Research aims, objectives and questions. Differences and Interdependence explained

Research aims, objectives and questions. Differences and Interdependence explained

The formulation of the research aim and objective in a manner that suits your thesis style is the most important thing to do, because it is only through these that one can figure out the scope, depth as well as the overall direction of the research to be undertaken. The research question is the central question of the study and it must be answered based on the findings generated by research.

What is research aim? In simple terms, research aim is specifying what needs to be achieved within the defined scope of the research, by the time the researcher comes to the end of the research process. Achievement of the research aims means that the research question has been answered.

The research objective further divides the broader research aim into many parts and then further addresses each part separately. Let us understand this more simply further, the research aim specifies exactly WHAT needs to be studies and the research objective gives the step-by-step procedure which address HOW the research aim is to be achieved.

So, as a rule pf thumb, there would be one WHAT in research, which means one research objective and many “HOW” which are the several steps to be taken up to achieve the given research aim.

Look at the following example for better understanding

Research Title: Relationship between Organisational culture and Business profitability: A case Study of TATA Motors
Research Aim: To assess the effects of TATA Motors organisational culture on the profitability of the business
Research Objectives formulated to achieve the research aim with a tentative timeline

  • Analyzing the nature of organizational culture at TATA Motors till December, 2022
  • Identifying factors impacting TATA Motors organizational culture till January, 2023
  • Analyzing impacts of TATA Motors organizational culture on employee performances till February, 2023
  • Providing recommendations to TATA Motors strategic level management in terms of increasing the level of effectiveness of organizational culture till April 2023

Let us look at the following flowchart to understand the step-by-step graduation of formulating the research question, aim and objective.

Let us look at some logical understanding of why Research Questions and Objectives are not the same:
• The Research questions are general and do not have a defined ending while the objectives are more specific and measurable in nature 
• The research question being broader in perspective, identifies the main problem or defines the boundary for the area of enquiry. The objectives on the other hand give the specific outcomes that the researcher is wanting to achieve
• The scope of the study is defined by the research questions and the objectives help to guide the process of research
• Research Questions are used for creating the hypothesis or to identify the gaps in the existing knowledge, objectives on the other hand are used for establishing clear and achievable targets for the purpose of research
• Research Questions and objectives are interdependent and not exclusive of each other. Well defined research questions would lead to specific objectives which are important to answer the research questions.
• This is the most important thing to note that research questions and objectives are not mutually exclusive; a research or project can have one or many questions and objectives. A well-defined research question should lead to SMART objectives necessary to answer the question well by the end of the study.
So, research questions and objectives are two distinct aspects of the research process. Research questions are broad statements that guide the overall direction of the research, while research objectives are specific, measurable goals that the research aims to achieve. Understanding these two terms' differences is essential for conducting effective and meaningful research
Formulation of research question, aim and objectives
 Some of the common mistakes that you can make when writing your research aim are:
1. Selecting a broad research topic: This is by far the most common mistake that researchers make. For example, choosing a topic such as “An analysis of ethics and values” can be categorised as to broad because of the following reasons:
• Which aspect of ethics and values: ethics and values multiple domains where they are applicable, such as behaviour, practices, employee retention, customer relationship and so on. An attempt to cover all these aspects of organizational ethics and values within single research will result in an unfocused and poor work.
• An analysis of ethics and values in which country? The definition and boundary of ethics varies from country-to-country dues to cross cultural differences and it would not be justified to apply the same findings in different geographical locations. Hence your topic itself should make it sound country specific.
• Like the above point discussed, the analysis of values and ethical practices needs to consider the differences that may be specific to the industry or company and there is no way to conduct a research n values and ethics that relates to all industries and organizations in an equal manner.
• Incorporating the above points let us look at an example of a better topic “A study into the impacts of ethical behaviour and values of an organisation on the level of employee motivation in US healthcare sector” This surely is an improvised version of the previous title, “An analysis of ethics and values.”
2. Setting a non-pragmatic aim:  Developing a research aim that involves in-depth interviews with Amazon strategic level management by an undergraduate or masters level student can be quite utopian and non-pragmatic. This is because securing an interview with Amazon CEO or members of Amazon Board of Directors might not be easy. This is an extreme example of course, but I am sure you got the idea. Instead, you may aim to interview the manager of your local Amazon store and adopt a more feasible strategy to get your dissertation completed.
3. Deciding on research methods that may not be compatible within the available time frame: sometimes you may decide to create a research plan that is practically impossible to achieve. This could be because of the time frame decided, cost involved, resources needed etc. For instance, you may decide to conduct in-depth interview with a huge sample size within a span of thirty days. This can surely trigger your stress levels, bring down the quality levels in the output. You must make sure what you are setting up as objectives is realistic, which means practically achievable in all contexts.
Using the SMART principle to set up research objectives. This acronym is most effectively and commonly used in goal setting and has huge amount of applicability when it comes to setting up your research objectives. So, what is the full form of SMART and how does it help you to make better research objectives. Let us see how:
S: Specific
M: Measurable
A: Achievable
R: Realistic
T: Time Bound
Let us understand this better with this example of a research objective with and without the application of the SMART principle
Vague Research Objectives SMART Research Objectives
Study employee motivation of Pepsico To study the impacts of management practices on the levels of employee motivation at Pepsico India by December 5, 2022
Analysing consumer behaviour in Hotel Industry Analyzing changes in consumer behaviour in Hotel industry Pre and Post covid Era in Malaysia by March, 20230


Incomplete research objectives SMART research objectives
Give Suggestions and Recommendations to TATA Motors management on new market growth strategy Formulating recommendations to TATA Motors on the option of a successful strategy to enter Malaysian market by June, 2023
Finding out about the employee Motivation Strategies used by TCS managers Identifying main time-management strategies used by managers of TCS France by December, 2023


Appraisal of the Research Aims and Objectives

By the time you reach the end of your research project, it would be required to reflect on the level of achievement of research aims and objectives. In a situation where research aims and objectives are not achieved by the time the end of the study comes, the reasons will have to be discussed. The reasons could vary from being a faulty or inappropriate research aims and objectives at the initial stage only or the impact of variables that were not anticipated in the planning stage or those uncontrollable changes that happened during the process of research that were beyond the hands of the researcher by impacted the outcome of the research

Common Steps for Formulating Research Aims and Objectives

It is a systematic process to formulate the correct Aims and Objectives and only when the process is systematic that the outcome is clear, specific, achievable, and relevant at the same time.  You must begin by asking yourself what is desired out of this research and what exactly is the impact you want to create with your research.  Let us list down some of the steps you can follow in the process of developing research aims and objectives:

  1. Define the Research Question: you must clearly know the questions that you wish to answer through your research. It will help to give a framework to your research and define it explicitly. Understanding the characteristics of a good research question will help you to draft more specific and clearer aims and objectives
  2. Do Literature Review: It is necessary to conduct a Literature Review to be aware of the key concepts, theories and methods that are related to your research problem or the question. Further, when you conduct a detailed Literature Review it can help you to understand well what research has already been done and what are the gaps in the existing Literature that you can aspire to fill.
  3. Know your research Aim: your research aim must be typically broad and concise that summarises the otherwise overarching goal of your research.
  4. Build research objectives: after having structured out research questions and research aim, we need to build research objectives that give a fair outline of what can be achieved through your research. As discussed, these objectives should follow the SMART principle (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound)
  5. Apply Action Verbs: Make use of action verbs such as “investigate, “examine”, “compare”, “Analyse” to describe your research aims and objectives. This makes them appear and understood to be more realistic in nature.
  6. Align them with Research Question: make sure that there is a synchronisation between the aim, objectives, and the question. This makes it possible that the research stays focused and the objectives are quite specific to be able to answer your questions.
  7. Revise and Improvise: After having revised the research aim and objectives, they need to be refined to their final version.  For this feedback, opinion and advice can be sought from your supervisor, mentor, colleagues so that you are sure that what you have drafted can be achieved realistically in the given time frame.
  8. Communicate: now that things have ben finalised from your end, you must communicate this to your research team, stakeholder and whoever is associated with your research directly or indirectly. It is important to bring everyone on the same wavelength in context of the purpose of the study and the steps to achieve it.

To summarise, research aims and objectives are the backbone of any successful research project. They give you the ability to cut through the noise and embark on what really matters. By setting clear goals and aligning them with your research questions and methodology, you can ensure that your research is not just relevant, impactful, and of the highest quality. So, before you hit the road on your research journey, make sure you have a clear destination and steps to get there. 

Category : Research
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