Research Objectives; Definition; Types; Characteristics; Formulating & Advantages

1.2 Introduction

Research as a creative and systematic way of acquiring new knowledge guides the researcher on how to develop quality specific objectives that will further guide on how the research assignment will be accomplished to arrive at the right and valid research findings.

1.3 Definition;

What is research objective?

Research objective is the goal to be achieved in a research by the researcher. This is the end which justifies the means. In other words, it is the outcome that you as a researcher aim to achieve by conducting research. Singular we talk of objective, if the goals are more than one, they are referred to as objectives or goals. In research, objectives are engulfed in a research objective statement whereby they are expressly or indirectly implied.

Research objective Statement is a reasonably lengthy written expression that contains all the thematic or topical issue(s) justifying the undertaking of a research. For instance, “This is a case study examining the influence of online training and academic performance of University students in country “Y” between 2019 and 2020.”

Research Objective Statement is divided in to two levels; namely general and specific statement of research objectives. As the name suggests, each represent the type of research objective it represents.

Types of Research Objectives

There are basically two types of objectives, namely;

  • General objectives
  • Specific objectives

1.4 General Objectives

General objectives are goals which have an inherent nature of being of long term. That is they are objectives that are to be achieved in the long-run. That is by the end of the whole process of undertaking the research activities. This is the reason why they are normally stated in a general form. The general objective must summarize and present the central idea of ??the study, and in addition describing its purpose. So, it entails the hypothetical view or the research problem that will be investigated in the study, as well as the definition of the thematic issue.

 

Example one

To investigate on the factors influencing financial performance of firms listed in X stock exchange market.

To Investigate” and “Factors” is stated in general format for there are many approaches of investigating and many types of factors that may affect financial performance of listed firms.

 

1.5 Specific Objectives

 Specific objectives are in depth and detailed goals of the research that have inherent nature of being achieved in the course of undertaking the research in the short run. These objectives describe what specifically will be achieved during the study as the term suggests.

Therefore, researcher has to pinpoint the specific objectives to be achieved.

 

Example two

Let us consider a continuation of the aforementioned “example one” above on

Investigation on the factors influencing financial performance of firms listed at the X stock exchange

 

Let us further assume that some of the factors under investigation are;

Firm size

Liquidity

Leverage 

 

The specific objective will take the form of being detailed such as;

  1. To Assess the influence of Firm Size on the financial performance of firms listed at X stock exchange market.
  2. To Examine the influence of Liquidity level on the financial performance of firms listed at X stock exchange market.
  3. To Evaluate the influence of Leverage on the financial performance of firms listed at X stock exchange market.

You see the specific objective herein are more detailed as far as investigating is concerned. The researcher can investigate by either assessing, examining or evaluating. This is in more details

AND

The factors are more specific for firm size, liquidity and leverage are specific factors out of many. So the focus herein is not on any or all factors but the specific ones that the researcher has curiosity/research problem on.

 

Characteristics of specific objectives

The specific objectives are detailed, and again they are used to achieve the general objectives of your study. Therefore, they need to be well articulated and this calls for these goals having SMART characteristics

 

S=Specific

M=Measurable

A=Attainable

R=Realistic

T=Time bound

 

2.1 Specific Characteristic

Specific objectives should be stated in a more specific manner as compared to the general objectives

Specific in which aspects?

Specific as far as the action of searching new information is concerned and also in terms of the character or behavior being observed. For example from the general objective which is general, the specific objective should be drawn in its specification. Look at this example

 

Example

The study is seeking to “Investigate on the factors influencing financial performance of firms listed in X stock exchange market.

The study will be guided by the following specific objective

To “Assess the influence of Firm Size on the financial performance of firms listed at X stock exchange market”. You see we have isolated firm size from the many factors for each factor has its own unique way of behavior and measurement.

 

2.2 Measurable Characteristics

The specific objective should represent study variables that can be gauged or appraised. In other words, the characteristics or behavior being studied should have indicators which will help the researcher to infer presence or absence of a particular attribute associated with the unit of observation. This is referred to as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and they should be universally accepted by all its users.

Measuring Study Variables can take two formats.

 

2.2.1 Operationalization of Study Variables

The process of assigning a gauge or proxy for measuring a variable is commonly referred to as operationalization. It is a methodological approach (look at methodological research gap) of defining a variable. Operationalization in research takes two formats

Classical way of measuring or defining Variables.

Operationalization of study variables.

 

Classical operationalization of a study variable entails adoption of the right measurement which is universally accepted in the scholarly world for they were established by classical authors. For example, to measure financial performance of a business, indicators such as Return on Equity (ROE), Return on Asset (ROA) and Return on Investment (ROI) are used. There are still others but am just mentioning but a few.

 

Operationalization of study variables is a way of defining a study variable to make it understandable and measurable. Some scholars referred to this process as operational definition of terms or variable and appears in Chapter three on research methodology in most research paper formats.

As a researcher, you must identify proxies to be used to measure the study variables under investigation. In fact, if a variable is measurable, it complies to theoretical foundation.

 

NB: In research we say, “If a Variable is Not Measurable or the Researcher has No Way of Measuring the Variable, Then it Does Not Exist”. Hence do not use it as a study variable.

Example 1

The study is seeking to “Investigate on the factors influencing financial performance of firms listed in X stock exchange market.

 

If the researcher picks firm size as one of the factors, then the study will be guided by the following specific objective

To “Assess the influence of Firm Size on the financial performance of firms listed at X stock exchange market”.

 

 

NB: In example one above, the approach of measuring the two variables is universally accepted hence it is classical approach.

 

Example 2

The study is investigating on the factors influencing performance of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

 

The study will be guided by the following specific objective

To “Assess the influence of Debt Financing level on the performance of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

 

 

NB: In example two above, debt financing levels is universally measured using classical approach, that is debt/equity ratio. While for the SME performance perspective, is operationalized using market share in percentage. The approach of measuring performance is contextually operationalized or defined so as to specifically fit the context of the SMEs being studied.

 

2.3 Attainable Characteristics

Specific objectives should be achievable in many spheres such as within the available cash and non-cash resources of the researcher. Cash resources refers to funding aspect of the study. As a researcher, one need to ask him or herself whether the set objectives are achievable subject to cash availability. This calls for cash budget so as to assess the possibilities thereof. Also, a personnel budget is necessary for the researcher need the right research personnel. The question here is who will carry out the actions required and whether if one person is doing that, if he or she has the right skills?

 

Also, note that the aspect of attainability is pegged on data collection. Imagine you are studying on the government affiliated factors that determine the economic growth of a country and you are planning to collect the data from state house. Oops! You will never attain that specific objective because if you do not work in state house, data from this place is impossible.

 

2.4 Realistic Characteristics

Attainable attribute of a specific objective is almost a sure way of saying it is realistic. For whatever goals set, as long as they are attainable by all standards, they are said to be realistic. Therefore, the term “realistic” depict that there is a clear accepting of how the objective will be achieved; that is, there are no cases or underlying hindering factors, which would curtail achievement of the set objective(s). This implies that the researcher need to be skeptical at the stage of formulating the research objectives to factor all operational risks thereof.

2.5 Time Bound Characteristics

Research cannot be undertaken forever. There is need to set timings when the set objectives will be achieved by the researcher. The timing is determined by many factors and so some researchers may take a shorter period to be accomplished while others may take slightly a longer period. Some of the factors may be such as

Available resources

Set deadlines

Decision making purposes

Scholarly assignments

Sponsor specifications and terms of reference etc.

Formulating research objectives

The question that arises pertaining good quality research objectives is, how do we attain such objectives with SMART characteristics?

To answer this question, I wish to share with you my experience with some researchers and mostly students as a supervisor of research projects and Doctoral thesis and Keynote leader in research.

Many research students undertaking their academic research assignment start their research by developing their Chapter One of their proposal which entails the background of their study and specific objectives. So what they do, is that, they identify a topic either on their own, or from their research writing assistants or from their supervisors and then cook the specific objectives as part of the requirement of chapter one. At the end, the research proposal backfire because although it looks good and well flowered, it lacks academic value addition.

Of course when you start your research proposal to support your research problem by writing Chapter One, with guesswork specific research objectives, the following will be the shortcomings;

1). Your literature review will fail the test of justification as to why you want to carry the study. This is because it is hard to find a coincident where by predetermined or concocted specific research objectives matching the knowledge gaps in the literature review. Starting your dissertation or proposal by developing Chapter One where specific research objectives is a requirement is like putting the cart before the horses. The results are pathetic and the chances of your proposal being thrown through the window after defending your case to the defense panelist is very high.

2). It will be next to impossible to raise your research questions for your research problem.

 This is because the research questions will be lacking theoretical/conceptual, methodological and contextual foundations.

3). It will be hard to develop research hypotheses for your research problem

This is because no concept or theory that backs your study.

4). Use of broad objectives which violate SMART approach.

When you start your proposal with Chapter One, you will notice that initially your specific objectives may appear specific. But when you do your Chapter Two on Literature Review, which deals with theoretical and empirical literature review, you may realize the stated objectives in Chapter One are broad and not attainable.

To answer the question at hand of “How do we attain such objectives with SMART characteristics?” remember that the specific research objectives are the aims or goals that are conceptualized when a research problem has been identified. Therefore, to succeed, the researcher need to rely on three mainstream research gaps, which are identified from your literature review stage. These are;

Theoretical knowledge/conceptual knowledge gaps

Contextual knowledge gaps

Methodological knowledge gaps

So you are supposed to start the process of formulating your research objectives by reviewing literature as advocated by Chapter two of literature review. This is the right footing.

Do not be cheated if you start your proposal with Chapter one where objectives are displayed, instead of Chapter two on literature review, you are simply developing a proposal that is flowery or ornamented and can only be of value to you if presented in a wedding party of your friend. Or if you are lucky that it lands in the line of academia it will be dominated with concocted data analysis and forged research finding which carry no plausibility or logic and again, it will face the misfortune of being damped in the University library with no industrialist or market player making use of it for furtherance of business or economy in the respective country.

Step by step procedure of formulating research objectives

Form the above short discussion, it can be alluded that there are generally five (5) steps that can guide a researcher to effectively formulate a good specific objective(s). Those steps are as follows;

Step 1: Literature Review

In this step, intensively review the relevant past studies which cover your study variables so as to identify the existing body of knowledge. In other words, you will be able to note as a researcher or student in higher levels of learning, the existing conceptual links that use the same variables of your interest.

 

Step 2: Identify the research gaps thereof

On reviewing past literature, you need to identify the theories, methods and the context under which the past studies were undertaken. This helps you to identify the corresponding theoretical/conceptual, methodological and contextual research gaps to be filled by the current study.

 

Step 3: Relate/Revise the Research Problem

On identifying the various research gaps, namely theoretical, contextual or methodological, relate these gaps to the research problem you had originally to justify why you think there is a research issue or you may be required to revise the original research problem you had from the beginning. The exact research problem you may settle on will definitely be guided by the nature of the research gaps.

 

Step 4: Identify the research Objectives

On confirming or revising the research problem as guided by the research gaps, you can now move on to establish the general and specific objectives of the current study. Do not forget that when carrying out any study or research activity, you aim at answering specific questions in mind which should have arisen from the literature review which exposed the gaps of your concern.

Step 5: Actual incorporation of the general and specific objectives in Background of the study

Once the general and specific objectives are identified, then they are used to build up chapter one of the proposal which is the background of the study.

Relationship between research objectives and research findings

Does your research objective(s) have any connection with your Research Findings?

The answer is YES

When undertaking any type of research, it is not carried out aimlessly, there are set research objectives. These research objectives guides the researcher on what area of study to focus on and where not to concentrate on. That is not on everything that looks attractive or peculiar.

Therefore, the researcher channels the budgeted resources towards achieving the set specific research objectives. What then does this imply to you and the researcher at large, that at the end of the day, data collected will be for the purposes of achieving the set objectives and of course the research findings will only be pegged on the set research objectives.

This means the two aspects of research, i.e. research objectives and research findings are connected. That is, research objectives is the motherboard to research findings. Such that if the researcher sets four research objectives, there will be a corresponding four research findings. There is no scenario whereby for example the set research objectives are five and the research findings collapse to three or multiply to seven. This applies also to all other aspects that may be considered to compare the two.

Table 1.1 summarizes the relationship between the two

 

Therefore, in your research paper, we should see a replica of the two aspects. Anything short of this theoretical foundation means your study has no validity.

Relationship between research findings and areas for further research

Does your research findings(s) have any connection with your Areas for further study?

The answer is YES

Research findings are as a result of efforts made by the researcher to achieve the set specific objectives. However, whether all the research questions were fully answered or whether all the research objectives were fully achieved, the researcher should raise further areas of research. This should be strictly pegged on the same thematic or topical issues of the research questions or specific objectives used in the study

 

5.1 Controversy on Area(s) for Further Research

Most student in Masters and even at the Doctoral level face a challenge in establishing area(s) for further research. From experience, the attitude towards handling this section is research papers has been carelessly treated. Even researchers and scholars in many fields show dissimilar viewpoints on what determines the areas for further research.

 

One case at hand is where students, even researchers just consider any UNRELATED area to their study and suggest it to be the area for further research. Or they just mechanically incorporate that section in their research as a formality.

 

Example

Suppose the study was on the internal factors that influence personal behavior of a family member, the specific objective would probably be;

  1. To analyze the influence of age on personal behavior of a family member
  2. To examine the influence of friends on personal behavior of a family member
  3. To assess the influence of education level on personal behavior of a family member
  4. To determine the influence of punishment on personal behavior of a family member

 

In this case, it is common for a researcher or a scholar to carelessly suggest areas for further study to be on

  1. Factors that influence academic performance of a member of a family
  2. Relationship between the behavior of a family member and drug abuse
  3. Factors affecting economic growth of a country.

 

The big question is; “is a, b and c areas for further research ok? Is this theoretical? The answer is NO.

 

For your information, the four specific objectives (i-iv) aforementioned squarely represent potential corresponding research findings the research will develop or realize at the end of the data analysis process. Therefore, the theoretical expectations here is that the researcher will realize corresponding research findings which are pegged on the four specific objectives.

 

Now, if the results emanating from the four specific objectives are statistically significant, then the researcher should correspondingly suggest further areas of research guided by the theme portrayed by the specific objectives used or based on the research questions used. If there are cases of results not being statistically significant, then some emphasis of further research can focus on those cases lacking significance.

 

For instance, with the four specific research objectives cited above, if the researcher revealed that the 3rd and the 4th specific objectives were Not Statistically Significant, then this forms the areas for further research in addition to the other perspectives that are in line with the significant research findings.

Advantages of research objectives

In research, there is nothing to be taken for granted. The careful and systematic development of research objectives is of value addition. The following are some of the key merits of establishing research objectives

  1. Directing tool-the researcher uses the research objectives to set the direction of the research so that he/she does not lose the main focus.
  2. Optimization of allocated resources-the researcher is guided on how to use the scarce resources in the most economical way for the set goals to be achieved.
  3. Save time in research-no confusion with set objectives for the objectives lays down the timeframe to be taken.
  4. Coordinating tool-objectives directs each research participant such that no overruns of activities. It actually enhances harmonization in all activities of research to avoid duplication efforts.
  5. Act as a guide when setting the research questions-research objectives are the foundations for good quality research questions.
  6. Guide in setting of hypothesis-the researcher will be directed by the research objectives to establish the correct hypothesis.
  7. Guide in identifying the areas for further research-as discussed earlier, the research objectives relate with research findings which may either be significant or insignificant creating a room for identifying the further areas for research.

Disadvantages of research objectives

Although the advantages of research objectives outweigh the cons, there are some disadvantages such as;

  1. Use of resources-research objectives demands consumption of organization’s resources
  2. If wrongly established, it may result to no significant research findings hence affect the decision process.
  3. Can cause confusion-if the research objectives are not clear may result to conflict of interest amongst research participants.
  4. Excludability-research objectives may not incorporate all the participants and may affect the validity of the research findings.

Conclusion

In conclusion, therefore, “Areas for further Research” represents the missing gap between the specific research objectives and the research findings. Such that when suggesting further research, we should not move out of research finding context.

About the Author - Dr Geoffrey Mbuva(PhD-Finance) is a lecturer of Finance and Accountancy at Kenyatta University, Kenya. He is an enthusiast of teaching and making accounting & research tutorials for his readers.