The objective of your dissertation explains why you are undertaking your research. It should describe what you specifically want to achieve through your investigation and what you will study. You should identify this objective as part of your problem definition.
Formulating a dissertation objective
The key here is to remember that your goal is not to solve a problem, as this goes beyond your capacity as a researcher. Your objective should instead identify what your study itself will achieve.
For example, a company where you are interning may ask you to investigate why its Facebook page is receiving a declining number of “likes.” It’s likely that the company believes that understanding these causes will help it to solve the problem.
In this case, however, your goal is to focus on just the “why”; the company itself will use the results of your analysis to decide the “how” on its own.
If your work is more theoretical, your objective may be to explore if a particular model is relevant for a specific situation or to identify the attitudes that members of a sample population have on a given topic.
Remember, your objectives need to be grounded in your preliminary research and problem definition.
Example of a problem definition
Example dissertation objectives
The aim of the research is to determine how the teachers’ skills can be improved so that they are able to better recognize and assist gifted students.
The objective of the research is to use quantitative and qualitative research methods to gain insight into why the number of “likes” on the Facebook page is dropping among company X’s target audience.
Why do you need to set an objective for dissertation?
By setting an objective, you demonstrate the relevance of your research and ensure that everyone involved in it has the same expectations.
The objective reveals the relevance of your research, which may vary.
In theoretical research, the goal is often to expand existing knowledge on a particular subject. If your research is more practical, the objective may be more socially relevant. For instance, the above example about understanding the skills that would help teachers to better identify and guide gifted students has social relevance.
Create appropriate expectations
A good objective creates clear expectations and avoids problems later in the research process.
If you are writing your dissertation on a topic requested by a particular organization, it’s especially important to ensure that you and that “client” have the same expectations. Remember that your aim is to not to find a ready-made solution to a problem, as solving the problem is not your job.
Tips for identifying a good dissertation objective
Step 1: Define your problem
Your problem definition should serve as the basis for setting the objective of your dissertation.
Step 2: Identify the components of your dissertation objective
- The type of research you will undertake
- The relevance of the research
- The client’s needs/desires (if relevant)
Step 3: Formulate the objective using a standard structure
Examples of structures for an objective
This research aims to obtain knowledge and insight concerning… and to …
The objective of the study is to … by ….
You also need to create a problem statement
In addition to setting an objective, you also need to formulate a problem statement that describes the problem or issue that needs to be resolved.
On to your main research question!
Once you have established your objective and problem statement, it’s time to move on to formulating your main research question and associated sub-questions.
Lesson 3: Research objectives
While your problem formulation serves to describe the aim of your thesis, the objectives provide an accurate description of the specific actions you will take in order to reach this aim. As with the problem formulation, the overall objective should be framed in a single sentence.
Once again, take a look at the problem formulation from the previous lesson: “Is the level of knowledge on recommended nutritional practices related to the nutritional status of pregnant women attending antenatal care in Northern Uganda?”
The correspondent overall objective should be written as an infinitive sentence e.g.:
“To analyse the association between nutritional knowledge and the nutritional status of pregnant women attending antenatal care (ANC) in Northern Uganda.
Here you see that the overall objective states exactly how you intend to address your problem: “I want to find the answer to problem A, by completing action B”. You then have to explain or detail action B through a set of specific objectives (usually between two and four), e.g.:
- To assess the knowledge level among ANC attendees on the recommended nutritional practices during pregnancy
- To assess the nutritional status of pregnant women attending ANC
- To analyse the statistical association between nutritional knowledge level and nutritional status in pregnant women attending ANC
Each specific objective consists of one infinitive sentence and should be phrased in a way that makes it possible to draw a conclusion from within the scope of the thesis.
The more precisely you formulate your specific objectives, the simpler it will be to define the type of study and which method(s) you will use in your further research. You can refine your specific objective by clearly stating if your given action is to understand, analyse or create – in tune with the hierarchy of learning objectives and the key to the assessment of knowledge content as found in for example Bloom’s taxonomy. In this way, your specific objectives will signal your level of ambition as well as where you will place the greatest effort in your thesis.
Your well-defined research objectives will help you identify the type of study you will do. Practical limitations and/or advice from your supervisor may require that you reformulate all or some of your objectives. Don’t worry; this is all part of the research process.
Do you now know how to formulate objectives? Test your knowledge in the following.