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How to agree a research aim and objective

In this article, we will look at some of the issues you need to take into account to agree a research aim and objective.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

An essential part of the research process is the translation of your research problem into a specific research aim or objective.

The Research Methodology

Let’s start by reflecting on the critical role this objective will play throughout your research. It will:

  • Establish the parameters of your research. This means that it will help you define what you are aiming to do and, importantly, what you are not doing. This prevents the research from losing focus.
  • Be an influence on all other elements of your research because the decisions that you make at each stage will need to be consistent with this objective.
  • Communicate to others what you are doing and, often, form the basis of the title of your dissertation.

These points show why it is important that you dedicate time to considering the nature of your research objective.

Consider the nature of your research objective

Think about the nature of this problem – what are its main features, why is it an issue in the organisation and what would be the impact of addressing it? When you have done this, try to bring these together to identify the central aspect you want to consider.

For example, you have observed that there are concerns with the new management information system. It seems that managers are reluctant to use its full range of functions and that, in some cases, you have heard that some managers have returned to using previous systems to report on their budget lines.

Pulling the data together from these different systems was always a significant manual process and your team does not have the resources to do this – hence why the new system was introduced.

You are also aware that there is a great deal of research looking at the problem of resistance to change that could help.

Research aim and objective

So how does this translate into a research aim and objective? You could focus on the system itself and research how it works and the relevance of its main features. But you feel that the larger problem here is the attitudes and experiences of those required to use it.

However, you don’t know if this is an issue of training or something else that is making managers reluctant. As a result, you state the aim of your research as follows:

To analyse perceptions of departmental managers towards the new Management Information System (MIS) and to consider the extent to which it contributed towards improvements in the reporting process.

This objective contains some important features that any research objective should contain – see if you can identify them in the above example:

  • A research objective should be a statement of intent that links directly to the problem that you have identified. It should say something about what you are going to do.
  • A research objective should give some indication of where you want to get to through your research. For example, your objective might say that you want to arrive at a better understanding of your problem, or that you want to be able to measure the relationship between two concepts or variables.
  • A research objective is normally written as a statement with an active verb such as analyse, examine, observe or study. Your statement should also be short and certainly, no more than two sentences, though preferably just one.
  • Your objective should itself demonstrate objectivity rather than being a more subjective expression of your own ideas and assumptions. Consider the difference between the above example and this poorer alternative:

To examine the failure of managers to properly adapt to the new Management Information System (MIS) and to utilise its significant benefits to the reporting processes.

Re-writing your research objective

You should expect to re-write your research objective several times until you feel you have expressed the objective clearly.

This is not wasted work but fundamental to the whole research process because all the time you will be questioning what you are going to do and why you are doing it.

Update your research objectives

Finally, although you should try to avoid making substantial changes to your objective during your research, as you learn more about the issue or as your findings give you a more detailed insight, you may need to update it.

This is often called an iterative process, meaning that you go backwards and forwards from your research objective to make sure that it continues to express the direction of the research. This is an accepted part of the research process and demonstrates that you have accepted the importance of this one statement/sentence to your work.

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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