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Research Objectives: Top 4 Tips for Writing, According to a Pro

I love the feeling of knowing what my research objectives are in every morning I do research.

Okay, maybe ‘love’ is a strong word. Perhaps ‘endure’ is more accurate.

Either way, writing a good research project is something you will have to tackle in your University career. Sure, we’re all trying to achieve good grades, but sometimes we can’t help but question why we’re sitting hunched over, tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard for hours on end.

If you reach this stage, you might need to stop for a second and remind yourself of your objectives. Your research objectives will remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. They’ll give you the strength to go through the research process. They’ll even give you the ability to type 5000 words in an hour!

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t true. But if you remember your research aims, it’ll help things make sense.

Why is a Good Research Objective Important?

Basically, a good research objective points you in the right direction. Well-defined research objectives guide all the developments in your research process. Watertight research objectives make your life a whole lot easier. They can be used to:

  • narrow your general objective down to some specific objectives
  • guide your research findings
  • determine your research methodology
  • help measure progress
  • steer your research project

They’re a vitally important part of your research paper – so important, in fact, that if you don’t get the research focus and your research objectives right the first time, there’s a chance that your research proposal will get rejected.

More specifically, good research objectives fulfil the following criteria:

  • They should consist of 2-3 research objectives that are all closely related
  • They should closely represent the desired outcomes of your research
  • They should start with action verbs

We’ll go into detail later, but these criteria are important in any research project.

Remember, your research objectives determine the project’s success or failure.

Research Aims vs Research Objectives

With so many different terms in academic writing, it’s easy to lose track of what everything means.

In essence, research aims tell you what you’re trying to answer; research objectives tell you how you’re going to answer.

Research Objectives vs Aims

Here are a few more characteristics of research aims and research objectives:

Research Aims

  • Statements of intent
  • Broad
  • Focus on long-term outcomes
  • Written as a short paragraph or even a sentence

Research Objectives

  • Plan of execution
  • Focussed
  • Focus on immediate outcomes
  • Written as a numbered list

Great!

But that leads us to another question:

Research Questions vs Research Objectives

Just about everyone who has ever had the pleasure (😒) of writing a research paper has asked about the difference between these terms. You’re not alone.

Essentially, a research question is the main question you want to answer using your research. It’s basically what your study aims to solve or answer.

Here’s a good example:

What is the infrastructure required for a building to be considered a ‘Green Building’?

At the end of that project, a reader should know what infrastructure is required for a building to be classified as a ‘Green Building’. It’s as simple as that!

Research objectives, on the other hand, are specific things that you want to do with this research.

Using the example above, three possible research objectives are:

  • Examine and search current literature about Green Buildings and required infrastructure
  • Compare Singapore’s current standards for Green Buildings with those of other Asian countries
  • Recommend changes to the Green Building criterion to better achieve sustainability goals

Objectives, therefore, provide a framework for the most important aspects of your thesis or research project, and they correctly describe what researchers want to do with the project.

Are the two different?

Yes. Very much so.

So then, how do we craft good objectives? Let’s get into it.

How to Write your Research Project

Research Objectives Infographic

 

Now that we know how some of these individual components fit together, let’s see how we can use this information to write a killer research project

Tip 1: Know What You’re Aiming For

Before you even put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) you need to know, very clearly, what problem you’re trying to solve with your research.

Find What Your Research Aim Specifies by Asking Research Questions

The best way to find an answer is to start by asking a question. Or two. Or even three.

Your research question will kick your mind into gear and get the cogs turning. Grab a piece of paper. and start jotting down some questions:

Examples:

  • What impact has COVID-19 had on learners’ mental health at NUS?
  • How effective are Facebook adverts on university students buying habits?
  • What is the impact of the race scandal on a specific company’s image?

Using these questions, you can then come up with some research aims:

  • Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on learners’ mental health at NUS
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of Facebook adverts on the buying habits of university students.
  • Analysing the impact of the race scandal on the image of a specific company

Next, you can create specific objectives by figuring out how you will go about solving your research aims. For the first example (COVID-19 and learners’ mental health):

  • To evaluate students’ mental health at NUS
  • To identify COVID-19-induced factors that affect students’ mental health
  • To formulate recommendations to improve students’ mental health

Tip 2: Use Strong Action Verbs

Because a research objective summarises how you’re going to address your research aims, it is vitally important that you use strong action verbs.

Remember — your research objectives are about DOING, not only thinking.

It’s also quite useful to make use of active voice (e.g The boy kicks the ball.) NOT passive voice (e.g The ball is kicked by the boy).

Using passive voice in your research objectives adds unnecessary complications. You want a succinct, clear objective, not some overly-complicated, jargon-filled, pompous, self-righteous exploration of the limits of the English language in an academic context [This sentence being a prime example.]

Good Examples (Use these)

  • Analyse
  • Assess
  • Develop
  • Identify
  • Define
  • Comment
  • Constrain
  • Conclude
  • Highlight
  • Confirm
  • Validate
  • Approximate
  • Predict

Bad Examples (Don’t use these)

  • Learn
  • Know
  • Understand
  • Appreciate
  • Feel
  • Consider
  • Be aware of
  • Perceive

There are many, MANY more words on these lists, but these are just some examples.

Tip 3: Align Your Objectives

We’re about halfway there.

Once you’ve decided on your research questions, aims, and objectives, you need to make sure that they all make sense. Especially the objectives.

Ensure that your research objectives align with the problem that you have identified and are hoping to solve. If you have followed the previous steps carefully, you should find that you have suitable objectives which align nicely with the problem you are addressing.

Examples

Let’s take an example from student life:

If the problem is that the dishes are dirty, your objective should not be to count how many cups you have.

Similarly, if your research problem is focused on improving workplace morale, your research objective should not be to quantify the amount of time colleagues spend socialising. It might be related, but it isn’t really focused on what you’re trying to achieve.

Tip 4: Keep them SMART

Yep. You’ve seen right through us.

SMART doesn’t mean intelligent. SMART is a smart acronym for keeping your objectives constrained and realistic.

Having SMART objectives is smart. Your objectives should be:

Specific

Hone your objectives down to a fine point. Be specific by maintaining focus on the intent, methodology, variables, geographic location, and the anticipated contribution within your field.

Measurable

Ensure that you have a few milestones which you can use to measure if you have achieved your objectives or not. This means that your research objectives must not be open-ended, but should rather be well-defined.

Don’t write something like, “To perceive the mood of employees at a company.” That’s way too vague.

Rather write something like: “To quantify the degree to which employees at a certain company feel happy, based on the Subjective Happiness Scale.”

Achievable

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you have to make sure that you can actually complete your objectives, and in a reasonable amount of time.

Don’t write a research objective like: “To personally count how many birds there are in Singapore.” That’s impossible.

Rather go for a research objective like, “To determine how many Sunbirds are in Singapore using the capture-mark-recapture method.”

Realistic

The only way your research objectives will be measurable and achievable is if they are realistic. Aiming too high or trying to achieve more than your knowledge permits will only end up biting you in the end.

If you don’t know any multi-billionaires, don’t include spending quality time with them in your research objectives.

Timely

Just like everything, the relevance of research objectives deteriorates as time goes on. Make sure that you can achieve your research objectives within a reasonable time. Some research does take longer, but make sure that your research objectives align with the time you have available.

Common Mistakes

Here are some mistakes that too many people make when trying to formulate a good research objective. Avoid them.

Trying to Achieve too Much

Writing a research project is a huge task. You can avoid this right from the beginning.

Once again, this comes down to narrowing down your research objectives. A general objective can help initially, but make sure that you whittle it down to its essence before you start.

Using complicated words

Don’t try to sound intelligent. Using big, complicated words and long sentences usually backfires.

Remember, you want the readers to understand what you’re going for. Complicated words just get in the way.

Repeating for the sake of repeating

Say something once, and leave it at that. If you have written your objectives clearly, there is no need for repetition.

Objective: Complete

Are you ready to tackle your research paper? Go for it!

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