoting directly from different sources. In example 1, there is a very short quote, but this is unusual. It is much stronger to write a passage from a source into your own words because this demonstrates a better understanding of the literature. It also means that you re-shape the information to suit the assignment task you are answering. You must however still attribute your paraphrased text to the original source, using Harvard referencing (as the examples do: Court et al, 2012). 

Here are some tips to help you paraphrase: 

  • Read the whole paragraph to understand the full context
  • Then consider how this bit of information is going to help you respond to the assignment brief
  • Without looking at the text, try to write what you have learned in your own words to support the points you are making
  • Ensure your paraphrase is supporting the statement, argument or recommendation you are making

How many references should I use?

This is almost impossible to answer, but at a minimum, you should be thinking of 8-10 references per assignment, more for higher level CIM qualifications. 

Remember: Wikipedia is never a suitable reference. Look at academic references, industry journals, the College’s recommended reading lists and EBSCO through the CIM.