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Formulating Aims and Objectives

Now that you have selected your research topic, the next stage is to begin designing and planning your research project. The primary focus of your research project is usually expressed in terms of an aim and objectives.

What are Aims & Objectives?

An aim is a general statement, which reflects the intention or purpose of your chosen area of research. Whilst an objective is a specific statement relating to the defined goal / aim of your research. It is not uncommon to have more than one objective to satisfy your research aim.

In simple terms the aim and objectives are interrelated. The aim is what you want to achieve, and the objective describes how you are going to achieve that aim.

Formulating Aims & Objectives

The aim of your research should reflect the aspirations and expectations of the research topic. Several examples of an aim are shown below:

  • To evaluate the mature students' experience of higher education: motivations, expectations (Walters, M, 1996, PhD Manchester University)
  • To identify sex ratio imbalances in India - a disaggregated analysis (Agnihotri, S.B, 1997, PhD East Anglia University)
  • To establish a bone healing measurement using acoustic resonances (Nadav, O, 1982, PhD Kent University)
  • To assess factors affecting European gastronomy (Bode, W.K.H, 1986, MPhil Surrey University)
  • To contribute to the understanding of women, work and the family (Chandler, T, 1995, PhD Birmingham University)

In essence the aim 'paints the picture' of your research proposal. Once the aim has been established, the next task is to formulate the objectives.

Objectives can be placed into one of three broad classifications*, knowledge, skill or attitudinal. Examples of all three types can be found below:

  • e.g. 1 To understand the rising service costs in hospital (knowledge)
    A knowledge objective usually encompasses a level of understanding, problem- solving and /or the ability to recall information
  • e.g. 2 To develop a new method of analysing a food material (skill)
    A skill objective relates to a level of competence or familiarity with a chosen 'practical' method of data collection
  • e.g. 3 To assess the consumer opinions of organic versus non-organic products (attitude)
    Attitude objectives are approached in much the same way as knowledge objectives, as they both demonstrate a level of understanding. However, attitudinal objectives allow for assumptions to be made as well as an acceptance of other (less conventional) views

*Sub-divisions of each type do exist (Bloom 1991)

In each of the given examples (see e.g. 1,2 & 3 above), the objectives can determine the appropriate methodology to be used, that is:

e.g. 1 Cost-analysis
e.g. 2 Chemical assay
e.g. 3 Focus groups / questionnaires

You must remember objectives have to fulfil
the requirements of the aim

It is also useful to note, that the development of a realistic time schedule may help to prioritise your objectives and help to minimise wasted time and effort.

Aims & Objectives within the Research Proposal

The Aim should be presented in the first paragraph of the research proposal. It should be clear yet succinct whilst reflecting the purpose of your chosen area of research.

Within the format of the research proposal, objectives are normally written directly under the aim. If several objectives exist they are usually numbered so that each objective reads as an 'individual' statement to convey your intentions.

It is important to write both the Aim and Objectives clearly and precisely as this helps to reflect your level of understanding with regards to the research topic. In addition, the clarity of your aim and objectives will allow the reader to ascertain:

  • Who : Your chosen subjects, units, goods or services
  • Where : Your research environment
  • What : Your factor of interest
  • How : Your plan to achieve your aim and objectives

Once your Aim and Objectives have been formulated to meet the requirements of your research question, they will provide a sound structure for the development of your Research Proposal.

For further reading please refer to the following titles:

  • Bloom, 1991, IN: Newble, D. & Cannon, R, A handbook for teachers in universities and colleges, revised edition, Kogan Page Limited
  • Lewis,R, 1984, How to help learners assess their progress, Council for Educational Technology
  • Orma,E. & Stevens, G, 1995, Managing information for research, Open Univ Press
  • Reece, I. & Walker, S, 1994, A practical guide to teaching, training and learning, 2nd Edition, Business Education Publishers