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Formulating research aims and objectives

Chapter 4

Formulating aims and objectives from research questions

Relation to research areas/topics/ideas/problems/questions:

These should reflect the sources from which your interest is derived e.g.:
  • an area or topic in which you have an interest
    • e.g. - appraisal systems
  • ideas or issues which you wish to explore in detail
    • e.g. - women's experience of appraisal
  • problems detected and needing a solution in practical or theoretical terms
    • e.g. - the 'glass ceiling' effect in promotion/advancement
  • questions arising from experience, reading the literature, etc.
    • e.g. - do women feel that the glass ceiling effect is embedded in appraisal systems?
  • you should clearly state the nature of the problem etc. and its known or estimated extent
  • if possible you should locate your questions within the context within which it is to be studied
    • e.g. - do women at (company/institution/etc) feel that the glass ceiling effect is embedded in the internal appraisal systems of their (company/institution/etc.)

Having selected your research topic and questions, the next stage is to begin designing and planning your research project, the focus of which is usually expressed in terms of aims and objectives.


  • Are broad statements of desired outcomes, or the general intentions of the research, which 'paint the picture' of your research proposal
  • Emphasize what is to be accomplished, not how it is to be accomplished
  • Address the long-term project outcomes, i.e. they should reflect the aspirations and expectations of the research topic
  • Do not need to be numbered

Once aims have been established, the next task is to formulate the objectives. Generally, a project should have no more than two or three aim statements, while it may include a number of objectives consistent with them.


  • 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
  • Emphasize how aims are to be accomplished
  • Must be highly focused and feasible
  • Address the more immediate project outcomes
  • Make accurate use of concepts and be sensible and precisely described
  • Are usually numbered so that each objective reads as an 'individual' statement to convey your intentions

For each specific objective you must have a method to attempt to achieve it. The development of a realistic time schedule may help to prioritize your objectives and help to minimize wasted time and effort.

Aims and Objectives should:

  • Be presented concisely and briefly
  • Be interrelated. The aim is what you want to achieve, and the objective describes how you are going to achieve that aim i.e.:
    • make sure that each aim is matched with specific objectives
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the duration of the project and the other commitments you have i.e.:
    • the scope of your project must be consistent with the time frame and level of effort available to you
  • Provide you and your assessors with indicators of how you:
    • intend to approach the literature and theoretical issues related to you project
    • intend to access your chosen subjects, respondents, units, goods or services and develop a sampling frame and strategy or a rationale for their selection
    • will develop a strategy and design for data collection and analysis
    • you will deal with ethical and practical problems in your research

Aims and Objectives should not:

  • Be too vague, ambitious or broad in scope:
    • though aims are more general in nature than objectives it is the viability and feasibility of your study that you have to demonstrate and aims often present an over-optimistic picture of what the project can achieve
  • Just repeat each other in different terms
  • Just be a list of things related to your research topic
  • Spend time discussing details of your job or research site i.e.:
    • it is your research study your assessors are interested in and you should keep this in mind at all times.
  • Contradict methods, that is, they should not imply methodological goals or standards of measurement, proof or generalizability of findings that the methods cannot sustain


  • At the conclusion of your project you will need to assess whether or not you have met your objectives and if not, why not.
  • You may not, however, 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. Whatever the case, your conclusion will still have to reflect on how well the research design that was guided by your objectives has contributed to addressing your aims.

Marx's sources of research questions (see Thinking deeply 4.1, page 81)

  • Intellectual puzzles and contradictions
  • The existing literature
  • Replication
  • Structures and functions
  • Opposition
  • Social problems
  • The counter-intuitive
  • Deviant cases and atypical events
  • New methods and theories
  • Social and technical developments and trends
  • Personal experience
  • Sponsors and teachers

Steps in selecting research questions

Exercise: Springfield University 2

Title: Setting Research Objectives

Springfield University is one of over 150 universities in the UK. Well established, it has some 12,000 students on average per annum, both full and part time, studying a wide range of courses such as medicine, biology, business studies, finance, history, law, creative writing, etc. However, it was built in the 1940s and its infrastructure is beginning to become very tired, often many facilities are broken or in need of repair and not up to what a student would expect, especially given a change in government policy and rise in tuition fees across the sector in 2008. The learning technology and catering facilities are also dated, both key aspects in students’ learning environment. Many Undergraduate students with UCAS offers who have achieved their grades are simply choosing to go elsewhere. Springfield is located in a region that has many other Universities within travelling distance and it is therefore not surprising that student intakes are gradually declining.

The Business School is at stake here and it is thought moving the whole of this department off campus will not only provide room for other departments on campus but also enhance the Business Schools’ branding with its own separate marketing entity. Many other Business Schools in the UK have moved off campus to their own satellite campus over the past decade. Moreover, the academics, some of many years’ service, are less than enthusiastic about the move as they feel it would take them and their students away from the heart of campus life. The new campus where the Business School would be housed would embrace the latest in technology, teaching facilities, learning resources and, above all, be attractively located in the City centre. However, there are disadvantages, not least the lack of staff car parking facilities and a paucity of teaching staff office space. The biggest threat to the vision at least according to the University Executive, is the ‘mindset’ of the staff, which, in their view, would need ratcheting up a fair few notches to embrace the philosophy of the new building as an ‘up market, quality’ establishment. In addition to being away from central campus, one of the many things staff will need to embrace is shared office space. This, and other new innovations, will be a steep learning curve for many staff.

The University has decided to initiate research to examine how they should prepare itself for the change, position itself as a newly branded Business School in the market place and the appropriate accompanying staff behaviour.

Your answer should be fully justified with reference to the text. It is important to stress that there is not one right answer but some are justifiably better solutions than others.



Devise three possible research objectives if you were taking on the research as an academic research exercise.

Three possible research objectives are:

To critically analyse the literature on 'change' with reference to a repositioning strategy in a higher education university context.

To compare and contrast university staff and senior management perceptions on change, repositioning, and required staff behaviour.

Based on the literature review and the research, to make recommendations on how the business school should prepare itself for change, a repositioning strategy, and the appropriate accompanying staff behaviour.

Check your answer