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The Business Skills Handbook. The Business Skills Handbook. What are the Key Skills of University Life and the Workplace? Week 4. Reading. Recommended text: The Business Skills Handbook Horn, R. London: CIPD. 1st edition, 2009 ISBN: 1843982188

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The business skills handbook1
The Business Skills Handbook

What are the Key Skills of University Life and the Workplace?

Week 4


Recommended text:

The Business Skills Handbook

Horn, R.

London: CIPD.

1st edition, 2009

ISBN: 1843982188

Chapter 4: What are the Key Skills of University Life and the Workplace? (page 79)

Lecture outline
Lecture Outline

  • exploring academic skills

Learning objectives
Learning Objectives

  • understand the key academic skills

  • be able to recognise academic skills in the writing of others

  • be able to apply academic skills to your own writing

Academic skills
Academic Skills

  • We could define academic skills as ‘the skills that are assessed in university assessments’. The following are the key academic skills that will be tested in your assignments and examinations. The skills of critique, analysis and evaluation are often called the higher-level skills and these are tested more in years 2 and 3 of your degrees.


  • There is no simple and agreed meaning to the word ‘knowledge’. Philosophy has debated the meaning for centuries. A working definition for the purposes of an assignment or examination will probably focus on the following aspects:

    • the state of knowing something

    • familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study

    • specific information about something

    • acquaintance with facts relating to a topic.

Knowledge 2
Knowledge [2]

  • The probable types of knowledge that you will need to display are:

    • facts

    • theory, concepts, models, typologies

    • research data

    • approaches to problem-solving

    • approaches to data-handling and representation

    • benchmark and best practice approaches to standard institutional problems.


  • Understanding might be considered to be the ability to think and act flexibly with what one knows. Clearly, this will require ‘knowing’ something, which is where the previous section comes in useful, but how can we demonstrate understanding?

Understanding 2
Understanding [2]

  • Using our definition above – ‘the ability to think and act flexibly with what one knows’ – would lead us to at least the following three ways of demonstrating understanding:

Understanding 3
Understanding [3]

  • Offering explanations – people display understanding of things by offering explanations. This involves highlighting critical features of a theory or idea, such as explaining someone’s enthusiasm for doing a task by offering the explanation of his or her desire for the reward that is offered by completing the task. This displays a rudimentary understanding of expectancy theory.

Understanding 4
Understanding [4]

  • Displaying relational knowledge – people express understanding in explanations constructed of relational knowledge. This is a complex web of cause and effect explanation, whereas sparse explanation only involving one simple rule would suggest a sketchy understanding of an idea or theory.

Understanding 5
Understanding [5]

  • Displaying a revisable and extensible explanation – people demonstrate understanding by revising and extending their explanations. Thus, explanations need to be both highly extensible and revisable in fundamental ways. If it were not we would see limitations to the level of understanding.


  • What is analysis and how can I demonstrate the skill of analysis in my university work?

    • First, it is almost impossible to demonstrate analysis without having an understanding of the relevant knowledge of the area you are analysing, so this section is closely connected to sections related to knowledge and understanding.

Analysis 2
Analysis [2]

  • Analysis on its own will not guarantee that your assignments and examinations will be awarded good grades. Analysis needs to be connected to critique to create a skill and approach called critical analysis.

Analysis 3
Analysis [3]

  • Definitions of analysis tend to focus on these types of approach:

    • the study of the constituent parts and the interrelationship of the parts

    • the breaking down and separation of the whole into constituent parts

    • simplifying the whole into parts to display the logical structure

    • an explanation of a process and the parts of that process.


  • Critique is the term given to the process of estimating the quality of something. Strictly defined, it is the critical examination of something. The review of the sources and evidence you use in your assignments and examinations will first involve critique, the close and critical examination of something, and then an evaluative judgement of the worth will be made.

Critique 2
Critique [2]

  • Critique is a very important aspect of academic writing as your own claims and argument will be built on the sources that you use. The aim in using critique is to select the strong elements of sources and discard the weak elements.

Critique 3
Critique [3]

  • What is the process of critique when used for theory or journal sources?

    • First, you will need to paraphrase the ideas contained in the work. Paraphrasing is a type of summary that extracts and presents the key elements of the writing. What is the key idea or focus of the writing? What component elements does the writing contain. Strictly, this is termed critical analysis.

    • Next, set out the strengths and weaknesses of the writing – for this section use other writers’ scholarly thoughts. These can be found in textbooks and in journal articles. Most writing that contains theory, research or ideas will be making a claim or a series of claims. How well are those claims supported by evidence?

Checklist for critique
Checklist for Critique

  • Paraphrase the theory, article or research.

  • Draw out the main claim or claims.

  • Consider the argument that builds towards the claims.

  • Is a balanced or counter argument presented?

  • Review the evidence for each of the claims.

Checklist for critique 2
Checklist for Critique [2]

  • Bring the thoughts of other scholarly work to bear on the theory, article or research.

  • Report the findings of your critique.

  • There is a later chapter that looks at critical writing.

Synthesis and creativity
Synthesis and Creativity

  • Synthesis can be regarded as the skill of bringing separate components together to form something new. In assignments and examinations one of the first and most frequently occurring syntheses is the bringing together of theories to form explanations about the subject of the assignment. Most ‘new’ ideas and solutions in business and management occur by combining existing ideas into new explanatory frameworks or ways of working.

Synthesis and creativity 2
Synthesis and Creativity [2]

  • Synthesis is also commonly required in academic work where the combination of well-used ideas and approaches are brought together to offer new solutions. Synthesis can also occur using new combinations of tried and tested theory applied to new organisational contexts.

Synthesis and creativity 3
Synthesis and Creativity [3]

  • Creativity is often linked with synthesis. Indeed, it might be argued that synthesis is a type of creativity, but for the purposes of assignments a working definition might be:

    • ‘the ability to bring into existence a new idea or insight’.


  • What is evaluation?

  • How can I display evaluation skills in my university assessments?

Evaluation 2
Evaluation [2]

  • Evaluation is the process of judging the worth of something. We make judgements all the time, every day. In the average day you will make judgements about all sorts of things: breakfast, football matches, handbags, lectures, people, articles, other people’s work, your own work and lots more.

Evaluation 3
Evaluation [3]

  • In the majority of our everyday judgements we bring considerable experience to bear on the judgements we make. We have probably eaten hundreds of sandwiches in our life and we have formed a view on what makes a good sandwich. Judging the value of academic theory, research or methods is not quite so easy because we have much less experience of these things.

Evaluation 4
Evaluation [4]

  • One way to judge these academic things would be to compare them to a template or set of criteria. Mostly in these academic judgements no such template or set of criteria exists, so making evaluations will rely on more creative approaches.

Evaluation 5
Evaluation [5]

  • One of the best approaches to evaluating theory and method is to allow other scholars to make the judgement. Using this method would require finding journal or textbook writing that critiques theory or method. There are normally some well-reported and well-developed critiques of most management theory and this can be used to evaluate theory and journal sources in assignments.

Evaluation 6
Evaluation [6]

  • Academic theory can also be evaluated by how often and how successfully the theory has been used to explain research or to explain practical actions in organisations. By this method we will judge the most often used theory to be better than the less used theory.

Evaluation 7
Evaluation [7]

  • One further approach to evaluation is judging how well a theory can explain action; good theory tends to have more explanatory power than weak theory. This is often judged by the areas of action that cannot be explained by the chosen theory.

Evaluation 8
Evaluation [8]

  • In assessments it is important to evaluate the usefulness of the sources used to guide and support your argument. All theories will have strengths and weaknesses; these need to be explored and a final evaluative judgement made about each element of the theory.

Evaluation 9
Evaluation [9]

  • Journal sources can be judged on a number of factors relating to:

    • How objective has the author been?

    • What is the major claim of the article?

    • How persuasive has the argument been?

    • What evidence has been used to support the argument?

    • What is the rank of the journal in which the article is published?

    • Does the evidence presented support the major claim?


Work in groups of 3–4

120 minutes’ prep

10 minutes’ feedback

Managing stress and Spencer & Smith – case study

Prepare answers to the five case study tasks.

Feedback to the group – ‘the question you have been allocated’


The business skills handbook

Next Week

  • group and team theory

  • effective team behaviours

  • high-performance teams

  • the politics of teams

  • why teams fail

  • project teams

  • leading teams