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How to write awesome aims and objectives
Once you’ve decided on suitable research project topic and developed an appropriate research question or hypothesis, you need to begin to organise your research project. In order to do this effectively, it is important that you have good aims and objectives for your research. This not only tells the reader what your project is about and how it will be undertaken, but it also helps to keep you on track. I suggest that you refer back to these aims and objectives at the beginning and at the end of each chapter to help focus your project, as I did with my PhD research.
You probably won’t be graded directly on your aims and objectives in your overall research project, but they do form an integral part of the overall layout and integration on the research. Some institutions will assess good your aims and objectives are as part of a research project proposal.
What is a research aim?
An aims sets out the intentions of the work, i.e. the overall purpose of the study. Aims are broad statements of desired outcomes, or the general intentions of the research, which ‘paint a picture’ of your research project. They emphasise what is to be accomplished but do not go into the level of detail explain how it is to be accomplished. Aims address the long-term project outcomes, i.e. they should reflect the aspirations and expectations of the research topic.
What are research objectives?
Once aims have been established, the next task is to formulate the objectives. Generally, a project should have no more than two or three aims statements, while it may include a number of objectives consistent with them.
Objectives are subsidiary to aims and are the steps you are going to take to answer your research questions or a specific list of tasks needed to accomplish the goals of the project. A good set of aims should do the following:
- Emphasise how aims are to be accomplished
- Must be highly focused and feasible
- Address the more immediate project outcomes
- Make accurate use of concepts
- Must be sensible and precisely described
- Should read as an ‘individual’ statement to convey your intentions
Aims and objectives examples
Here is an example from a recent student project that I supervised at undergraduate level:
- To critically assess the collection and disposal of waste products by UK airlines.
- To critically assess waste operations by airlines based at London Heathrow Airport,
- To investigate volumes/types of materials arising and current disposal/recovery routes
- To make recommendations to improve the operational effectiveness of, and to maximise recovery opportunities of waste collection by airlines
How to write good aims and objectives
Here are some general guidelines to ensure that you write good aims and objectives for your research project:
- Be concise and brief
- Be interrelated; the aim is what you want to achieve, and the objective describes how you are going to achieve that aim
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the duration of the project and the other commitments you have
- Be specific and provide you and your supervisor(s) with indicators of how you intend to:
-approach the literature and theoretical issues related to your project
-access your chosen subjects, respondents, units, goods or services
-develop a sampling frame and strategy or a rationale for their selection
-develop a strategy and design for data collection and analysis
-deal with ethical and practical problems in your research
What to avoid when writing aims and objectives
- Being vague, overly ambitious or broad in scope
- Being repetitive
- Simply listing things related to your research topic
- Contradicting your methods – i.e. they should not imply methodological goals or standards of measurement, proof or generalisability of findings that the methods cannot sustain
In the conclusion chapter of your research project you will be required to assess whether or not you have met your objectives and if not, why not.
It is important to note that you may not always meet your aims in full, since your research may reveal that your questions were inappropriate, that there are intervening variables you could not account for or that the circumstances of the study have changed, etc. This should all be clearly explained.
Just starting out? You might also be interested in my posts ‘How to select a suitable research project topic’ or ‘The difference between a research question and a hypothesis’.