Writing Guide for MBA Students

Updated October 19, 2022

MBA students require strong writing skills. Learn about the standards for MBA essay writing, business writing, and more.

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Business administration students require strong writing skills, as colleges and universities assess these abilities regularly. This examination may begin in the application process and continue on through the final thesis or dissertation of graduate programs. This focus on writing prepares learners for postgraduate careers. In the professional world, business workers must create various written work, including memos, business letters, instructional manuals, financial reports, and proposals. Becoming familiar with these practices is essential since crafting these written materials is an essential component of all MBA programs.
As MBA essay writing involves standard essay elements, students should gain familiarity with the basic format: introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. MBA writing may also require students to include specific sections or concepts in the document, such as a section for methodology. Additionally, these documents often employ concise wording. The reasons for this concision and structure connect to the nature of business. Time management and writing clarity prove crucial for companies that must meet deadlines and execute marketing plans. Documents should reflect these skills, allowing companies to quickly explore the information and apply it to business concepts.

Types of Writing MBA Students Will Do

Personal Statements for MBA Programs

Students may encounter personal statements with college applications. Departments often allow applicants to choose a writing topic or provide the prospective student with specific questions to answer. Either way, learners should address personal merits and experiences with more in-depth information than that available through other application materials. For example, an applicant may discuss a prior internship by commenting on personal growth gained from the experience.

Schools not only evaluate applicants' writing skills through these statements, but also look for stand-out experiences and traits.

Possible questions for MBA personal statements might include career goals, leadership qualities, volunteer experience, and incentives for studying business. Institutions may list personal statements as optional. Providing the statement in such cases can show ambition and a strong work ethic. Learners should refrain from using abstract language in favor of more concrete concepts. Instead of calling a volunteer opportunity "life-changing,"for instance, an applicant can supply specific elements of their life that altered due to the experience. Schools not only evaluate applicants' writing skills through these statements, but also look for stand-out experiences and traits. For these reasons, students should ensure personal statements offer more than general or cliché information. Many students experience an interest in business prior to enrolling in an MBA program. To outshine competition, prospective students can provide information about what particular component of business fascinates them and why.


College exams may include essay assessments. For these tests, learners answer a prompt through an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Often, learners receive the essay question on the exam date. Students who participate in class and complete assignments build a foundation of understanding for these exams. Other preparation methods include regularly reviewing class notes and text readings. While studying, learners should consider more than basic facts, as essay exams may involve deeper analysis. For instance, if the prompt asks how the the Great Depression impacted everyday households, students would need more development than simply including the dates of the crisis. Students should carefully read the essay question to avoid misinterpretation, creating a thesis that answers the prompt and an outline of supporting evidence/analysis to explore in the body paragraphs. This process supplies the test-taker with a guide to ensure the response remains on topic. Students should also practice time management by designating certain amounts of time for each essay section. Allow time for proofreading to avoid spelling, wording, and grammar errors.

Research Papers

A research paper explores a topic by using outside sources, whereas an essay focuses on the writer's opinion. An essay concerning an artistic piece, for instance, delivers the writer's interpretation of and reaction to the work. A research paper explores the work's traits, history, and relevance through academic sources. Additionally, research papers often require higher word counts than essays. MBA research papers can examine types of businesses, such as specific stores, industries, or elements that prove common among business types, including payment scales, communication, and marketing. Topics may explore past or future concepts as well, such as business history or a trending concept like globalization. As MBA papers frequently require APA format, students should include a cover page, an abstract, an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Within the paper, address the need for and results of the research, and describe any research methods used. Students require a variety of sources to support arguments, as sources may hold a biased or wrong interpretation of an event or circumstance. Multiple sources supporting the same concept create a more stable research foundation. Include sources throughout the paper to avoid personal opinions, with all needed citations and references included.

Case Studies

Case studies may refer to company documents that illustrate positive business practices and provide evidence of their impact. For courses, students must often create documents that mimic this format, whether through an examination of an existing company or a fictional scenario. Occasionally, students receive descriptions of business situations for case study analyses. In these scenarios, learners find or review a resolution for a company issue or address an assigned question for the circumstances. For any of these strategies, case studies pair well with business courses since successful business plans require problem-solving and organizational skills. Students may learn through these assignments what works best in various industries by encountering theories and strategies, as well as reviewing data and examples of success. These studies also train candidates to effectively analyze company details, leading to better business planning and execution. An MBA case study includes analysis and background information on the business situation, such as details regarding why the company's problem existed. Additionally, these documents should contain data to prove presented claims. Students can use visual aids, like charts, to organize this data in a clear manner.

How to Write an MBA Essay

Students complete a variety of MBA essay writing tasks while earning a degree. These writing assignments take several forms, each with a different purpose. Learners should become familiar with all standard essay types for a strong chance of academic success. This familiarity aids students in choosing a topic, prewriting, collecting evidence, and organizing papers.
  • Narrative: This essay tells a story, such as a personal narrative of the writer's first day of high school. Writers explore topics through physical, emotional, or mental concepts. For instance, the personal narrative can address what the writer physically accomplished or experienced on that day. These stories require a main idea, introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Students should provide vivid, but concrete, details so the narrative feels engaging to the reader.
  • Expository: Expository works explore topics for the purpose of providing information. For this reason, writers rely on facts and concrete language when constructing these pieces. Students may turn to logic and examples for idea support when an assignment's structure includes limited writing time. Descriptive essays, cause and effect pieces, and how-to papers qualify as expository. Expository essays should embrace standard format with an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
  • Persuasive: Persuasive pieces provide information to sway the audience's opinion. For this purpose, writers should employ solid facts, but may also appeal to the reader through logic and emotion. This process begins in the introduction since writers must convince the reader that the topic merits consideration. After establishing the topic's relevance and delivering a thesis, students should demonstrate the opinion's validity within the body paragraphs and sum up the paper's concepts in the conclusion.
  • Comparative: These pieces compare two or more concepts, such as books, opinions, or practices. Writers define the main idea of this comparison in a thesis and provide point-by-point information within the body paragraphs to support that thesis. For instance, a student explaining that two novels rely strongly on symbolism may state this concept in the thesis before addressing evidence in the body paragraphs. Often, comparative pieces discuss contrasting elements as well, making a Venn diagram a great prewriting strategy.
  • Cause and Effect: Students writing cause and effect pieces must choose a topic where one action led or leads to a definite result. As an example, a learner may discuss how economic concerns of the North and South provided a reason for the American Civil War. Writers constructing these papers, however, should ensure sound claims. For instance, labeling economic concerns as the only cause for the Civil War creates a logical error since other factors existed. Students should avoid all-consuming words, such as "only," "always," or "never."
  • Thesis/Dissertation: These papers conclude graduate programs and may require over 100 pages of writing. Learners choose research topics that can sustain their interest since a paper of this caliber may take over a year to complete. The MBA thesis or dissertation process varies by school. Some institutions, for example, may not require a thesis defense, while others may insist learners present their findings before a committee. Students should only use scholarly sources for an MBA dissertation or thesis, as these documents represent the highest form of student writing.

Citations Guide for MBA Students

Citation allows learners to link ideas to the proper sources. By neglecting to cite source information, writers essentially take credit for another person's ideas, or plagiarize, which can result in a failing grade or expulsion. To avoid these consequences, credit all source-based concepts by using the citation style that the professor or department mandates. Since all citation styles hold specific guidelines, learners should compare all paper elements to a style reference source for best citation and format practices.

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

APA format, established in 1929 as a common citation format for scientific purposes, applies heavily to business, criminology, social science, and nursing courses today. This format requires a cover page, page headers, and page numbers, often including an abstract with information on the research process. Students must supply a source list with "References" as the header.

In-text citations include the author's last name, or the title of the work if no author is listed, and the publication year. The abbreviation for "no date" (n.d.) may substitute the year if needed. For quotes, supply a page number in the citation, but use a paragraph number or section heading if the source lacks page numbers.


Following this marketing plan, the company experienced an "epic economic turnaround" (Bailey & Doverman, 2017, p. 201).

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

The University of Chicago Press established the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) format in 1906. Current anthropology, history, and philosophy students may encounter this citation style during their studies.

Chicago format includes a title page, page numbers, and a source list titled "Bibliography." Students may divide the paper into sections, but must incorporate format details when doing so. Center headings and use bold font. Chicago format also allows footnotes or in-text citations. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page and share similar structure with bibliography entries. In-text citations include the author's last name and year, with a comma separating this information from the page number.


Following this marketing plan, the company experienced an "epic economic turnaround" (Bailey and Doverman 2017, 201).

Modern Language Association (MLA) Format

The Modern Language Association (MLA), established in 1883, often surfaces in today's literature, communications, and theater classrooms.

MLA works do not need a cover page, and page headers only include the last name of the person writing the paper, followed by the page number of the document. Learners must, however, provide title-page information in the upper left-hand portion of the first page, such as the course name and date. Students should also include a source list titled "Works Cited" at the end of the document.

MLA in-text citations require the author's last name, or the title of the work if the author's name is unavailable, and a page number when possible, with no comma between them.

Example: Following this marketing plan, the company experienced an "epic economic turnaround" (Bailey and Doverman 201).

Associated Press (AP) Style

The AP style guide, originally published in 1977, addresses concepts beyond citation, such as grammar and wording. Journalism and news-related careers commonly use AP guidelines.

AP style prioritizes concise writing that clearly delivers the author's meaning. Mandated abbreviations for words, such as doctor, governor, and United States, contribute to this concision, as do the short paragraphs typically included in AP pieces.

This writing format does not include standard in-text citations or reference lists. Rather, writers supply reference information within the sentence that contains the source's ideas.

Example: Following this marketing plan, the company experienced an "epic economic turnaround," reports Bailey and Doverman.

Which Writing Style Should MBA Students Use?

For business courses and professions, APA format represents the most common citation method. This selection makes sense, given APA's rigid organization and conciseness. In the business world, structure can impact productivity, and details that go overlooked can hinder sales. A marketing campaign, for instance, only proves effective if the audience receives and understands the message. Likewise, business concept improvements become insubstantial if the reader does not understand the meaning. The overall structure of APA mimics the business world's need for clarity and organization.

Common Writing Mistakes Students Make

Active vs. Passive Voice

Active and passive voice commonly surface in everyday speech, and both can spill over into writing. However, passive voice is generally considered a stylistic error. With active voice, the noun or pronoun performing the action represents the sentence's subject. Passive voice places the noun or pronoun enduring the action as the subject. Writers should deliver ideas in active voice, as passive voice can harm pace and cause confusion. For instance, the active sentence "James Simpson bought the car" specifies who purchased the vehicle in a clear, concise manner. If the noun or pronoun enduring the action comes as the sentence's subject, the passive-voice delivery causes the sentence to lose energy and become unsure: "The car was bought." The reader cannot know by this approach who bought the car without inserting a prepositional phrase, such as "by James Simpson." Adding these words slows the writing's pace. For these reasons, writers should refrain from using passive voice where possible.


Each punctuation mark holds at least one purpose, and confusing their functions often leads to sentence structure errors. A comma, for example, can end an introductory phrase, such as "According to the latest report." Using a period instead creates a fragment, since periods end sentences. Correct punctuation also leads to fewer run-on sentences, or statements that contain two or more incorrectly joined independent clauses. Using a comma without a coordinating conjunction creates a comma splice, whereas a semicolon builds a sound sentence: Incorrect Comma Splice: "I went to the store, it was busy." Correct Comma/Conjunction Usage: "I went to the store, and it was busy." Correct Semicolon Usage: "I went to the store; it was busy." Punctuation also clarifies meaning, such as semicolons separating lists within lists and colons indicating dramatic pauses: "The teams are: Joe, Eddie, and Samantha; Terry, Jane, and Bill; and Francis, Thomas, and Dominic." Other marks include apostrophes and dashes. Writers must understand all marks to construct accurate sentences.


Grammar comprises a set of language guidelines for details like verb tenses and pronouns. Written works that fall short in grammar concepts confuse readers and cause doubt regarding credibility. If the writer neglects to polish the work's grammar, the reader may question the effort invested in the piece. Grammar mistakes may surface due to a lack of familiarity with rules. For example, pronouns used as objects of prepositions should come in objective form, such as "for Henry and me." Not knowing this rule can lead to the wrong pronoun form, such as "for Henry and I." Other errors include confusing homophones, such as "their," "they're," and "there." Although the words sound similar, the meanings differ. "There" indicates a location, whereas "they're" represents "they are." "Their" makes up the possessive form of "they."

Writing Resources for MBA Students

  • Purdue OWL: This site provides writers with information on grammar, citation, and essay format. Students explore these concepts through instructional documents or practice applying grammatical concepts through offered exercises. Specific types of writing covered through Purdue OWL include creative writing, journalistic writing, and technical writing.
  • Free Management Library: This site provides writing tips for viewers on topics, such as visual clarity and transitions, and also links students to outside sources for concepts that include proofreading and individualizing writing style.
  • HemingwayApp: This app's editing option highlights writing problems in different colors. Passive voice, for instance, appears in green, and adverbs in blue. The app also notes less concrete concerns, including sentences with confusing construction and sections needing more straightforward wording.
  • Tutor.com: This online service supplies students with assistance in essay writing. Learners may choose live tutoring sessions for general help regarding grammar concepts, tips for finding sources, assistance with paper construction, or request a proofread in live or asynchronous sessions.
  • Grammarly: Writers may copy their work into the Grammarly Editor to find areas with potential errors. Additionally, Grammarly offers a free writing handbook and maintains a blog that writers may use for reference. Students, however, should proofread documents before submission as any online tool may misinterpret wording.

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