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2. background, 5. discussion, 6. conclusions, author contributions, competing interests, funding information, data availability, how common are explicit research questions in journal articles.

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Mike Thelwall , Amalia Mas-Bleda; How common are explicit research questions in journal articles?. Quantitative Science Studies 2020; 1 (2): 730–748. doi:

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Although explicitly labeled research questions seem to be central to some fields, others do not need them. This may confuse authors, editors, readers, and reviewers of multidisciplinary research. This article assesses the extent to which research questions are explicitly mentioned in 17 out of 22 areas of scholarship from 2000 to 2018 by searching over a million full-text open access journal articles. Research questions were almost never explicitly mentioned (under 2%) by articles in engineering and physical, life, and medical sciences, and were the exception (always under 20%) for the broad fields in which they were least rare: computing, philosophy, theology, and social sciences. Nevertheless, research questions were increasingly mentioned explicitly in all fields investigated, despite a rate of 1.8% overall (1.1% after correcting for irrelevant matches). Other terminology for an article’s purpose may be more widely used instead, including aims, objectives, goals, hypotheses, and purposes, although no terminology occurs in a majority of articles in any broad field tested. Authors, editors, readers, and reviewers should therefore be aware that the use of explicitly labeled research questions or other explicit research purpose terminology is nonstandard in most or all broad fields, although it is becoming less rare.

Academic research is increasingly multidisciplinary, partly due to team research addressing practical problems. There are also now large multidisciplinary journals, such as PLOS ONE and Nature Scientific Reports , with editorial teams that manage papers written by people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. There is therefore an increasing need for researchers to understand disciplinary norms in writing styles and paradigms. The authors of a research paper need to know how to frame its central contribution so that it is understood by multidisciplinary audiences. One strategy for this is to base an article around a set of explicitly named research questions that address gaps in prior research. Employing the standard phrase “research question” gives an unambiguous signpost for the purpose of an article and may therefore aid clarity. Other strategies include stating hypotheses, goals, or aims, or describing an objective without calling it an objective (e.g., “this paper investigates X”). Similarly, structured abstracts are believed to help readers understand a paper ( Hartley, 2004 ), perhaps partly by having an explicit aim, objective, or goal section. A paper that does not recognize or value the way in which the central contribution is conveyed may be rejected by a reviewer or editor if they are unfamiliar with the norms of the submitting field. It would therefore be helpful for authors, reviewers, and editors to know which research fields employ explicitly labeled research questions or alternative standard terminology.

Purpose statements and research questions or hypotheses are interrelated elements of the research process. Research questions are interrogative statements that reflect the problem to be addressed, usually shaped by the goal or objectives of the study ( Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2006 ). For example, a healthcare article argued that “a good research paper addresses a specific research question. The research question—or study objective or main research hypothesis—is the central organizing principle of the paper” and “the key attributes are: (i) specificity; (ii) originality or novelty; and (iii) general relevance to a broad scientific community” ( Perneger & Hudelson, 2004 ).

The choice of terminology to describe an article’s purpose seems to be conceptually arbitrary, with the final decision based on community norms, journal guidelines, and author style. For example, a research paper investigating issue X could phrase its purpose in the following ways: “research question 1: is X true?,” “this paper aims to investigate X,” “the aim/objective/purpose/goal is to investigate X,” or “X?” (as in the current paper). Implicit purpose statements might include “this paper investigates X” or just “X,” where the context makes clear that this is the purpose. Alternatively, the reader might deduce the purpose of a paper after reading it, with all these options achieving the same result with different linguistic strategies. Some research purposes might not be easily expressible as a research question, however. For example, a humanities paper might primarily discuss an issue (e.g., “Aspects of the monastery and monastic life in Adomnán’s Life of Columba ”) but even these could perhaps be expressed as research questions, if necessary (e.g., “Which are the most noteworthy aspects of the monastery and monastic life in Adomnán’s Life of Columba ?”).

In which fields are explicitly named research questions commonly used?

Has the use of explicitly named research questions increased over time?

Are research purposes addressed using alternative language in different fields?

Do large journals guide authors to use explicitly named research questions or other terminology for purpose statements in different fields?

2.1. Advice for Authors

There are some influential guidelines for reporting academic research. In the social sciences, Swales’ (1990 , 2004) Create A Research Space (CARS) model structures research article introductions in three moves (establishing a territory, establishing a niche, and occupying a niche), which are subdivided into steps. Within the 1990 model, move 3 includes the steps “outlining purposes” and “announcing present research,” but research questions are not explicitly included, being similar the “question raising” step in move 2. In the updated 2004 model, move 3 includes an obligatory step named “announcing present research descriptively and/or purposively” (that joins the steps “outlining purposes” and “announcing present research” from the 1990 model), whereas “listing research questions or hypotheses” is a new optional step.

In medicine, the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) initiative is a checklist of items that should be included to improve reporting quality. One of these is a statement of objectives that “may be formulated as specific hypotheses or as questions that the study was designed to address” or may be less precise in early studies ( Vandenbroucke, von Elm, et al., 2014 ). This description therefore includes stating research questions as one of a range of ways of specifying objectives. An informal advice article in medicine instead starts by arguing that the paper’s aim should be clearly defined ( McIntyrei, Nisbet, et al., 2007 ).

Researchers may also be guided about the language to use in papers by any ethical or other procedures that they need to follow before conducting their work. For example, clinical trials often need to be registered and declared in a standard format, which may include explicit descriptions of objectives (e.g., see “E.2.1: Main objective of the trial” at: ).

2.2. Empirical Evidence

Journal article research questions and other purpose statements, such as aims, objectives, goals, and hypotheses ( Shehzad, 2011 ), are usually included within Introduction sections or introductory phases, sometimes appearing as separate sections ( Kwan, 2017 ; Yang & Allison, 2004 ). Some studies have analyzed research article introductions in different disciplines and languages based on the Swales’ (1990 , 2004) CARS model. Although these studies analyze small sets of articles, they seem to agree that the research article introduction structure varies across disciplines (e.g., Joseph, Lim & Nor, 2014 ) and subdisciplines within a discipline, including for engineering ( Kanoksilapatham, 2012 ; Maswana, Kanamaru, & Tajino, 2015 ), applied linguistics ( Jalilifar, 2010 ; Ozturk, 2007 ) and environmental sciences ( Samraj, 2002 ). Introductions in English seem to follow this pattern more closely than introductions in other languages ( Ahamad & Yusof, 2012 ; Hirano, 2009 ; Loi & Evans, 2010 ; Rahimi & Farnia, 2017 ; Sheldon, 2011 ), reflecting cultural differences. Research questions and other purpose terminology, such as aims, objectives, goals, or hypotheses, might also reappear within the Results or Discussion sections ( Amunai & Wannaruk, 2013 ; Brett, 1994 ; Hopkins & Dudley-Evans, 1988 ; Kanoksilapatham, 2005 ).

Previous research has shown that research questions and hypotheses are more common among English-language papers than non-English papers ( Loi & Evans, 2010 ; Mur Dueñas, 2010 ; Omidi & Farnia, 2016 ; Rahimi & Farnia, 2017 ; Sheldon, 2011 ), especially those written by English native speakers ( Sheldon, 2011 ). However, a study analyzing 119 English research article introductions from Iranian and international journals in three subdisciplines within applied linguistics found that “announcing present research” was more used in international journals whereas research questions were proclaimed explicitly more often in local journals ( Jalilifar, 2010 ).

In some fields the verbs examine , determine , evaluate , assess , and investigate are associated with the research purpose ( Cortés, 2013 ; Jalali & Moini, 2014 ; Kanoksilapatham, 2005 ) and the verbs expect , anticipate , and estimate are associated with hypotheses ( Williams, 1999 ). Some computer scientists seem to prefer to write the details of the method(s) used rather than stating the purpose or describing the nature of their research and use assumptions or research questions rather than hypotheses ( Shehzad, 2011 ). Moreover, scholars might state the hypotheses in other ways, such as “it was hypothesized that” ( Jalali & Moini, 2014 ).

A study analyzing lexical bundles (usually phrases) in medical research article introductions showed that the most frequent four-word phrases are related to the research objective, such as “the aim of the,” “aim of the present,” and “study was to evaluate” ( Jalali & Moini, 2014 ). Another study examined lexical bundles in a million-word corpus of research article introductions from several disciplines, showing that the main bundle used to announce the research descriptively and/or purposefully included the terms aim , objective , and purpose (e.g., “the aim of this paper,” “the objective of this study,” “the purpose of this paper”), but no bundles related to research questions or hypotheses were identified ( Cortés, 2013 ).

These findings are in line with other previous studies investigating the structure of research articles, especially the introduction section, which report a much higher percentage of journal papers specifying the research purpose than the research questions or hypotheses across disciplines, regardless of the language in which they are published, with the exception of law articles (see Table 1 ). These studies also show that research questions and hypotheses are much more frequent among social sciences articles (see Table 1 ), which has also been found in other genres, such as PhD theses and Master’s theses (see Table 2 ).

Reference to a wide research purposes, without specifying if they are objectives or RQs/hypotheses.

Restating RQs in the result section.

Note: Studies that have based their analysis on the Swales’s (1990) CARS model ( Anthony, 1999 ; Posteguillo, 1999 ; Mahzari & Maftoon, 2007 ) report the percentage related to “outlining purposes” and “announcing present research.” For these studies, the column “Present the research purpose” reports the higher value. Moreover, for these studies, the value reported in the RQs/hypotheses column refers to the “Question raising” information.

A few studies have focused exclusively on research purposes, research questions, and hypotheses. Some have discussed the development of research questions in qualitative ( Agee, 2009 ) or mixed method ( Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2006 ) studies, whereas others have examined the ways of constructing research questions or hypotheses within some fields, such as organization studies ( Sandberg & Alvesson, 2011 ) or applied linguistics doctoral dissertations ( Lim, 2014 ; Lim, Loi, & Hashim, 2014 ). Shehzad (2011) examined the strategies and styles employed by computer scientists outlining purposes and listing research questions. She found an increase in the use of research nature or purpose statements and suggested that the “listing research questions or hypotheses” step of Swales’s model was obligatory in computing. No study seems to have examined how often journal guidelines give authors explicit advice about research questions or other purpose statements, however.

The PMC (Pub Med Central) Open Access subset ( ) was downloaded in XML format in November 2018. This is a collection of documents from open access journals or open access articles within hybrid journals. The collection has a biomedical focus, but includes at least a few articles from all broad disciplinary areas. Although a biased subset is not ideal, this is apparently the largest open access collection. Only documents declared in their XML to be of type “research article” were retained for analysis. This excludes many short contributions, such as editorials, that would not need research goals.

The XML of the body section of each article was searched for the test strings “research question,” “RESEARCH QUESTION,” “Research Question,” or “Research question,” recording whether each article contained at least one. This would miss papers exclusively using abbreviations, such as RQ1.

Full body text searches are problematic because terms could be mentioned in other contexts, depending on the part of an article. For example, the phrase “research question” in a literature review section may refer to an article reviewed. For a science-wide analysis it is not possible to be prescriptive about the sections in which a term must occur, however, because there is little uniformity in section names or orders ( Thelwall, 2019 ). Making simplifying assumptions about the position in a text in which a term should appear, such as that a research question should be stated in the first part of an article, would also not be defensible. This is because the structure of articles varies widely between journals and fields. For example, methods can appear at the end rather than the middle, and some papers start with results, with little introduction. There are also international cultural differences in the order in which sections are presented in some fields ( Teufel, 1999 ). The current paper therefore uses full-text searches without any heuristics to restrict the results for transparency and to give an almost certain upper bound to the prevalence of terms, given the lack of a high-quality alternative.

Articles were separated into broad fields using the Science-Metrics public journal classification scheme ( Archambault, Beauchesne, & Caruso, 2011 ), which allocates each journal into exactly one category. This seems to be more precise than the Scopus or Web of Science schemes ( Klavans & Boyack, 2017 ). The Science-Metrics classification was extended by adding the largest 100 journals in the PMC collection that had not been included in the original Science-Metrics classification scheme. These were classified into a Science-Metrics category by first author based on their similarity to other journals in the Science-Metrics scheme.

Five of the broad fields had too little data to be useful (Economics & Business; Visual & Performing Arts; Communication & Text Studies; General Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences; Built Environment & Design) and were removed. Years before 2000 were not included because of their age and small amount of data. Individual field/year combinations were also removed when there were fewer than 30 articles, since they might give a misleading percentage. Each of the 17 remaining categories contained at least 630 articles ( Table 3 ), with exact numbers for each field and year available in the online supplementary material (columns AE to AW: ). For all broad fields, most articles have been published in the last 5 years (2014–2018), with the exception of Historical Studies, Chemistry, and Enabling & Strategic Technology.

For the third research question, alternative terms for research goals were searched for in the full text of articles. These terms might all be used in different contexts, so a match is not necessarily related to the main goal of the paper (e.g., the term “question” could be part of a discussion of a questionnaire), but the rank order between disciplines may be informative and the results serve as an upper bound for valid uses. The terms searched for were “research questions,” “questions,” “hypotheses,” “aims,” “objectives,” “goals,” and “purposes” in both singular and plural forms. These have been identified above as performing similar functions in research. For this exploration, the term “question” is used in addition to “research question” to capture more general uses.

Any of the queried terms could be included in an article out of context. For example, “research question” could be mentioned in a literature review rather than to describe the purpose of the new article. To check the context in which each term was used, a random sample of 100 articles (using a random number generator) matching each term (200 for each concept, counting both singular and plural, totaling 1,400 checks) was manually examined to ascertain whether any use of the term in the article stated the purpose of the paper directly (e.g., “Our research questions were…”) or indirectly (e.g., “This answered our research questions”), unless mentioned peripherally as information to others (e.g., “The study research questions were explained to interviewees”). There did not seem to be stock phrases that could be used to eliminate a substantial proportion of the irrelevant matches (e.g., “objective function” or “microscope objective”). There also was not a set of standard phrases that collectively could unambiguously identify the vast majority of research questions (e.g., “Our research questions were” or “This article’s research question is”).

Journal guidelines given to authors were manually analyzed to check whether they give advice about research questions and other purpose statements. Three journals with the most articles in each of the 17 academic fields were selected for this (see online supplement ). This information is useful background context to help interpret the results.

4.1. RQ1 and RQ2: Articles Mentioning Research Questions

Altogether, 23,282 out of 1,314,412 articles explicitly mentioned the phrases “research question” or “research questions” (1.8%), although no field included them in more than a fifth of articles in recent years and there are substantial differences between broad fields ( Figure 1 ). When the terms are used in an article they usually (63%, from the 1,400 manual checks) refer to the article’s main research question(s). Other uses of these terms include referring to questions raised by the findings, and a discussion of other articles’ research questions in literature review sections or as part of the selection criteria of meta-analyses. Thus, overall, only 1.1% of PMC full-text research articles mention their research questions explicitly using the singular or plural form. There has been a general trend for the increasing use of these terms, however ( Figure 2 ).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the phrases “research question” or “research questions” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 63% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s research question(s) (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the phrases “research question” or “research questions” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 63% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s research question(s) ( n = 801,895 research articles).

As for Figure 1 but covering 2000–2018 (n = 1,314,412 research articles). (All fields can be identified in the Excel versions of the graph within the online supplement 10.6084/m9.figshare.10274012).

As for Figure 1 but covering 2000–2018 ( n = 1,314,412 research articles). (All fields can be identified in the Excel versions of the graph within the online supplement 10.6084/m9.figshare.10274012).

If the terms “question” or “questions” are searched for instead, there are many more matches, although for a minority of articles in most fields ( Figures 3 and 4 ). When these terms are mentioned, they rarely (17%) refer to the hosting article’s research questions (excluding matches with the exact phrases “research question” or “research questions” to avoid overlaps with the previous figure). Common other contexts for these terms include questions in questionnaires and questions raised by the findings. Sometimes the term “question” occurred within an idiomatic phrase or issue rather than a query (e.g., “considerable temperature gradients occur within the materials in question” and “these effects may vary for different medications. Future studies are needed to address this important question”). In Philosophy & Theology, the matches could be for discussions of various questions within an article, rather than a research question that is an article’s focus. Similarly for Social Sciences and Public Health & Health Services, the question mentioned might be in questionnaires rather than being a research question. After correcting for the global irrelevant matches, which is a rough approximation, in all broad fields fewer than 14% of research articles use these terms to refer to research questions. Nevertheless, this implies that the terms “question” or “questions” are used much more often than the phrases “research question” or “research questions” (1.8%) to refer to an article’s research purposes.

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “question” or “questions” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 17% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main research question(s) without using the exact phrases “research question” or “research questions,” not overlapping with Figure 1(a) (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “question” or “questions” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 17% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main research question(s) without using the exact phrases “research question” or “research questions,” not overlapping with Figure 1(a) ( n = 801,895 research articles).

As for Figure 3, but covering 2000–2018 (n = 1,314,412 research articles).

As for Figure 3 , but covering 2000–2018 ( n = 1,314,412 research articles).

4.2. RQ3: Other Article Purpose Terms

The terms “hypothesis” and “hypotheses” are common in Psychology and Cognitive Science as well as in Biology ( Figure 5 ). They are used in a minority of articles in all other fields, but, by 2018 were used in at least 15% of all (or 4% after correcting for irrelevant matches). The terms can be used to discuss statistical results from other papers and in philosophy and mathematics they can be used to frame arguments, so not all matches relate to an article’s main purpose, and only 28% of the random sample checked used the terms to refer to the articles’ main hypothesis or hypotheses.

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “hypothesis” or “hypotheses” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 28% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main hypothesis or hypotheses. A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “hypothesis” or “hypotheses” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 28% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main hypothesis or hypotheses. A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement ( n = 801,895 research articles).

The use of the terms “aim” and “aims” is increasing overall, possibly in all academic fields ( Figures 6 and 7 ). Fields frequently using the term include Philosophy & Theology, Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Public Health & Health Services, whereas it is used in only about 20% of Chemistry and Biomedical Research papers. Articles using the terms mostly use them (especially the singular “aim”) to describe their main aim (70%), so these are the terms most commonly used to describe the purpose of a PMC full-text article. The terms are also sometimes used to refer to wider project aims or relevant aims outside of the project (e.g., “The EU’s biodiversity protection strategy aims to preserve…”).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “aim” or “aims” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 70% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main aim(s) (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “aim” or “aims” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 70% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s main aim(s) ( n = 801,895 research articles).

As for Figure 6, but covering 2000–2018 (n = 1,314,412 research articles).

As for Figure 6 , but covering 2000–2018 ( n = 1,314,412 research articles).

The terms “objective” and “objectives” are reasonably common in most academic fields ( Figure 8 ) and are used half of the time (52%) for the hosting article’s objectives. Other common uses include lenses and as an antonym of subjective (e.g., “high-frequency ultrasound allows an objective assessment…”). It is again popular within ICTs, Philosophy & Theology, and Public Health & Health Services, whereas it is used in only about 12% of Physics & Astronomy articles.

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “objective” or “objectives” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 52% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s objective(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “objective” or “objectives” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 52% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s objective(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement ( n = 801,895 research articles).

The terms “goal” and “goals” follow a similar pattern to “aim” and “objective” ( Figure 9 ), but refer to the hosting paper’s goals in only 28% of cases. Common other uses include methods goals (“the overall goal of this protocol is…”) and field-wide goals (e.g., “over the last decades, attempts to integrate ecological and evolutionary dynamics have been the goal of many studies”).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “goal” or “goals” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 28% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s research question(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “goal” or “goals” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 28% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s research question(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement ( n = 801,895 research articles).

Some articles may also use the terms “purpose” or “purposes” rather than the arguably more specific terms investigated above, and there are disciplinary differences in the extent to which they are used ( Figure 10 ). These terms may also be employed to explain or justify aspects of an article’s methods. When used, they referred to main purposes in fewer than a third of articles (29%), and were often instead used to discuss methods details (e.g., “it was decided a priori that physical examination measures would not be collected for the purpose of this audit”), background information (e.g., “species are harvested through fishing or hunting, mainly for alimentary purposes”) or ethics (e.g., “Animal care was carried out in compliance with Korean regulations regarding the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes.”).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “purpose” or “purposes” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 29% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s purpose(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement (n = 801,895 research articles).

The percentage of full-text research articles containing the terms “purpose” or “purposes” in the body of the text, 2014–2018, for articles in the PMC Open Access collection from 17 out of 22 Science-Metrics broad fields; 29% of occurrences of these terms described the hosting article’s purpose(s). A corresponding time series graph showing little change is in the online supplement ( n = 801,895 research articles).

4.3. RQ4: Journal Guidelines

“The motivation or purpose of your research should appear in the Introduction, where you state the questions you sought to answer” ( )

“Define the purpose of the work and its significance, including specific hypotheses being tested” ( )

“The introduction briefly justifies the research and specifies the hypotheses to be tested” ( )

“A brief outline of the question the study attempts to address” ( )

“Acquaint the reader with the findings of others in the field and with the problem or question that the investigation addresses.” ( )

“State the research objective of the study, or hypothesis tested” ( )

In the first quote above, for example, “state the questions” could be addressed literally by listing (research) questions or less literally by stating the research objectives. Thus, journal guidelines seem to leave authors the flexibility to choose how to state their research purpose, even if suggesting that research questions or hypotheses are used. This also applies to the influential American Psychological Society guidelines, such as, “In empirical studies, [explaining your approach to solving the problem] usually involves stating your hypotheses or specific question” ( APA, 2009 , p. 28).

An important limitation of the methods is that the sample contains a small and biased subset of all open access research articles. For example, the open access publishers BMC, Hindawi, and MDPI have large journals in the data set. The small fields ( Table 3 ) can have unstable lines in the graphs because of a lack of data. Sharp changes between years for the same field are likely due to either small amounts of data or changes in the journals submitted to PubMed in those years, rather than changes in field norms. It is possible that the proportions discovered would be different for other collections. Another limitation is that although articles were searched with the text string “research question,” this may not always have signified research questions in the articles processed (e.g., if mentioned in a literature review or in a phrase such as “this research questions whether”). Although the corrections reported address this, they provide global correction figures rather than field-specific corrections. Conversely, a research question may just be described as a question (e.g., “the query of this research”) or phrased as a question without describing it as such (e.g., “To discover whether PGA implants are immunologically inert…”). Thus, the field-level results are only indicative.

RQ1: Only 23,282 (1.8%, 1.1% after correcting for irrelevant matches) out of 1,314,412 articles assessed in the current paper explicitly mentioned “research question(s),” with significant differences between fields. Although there has been a general trend for the increasing use of explicitly named research questions, they were employed in fewer than a quarter of articles in all fields. Research questions were mostly used by articles in Social Sciences, Philosophy & Theology, and ICTs, whereas they have been mentioned by under 2% of articles in engineering, physical, life, and medical sciences. Previous studies have shown that 73.3% of English articles in Physical Education ( Omidi & Farnia, 2016 ), 33% of Applied Linguistics articles ( Sheldon, 2011 ) and 32% of Computer Science articles ( Shehzad, 2011 ) included research questions or hypotheses. Studies focused on doctoral dissertations show that 97% of U.S. Applied Linguistics ( Lim, 2014 ), 90% of English Language Teaching ( Geçíklí, 2013 ), 70% of Education Management ( Cheung, 2012 ), and 50% of computing doctoral dissertations ( Soler-Monreal, Carbonell-Olivares, & Gil-Salom, 2011 ) listed research questions, a large difference.

The results also show that about 13% of Public Health and Health Services articles and 12% of Psychology and Cognitive Science articles use the term “research questions.” However, a study focused on Educational Psychology found that 35% of English-language papers listed research questions and 75% listed hypotheses ( Loi & Evans, 2010 ). Thus, the current results reveal a substantially lower overall prevalence than suggested by previous research.

RQ2: There has been a substantial increase in the use of the term “research questions” in some subjects, including ICTs, Social Sciences, and Public Health and Health Services ( Figure 2 ), as well as a general trend for increasing use of this term, but with most fields still rarely using it. This suggests that some disciplines are standardizing their terminology, either through author guidelines in journals (RQ4), formal training aided by frameworks such as Swales’ CARS model, or informal training or imitation. For example, the analysis of the “instructions for authors” given by 51 journals (online supplement ) showed that the three biology journals, the three psychology journals, and two biomedical journals included in the analysis referred to both research questions and hypotheses in their author guidelines.

RQ3: Terminology for the purpose of an article seems to be quite widely used, including aims, objectives, and goals ( Figures 5 – 9 ). This is in line with a study examining the lexical bundles identified in research article introductions from several disciplines, which reported the terms “aim,” “objective,” and “purpose” as the main terms used to announce the research descriptively and/or purposefully, although no phrase related to research questions or hypotheses was identified ( Cortés, 2013 ), and with another study reporting similar terminology in medical articles ( Jalali & Moini, 2014 ). Related to this (RQ4), the analysis of the “instructions for authors” given by 51 journals (online supplement 10.6084/m9.figshare.10274012) showed that “purpose” is the term mostly mentioned in the Abstract guidelines and “aims” is the term mainly used in the body of the text (Introduction or Background) guidelines. The term “objective” also appears in some article body guidelines, whereas the term “goal” is not mentioned in them. After correcting for irrelevant matches (e.g., articles using the term “hypothesis” but not for their main research hypotheses) using the percentages reported with the figures above, no terminology was found in a majority of articles in any field. Thus, at least from the perspective of PMC Open Access publications, there is no standardization of research terminology in any broad field.

There are substantial disciplinary differences in the terminology used. Whereas the term “research question” is relevant in Social Sciences, Philosophy & Theology, and ICTs, the term “hypothesis” is important in Psychology and Cognitive Science, used in over 60% of articles. This is in line with a study focused on Educational Psychology, which found that the 75% out of 20 English papers introduced the hypotheses, whereas 35% of them introduced the research questions ( Loi & Evans, 2010 ). The three psychology journals with the highest frequency in the data set used for this study referred to hypotheses in their author guidelines (see online supplement 10.6084/m9.figshare.10274012).

The terms “aim,” “objective,” and “goal” are mainly used in Philosophy, Theology, ICTs, and Health. The term “aim” is also quite often used in health, mathematics, and psychological articles, whereas the term “objective” is also used in engineering and mathematics articles. The term “goal” is also used in psychology and biomedical articles. Although most articles in all fields include a term that could be used to specify the purpose of an article (question or questions, hypothesis, aim, objective, goal), they are relatively scarce in Chemistry and Physics & Astronomy. The use of purpose-related terms has also increased over time in most academic fields. This agrees with a study about Computer Science research articles that found an increasing use of outlining purpose or stating the nature of the research ( Shehzad, 2011 ).

An example article from Chemistry illustrates how a research purpose can be implicit. The paper, “Fluid catalytic cracking in a rotating fluidized bed in a static geometry: a CFD analysis accounting for the distribution of the catalyst coke content” has a purpose that is clear from its title but that is not described explicitly in the text. Its abstract starts by describing what the paper offers, but not why, “Computational Fluid Dynamics is used to evaluate the use of a rotating fluidized bed in a static geometry for the catalytic cracking of gas oil.” The first sentence of the last paragraph of the introduction performs a similar role, “The current paper presents CFD simulations of FCC in a RFB-SG using a model that accounts for a possible nonuniform temperature and catalyst coke content distribution in the reactor.” Both sentences could easily be rephrased to start with, “The purpose of this paper is to,” but it is apparently a stylistic feature of chemical research not to do this. Presumably purposes are clear enough in typical chemistry research that they do not need to be flagged linguistically, but this is untrue for much social science and health research, for example, partly due to nonstandard goals (i.e., task uncertainty: Whitley, 2000 ).

5.1. Possible Origins of the Differences Found

Broad epistemological: Fields work with knowledge in different ways and naturally use different terminology as a result. Arts and humanities research may have the goal to critique or analyze, or may be practice-based research rather than having a more specific knowledge purpose. For this, research questions would be inappropriate. Thus, terminology variation may partly reflect the extent to which a broad field typically attempts to create knowledge.

Narrow epistemological: Narrow fields that address similar problems may feel that they do not need to use research problem terminology to describe their work because the purpose of a paper is usually transparent from the description of the methods or outcome. For example, it would be unnecessary to formulate, “This paper investigates whether treatment x reduces death rates from disease y” as a named research question or even explain that it is the goal of a paper. This may also be relevant for fields that write short papers. It may be most relevant for papers that use statistical methods and have high standards of evidence requirement (e.g., medicine) and clearly defined problems. In contrast, many social sciences research projects are not intrinsically clearly demarcated and need an explanation to define the problem (as for the current article). Thus, describing what the problem is can be an important and nontrivial part of the research. This relates to “task uncertainty,” which varies substantially between fields ( Whitley, 2000 ) and affects scholarly communication ( Fry, 2006 ).

Field or audience homogeneity: Fields with homogeneous levels and types of expertise may avoid terminology that field members would be able to deduce from the context. For example, a mixed audience paper might need to specify statistical hypotheses, whereas a narrow audience paper might only need to specify the result, because the audience would understand the implicit null and alternative hypotheses.

Field cultures for term choice: Academic publishing relies to some extent on imitation and reaching a consensus about the ways in which research is presented (e.g., Becher & Trowler, 2001 ). It might therefore become a field norm to use one term in preference to a range of synonyms, such as “aims” instead of “objectives.”

Field cultures for term meaning: Following from the above, a field culture may evolve an informal convention that two synonyms have different specific uses. For example, “aims” could be used for wider goals and “objectives” for the narrower goals of a paper.

Guidelines: Fields or their core journals may adopt guidelines that specify terminology, presumably because they believe that this standardization will improve overall communication clarity.

The results suggest that the explicit use of research questions, in the sense that they are named as such, is almost completely absent in some research fields, and they are at best a substantial minority (under 20%) in most others (ignoring the fields that did not meet the inclusion threshold). Although the word search approach does not give conclusive findings, the results suggest that alternative terminologies for describing the purpose of a paper are more widespread in some fields, but no single terminology is used to describe research purposes in a majority of articles in any of the broad fields examined.

The lack of standardization for purpose terminology in most or all fields may cause problems for reviewers and readers expecting to see explicit statements. It is not clear whether guidelines to standardize terminology for journals or fields would be practical or helpful, however, but this should be explored in the future. Presumably any guidelines should allow exceptions for articles that make nonstandard contributions, although there are already successful journals with prescriptive guidelines, and the advantage of standardization through structured abstracts seems to be accepted ( Hartley, 2004 ).

The disciplinary differences found may cause problems for referees, authors, editors, and readers of interdisciplinary research or research from outside of their natural field if they fail to find an article’s purpose expressed in the terminology that they expect. This issue could not reasonably be resolved by standardizing across science because of the differing nature of research. Instead, evidence in the current article of the existence of valid disciplinary differences in style may help reviewers and editors of large interdisciplinary journals to accept stylistic differences in research problem formulations.

Mike Thelwall: Conceptualization, Investigation, Software, Writing—original draft. Amalia Mas-Bleda: Investigation, Writing—original draft.

The authors have no competing interests to declare.

This research received no funding.

The data behind the results are available at FigShare ( ).

Author notes

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the research purpose should not be clearly defined

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What is Research? – Purpose of Research


  • By DiscoverPhDs
  • September 10, 2020

Purpose of Research - What is Research

The purpose of research is to enhance society by advancing knowledge through the development of scientific theories, concepts and ideas. A research purpose is met through forming hypotheses, collecting data, analysing results, forming conclusions, implementing findings into real-life applications and forming new research questions.

What is Research

Simply put, research is the process of discovering new knowledge. This knowledge can be either the development of new concepts or the advancement of existing knowledge and theories, leading to a new understanding that was not previously known.

As a more formal definition of research, the following has been extracted from the Code of Federal Regulations :

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

While research can be carried out by anyone and in any field, most research is usually done to broaden knowledge in the physical, biological, and social worlds. This can range from learning why certain materials behave the way they do, to asking why certain people are more resilient than others when faced with the same challenges.

The use of ‘systematic investigation’ in the formal definition represents how research is normally conducted – a hypothesis is formed, appropriate research methods are designed, data is collected and analysed, and research results are summarised into one or more ‘research conclusions’. These research conclusions are then shared with the rest of the scientific community to add to the existing knowledge and serve as evidence to form additional questions that can be investigated. It is this cyclical process that enables scientific research to make continuous progress over the years; the true purpose of research.

What is the Purpose of Research

From weather forecasts to the discovery of antibiotics, researchers are constantly trying to find new ways to understand the world and how things work – with the ultimate goal of improving our lives.

The purpose of research is therefore to find out what is known, what is not and what we can develop further. In this way, scientists can develop new theories, ideas and products that shape our society and our everyday lives.

Although research can take many forms, there are three main purposes of research:

  • Exploratory: Exploratory research is the first research to be conducted around a problem that has not yet been clearly defined. Exploration research therefore aims to gain a better understanding of the exact nature of the problem and not to provide a conclusive answer to the problem itself. This enables us to conduct more in-depth research later on.
  • Descriptive: Descriptive research expands knowledge of a research problem or phenomenon by describing it according to its characteristics and population. Descriptive research focuses on the ‘how’ and ‘what’, but not on the ‘why’.
  • Explanatory: Explanatory research, also referred to as casual research, is conducted to determine how variables interact, i.e. to identify cause-and-effect relationships. Explanatory research deals with the ‘why’ of research questions and is therefore often based on experiments.

Characteristics of Research

There are 8 core characteristics that all research projects should have. These are:

  • Empirical  – based on proven scientific methods derived from real-life observations and experiments.
  • Logical  – follows sequential procedures based on valid principles.
  • Cyclic  – research begins with a question and ends with a question, i.e. research should lead to a new line of questioning.
  • Controlled  – vigorous measures put into place to keep all variables constant, except those under investigation.
  • Hypothesis-based  – the research design generates data that sufficiently meets the research objectives and can prove or disprove the hypothesis. It makes the research study repeatable and gives credibility to the results.
  • Analytical  – data is generated, recorded and analysed using proven techniques to ensure high accuracy and repeatability while minimising potential errors and anomalies.
  • Objective  – sound judgement is used by the researcher to ensure that the research findings are valid.
  • Statistical treatment  – statistical treatment is used to transform the available data into something more meaningful from which knowledge can be gained.

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Types of Research

Research can be divided into two main types: basic research (also known as pure research) and applied research.

Basic Research

Basic research, also known as pure research, is an original investigation into the reasons behind a process, phenomenon or particular event. It focuses on generating knowledge around existing basic principles.

Basic research is generally considered ‘non-commercial research’ because it does not focus on solving practical problems, and has no immediate benefit or ways it can be applied.

While basic research may not have direct applications, it usually provides new insights that can later be used in applied research.

Applied Research

Applied research investigates well-known theories and principles in order to enhance knowledge around a practical aim. Because of this, applied research focuses on solving real-life problems by deriving knowledge which has an immediate application.

Methods of Research

Research methods for data collection fall into one of two categories: inductive methods or deductive methods.

Inductive research methods focus on the analysis of an observation and are usually associated with qualitative research. Deductive research methods focus on the verification of an observation and are typically associated with quantitative research.

Research definition

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a method that enables non-numerical data collection through open-ended methods such as interviews, case studies and focus groups .

It enables researchers to collect data on personal experiences, feelings or behaviours, as well as the reasons behind them. Because of this, qualitative research is often used in fields such as social science, psychology and philosophy and other areas where it is useful to know the connection between what has occurred and why it has occurred.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is a method that collects and analyses numerical data through statistical analysis.

It allows us to quantify variables, uncover relationships, and make generalisations across a larger population. As a result, quantitative research is often used in the natural and physical sciences such as engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, finance, and medical research, etc.

What does Research Involve?

Research often follows a systematic approach known as a Scientific Method, which is carried out using an hourglass model.

A research project first starts with a problem statement, or rather, the research purpose for engaging in the study. This can take the form of the ‘ scope of the study ’ or ‘ aims and objectives ’ of your research topic.

Subsequently, a literature review is carried out and a hypothesis is formed. The researcher then creates a research methodology and collects the data.

The data is then analysed using various statistical methods and the null hypothesis is either accepted or rejected.

In both cases, the study and its conclusion are officially written up as a report or research paper, and the researcher may also recommend lines of further questioning. The report or research paper is then shared with the wider research community, and the cycle begins all over again.

Although these steps outline the overall research process, keep in mind that research projects are highly dynamic and are therefore considered an iterative process with continued refinements and not a series of fixed stages.

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The Thurstone Scale is used to quantify the attitudes of people being surveyed, using a format of ‘agree-disagree’ statements.

PhD Research Fieldwork

Fieldwork can be essential for your PhD project. Use these tips to help maximise site productivity and reduce your research time by a few weeks.

Significance of the Study

In this post you’ll learn what the significance of the study means, why it’s important, where and how to write one in your paper or thesis with an example.

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the research purpose should not be clearly defined

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Difference between the journal paper status of In Review and Under Review

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Ellie Hurer Profile

Ellie is a final year PhD student at the University of Hertfordshire, investigating a protein which is implicated in pancreatic cancer; this work can improve the efficacy of cancer drug treatments.

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

Dr Ayres completed her PhD at the University of Warwick in 2017, researching the use of diamond to make electrochemical sensors. She is now a research scientists in the water industry, developing different analytical techniques and sensors to help keep our water systems safe.

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook (2009)

Chapter: chapter 3 - defining the research: purpose, focus, and potential uses.

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

14 Chapter 3 identifies roles, relationships, and responsibilities of stakeholders. It examines principal steps involved in planning an airport passenger-rate data collection effort. It begins with the ques- tion of whether the potential benefits of the proposed effort outweigh the anticipated cost; describes different types of research (i.e., exploratory, descriptive, inferential); summarizes the questions each type addresses; and notes the ends to which the data might be used. 3.1 Roles and Responsibilities When an airport data collection event is first mentioned, it invariably raises numerous ques- tions: Who is asking for the data? How will it be used? What’s the budget? What’s the schedule? What kind of resources can be made available? Without answers to these fundamental questions, the success of your research is in jeopardy. This section will help the researcher establish the role of key stakeholders and their interrelationships within the team. Many entities can sponsor a data collection study, including airports, airlines, manufacturers, and various agencies. Likewise, there are many ways of managing and staffing the event and pro- moting involvement with stakeholders. There are therefore myriad ways of organizing a study. Exhibit 3-1 is an example of how a study could be arranged with the airport as the sponsor. 3.1.1 Client/Sponsor For airports, oversight is guided by a board, commission, or an authority consisting of appointed or elected officials. While these agencies typically provide oversight to airport man- agement and approve long-term plans and large capital expenditures, usually it is the airport director or manager who makes day-to-day decisions. Depending on the size of the airport, there may be several departments, each having its own manager. In such cases, passenger terminal-related studies would typically fall within the purview of the planning and/or engineering department and would be managed by its director. Regardless of the affiliation of the project sponsor(s), it is essential that the following ques- tions be answered clearly and unambiguously as they pertain to the sponsor at the beginning of any project: • Who has primary responsibility for defining the questions the study is intended to address? • What preference does this person or group have regarding ongoing involvement with the project? – What information would they like to receive, in what format, and with what frequency? – Who should be the principal point-of-contact (POC) on the client’s side for questions that might emerge related to the study’s focus, direction, etc.? C H A P T E R 3 Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses

Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses 15 • Who is the designated project manager, and what information would he or she like to receive, in what format, and with what frequency? • If the person given responsibility for day-to-day issues pertaining to access, authorizations, etc. is different from the project manager, who is that person, and what is the scope of issues he or she is authorized to address? • If problems or obstacles arise in implementing the study, and the project manager is not able or authorized to resolve them, what is the chain of persons through which the issue should be escalated? 3.1.2 Study Team The size of the study team will depend on the team’s depth and organization, and the size, duration, and complexity of the study itself. For a typical medium- to large-scale study, the roles listed in the following sections are the most typical. Multiple roles might be assumed by a single person or distributed across multiple persons. Titles vary as well, but the functions are largely universal. Project Manager The project manager is typically a mid-level to senior person who has the long-term, day-to- day relationship with his or her client counterpart. The need for the passenger-related process- ing rate study may initially originate from discussions between the project manager and those within the airport or airline. Survey Manager The survey manager is usually a mid-level staff person. His/her role on the project would be to oversee the day-to-day management of the data processing rate study, including leading the development of the scope, schedule, and budget; developing the team; and assigning roles and responsibilities. The survey manager would have the responsibility of ensuring the survey goals were adequately defined and met. Decision Maker Survey Manager Admin. Support Staffing Source (e.g., airport personnel, mkt. research firm) Surveyor Surveyor Surveyor Sponsor/Client (Airport) (Large Airport: Dir./Mgr.) Project Manager (Large Airport: Dir. Planning/Eng.) (Small Airport: Apt. Mgr.) Project Manager (Typ. oversees multiple tasks of which survey is but one part) Study Team (Typically, Consultant) Statistical Technical Expert Survey Assistant Data Analyst IT Analyst Other Stakeholders • Airlines • Agencies • Concessionaires Exhibit 3-1. Typical sponsor and study team roles (assuming an airport is the sponsor).

16 Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook Research and Statistical Expert A person(s) with expertise in research methodology and quantitative/statistical analysis should be consulted to develop, or provide comments and recommendations about, the overall methodology, the sampling plan, and so forth. Most of this person’s input would occur at the project’s initiation. A distinction is sometimes drawn in the consulting literature among differ- ent approaches to consulting. One such approach, generally referred to as process consultation might be of particular appeal.1 When acting in this role, the consultant not only provides tech- nical expertise related to the specific project, but also works with the client to develop expertise. This arrangement has the goal of, over time, reducing the reliance on the consultant. Survey Assistant The survey assistant has primary responsibility for assisting the survey project manager and secondarily to assist others on the project team throughout the duration of the study. Typically, this staff person will be at a junior level. The degree of assistance this person can provide is based on his/her level of education and current skill sets. Data Analyst The data analyst should not only be well-versed in technical analysis, but should also have a strong familiarity with the airport terminal environment. This person could be a terminal or air- port planner or aviation architect. The analyst is often largely responsible for documenting results, and responsibilities might extend to presenting findings to the client. Administrative Support Data collection efforts are inherently complex and, as such, often require a significant level of coordination and administration. The staff person serving this function would be responsible for such things as making travel plans, scheduling visits to the airport’s security office, buying supplies, shipping and receiving materials, scheduling meetings, preparing invoices and con- tracts, and editing/proofing the report. Data Collection Staff For small studies (e.g., small airports where only a few functional elements are being observed for a limited time period), airport/airline or consultant staffing may be used. For larger studies, typically examining multiple functional elements of a medium or large airport over a multi-day period, a market-research firm is frequently employed. The data collection staff reports directly to the survey manager. 3.2 Is the Study Needed? While the need for data collection is often justifiable, the benefit of validating the need, and avoiding what might be a costly, and possibly unjustified, effort well exceeds the relatively minor cost of pausing to consider a few basic questions (see Appendix C for more information). Exhibit 3-2 illustrates these questions. 3.3 Research Fundamentals This section summarizes a number of fundamental issues and terms related to the research process. (Additional detail is included in Appendix C.) 1 Schein, E. H. (1999). Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship. NY: Addison Wesley.

Research is a dynamic process with both deductive and inductive dimensions. This differs in some ways from what some present as the “traditional” approach to research, i.e., that theory drives hypothesis testing. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t work this way. 3.3.1 Theory, Hypotheses, and Evidence The word “theory” often implies a formal set of laws, propositions, variables, and the like, whose relationships are clearly defined. A related implication is that theory may not be particu- larly germane to the everyday world of work. This view of theory is not incorrect, but neither is it complete. While theory can be abstract and complex in its detail, it does not necessarily have to be abstract, complex, or formal. It can be thought of more broadly and simply as an explanation of “how the world works.” For exam- ple, an organization might develop a mission or a value statement (or both); engrave the words in a medium intended to last millennia; and prominently display the statement in the workplace with the intent of communicating to all its perspective clients on issues pertinent to its view. In Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses 17 Question Things to Consider Have relevant data been collected at this airport in the past that might be used rather than collecting new data? Might you be able to get data from another airport similar in key ways to this airport? Are there data available that might help answer the research question? Might access to the data be blocked due to proprietary or security issues? Sometimes the data are perceived to be so sensitive that the “owner” of the data may not give permission to share it. Has the decision already been made, and the data are being collected to legitimize the decision? Is there anything to suggest that the study is an attempt to “prove” something true or false? What role will the results play in the decision being considered? To what extent will the decision makers be persuaded by the results? What will the decision makers accept as credible evidence? Before collecting data, make certain that the research plan will result in data that the sponsors will accept. It is better to learn beforehand, for example, that the proposed sampling plan does not meet the sponsor’s criteria for rigor. What is the cost of the potential investment that the data will help inform? What is the cost of conducting the research? Does the benefit equal or outweigh the cost? Cost should be considered not only in economic terms, but as safety, inconvenience, and so forth. Exhibit 3-2. Considerations to determine need for data collection.

2008, British Airways announced a new venture: OpenSkies. The “theory” OpenSkies used to define its clients is reflected in its advertising as shown in Exhibit 3-3. So, how does this relate to airport processing rate studies? It relates in the following two ways: 1. The published research literature may well contain formal theories relevant to what data to collect and how to collect it. For example, Appendix B includes a bibliography of recent research articles related to passenger and baggage processing in airports. It is intended to illustrate the scope and diversity of research available on a given topic. Before embarking on an investigation, review the literature to see how it might enhance the quality of the planned research. The Internet provides access to numerous sources for such scholarly documents. 2. Informally, the key decisions about how to go about collecting data are grounded in assump- tions about how things work (i.e., one’s own theory). For example, you might choose to col- lect passenger security screening data between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. on a Monday because your experience is that this time period reflects peak checkpoint activity. While this “theory” may be correct in some circumstances, it may also be wrong in others. For example, at many vacation-oriented airports, the peak at the checkpoint occurs in the late morning due to check-out times at hotels. Another common view of research is of the stereotypical scientist, objectively testing hypothe- ses (or an “educated guess”) arising from theory. Exhibit 3-4 reflects this general approach to research. This is certainly one way in which research proceeds, but, similar to theory, it is not the only way. Before considering an “evidence first” approach, we wish to mention a variation on the tra- ditional approach displayed in Exhibit 3-4 that has been gaining dominance in recent years. In particular, this is a confidence interval (CI) approach rather than a hypothesis driven approach. In a hypothesis driven approach, the researcher’s primary interest is in testing a population parameter, and uses a sample drawn from the population. When the researcher takes a CI approach, the intent is to calculate an interval within which the population parameter is likely 18 Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook Exhibit 3-3. OpenSkies advertisement. Question key assumptions, even if they seem to be “common sense,” by checking with informants, look- ing at the literature, etc.

to fall. Hypotheses are stated before data collection; CIs are calculated after data are collected.2 In conducting passenger-processing rate research in airport environments, the CI approach is going to be the most appropriate in most instances. A markedly different approach to those described above is shown in Exhibit 3-5. In contrast to beginning with a theory and then collecting evidence to test the theory or estimate a popula- tion parameter within some CI, this approach begins with evidence for which one seeks poten- tial explanations, or “theories” to explain the evidence. This approach is subsumed under the broad heading of Bayesian Law, so named after the 18th Century English clergyman, Thomas Bayes, credited with developing the approach. Depending on where one begins can result in potentially dramatic conclusions (see Exhibit 3-6). This is important because limiting oneself to a particular perspective of how research should be conducted and how data ought to be gathered may impose unnecessary constraints. What is important is that the research is executed systematically and with rigor. The documented ways in which science proceeds are often idealized: portraying what is inherently a very dynamic and nonlinear process as logical and linear. 3.3.2 Research Questions and Purposes A basic issue in research is specifying the question the research will help answer. Penning a specific question also helps in determining what approach might be best used in seeking an Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses 19 Theory Drives questions & hypotheses Hypothesis: Installing n kiosks will reduce the average time of passengers waiting in line by 10% over check-in agents. Leading to a conclusion Drives data collection Followed by analysis Exhibit 3-4. Hypothesis driven approach. Evidence leads to speculation about possible explanations Which may or may not drive more data collection & analysis Theory Exhibit 3-5. Bayesian approach. 2 While these approaches are presented here as mutually exclusive, they might be integrated in practice.

answer. One classic text in research methodology5 suggests that a research question should express a relationship between two or more variables, and it should imply an empirical approach, that is, it should lend itself to being measured using data. A variable is, not surprisingly, some- thing that can vary, or assume different values. In the next section, illustrative questions are given, categorized by the purpose of research with which they are best matched. The five research purposes are presented as the following: 1. Explore, 2. Describe, 3. Test, 4. Evaluate, and 5. Predict. The distinctions among these purposes are not absolute, nor are they necessarily exclusive of one another. A research initiative might be directed at answering questions with multiple pur- poses. Indeed, this is but one of many ways of classifying research. In addition, the reader whose practice lies primarily in the arena of modeling and simulation might note their absence from this list. Although modeling and simulation applications require input data, for example, to gen- erate distributions and parameters for use as stochastic varieties in modeling, the techniques used to collect data are largely independent of specific applications (such as simulation and model- ing). Those issues unique to modeling are beyond the scope of this guidebook. Explore (Exploratory Research) Exploratory research is sometimes defined as “what to do when you don’t know what you don’t know.” Its aim is discovery and to develop an understanding of relevant variables and their interactions in a real (field) environment. Exploratory research, as such, is appropriate when the 20 Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook If your intent is to… And take action based on… Use… Example Test a hypothesis regarding a population parameter Whether you reject or fail to reject the null hypothesis Hypothesis testing approach The proportion of coach passengers checking in more than 60 min prior to scheduled departure is 80% H A : p > .80 3 H 0 : p .804 Estimate a population parameter The confidence interval selected CI approach Plus or minus 5%, what is the average time coach passengers check in prior to scheduled departure? Determine the likelihood of an event given some evidence The calculated probability Bayesian approach What is the probability that a passenger’s carry on- luggage will be subject to secondary security screening given that the passenger is boarding an international flight? Exhibit 3-6. Research approaches. 3 This is the research, or Alternative, hypothesis. It reads: The proportion is greater than 80%. 4 This is the null hypothesis. It is what is tested, and reads: The proportion is less than or equal to 80%. 5 Kerlinger F. & Lee, H. (2000). Foundations of Behavioral Research, 4th ed. NY: Harcourt Brace.

problem is not well defined. For example, passenger complaints about signs within a facility might prompt the following exploratory question: • “Where should signage be located to minimize passenger confusion?” As another example, if a new security checkpoint configuration is proposed, it may be too novel to rely on variables used in other studies. The question, therefore, might then be the following: • “How does a given alternative security checkpoint configuration affect capacity?” This type of research is often qualitative rather than quantitative. That is, it employs verbal descriptors of observations, rather than counts of those observations (see Appendix C for more information). Describe (Descriptive Research) Descriptive research, as the name implies, is intended to describe phenomena. While descrip- tive research might involve collecting qualitative data by asking open-ended questions in an interview, it typically employs quantitative methods resulting in reporting frequencies, calculat- ing averages, and the like. The following two questions illustrate the nature of descriptive research. Each implies that the relevant variables have been identified as well as the conditions under which the data should be collected. • “What is the average number of passengers departing on international flights on weekday evenings in July at a given airport?” • “How many men use a given restroom at a particular location at a given time?” Test (Experimental and Quasi-experimental Research and Modeling) Often, the intent of the research is not simply to describe something, but to test the impact of some intervention. In an airport environment, such research might be initiated to evaluate the relative effectiveness of a security screening technology in accurately detecting contraband. It is similar in approach to research conducted to assess the relative effectiveness of an experimental drug in comparison to a control (placebo) or another drug. Variables are often manipulated and controlled. This research lies largely outside the scope of this guidebook and, as such, will not receive much attention. Examples of questions that might be asked in this type of research include the following: • “What is the impact of posting airline personnel near check-in waiting lines on the average passenger waiting time?” In addition to the classic “experiment,” simulation modeling might be used, employing rep- resentative data to help answer questions such as the following: • “What would be the impact on processing time of a new security measure being considered?” • “How many agents are needed to keep passenger waiting time below an average of 10 min?” Evaluate (Evaluative Research) Sometimes, the intent of the research is to assess performance against some standard or stated requirement. Basically, evaluation research is concerned with seeing how well something is work- ing, with an eye toward improving performance, as illustrated by the following two questions: • “Is the performance of a given piece of equipment in the field consistent with manufacturer’s specifications?” • “On average, what proportion of passengers waits in a security checkpoint line longer than the 10-minute maximum threshold specified by an airline?” Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses 21

Predict Finally, research might be initiated to attempt to predict or anticipate potential emerging pat- terns before they occur. This is related to environmental scanning, insofar as it represents a delib- erate attempt to monitor potential trends and their impact. For example, in the early 1970s, one might have posed the following question: • “What would be the impact of an increase in the number of women in the workforce on air- port design?” There are numerous documented approaches to answering questions such as these. While well beyond the scope of this guidebook, here is one as illustrative: scenario planning. This method involves convening persons with relevant expertise to identify those areas that might most impact the industry (e.g., regulation, fuel costs, demographic changes), and then to systemati- cally consider what the best, worst, and might likely scenarios might be. The principal value of such an approach is that it facilitates deliberate consideration of future trends, and in so doing, presumably leaves people better prepared. When the goal of the research is to predict, data from multiple sources might be sought. The scenario planning example relies, to an extent, on the judgments of experts. Probabilities can also be drawn from historical data to help identify patterns and trends. Exhibit 3-7 is a summary of the key characteristics of each research type. 3.4 Developing the Research Plan Large research studies, particularly when funding is being requested, often require the researchers to adhere to a specific set of technical requirements. The Research Team is aware that the ad hoc and short timeline of many airport-planning research efforts makes developing a “for- mal” research plan impracticable. Nonetheless, even though you might not have the “luxury” of 22 Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook Research Purpose Characteristics Explore Primary purpose: to better define or understand a situation. Data will help answer the research question. The benefit of conducting the research justifies the cost. Qualitative data are recorded, using observation. Describe Primary purpose: to provide descriptive information about something. Test Primary purpose: to assess the impact of a proposed change in procedure or policy. Evaluate Primary purpose: to assess performance against requirements. Predict Primary purpose: to consider possible future circumstances with the purpose of being better prepared for emerging trends. Exhibit 3-7. Summary of research types.

developing such a plan, there are benefits to considering the issues described in this section, as well as documenting basic information. The following are the three major elements the Research Team believes worth documenting, regardless of the size of the research endeavor.6 1. Goals or aims. 2. Background and significance. 3. Research design and methods. Each is described in the sections that follow. 3.4.1 Goals or Aims Specify the question the research is intended to help answer or the specific purpose of the research. The experience of having to translate an intended purpose into words can help clarify your intent. In addition, a written statement can serve as a way of ensuring that your understand- ing of the purpose of the research is consistent with that of the sponsor and other stakeholders. Two examples follow: Statement of Purpose—Example 1 The purpose of this study is to aid decision makers in determining if extending the dwell time of the airport’s automated guideway transit system (AGTS) vehicles from 30 sec to 35 sec at the Concourse C station might improve overall system capacity by providing more boarding time for passengers. Statement of Purpose—Example 2 The goal of this study is to provide airport management with recent data showing the percent- age of arriving flights whose first checked bag reaches the claim device within the airport’s goal of 15 min. 3.4.2 Background and Significance Document what is already known, and specify how the proposed research initiative will add to this knowledge. Consider a “devil’s advocate” perspective by asking what the consequences of not doing the research might be. 3.4.3 Research Design and Methods In this section, describe how you will go about collecting and analyzing data. Additional infor- mation about these issues, including sampling strategies and sample size, is presented in Chapter 5 and in Appendix C. The research plan does not need be lengthy. It should, however, capture key information that, were it not documented and those familiar with the research were not available, would be diffi- cult to ascertain. Defining the Research: Purpose, Focus, and Potential Uses 23 6 This section is partly based on guidelines published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Department of Health and Human Services.

TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Report 23: Airport Passenger-Related Processing Rates Guidebook provides guidance on how to collect accurate passenger-related processing data for evaluating facility requirements to promote efficient and cost-effective airport terminal design.

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Grad Coach

Research Aims, Objectives & Questions

The “Golden Thread” Explained Simply (+ Examples)

By: David Phair (PhD) and Alexandra Shaeffer (PhD) | June 2022

The research aims , objectives and research questions (collectively called the “golden thread”) are arguably the most important thing you need to get right when you’re crafting a research proposal , dissertation or thesis . We receive questions almost every day about this “holy trinity” of research and there’s certainly a lot of confusion out there, so we’ve crafted this post to help you navigate your way through the fog.

Overview: The Golden Thread

  • What is the golden thread
  • What are research aims ( examples )
  • What are research objectives ( examples )
  • What are research questions ( examples )
  • The importance of alignment in the golden thread

What is the “golden thread”?  

The golden thread simply refers to the collective research aims , research objectives , and research questions for any given project (i.e., a dissertation, thesis, or research paper ). These three elements are bundled together because it’s extremely important that they align with each other, and that the entire research project aligns with them.

Importantly, the golden thread needs to weave its way through the entirety of any research project , from start to end. In other words, it needs to be very clearly defined right at the beginning of the project (the topic ideation and proposal stage) and it needs to inform almost every decision throughout the rest of the project. For example, your research design and methodology will be heavily influenced by the golden thread (we’ll explain this in more detail later), as well as your literature review.

The research aims, objectives and research questions (the golden thread) define the focus and scope ( the delimitations ) of your research project. In other words, they help ringfence your dissertation or thesis to a relatively narrow domain, so that you can “go deep” and really dig into a specific problem or opportunity. They also help keep you on track , as they act as a litmus test for relevance. In other words, if you’re ever unsure whether to include something in your document, simply ask yourself the question, “does this contribute toward my research aims, objectives or questions?”. If it doesn’t, chances are you can drop it.

Alright, enough of the fluffy, conceptual stuff. Let’s get down to business and look at what exactly the research aims, objectives and questions are and outline a few examples to bring these concepts to life.

Free Webinar: How To Find A Dissertation Research Topic

Research Aims: What are they?

Simply put, the research aim(s) is a statement that reflects the broad overarching goal (s) of the research project. Research aims are fairly high-level (low resolution) as they outline the general direction of the research and what it’s trying to achieve .

Research Aims: Examples  

True to the name, research aims usually start with the wording “this research aims to…”, “this research seeks to…”, and so on. For example:

“This research aims to explore employee experiences of digital transformation in retail HR.”   “This study sets out to assess the interaction between student support and self-care on well-being in engineering graduate students”  

As you can see, these research aims provide a high-level description of what the study is about and what it seeks to achieve. They’re not hyper-specific or action-oriented, but they’re clear about what the study’s focus is and what is being investigated.

Need a helping hand?

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

Research Objectives: What are they?

The research objectives take the research aims and make them more practical and actionable . In other words, the research objectives showcase the steps that the researcher will take to achieve the research aims.

The research objectives need to be far more specific (higher resolution) and actionable than the research aims. In fact, it’s always a good idea to craft your research objectives using the “SMART” criteria. In other words, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”.

Research Objectives: Examples  

Let’s look at two examples of research objectives. We’ll stick with the topic and research aims we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic:

To observe the retail HR employees throughout the digital transformation. To assess employee perceptions of digital transformation in retail HR. To identify the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR.

And for the student wellness topic:

To determine whether student self-care predicts the well-being score of engineering graduate students. To determine whether student support predicts the well-being score of engineering students. To assess the interaction between student self-care and student support when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students.

  As you can see, these research objectives clearly align with the previously mentioned research aims and effectively translate the low-resolution aims into (comparatively) higher-resolution objectives and action points . They give the research project a clear focus and present something that resembles a research-based “to-do” list.

The research objectives detail the specific steps that you, as the researcher, will take to achieve the research aims you laid out.

Research Questions: What are they?

Finally, we arrive at the all-important research questions. The research questions are, as the name suggests, the key questions that your study will seek to answer . Simply put, they are the core purpose of your dissertation, thesis, or research project. You’ll present them at the beginning of your document (either in the introduction chapter or literature review chapter) and you’ll answer them at the end of your document (typically in the discussion and conclusion chapters).  

The research questions will be the driving force throughout the research process. For example, in the literature review chapter, you’ll assess the relevance of any given resource based on whether it helps you move towards answering your research questions. Similarly, your methodology and research design will be heavily influenced by the nature of your research questions. For instance, research questions that are exploratory in nature will usually make use of a qualitative approach, whereas questions that relate to measurement or relationship testing will make use of a quantitative approach.  

Let’s look at some examples of research questions to make this more tangible.

Research Questions: Examples  

Again, we’ll stick with the research aims and research objectives we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic (which would be qualitative in nature):

How do employees perceive digital transformation in retail HR? What are the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR?  

And for the student wellness topic (which would be quantitative in nature):

Does student self-care predict the well-being scores of engineering graduate students? Does student support predict the well-being scores of engineering students? Do student self-care and student support interact when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students?  

You’ll probably notice that there’s quite a formulaic approach to this. In other words, the research questions are basically the research objectives “converted” into question format. While that is true most of the time, it’s not always the case. For example, the first research objective for the digital transformation topic was more or less a step on the path toward the other objectives, and as such, it didn’t warrant its own research question.  

So, don’t rush your research questions and sloppily reword your objectives as questions. Carefully think about what exactly you’re trying to achieve (i.e. your research aim) and the objectives you’ve set out, then craft a set of well-aligned research questions . Also, keep in mind that this can be a somewhat iterative process , where you go back and tweak research objectives and aims to ensure tight alignment throughout the golden thread.

The importance of strong alignment 

Alignment is the keyword here and we have to stress its importance . Simply put, you need to make sure that there is a very tight alignment between all three pieces of the golden thread. If your research aims and research questions don’t align, for example, your project will be pulling in different directions and will lack focus . This is a common problem students face and can cause many headaches (and tears), so be warned.

Take the time to carefully craft your research aims, objectives and research questions before you run off down the research path. Ideally, get your research supervisor/advisor to review and comment on your golden thread before you invest significant time into your project, and certainly before you start collecting data .  

Recap: The golden thread

In this post, we unpacked the golden thread of research, consisting of the research aims , research objectives and research questions . You can jump back to any section using the links below.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below – we always love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in 1-on-1 support, take a look at our private coaching service here.

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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Isaac Levi

Thank you very much for your great effort put. As an Undergraduate taking Demographic Research & Methodology, I’ve been trying so hard to understand clearly what is a Research Question, Research Aim and the Objectives in a research and the relationship between them etc. But as for now I’m thankful that you’ve solved my problem.

Hatimu Bah

Well appreciated. This has helped me greatly in doing my dissertation.

Dr. Abdallah Kheri

An so delighted with this wonderful information thank you a lot.

so impressive i have benefited a lot looking forward to learn more on research.

Ekwunife, Chukwunonso Onyeka Steve

I am very happy to have carefully gone through this well researched article.

Infact,I used to be phobia about anything research, because of my poor understanding of the concepts.

Now,I get to know that my research question is the same as my research objective(s) rephrased in question format.

I please I would need a follow up on the subject,as I intends to join the team of researchers. Thanks once again.


Thanks so much. This was really helpful.


i found this document so useful towards my study in research methods. thanks so much.

Michael L. Andrion

This is my 2nd read topic in your course and I should commend the simplified explanations of each part. I’m beginning to understand and absorb the use of each part of a dissertation/thesis. I’ll keep on reading your free course and might be able to avail the training course! Kudos!


Thank you! Better put that my lecture and helped to easily understand the basics which I feel often get brushed over when beginning dissertation work.

Enoch Tindiwegi

This is quite helpful. I like how the Golden thread has been explained and the needed alignment.

Sora Dido Boru

This is quite helpful. I really appreciate!


The article made it simple for researcher students to differentiate between three concepts.

Afowosire Wasiu Adekunle

Very innovative and educational in approach to conducting research.

Sàlihu Abubakar Dayyabu

I am very impressed with all these terminology, as I am a fresh student for post graduate, I am highly guided and I promised to continue making consultation when the need arise. Thanks a lot.

Mohammed Shamsudeen

A very helpful piece. thanks, I really appreciate it .

Sonam Jyrwa

Very well explained, and it might be helpful to many people like me.


Wish i had found this (and other) resource(s) at the beginning of my PhD journey… not in my writing up year… 😩 Anyways… just a quick question as i’m having some issues ordering my “golden thread”…. does it matter in what order you mention them? i.e., is it always first aims, then objectives, and finally the questions? or can you first mention the research questions and then the aims and objectives?


Thank you for a very simple explanation that builds upon the concepts in a very logical manner. Just prior to this, I read the research hypothesis article, which was equally very good. This met my primary objective.

My secondary objective was to understand the difference between research questions and research hypothesis, and in which context to use which one. However, I am still not clear on this. Can you kindly please guide?

Derek Jansen

In research, a research question is a clear and specific inquiry that the researcher wants to answer, while a research hypothesis is a tentative statement or prediction about the relationship between variables or the expected outcome of the study. Research questions are broader and guide the overall study, while hypotheses are specific and testable statements used in quantitative research. Research questions identify the problem, while hypotheses provide a focus for testing in the study.

Saen Fanai

Exactly what I need in this research journey, I look forward to more of your coaching videos.

Abubakar Rofiat Opeyemi

This helped a lot. Thanks so much for the effort put into explaining it.

Lamin Tarawally

What data source in writing dissertation/Thesis requires?

What is data source covers when writing dessertation/thesis

Latifat Muhammed

This is quite useful thanks


I’m excited and thankful. I got so much value which will help me progress in my thesis.

Amer Al-Rashid

where are the locations of the reserch statement, research objective and research question in a reserach paper? Can you write an ouline that defines their places in the researh paper?


Very helpful and important tips on Aims, Objectives and Questions.

Refiloe Raselane

Thank you so much for making research aim, research objectives and research question so clear. This will be helpful to me as i continue with my thesis.

Annabelle Roda-Dafielmoto

Thanks much for this content. I learned a lot. And I am inspired to learn more. I am still struggling with my preparation for dissertation outline/proposal. But I consistently follow contents and tutorials and the new FB of GRAD Coach. Hope to really become confident in writing my dissertation and successfully defend it.


As a researcher and lecturer, I find splitting research goals into research aims, objectives, and questions is unnecessarily bureaucratic and confusing for students. For most biomedical research projects, including ‘real research’, 1-3 research questions will suffice (numbers may differ by discipline).


Awesome! Very important resources and presented in an informative way to easily understand the golden thread. Indeed, thank you so much.


Well explained

New Growth Care Group

The blog article on research aims, objectives, and questions by Grad Coach is a clear and insightful guide that aligns with my experiences in academic research. The article effectively breaks down the often complex concepts of research aims and objectives, providing a straightforward and accessible explanation. Drawing from my own research endeavors, I appreciate the practical tips offered, such as the need for specificity and clarity when formulating research questions. The article serves as a valuable resource for students and researchers, offering a concise roadmap for crafting well-defined research goals and objectives. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced researcher, this article provides practical insights that contribute to the foundational aspects of a successful research endeavor.


A great thanks for you. it is really amazing explanation. I grasp a lot and one step up to research knowledge.


I really found these tips helpful. Thank you very much Grad Coach.

Rahma D.

I found this article helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

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Research Writing and Analysis

  • NVivo Group and Study Sessions
  • SPSS This link opens in a new window
  • Statistical Analysis Group sessions
  • Using Qualtrics
  • Dissertation and Data Analysis Group Sessions
  • Research Process Flow Chart
  • Research Alignment This link opens in a new window
  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
  • Step 2: Explain
  • Step 3: The Big Picture
  • Step 4: Own It
  • Step 5: Illustrate
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Literature Review This link opens in a new window
  • Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses
  • How to Synthesize and Analyze
  • Synthesis and Analysis Practice
  • Synthesis and Analysis Group Sessions
  • Problem Statement
  • Purpose Statement
  • Quantitative Research Questions
  • Qualitative Research Questions
  • Trustworthiness of Qualitative Data
  • Analysis and Coding Example- Qualitative Data
  • Thematic Data Analysis in Qualitative Design
  • Dissertation to Journal Article This link opens in a new window
  • International Journal of Online Graduate Education (IJOGE) This link opens in a new window
  • Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning (JRIT&L) This link opens in a new window

Jump to DSE Guide

Purpose statement overview.

The purpose statement succinctly explains (on no more than 1 page) the objectives of the research study. These objectives must directly address the problem and help close the stated gap. Expressed as a formula:

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

Good purpose statements:

  • Flow from the problem statement and actually address the proposed problem
  • Are concise and clear
  • Answer the question ‘Why are you doing this research?’
  • Match the methodology (similar to research questions)
  • Have a ‘hook’ to get the reader’s attention
  • Set the stage by clearly stating, “The purpose of this (qualitative or quantitative) study is to ...

In PhD studies, the purpose usually involves applying a theory to solve the problem. In other words, the purpose tells the reader what the goal of the study is, and what your study will accomplish, through which theoretical lens. The purpose statement also includes brief information about direction, scope, and where the data will come from.

A problem and gap in combination can lead to different research objectives, and hence, different purpose statements. In the example from above where the problem was severe underrepresentation of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies and the identified gap related to lack of research of male-dominated boards; one purpose might be to explore implicit biases in male-dominated boards through the lens of feminist theory. Another purpose may be to determine how board members rated female and male candidates on scales of competency, professionalism, and experience to predict which candidate will be selected for the CEO position. The first purpose may involve a qualitative ethnographic study in which the researcher observes board meetings and hiring interviews; the second may involve a quantitative regression analysis. The outcomes will be very different, so it’s important that you find out exactly how you want to address a problem and help close a gap!

The purpose of the study must not only align with the problem and address a gap; it must also align with the chosen research method. In fact, the DP/DM template requires you to name the  research method at the very beginning of the purpose statement. The research verb must match the chosen method. In general, quantitative studies involve “closed-ended” research verbs such as determine , measure , correlate , explain , compare , validate , identify , or examine ; whereas qualitative studies involve “open-ended” research verbs such as explore , understand , narrate , articulate [meanings], discover , or develop .

A qualitative purpose statement following the color-coded problem statement (assumed here to be low well-being among financial sector employees) + gap (lack of research on followers of mid-level managers), might start like this:

In response to declining levels of employee well-being, the purpose of the qualitative phenomenology was to explore and understand the lived experiences related to the well-being of the followers of novice mid-level managers in the financial services industry. The levels of follower well-being have been shown to correlate to employee morale, turnover intention, and customer orientation (Eren et al., 2013). A combined framework of Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory and the employee well-being concept informed the research questions and supported the inquiry, analysis, and interpretation of the experiences of followers of novice managers in the financial services industry.

A quantitative purpose statement for the same problem and gap might start like this:

In response to declining levels of employee well-being, the purpose of the quantitative correlational study was to determine which leadership factors predict employee well-being of the followers of novice mid-level managers in the financial services industry. Leadership factors were measured by the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) assessment framework  by Mantlekow (2015), and employee well-being was conceptualized as a compound variable consisting of self-reported turnover-intent and psychological test scores from the Mental Health Survey (MHS) developed by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Both of these purpose statements reflect viable research strategies and both align with the problem and gap so it’s up to the researcher to design a study in a manner that reflects personal preferences and desired study outcomes. Note that the quantitative research purpose incorporates operationalized concepts  or variables ; that reflect the way the researcher intends to measure the key concepts under study; whereas the qualitative purpose statement isn’t about translating the concepts under study as variables but instead aim to explore and understand the core research phenomenon.  

Best Practices for Writing your Purpose Statement

Always keep in mind that the dissertation process is iterative, and your writing, over time, will be refined as clarity is gradually achieved. Most of the time, greater clarity for the purpose statement and other components of the Dissertation is the result of a growing understanding of the literature in the field. As you increasingly master the literature you will also increasingly clarify the purpose of your study.

The purpose statement should flow directly from the problem statement. There should be clear and obvious alignment between the two and that alignment will get tighter and more pronounced as your work progresses.

The purpose statement should specifically address the reason for conducting the study, with emphasis on the word specifically. There should not be any doubt in your readers’ minds as to the purpose of your study. To achieve this level of clarity you will need to also insure there is no doubt in your mind as to the purpose of your study.

Many researchers benefit from stopping your work during the research process when insight strikes you and write about it while it is still fresh in your mind. This can help you clarify all aspects of a dissertation, including clarifying its purpose.

Your Chair and your committee members can help you to clarify your study’s purpose so carefully attend to any feedback they offer.

The purpose statement should reflect the research questions and vice versa. The chain of alignment that began with the research problem description and continues on to the research purpose, research questions, and methodology must be respected at all times during dissertation development. You are to succinctly describe the overarching goal of the study that reflects the research questions. Each research question narrows and focuses the purpose statement. Conversely, the purpose statement encompasses all of the research questions.

Identify in the purpose statement the research method as quantitative, qualitative or mixed (i.e., “The purpose of this [qualitative/quantitative/mixed] study is to ...)

Avoid the use of the phrase “research study” since the two words together are redundant.

Follow the initial declaration of purpose with a brief overview of how, with what instruments/data, with whom and where (as applicable) the study will be conducted. Identify variables/constructs and/or phenomenon/concept/idea. Since this section is to be a concise paragraph, emphasis must be placed on the word brief. However, adding these details will give your readers a very clear picture of the purpose of your research.

Developing the purpose section of your dissertation is usually not achieved in a single flash of insight. The process involves a great deal of reading to find out what other scholars have done to address the research topic and problem you have identified. The purpose section of your dissertation could well be the most important paragraph you write during your academic career, and every word should be carefully selected. Think of it as the DNA of your dissertation. Everything else you write should emerge directly and clearly from your purpose statement. In turn, your purpose statement should emerge directly and clearly from your research problem description. It is good practice to print out your problem statement and purpose statement and keep them in front of you as you work on each part of your dissertation in order to insure alignment.

It is helpful to collect several dissertations similar to the one you envision creating. Extract the problem descriptions and purpose statements of other dissertation authors and compare them in order to sharpen your thinking about your own work.  Comparing how other dissertation authors have handled the many challenges you are facing can be an invaluable exercise. Keep in mind that individual universities use their own tailored protocols for presenting key components of the dissertation so your review of these purpose statements should focus on content rather than form.

Once your purpose statement is set it must be consistently presented throughout the dissertation. This may require some recursive editing because the way you articulate your purpose may evolve as you work on various aspects of your dissertation. Whenever you make an adjustment to your purpose statement you should carefully follow up on the editing and conceptual ramifications throughout the entire document.

In establishing your purpose you should NOT advocate for a particular outcome. Research should be done to answer questions not prove a point. As a researcher, you are to inquire with an open mind, and even when you come to the work with clear assumptions, your job is to prove the validity of the conclusions reached. For example, you would not say the purpose of your research project is to demonstrate that there is a relationship between two variables. Such a statement presupposes you know the answer before your research is conducted and promotes or supports (advocates on behalf of) a particular outcome. A more appropriate purpose statement would be to examine or explore the relationship between two variables.

Your purpose statement should not imply that you are going to prove something. You may be surprised to learn that we cannot prove anything in scholarly research for two reasons. First, in quantitative analyses, statistical tests calculate the probability that something is true rather than establishing it as true. Second, in qualitative research, the study can only purport to describe what is occurring from the perspective of the participants. Whether or not the phenomenon they are describing is true in a larger context is not knowable. We cannot observe the phenomenon in all settings and in all circumstances.

Writing your Purpose Statement

It is important to distinguish in your mind the differences between the Problem Statement and Purpose Statement.

The Problem Statement is why I am doing the research

The Purpose Statement is what type of research I am doing to fit or address the problem

The Purpose Statement includes:

  • Method of Study
  • Specific Population

Remember, as you are contemplating what to include in your purpose statement and then when you are writing it, the purpose statement is a concise paragraph that describes the intent of the study, and it should flow directly from the problem statement.  It should specifically address the reason for conducting the study, and reflect the research questions.  Further, it should identify the research method as qualitative, quantitative, or mixed.  Then provide a brief overview of how the study will be conducted, with what instruments/data collection methods, and with whom (subjects) and where (as applicable). Finally, you should identify variables/constructs and/or phenomenon/concept/idea.

Qualitative Purpose Statement

Creswell (2002) suggested for writing purpose statements in qualitative research include using deliberate phrasing to alert the reader to the purpose statement. Verbs that indicate what will take place in the research and the use of non-directional language that do not suggest an outcome are key. A purpose statement should focus on a single idea or concept, with a broad definition of the idea or concept. How the concept was investigated should also be included, as well as participants in the study and locations for the research to give the reader a sense of with whom and where the study took place. 

Creswell (2003) advised the following script for purpose statements in qualitative research:

“The purpose of this qualitative_________________ (strategy of inquiry, such as ethnography, case study, or other type) study is (was? will be?) to ________________ (understand? describe? develop? discover?) the _________________(central phenomenon being studied) for ______________ (the participants, such as the individual, groups, organization) at __________(research site). At this stage in the research, the __________ (central phenomenon being studied) will be generally defined as ___________________ (provide a general definition)” (pg. 90).

Quantitative Purpose Statement

Creswell (2003) offers vast differences between the purpose statements written for qualitative research and those written for quantitative research, particularly with respect to language and the inclusion of variables. The comparison of variables is often a focus of quantitative research, with the variables distinguishable by either the temporal order or how they are measured. As with qualitative research purpose statements, Creswell (2003) recommends the use of deliberate language to alert the reader to the purpose of the study, but quantitative purpose statements also include the theory or conceptual framework guiding the study and the variables that are being studied and how they are related. 

Creswell (2003) suggests the following script for drafting purpose statements in quantitative research:

“The purpose of this _____________________ (experiment? survey?) study is (was? will be?) to test the theory of _________________that _________________ (compares? relates?) the ___________(independent variable) to _________________________(dependent variable), controlling for _______________________ (control variables) for ___________________ (participants) at _________________________ (the research site). The independent variable(s) _____________________ will be generally defined as _______________________ (provide a general definition). The dependent variable(s) will be generally defined as _____________________ (provide a general definition), and the control and intervening variables(s), _________________ (identify the control and intervening variables) will be statistically controlled in this study” (pg. 97).

Sample Purpose Statements

  • The purpose of this qualitative study was to determine how participation in service-learning in an alternative school impacted students academically, civically, and personally.  There is ample evidence demonstrating the failure of schools for students at-risk; however, there is still a need to demonstrate why these students are successful in non-traditional educational programs like the service-learning model used at TDS.  This study was unique in that it examined one alternative school’s approach to service-learning in a setting where students not only serve, but faculty serve as volunteer teachers.  The use of a constructivist approach in service-learning in an alternative school setting was examined in an effort to determine whether service-learning participation contributes positively to academic, personal, and civic gain for students, and to examine student and teacher views regarding the overall outcomes of service-learning.  This study was completed using an ethnographic approach that included observations, content analysis, and interviews with teachers at The David School.
  • The purpose of this quantitative non-experimental cross-sectional linear multiple regression design was to investigate the relationship among early childhood teachers’ self-reported assessment of multicultural awareness as measured by responses from the Teacher Multicultural Attitude Survey (TMAS) and supervisors’ observed assessment of teachers’ multicultural competency skills as measured by the Multicultural Teaching Competency Scale (MTCS) survey. Demographic data such as number of multicultural training hours, years teaching in Dubai, curriculum program at current school, and age were also examined and their relationship to multicultural teaching competency. The study took place in the emirate of Dubai where there were 14,333 expatriate teachers employed in private schools (KHDA, 2013b).
  • The purpose of this quantitative, non-experimental study is to examine the degree to which stages of change, gender, acculturation level and trauma types predicts the reluctance of Arab refugees, aged 18 and over, in the Dearborn, MI area, to seek professional help for their mental health needs. This study will utilize four instruments to measure these variables: University of Rhode Island Change Assessment (URICA: DiClemente & Hughes, 1990); Cumulative Trauma Scale (Kira, 2012); Acculturation Rating Scale for Arabic Americans-II Arabic and English (ARSAA-IIA, ARSAA-IIE: Jadalla & Lee, 2013), and a demographic survey. This study will examine 1) the relationship between stages of change, gender, acculturation levels, and trauma types and Arab refugees’ help-seeking behavior, 2) the degree to which any of these variables can predict Arab refugee help-seeking behavior.  Additionally, the outcome of this study could provide researchers and clinicians with a stage-based model, TTM, for measuring Arab refugees’ help-seeking behavior and lay a foundation for how TTM can help target the clinical needs of Arab refugees. Lastly, this attempt to apply the TTM model to Arab refugees’ condition could lay the foundation for future research to investigate the application of TTM to clinical work among refugee populations.
  • The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study is to describe the lived experiences of LLM for 10 EFL learners in rural Guatemala and to utilize that data to determine how it conforms to, or possibly challenges, current theoretical conceptions of LLM. In accordance with Morse’s (1994) suggestion that a phenomenological study should utilize at least six participants, this study utilized semi-structured interviews with 10 EFL learners to explore why and how they have experienced the motivation to learn English throughout their lives. The methodology of horizontalization was used to break the interview protocols into individual units of meaning before analyzing these units to extract the overarching themes (Moustakas, 1994). These themes were then interpreted into a detailed description of LLM as experienced by EFL students in this context. Finally, the resulting description was analyzed to discover how these learners’ lived experiences with LLM conformed with and/or diverged from current theories of LLM.
  • The purpose of this qualitative, embedded, multiple case study was to examine how both parent-child attachment relationships are impacted by the quality of the paternal and maternal caregiver-child interactions that occur throughout a maternal deployment, within the context of dual-military couples. In order to examine this phenomenon, an embedded, multiple case study was conducted, utilizing an attachment systems metatheory perspective. The study included four dual-military couples who experienced a maternal deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) when they had at least one child between 8 weeks-old to 5 years-old.  Each member of the couple participated in an individual, semi-structured interview with the researcher and completed the Parenting Relationship Questionnaire (PRQ). “The PRQ is designed to capture a parent’s perspective on the parent-child relationship” (Pearson, 2012, para. 1) and was used within the proposed study for this purpose. The PRQ was utilized to triangulate the data (Bekhet & Zauszniewski, 2012) as well as to provide some additional information on the parents’ perspective of the quality of the parent-child attachment relationship in regards to communication, discipline, parenting confidence, relationship satisfaction, and time spent together (Pearson, 2012). The researcher utilized the semi-structured interview to collect information regarding the parents' perspectives of the quality of their parental caregiver behaviors during the deployment cycle, the mother's parent-child interactions while deployed, the behavior of the child or children at time of reunification, and the strategies or behaviors the parents believe may have contributed to their child's behavior at the time of reunification. The results of this study may be utilized by the military, and by civilian providers, to develop proactive and preventive measures that both providers and parents can implement, to address any potential adverse effects on the parent-child attachment relationship, identified through the proposed study. The results of this study may also be utilized to further refine and understand the integration of attachment theory and systems theory, in both clinical and research settings, within the field of marriage and family therapy.

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  • What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples

What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples

Published on June 7, 2021 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023 by Pritha Bhandari.

A research design is a strategy for answering your   research question  using empirical data. Creating a research design means making decisions about:

  • Your overall research objectives and approach
  • Whether you’ll rely on primary research or secondary research
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods
  • The procedures you’ll follow to collect data
  • Your data analysis methods

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research objectives and that you use the right kind of analysis for your data.

Table of contents

Step 1: consider your aims and approach, step 2: choose a type of research design, step 3: identify your population and sampling method, step 4: choose your data collection methods, step 5: plan your data collection procedures, step 6: decide on your data analysis strategies, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research design.

  • Introduction

Before you can start designing your research, you should already have a clear idea of the research question you want to investigate.

There are many different ways you could go about answering this question. Your research design choices should be driven by your aims and priorities—start by thinking carefully about what you want to achieve.

The first choice you need to make is whether you’ll take a qualitative or quantitative approach.

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible and inductive , allowing you to adjust your approach based on what you find throughout the research process.

Quantitative research designs tend to be more fixed and deductive , with variables and hypotheses clearly defined in advance of data collection.

It’s also possible to use a mixed-methods design that integrates aspects of both approaches. By combining qualitative and quantitative insights, you can gain a more complete picture of the problem you’re studying and strengthen the credibility of your conclusions.

Practical and ethical considerations when designing research

As well as scientific considerations, you need to think practically when designing your research. If your research involves people or animals, you also need to consider research ethics .

  • How much time do you have to collect data and write up the research?
  • Will you be able to gain access to the data you need (e.g., by travelling to a specific location or contacting specific people)?
  • Do you have the necessary research skills (e.g., statistical analysis or interview techniques)?
  • Will you need ethical approval ?

At each stage of the research design process, make sure that your choices are practically feasible.

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Within both qualitative and quantitative approaches, there are several types of research design to choose from. Each type provides a framework for the overall shape of your research.

Types of quantitative research designs

Quantitative designs can be split into four main types.

  • Experimental and   quasi-experimental designs allow you to test cause-and-effect relationships
  • Descriptive and correlational designs allow you to measure variables and describe relationships between them.

With descriptive and correlational designs, you can get a clear picture of characteristics, trends and relationships as they exist in the real world. However, you can’t draw conclusions about cause and effect (because correlation doesn’t imply causation ).

Experiments are the strongest way to test cause-and-effect relationships without the risk of other variables influencing the results. However, their controlled conditions may not always reflect how things work in the real world. They’re often also more difficult and expensive to implement.

Types of qualitative research designs

Qualitative designs are less strictly defined. This approach is about gaining a rich, detailed understanding of a specific context or phenomenon, and you can often be more creative and flexible in designing your research.

The table below shows some common types of qualitative design. They often have similar approaches in terms of data collection, but focus on different aspects when analyzing the data.

Your research design should clearly define who or what your research will focus on, and how you’ll go about choosing your participants or subjects.

In research, a population is the entire group that you want to draw conclusions about, while a sample is the smaller group of individuals you’ll actually collect data from.

Defining the population

A population can be made up of anything you want to study—plants, animals, organizations, texts, countries, etc. In the social sciences, it most often refers to a group of people.

For example, will you focus on people from a specific demographic, region or background? Are you interested in people with a certain job or medical condition, or users of a particular product?

The more precisely you define your population, the easier it will be to gather a representative sample.

  • Sampling methods

Even with a narrowly defined population, it’s rarely possible to collect data from every individual. Instead, you’ll collect data from a sample.

To select a sample, there are two main approaches: probability sampling and non-probability sampling . The sampling method you use affects how confidently you can generalize your results to the population as a whole.

Probability sampling is the most statistically valid option, but it’s often difficult to achieve unless you’re dealing with a very small and accessible population.

For practical reasons, many studies use non-probability sampling, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations and carefully consider potential biases. You should always make an effort to gather a sample that’s as representative as possible of the population.

Case selection in qualitative research

In some types of qualitative designs, sampling may not be relevant.

For example, in an ethnography or a case study , your aim is to deeply understand a specific context, not to generalize to a population. Instead of sampling, you may simply aim to collect as much data as possible about the context you are studying.

In these types of design, you still have to carefully consider your choice of case or community. You should have a clear rationale for why this particular case is suitable for answering your research question .

For example, you might choose a case study that reveals an unusual or neglected aspect of your research problem, or you might choose several very similar or very different cases in order to compare them.

Data collection methods are ways of directly measuring variables and gathering information. They allow you to gain first-hand knowledge and original insights into your research problem.

You can choose just one data collection method, or use several methods in the same study.

Survey methods

Surveys allow you to collect data about opinions, behaviors, experiences, and characteristics by asking people directly. There are two main survey methods to choose from: questionnaires and interviews .

Observation methods

Observational studies allow you to collect data unobtrusively, observing characteristics, behaviors or social interactions without relying on self-reporting.

Observations may be conducted in real time, taking notes as you observe, or you might make audiovisual recordings for later analysis. They can be qualitative or quantitative.

Other methods of data collection

There are many other ways you might collect data depending on your field and topic.

If you’re not sure which methods will work best for your research design, try reading some papers in your field to see what kinds of data collection methods they used.

Secondary data

If you don’t have the time or resources to collect data from the population you’re interested in, you can also choose to use secondary data that other researchers already collected—for example, datasets from government surveys or previous studies on your topic.

With this raw data, you can do your own analysis to answer new research questions that weren’t addressed by the original study.

Using secondary data can expand the scope of your research, as you may be able to access much larger and more varied samples than you could collect yourself.

However, it also means you don’t have any control over which variables to measure or how to measure them, so the conclusions you can draw may be limited.

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the research purpose should not be clearly defined

As well as deciding on your methods, you need to plan exactly how you’ll use these methods to collect data that’s consistent, accurate, and unbiased.

Planning systematic procedures is especially important in quantitative research, where you need to precisely define your variables and ensure your measurements are high in reliability and validity.


Some variables, like height or age, are easily measured. But often you’ll be dealing with more abstract concepts, like satisfaction, anxiety, or competence. Operationalization means turning these fuzzy ideas into measurable indicators.

If you’re using observations , which events or actions will you count?

If you’re using surveys , which questions will you ask and what range of responses will be offered?

You may also choose to use or adapt existing materials designed to measure the concept you’re interested in—for example, questionnaires or inventories whose reliability and validity has already been established.

Reliability and validity

Reliability means your results can be consistently reproduced, while validity means that you’re actually measuring the concept you’re interested in.

For valid and reliable results, your measurement materials should be thoroughly researched and carefully designed. Plan your procedures to make sure you carry out the same steps in the same way for each participant.

If you’re developing a new questionnaire or other instrument to measure a specific concept, running a pilot study allows you to check its validity and reliability in advance.

Sampling procedures

As well as choosing an appropriate sampling method , you need a concrete plan for how you’ll actually contact and recruit your selected sample.

That means making decisions about things like:

  • How many participants do you need for an adequate sample size?
  • What inclusion and exclusion criteria will you use to identify eligible participants?
  • How will you contact your sample—by mail, online, by phone, or in person?

If you’re using a probability sampling method , it’s important that everyone who is randomly selected actually participates in the study. How will you ensure a high response rate?

If you’re using a non-probability method , how will you avoid research bias and ensure a representative sample?

Data management

It’s also important to create a data management plan for organizing and storing your data.

Will you need to transcribe interviews or perform data entry for observations? You should anonymize and safeguard any sensitive data, and make sure it’s backed up regularly.

Keeping your data well-organized will save time when it comes to analyzing it. It can also help other researchers validate and add to your findings (high replicability ).

On its own, raw data can’t answer your research question. The last step of designing your research is planning how you’ll analyze the data.

Quantitative data analysis

In quantitative research, you’ll most likely use some form of statistical analysis . With statistics, you can summarize your sample data, make estimates, and test hypotheses.

Using descriptive statistics , you can summarize your sample data in terms of:

  • The distribution of the data (e.g., the frequency of each score on a test)
  • The central tendency of the data (e.g., the mean to describe the average score)
  • The variability of the data (e.g., the standard deviation to describe how spread out the scores are)

The specific calculations you can do depend on the level of measurement of your variables.

Using inferential statistics , you can:

  • Make estimates about the population based on your sample data.
  • Test hypotheses about a relationship between variables.

Regression and correlation tests look for associations between two or more variables, while comparison tests (such as t tests and ANOVAs ) look for differences in the outcomes of different groups.

Your choice of statistical test depends on various aspects of your research design, including the types of variables you’re dealing with and the distribution of your data.

Qualitative data analysis

In qualitative research, your data will usually be very dense with information and ideas. Instead of summing it up in numbers, you’ll need to comb through the data in detail, interpret its meanings, identify patterns, and extract the parts that are most relevant to your research question.

Two of the most common approaches to doing this are thematic analysis and discourse analysis .

There are many other ways of analyzing qualitative data depending on the aims of your research. To get a sense of potential approaches, try reading some qualitative research papers in your field.

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A research design is a strategy for answering your   research question . It defines your overall approach and determines how you will collect and analyze data.

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.

Quantitative research designs can be divided into two main categories:

  • Correlational and descriptive designs are used to investigate characteristics, averages, trends, and associations between variables.
  • Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are used to test causal relationships .

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible. Common types of qualitative design include case study , ethnography , and grounded theory designs.

The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:

  • Your research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
  • The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
  • Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests  or thematic analysis )

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

Operationalization means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.

For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioral avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.

Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalize the variables that you want to measure.

A research project is an academic, scientific, or professional undertaking to answer a research question . Research projects can take many forms, such as qualitative or quantitative , descriptive , longitudinal , experimental , or correlational . What kind of research approach you choose will depend on your topic.

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  • v.53(4); 2010 Aug

Logo of canjsurg

Research questions, hypotheses and objectives

Patricia farrugia.

* Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, the

Bradley A. Petrisor

† Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and the

Forough Farrokhyar

‡ Departments of Surgery and

§ Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont

Mohit Bhandari

There is an increasing familiarity with the principles of evidence-based medicine in the surgical community. As surgeons become more aware of the hierarchy of evidence, grades of recommendations and the principles of critical appraisal, they develop an increasing familiarity with research design. Surgeons and clinicians are looking more and more to the literature and clinical trials to guide their practice; as such, it is becoming a responsibility of the clinical research community to attempt to answer questions that are not only well thought out but also clinically relevant. The development of the research question, including a supportive hypothesis and objectives, is a necessary key step in producing clinically relevant results to be used in evidence-based practice. A well-defined and specific research question is more likely to help guide us in making decisions about study design and population and subsequently what data will be collected and analyzed. 1

Objectives of this article

In this article, we discuss important considerations in the development of a research question and hypothesis and in defining objectives for research. By the end of this article, the reader will be able to appreciate the significance of constructing a good research question and developing hypotheses and research objectives for the successful design of a research study. The following article is divided into 3 sections: research question, research hypothesis and research objectives.

Research question

Interest in a particular topic usually begins the research process, but it is the familiarity with the subject that helps define an appropriate research question for a study. 1 Questions then arise out of a perceived knowledge deficit within a subject area or field of study. 2 Indeed, Haynes suggests that it is important to know “where the boundary between current knowledge and ignorance lies.” 1 The challenge in developing an appropriate research question is in determining which clinical uncertainties could or should be studied and also rationalizing the need for their investigation.

Increasing one’s knowledge about the subject of interest can be accomplished in many ways. Appropriate methods include systematically searching the literature, in-depth interviews and focus groups with patients (and proxies) and interviews with experts in the field. In addition, awareness of current trends and technological advances can assist with the development of research questions. 2 It is imperative to understand what has been studied about a topic to date in order to further the knowledge that has been previously gathered on a topic. Indeed, some granting institutions (e.g., Canadian Institute for Health Research) encourage applicants to conduct a systematic review of the available evidence if a recent review does not already exist and preferably a pilot or feasibility study before applying for a grant for a full trial.

In-depth knowledge about a subject may generate a number of questions. It then becomes necessary to ask whether these questions can be answered through one study or if more than one study needed. 1 Additional research questions can be developed, but several basic principles should be taken into consideration. 1 All questions, primary and secondary, should be developed at the beginning and planning stages of a study. Any additional questions should never compromise the primary question because it is the primary research question that forms the basis of the hypothesis and study objectives. It must be kept in mind that within the scope of one study, the presence of a number of research questions will affect and potentially increase the complexity of both the study design and subsequent statistical analyses, not to mention the actual feasibility of answering every question. 1 A sensible strategy is to establish a single primary research question around which to focus the study plan. 3 In a study, the primary research question should be clearly stated at the end of the introduction of the grant proposal, and it usually specifies the population to be studied, the intervention to be implemented and other circumstantial factors. 4

Hulley and colleagues 2 have suggested the use of the FINER criteria in the development of a good research question ( Box 1 ). The FINER criteria highlight useful points that may increase the chances of developing a successful research project. A good research question should specify the population of interest, be of interest to the scientific community and potentially to the public, have clinical relevance and further current knowledge in the field (and of course be compliant with the standards of ethical boards and national research standards).

FINER criteria for a good research question

Adapted with permission from Wolters Kluwer Health. 2

Whereas the FINER criteria outline the important aspects of the question in general, a useful format to use in the development of a specific research question is the PICO format — consider the population (P) of interest, the intervention (I) being studied, the comparison (C) group (or to what is the intervention being compared) and the outcome of interest (O). 3 , 5 , 6 Often timing (T) is added to PICO ( Box 2 ) — that is, “Over what time frame will the study take place?” 1 The PICOT approach helps generate a question that aids in constructing the framework of the study and subsequently in protocol development by alluding to the inclusion and exclusion criteria and identifying the groups of patients to be included. Knowing the specific population of interest, intervention (and comparator) and outcome of interest may also help the researcher identify an appropriate outcome measurement tool. 7 The more defined the population of interest, and thus the more stringent the inclusion and exclusion criteria, the greater the effect on the interpretation and subsequent applicability and generalizability of the research findings. 1 , 2 A restricted study population (and exclusion criteria) may limit bias and increase the internal validity of the study; however, this approach will limit external validity of the study and, thus, the generalizability of the findings to the practical clinical setting. Conversely, a broadly defined study population and inclusion criteria may be representative of practical clinical practice but may increase bias and reduce the internal validity of the study.

PICOT criteria 1

A poorly devised research question may affect the choice of study design, potentially lead to futile situations and, thus, hamper the chance of determining anything of clinical significance, which will then affect the potential for publication. Without devoting appropriate resources to developing the research question, the quality of the study and subsequent results may be compromised. During the initial stages of any research study, it is therefore imperative to formulate a research question that is both clinically relevant and answerable.

Research hypothesis

The primary research question should be driven by the hypothesis rather than the data. 1 , 2 That is, the research question and hypothesis should be developed before the start of the study. This sounds intuitive; however, if we take, for example, a database of information, it is potentially possible to perform multiple statistical comparisons of groups within the database to find a statistically significant association. This could then lead one to work backward from the data and develop the “question.” This is counterintuitive to the process because the question is asked specifically to then find the answer, thus collecting data along the way (i.e., in a prospective manner). Multiple statistical testing of associations from data previously collected could potentially lead to spuriously positive findings of association through chance alone. 2 Therefore, a good hypothesis must be based on a good research question at the start of a trial and, indeed, drive data collection for the study.

The research or clinical hypothesis is developed from the research question and then the main elements of the study — sampling strategy, intervention (if applicable), comparison and outcome variables — are summarized in a form that establishes the basis for testing, statistical and ultimately clinical significance. 3 For example, in a research study comparing computer-assisted acetabular component insertion versus freehand acetabular component placement in patients in need of total hip arthroplasty, the experimental group would be computer-assisted insertion and the control/conventional group would be free-hand placement. The investigative team would first state a research hypothesis. This could be expressed as a single outcome (e.g., computer-assisted acetabular component placement leads to improved functional outcome) or potentially as a complex/composite outcome; that is, more than one outcome (e.g., computer-assisted acetabular component placement leads to both improved radiographic cup placement and improved functional outcome).

However, when formally testing statistical significance, the hypothesis should be stated as a “null” hypothesis. 2 The purpose of hypothesis testing is to make an inference about the population of interest on the basis of a random sample taken from that population. The null hypothesis for the preceding research hypothesis then would be that there is no difference in mean functional outcome between the computer-assisted insertion and free-hand placement techniques. After forming the null hypothesis, the researchers would form an alternate hypothesis stating the nature of the difference, if it should appear. The alternate hypothesis would be that there is a difference in mean functional outcome between these techniques. At the end of the study, the null hypothesis is then tested statistically. If the findings of the study are not statistically significant (i.e., there is no difference in functional outcome between the groups in a statistical sense), we cannot reject the null hypothesis, whereas if the findings were significant, we can reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternate hypothesis (i.e., there is a difference in mean functional outcome between the study groups), errors in testing notwithstanding. In other words, hypothesis testing confirms or refutes the statement that the observed findings did not occur by chance alone but rather occurred because there was a true difference in outcomes between these surgical procedures. The concept of statistical hypothesis testing is complex, and the details are beyond the scope of this article.

Another important concept inherent in hypothesis testing is whether the hypotheses will be 1-sided or 2-sided. A 2-sided hypothesis states that there is a difference between the experimental group and the control group, but it does not specify in advance the expected direction of the difference. For example, we asked whether there is there an improvement in outcomes with computer-assisted surgery or whether the outcomes worse with computer-assisted surgery. We presented a 2-sided test in the above example because we did not specify the direction of the difference. A 1-sided hypothesis states a specific direction (e.g., there is an improvement in outcomes with computer-assisted surgery). A 2-sided hypothesis should be used unless there is a good justification for using a 1-sided hypothesis. As Bland and Atlman 8 stated, “One-sided hypothesis testing should never be used as a device to make a conventionally nonsignificant difference significant.”

The research hypothesis should be stated at the beginning of the study to guide the objectives for research. Whereas the investigators may state the hypothesis as being 1-sided (there is an improvement with treatment), the study and investigators must adhere to the concept of clinical equipoise. According to this principle, a clinical (or surgical) trial is ethical only if the expert community is uncertain about the relative therapeutic merits of the experimental and control groups being evaluated. 9 It means there must exist an honest and professional disagreement among expert clinicians about the preferred treatment. 9

Designing a research hypothesis is supported by a good research question and will influence the type of research design for the study. Acting on the principles of appropriate hypothesis development, the study can then confidently proceed to the development of the research objective.

Research objective

The primary objective should be coupled with the hypothesis of the study. Study objectives define the specific aims of the study and should be clearly stated in the introduction of the research protocol. 7 From our previous example and using the investigative hypothesis that there is a difference in functional outcomes between computer-assisted acetabular component placement and free-hand placement, the primary objective can be stated as follows: this study will compare the functional outcomes of computer-assisted acetabular component insertion versus free-hand placement in patients undergoing total hip arthroplasty. Note that the study objective is an active statement about how the study is going to answer the specific research question. Objectives can (and often do) state exactly which outcome measures are going to be used within their statements. They are important because they not only help guide the development of the protocol and design of study but also play a role in sample size calculations and determining the power of the study. 7 These concepts will be discussed in other articles in this series.

From the surgeon’s point of view, it is important for the study objectives to be focused on outcomes that are important to patients and clinically relevant. For example, the most methodologically sound randomized controlled trial comparing 2 techniques of distal radial fixation would have little or no clinical impact if the primary objective was to determine the effect of treatment A as compared to treatment B on intraoperative fluoroscopy time. However, if the objective was to determine the effect of treatment A as compared to treatment B on patient functional outcome at 1 year, this would have a much more significant impact on clinical decision-making. Second, more meaningful surgeon–patient discussions could ensue, incorporating patient values and preferences with the results from this study. 6 , 7 It is the precise objective and what the investigator is trying to measure that is of clinical relevance in the practical setting.

The following is an example from the literature about the relation between the research question, hypothesis and study objectives:

Study: Warden SJ, Metcalf BR, Kiss ZS, et al. Low-intensity pulsed ultrasound for chronic patellar tendinopathy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Rheumatology 2008;47:467–71.

Research question: How does low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) compare with a placebo device in managing the symptoms of skeletally mature patients with patellar tendinopathy?

Research hypothesis: Pain levels are reduced in patients who receive daily active-LIPUS (treatment) for 12 weeks compared with individuals who receive inactive-LIPUS (placebo).

Objective: To investigate the clinical efficacy of LIPUS in the management of patellar tendinopathy symptoms.

The development of the research question is the most important aspect of a research project. A research project can fail if the objectives and hypothesis are poorly focused and underdeveloped. Useful tips for surgical researchers are provided in Box 3 . Designing and developing an appropriate and relevant research question, hypothesis and objectives can be a difficult task. The critical appraisal of the research question used in a study is vital to the application of the findings to clinical practice. Focusing resources, time and dedication to these 3 very important tasks will help to guide a successful research project, influence interpretation of the results and affect future publication efforts.

Tips for developing research questions, hypotheses and objectives for research studies

  • Perform a systematic literature review (if one has not been done) to increase knowledge and familiarity with the topic and to assist with research development.
  • Learn about current trends and technological advances on the topic.
  • Seek careful input from experts, mentors, colleagues and collaborators to refine your research question as this will aid in developing the research question and guide the research study.
  • Use the FINER criteria in the development of the research question.
  • Ensure that the research question follows PICOT format.
  • Develop a research hypothesis from the research question.
  • Develop clear and well-defined primary and secondary (if needed) objectives.
  • Ensure that the research question and objectives are answerable, feasible and clinically relevant.

FINER = feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant; PICOT = population (patients), intervention (for intervention studies only), comparison group, outcome of interest, time.

Competing interests: No funding was received in preparation of this paper. Dr. Bhandari was funded, in part, by a Canada Research Chair, McMaster University.

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The Research Process

  • Stormy M. Monks 6 &
  • Rachel Bailey 7  
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Research is a process that requires not only time but considerable effort. Research is intended to answer a specific question that is pertinent to a field of study. The research question or study purpose determines the type of research approach taken. Prior to conducting research, it is important to determine if the research must be approved by an institutional review board to ensure that it is being conducted in an ethically sound manner. After the study implementation, the researcher has the obligation to write about the research process. This assists other researchers by providing additional knowledge to the literature surrounding the research topic.

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Huang X, Lin J, Demner-Fushman D, editors. Evaluation of PICO as a knowledge representation for clinical questions. AMIA annual symposium proceedings, American Medical Informatics Association; 2006.

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Schulz KF, Altman DG, Moher D. CONSORT 2010 statement: updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomised trials. BMC Med. 2010;8(1):18.

Gastel B, Day RA. How to write and publish a scientific paper. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO; 2016.

Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Program. 2000. Available from:

US Department of Health and Human Services. The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 45. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 1979.

Bem D. Writing the empirical journal article. In: Darley JM, Zanna MP, Roediger III HL, editors. The compleat academic: a practical guide for the beginning social scientist. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association (APA); 2004.

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SciSpace Resources

How To Write a Research Question

Deeptanshu D

Academic writing and research require a distinct focus and direction. A well-designed research question gives purpose and clarity to your research. In addition, it helps your readers understand the issue you are trying to address and explore.

Every time you want to know more about a subject, you will pose a question. The same idea is used in research as well. You must pose a question in order to effectively address a research problem. That's why the research question is an integral part of the research process. Additionally, it offers the author writing and reading guidelines, be it qualitative research or quantitative research.

In your research paper , you must single out just one issue or problem. The specific issue or claim you wish to address should be included in your thesis statement in order to clarify your main argument.

A good research question must have the following characteristics.

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

  • Should include only one problem in the research question
  • Should be able to find the answer using primary data and secondary data sources
  • Should be possible to resolve within the given time and other constraints
  • Detailed and in-depth results should be achievable
  • Should be relevant and realistic.
  • It should relate to your chosen area of research

While a larger project, like a thesis, might have several research questions to address, each one should be directed at your main area of study. Of course, you can use different research designs and research methods (qualitative research or quantitative research) to address various research questions. However, they must all be pertinent to the study's objectives.

What is a Research Question?


A research question is an inquiry that the research attempts to answer. It is the heart of the systematic investigation. Research questions are the most important step in any research project. In essence, it initiates the research project and establishes the pace for the specific research A research question is:

  • Clear : It provides enough detail that the audience understands its purpose without any additional explanation.
  • Focused : It is so specific that it can be addressed within the time constraints of the writing task.
  • Succinct: It is written in the shortest possible words.
  • Complex : It is not possible to answer it with a "yes" or "no", but requires analysis and synthesis of ideas before somebody can create a solution.
  • Argumental : Its potential answers are open for debate rather than accepted facts.

A good research question usually focuses on the research and determines the research design, methodology, and hypothesis. It guides all phases of inquiry, data collection, analysis, and reporting. You should gather valuable information by asking the right questions.

Why are Research Questions so important?

Regardless of whether it is a qualitative research or quantitative research project, research questions provide writers and their audience with a way to navigate the writing and research process. Writers can avoid "all-about" papers by asking straightforward and specific research questions that help them focus on their research and support a specific thesis.

Types of Research Questions


There are two types of research: Qualitative research and Quantitative research . There must be research questions for every type of research. Your research question will be based on the type of research you want to conduct and the type of data collection.

The first step in designing research involves identifying a gap and creating a focused research question.

Below is a list of common research questions that can be used in a dissertation. Keep in mind that these are merely illustrations of typical research questions used in dissertation projects. The real research questions themselves might be more difficult.

Example Research Questions


The following are a few examples of research questions and research problems to help you understand how research questions can be created for a particular research problem.

Steps to Write Research Questions


You can focus on the issue or research gaps you're attempting to solve by using the research questions as a direction.

If you're unsure how to go about writing a good research question, these are the steps to follow in the process:

  • Select an interesting topic Always choose a topic that interests you. Because if your curiosity isn’t aroused by a subject, you’ll have a hard time conducting research around it. Alos, it’s better that you pick something that’s neither too narrow or too broad.
  • Do preliminary research on the topic Search for relevant literature to gauge what problems have already been tackled by scholars. You can do that conveniently through repositories like Scispace , where you’ll find millions of papers in one place. Once you do find the papers you’re looking for, try our reading assistant, SciSpace Copilot to get simple explanations for the paper . You’ll be able to quickly understand the abstract, find the key takeaways, and the main arguments presented in the paper. This will give you a more contextual understanding of your subject and you’ll have an easier time identifying knowledge gaps in your discipline.

     Also: ChatPDF vs. SciSpace Copilot: Unveiling the best tool for your research

  • Consider your audience It is essential to understand your audience to develop focused research questions for essays or dissertations. When narrowing down your topic, you can identify aspects that might interest your audience.
  • Ask questions Asking questions will give you a deeper understanding of the topic. Evaluate your question through the What, Why, When, How, and other open-ended questions assessment.
  • Assess your question Once you have created a research question, assess its effectiveness to determine if it is useful for the purpose. Refine and revise the dissertation research question multiple times.

Additionally, use this list of questions as a guide when formulating your research question.

Are you able to answer a specific research question? After identifying a gap in research, it would be helpful to formulate the research question. And this will allow the research to solve a part of the problem. Is your research question clear and centered on the main topic? It is important that your research question should be specific and related to your central goal. Are you tackling a difficult research question? It is not possible to answer the research question with a simple yes or no. The problem requires in-depth analysis. It is often started with "How" and "Why."

Start your research Once you have completed your dissertation research questions, it is time to review the literature on similar topics to discover different perspectives.

Strong  Research Question Samples

Uncertain: How should social networking sites work on the hatred that flows through their platform?

Certain: What should social media sites like Twitter or Facebook do to address the harm they are causing?

This unclear question does not specify the social networking sites that are being used or what harm they might be causing. In addition, this question assumes that the "harm" has been proven and/or accepted. This version is more specific and identifies the sites (Twitter, Facebook), the type and extent of harm (privacy concerns), and who might be suffering from that harm (users). Effective research questions should not be ambiguous or interpreted.

Unfocused: What are the effects of global warming on the environment?

Focused: What are the most important effects of glacial melting in Antarctica on penguins' lives?

This broad research question cannot be addressed in a book, let alone a college-level paper. Focused research targets a specific effect of global heating (glacial  melting), an area (Antarctica), or a specific animal (penguins). The writer must also decide which effect will have the greatest impact on the animals affected. If in doubt, narrow down your research question to the most specific possible.

Too Simple: What are the U.S. doctors doing to treat diabetes?

Appropriately complex: Which factors, if any, are most likely to predict a person's risk of developing diabetes?

This simple version can be found online. It is easy to answer with a few facts. The second, more complicated version of this question is divided into two parts. It is thought-provoking and requires extensive investigation as well as evaluation by the author. So, ensure that a quick Google search should not answer your research question.

How to write a strong Research Question?


The foundation of all research is the research question. You should therefore spend as much time as necessary to refine your research question based on various data.

You can conduct your research more efficiently and analyze your results better if you have great research questions for your dissertation, research paper , or essay .

The following criteria can help you evaluate the strength and importance of your research question and can be used to determine the strength of your research question:

  • Researchable
  • It should only cover one issue.
  • A subjective judgment should not be included in the question.
  • It can be answered with data analysis and research.
  • Specific and Practical
  • It should not contain a plan of action, policy, or solution.
  • It should be clearly defined
  • Within research limits
  • Complex and Arguable
  • It shouldn't be difficult to answer.
  • To find the truth, you need in-depth knowledge
  • Allows for discussion and deliberation
  • Original and Relevant
  • It should be in your area of study
  • Its results should be measurable
  • It should be original

Conclusion - How to write Research Questions?

Research questions provide a clear guideline for research. One research question may be part of a larger project, such as a dissertation. However, each question should only focus on one topic.

Research questions must be answerable, practical, specific, and applicable to your field. The research type that you use to base your research questions on will determine the research topic. You can start by selecting an interesting topic and doing preliminary research. Then, you can begin asking questions, evaluating your questions, and start your research.

Now it's easier than ever to streamline your research workflow with SciSpace ResearchGPT . Its integrated, comprehensive end-to-end platform for research allows scholars to easily discover, read, write and publish their research and fosters collaboration.

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

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Enago Academy

Research Aims and Objectives: The dynamic duo for successful research

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Picture yourself on a road trip without a destination in mind — driving aimlessly, not knowing where you’re headed or how to get there. Similarly, your research is navigated by well-defined research aims and objectives. Research aims and objectives are the foundation of any research project. They provide a clear direction and purpose for the study, ensuring that you stay focused and on track throughout the process. They are your trusted navigational tools, leading you to success.

Understanding the relationship between research objectives and aims is crucial to any research project’s success, and we’re here to break it down for you in this article. Here, we’ll explore the importance of research aims and objectives, understand their differences, and delve into the impact they have on the quality of research.

Understanding the Difference between Research Aims and Objectives

In research, aims and objectives are two important components but are often used interchangeably. Though they may sound similar, they are distinct and serve different purposes.

Research Aims:

Research aims are broad statements that describe the overall purpose of your study. They provide a general direction for your study and indicate the intended achievements of your research. Aims are usually written in a general and abstract manner describing the ultimate goal of the research.

Research Objectives:

Research objectives are specific, measurable, and achievable goals that you aim to accomplish within a specified timeframe. They break down the research aims into smaller, more manageable components and provide a clear picture of what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it.

the research purpose should not be clearly defined

In the example, the objectives provide specific targets that must be achieved to reach the aim. Essentially, aims provide the overall direction for the research while objectives provide specific targets that must be achieved to accomplish the aims. Aims provide a broad context for the research, while the objectives provide smaller steps that the researcher must take to accomplish the overall research goals. To illustrate, when planning a road trip, your research aim is the destination you want to reach, and your research objectives are the specific routes you need to take to get there.

Aims and objectives are interconnected. Objectives play a key role in defining the research methodology, providing a roadmap for how you’ll collect and analyze data, while aim is the final destination, which represents the ultimate goal of your research. By setting specific goals, you’ll be able to design a research plan that helps you achieve your objectives and, ultimately, your research aim.

Importance of Well-defined Aims and Objectives

The impact of clear research aims and objectives on the quality of research cannot be understated. But it’s not enough to simply have aims and objectives. Well-defined research aims and objectives are important for several reasons:

  • Provides direction: Clear aims and well-defined objectives provide a specific direction for your research study, ensuring that the research stays focused on a specific topic or problem. This helps to prevent the research from becoming too broad or unfocused, and ensures that the study remains relevant and meaningful.
  • Guides research design: The research aim and objectives help guide the research design and methodology, ensuring that your study is designed in a way that will answer the research questions and achieve the research objectives.
  • Helps with resource allocation: Clear research aims and objectives helps you to allocate resources effectively , including time, financial resources, human resources, and other required materials. With a well-defined aim and objectives, you can identify the resources required to conduct the research, and allocate them in a way that maximizes efficiency and productivity.
  • Assists in evaluation: Clearly specified research aims and objectives allow for effective evaluation of your research project’s success. You can assess whether the research has achieved its objectives, and whether the aim has been met. This evaluation process can help to identify areas of the research project that may require further attention or modification.
  • Enhances communication: Well-defined research aims and objectives help to enhance communication among the research team, stakeholders, funding agencies, and other interested parties. Clear aims and objectives ensure that everyone involved in your research project understands the purpose and goals of the study. This can help to foster collaboration and ensure that everyone is working towards the same end goal.

How to Formulate Research Aims and Objectives

Formulating effective research aims and objectives involves a systematic process to ensure that they are clear, specific, achievable, and relevant. Start by asking yourself what you want to achieve through your research. What impact do you want your research to have? Once you have a clear understanding of your aims, you can then break them down into specific, achievable objectives. Here are some steps you can follow when developing research aims and objectives:

  • Identify the research question : Clearly identify the questions you want to answer through your research. This will help you define the scope of your research. Understanding the characteristics of a good research question will help you generate clearer aims and objectives.
  • Conduct literature review : When defining your research aim and objectives, it’s important to conduct a literature review to identify key concepts, theories, and methods related to your research problem or question. Conducting a thorough literature review can help you understand what research has been done in the area and what gaps exist in the literature.
  • Identify the research aim: Develop a research aim that summarizes the overarching goal of your research. The research aim should be broad and concise.
  • Develop research objectives: Based on your research questions and research aim, develop specific research objectives that outline what you intend to achieve through your research. These objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
  • Use action verbs: Use action verbs such as “investigate,” “examine,” “analyze,” and “compare” to describe your research aims and objectives. This makes them more specific and measurable.
  • Ensure alignment with research question: Ensure that the research aim and objectives are aligned with the research question. This helps to ensure that the research remains focused and that the objectives are specific enough to answer your research question.
  • Refine and revise: Once the research aim and objectives have been developed, refine and revise them as needed. Seek feedback from your colleagues, mentors, or supervisors to ensure that they are clear, concise, and achievable within the given resources and timeframe.
  • Communicate: After finalizing the research aim and objectives, they should be communicated to the research team, stakeholders, and other interested parties. This helps to ensure that everyone is working towards the same end goal and understands the purpose of the study.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid While Formulating Aims and Objectives

There are several common mistakes that researchers can make when writing research aims and objectives. These include:

  • Being too broad or vague: Aims and objectives that are too general or unclear can lead to confusion and lack of focus. It is important to ensure that the aims and objectives are concise and clear.
  • Being too narrow or specific: On the other hand, aims and objectives that are too narrow or specific may limit the scope of the research and make it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions or implications.
  • Being too ambitious: While it is important to aim high, being too ambitious with the aims and objectives can lead to unrealistic expectations and can be difficult to achieve within the constraints of the research project.
  • Lack of alignment: The aims and objectives should be directly linked to the research questions being investigated. Otherwise, this will lead to a lack of coherence in the research project.
  • Lack of feasibility: The aims and objectives should be achievable within the constraints of the research project, including time, budget, and resources. Failing to consider feasibility may cause compromise of the research quality.
  • Failing to consider ethical considerations: The aims and objectives should take into account any ethical considerations, such as ensuring the safety and well-being of study participants.
  • Failing to involve all stakeholders: It’s important to involve all relevant stakeholders, such as participants, supervisors, and funding agencies, in the development of the aims and objectives to ensure they are appropriate and relevant.

To avoid these common pitfalls, it is important to be specific, clear, relevant, and realistic when writing research aims and objectives. Seek feedback from colleagues or supervisors to ensure that the aims and objectives are aligned with the research problem , questions, and methodology, and are achievable within the constraints of the research project. It’s important to continually refine your aims and objectives as you go. As you progress in your research, it’s not uncommon for research aims and objectives to evolve slightly, but it’s important that they remain consistent with the study conducted and the research topic.

In summary, research aims and objectives are the backbone of any successful research project. They give you the ability to cut through the noise and hone in on what really matters. By setting clear goals and aligning them with your research questions and methodology, you can ensure that your research is 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. Let us know in the comments section below the challenges you faced and the strategies you followed while fomulating research aims and objectives! Also, feel free to reach out to us at any stage of your research or publication by using #AskEnago  and tagging @EnagoAcademy on Twitter , Facebook , and Quora . Happy researching!

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Understanding the Purpose and Structure of a Research Proposal

Understanding the Purpose and Structure of a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a key component in the planning and execution of a research project. It provides a tentative framework and proposes the methods and resources that will be used to conduct the research. This essential document outlines the purpose, scope, and expected findings of the research, and serves as a guide for both the researcher and the audience.

When writing a research proposal, it is important to include a literature review that summarizes the existing knowledge in the field, as well as the gaps that the proposed research aims to fill. The audience for the proposal can range from non-experts to those who are familiar with the subject matter, so it is crucial to strike a balance between providing enough information for understanding, without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details.

One of the most important aspects of a research proposal is convincing the reviewers or funding agencies of the significance and originality of the proposed research. This can be achieved by clearly articulating the purpose and objectives of the study, as well as by providing compelling examples or samples of the expected outcomes. Reviewers are typically looking for tangible and achievable takeaways, which can have a societal impact, such as improving public welfare or advancing knowledge in a particular field.

Before submitting your research proposal, it is crucial to review it carefully and ensure that it meets all the necessary criteria and expectations. Consider seeking feedback from mentors, colleagues, or advisors, who can provide valuable insights and help refine your proposal. By working together and utilizing the available resources, you can create a well-structured and convincing research proposal that has a higher chance of securing the desired funding or support.

So, if you’re planning on writing a research proposal, remember to familiarize yourself with the guidelines of your university or funding agency, consider the needs and expectations of your audience, and gather the necessary resources to support your proposal. With a well-structured and convincing research proposal, you’ll be one step closer to making meaningful contributions to your field of study.

Exploring the Key Components

2. objectives and research questions:.

Next, the proposal should include a concise statement of the objectives of the research and the specific questions you intend to answer. These objectives and research questions will guide your research process and help reviewers understand the scope of your proposed study.

3. Literature Review:

A literature review goes through existing research and other relevant sources to explore what has already been written about the topic or problem you are investigating. This section demonstrates your understanding of the existing knowledge in the field and shows how your proposed research will contribute to it.

4. Methodology:

The methodology section explains how you plan to conduct your research. It includes details on the data collection methods, such as surveys or interviews, as well as the analysis techniques you will use to interpret the data. This section should convince reviewers that your research process is rigorous and likely to yield quality results.

5. Timeline and Resources:

In this section, you will provide a tentative timeline for the different stages of your research project. You should also outline the resources you will need, such as funding, equipment, or access to specific facilities. This can help reviewers understand the feasibility and practical requirements of your research.

6. Expected Outcomes:

Here, you will explain the potential outcomes of your research and how they will contribute to the existing body of knowledge. This could include new insights, practical applications, or policy implications. Clearly stating the expected outcomes demonstrates the value and relevance of your proposed research.

By understanding and including these key components in your research proposal, you can provide a clear and convincing argument for why your project should be funded or supported. Keep in mind that each department or university may have its own guidelines and expectations for research proposals, so be sure to review any department-specific requirements before starting your proposal.

Articulating Research Objectives and Questions

The purpose and importance.

The research objectives and questions set the tone for the entire research journey. They provide a clear statement of what the researcher wishes to accomplish with the study and what problem they aim to address. Articulating these objectives and questions is crucial as it helps the researcher to stay focused and ensures that the research is conducted in a structured manner.

In addition, clear research objectives and questions help the researcher convince the audience, whether it be funding agencies, university departments, or thesis supervisors, that the study is worth pursuing. By clearly outlining the purpose and expectations of the research, the researcher can promote their findings and demonstrate the potential impact of their work.

The Basics of Developing Objectives and Questions

When working on research proposals, it is important to consider several key points:

  • The research objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). This ensures that the objectives are well-defined and can be effectively addressed within the proposed research timeframe.
  • The research questions should be clear, concise, and aligned with the research objectives. They should guide the researcher in gathering the necessary data and provide a framework for analysis.
  • The objectives and questions should be tailored to the sponsoring program or institution. Some funding agencies, such as the Tri-Council in Canada, may have specific guidelines and criteria that need to be met.
  • Providing examples and samples can be helpful, especially when writing for non-experts. These can illustrate how the objectives and questions are aligned with the research purpose and can aid in understanding the structure and language of the proposal.

Incorporating these considerations into the research proposal will ensure that the objectives and questions are well thought out and convincing to the intended audience.

An Example Structure

To give an overview of how research objectives and questions can be presented, here is a sample structure:

By structuring the research proposal in this way, the objectives and questions are more likely to be well-organized and compelling to reviewers or evaluators.

Designing a Methodology for Effective Data Collection

The methodology section should start with a clear statement of the research problem, followed by an overview of the specific objectives of your study. This section should also include a timeline that outlines the expected duration of each stage of the data collection process.

When designing your methodology, it’s important to consider the resources and subjects available to you. You should clearly explain what data you plan to collect, how you will collect it, and why these methods are appropriate for your study. Depending on the nature of your research, you might consider using surveys, interviews, experiments, or observations.

It’s also important to consider department-specific guidelines or expectations when developing your methodology. Different disciplines or departments may have different approaches to data collection, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with any specific requirements that your university or department may have.

In addition, if you are seeking funding for your research, you may need to consider any specific guidelines set forth by the sponsoring organization. For example, if you are applying for funding from a government agency like the Tri-Council, there may be additional requirements or expectations that you need to meet.

Your methodology should also address how you will ensure the ethical treatment of your research subjects and the protection of their privacy. This may include obtaining informed consent, anonymizing data, or obtaining approval from an ethics review board.

In summary, designing an effective methodology for data collection is a critical part of any research proposal. It outlines how you will gather the information needed to answer your research question, and it provides a roadmap for your project. By clearly explaining your methods, considering departmental and ethical guidelines, and outlining your data analysis plan, you can convince others that your research is well-designed and will produce meaningful findings.

Need a Helping Hand?

At [University’s name], we understand the importance of a well-written research proposal. A research proposal not only outlines your research goals and objectives but also serves as a key document to persuade funding foundations and gain support for your project.

The purpose of a research proposal is to clearly explain what you propose to research, why it is important, and how you plan to carry out the research. It provides an overview of the structure and sections that are typically found in a research proposal.

If you’re unsure of how to begin, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Below are some frequently asked questions and handouts that will help you get started:

  • What is a research proposal?
  • What are the key sections in a research proposal?
  • What are the expectations of my audience?
  • How do I write a clear and persuasive research proposal?
  • What information should be included in the literature review?
  • What methods should I propose to carry out the research?
  • How do I write a bibliography?
  • What tips can you provide for writing a high-quality research proposal?

Our department-specific handouts provide additional explanations and examples/samples that will help you write a research proposal tailored to your program and research needs.

Before you start writing your research proposal, it’s important to do some planning. Consider the purpose of your research, the social needs it might address, and how it will contribute to the welfare of society. Also, think about the funding sources you will need and why they should support your research.

So, if you’re ready to dive into the process of writing a research proposal, here’s a tentative structure to consider:

  • Literature Review: Summarize the key findings from existing research related to your topic.
  • Research Questions or Objectives: Clearly state the research questions or objectives of your study.
  • Methods: Describe the research methods you intend to use and explain why they are appropriate.
  • Timeline: Provide a timeline for each phase of your research project.
  • Expected Outcomes: Describe the expected outcomes of your research project and how they will contribute to the field.
  • Budget: Provide an overview of the funding you will need and how it will be allocated.

Remember, writing a research proposal is a multi-page task that requires careful planning and attention to detail. It’s essential to start early and allow enough time for revisions and improvements. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to seek help from experienced writers or your university’s writing center.

We hope this handout has provided you with a helpful overview of what a research proposal entails. Good luck with your research journey!

What is the purpose of a research proposal?

A research proposal outlines the planned research project and provides a detailed explanation of the objectives, methodology, expected outcomes, and potential significance of the study. It also serves as a roadmap for researchers, helping them gain approval and funding for their research.

Why is it important to understand the structure of a research proposal?

Understanding the structure of a research proposal allows researchers to organize their ideas and present them in a logical and coherent manner. It helps readers, such as reviewers and potential funders, navigate through the document and evaluate the feasibility and quality of the proposed research.

What are the essential components of a research proposal?

A research proposal typically includes a title, abstract, introduction, literature review, research objectives, methodology, timeline, expected outcomes, and references. These components provide a comprehensive overview of the research project and demonstrate the researcher’s ability to address a specific research problem.

How long should a research proposal be?

The length of a research proposal can vary depending on the requirements of the funding agency, academic institution, or research field. However, most research proposals are around 10-20 pages long, excluding references and appendices.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal?

Some common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal include lack of clarity in research objectives, inadequate understanding of the existing literature, poor methodology or data collection techniques, unrealistic timelines or budget estimates, and failure to address potential ethical considerations.

A research proposal is a document that outlines the objective, methodology, and timeline for a research project. Its purpose is to convince the reader, usually a funding agency or an academic institution, of the importance and feasibility of the proposed research.

What are the key components of a research proposal?

A research proposal typically includes an introduction, literature review, research objectives, methodology, timeline, and budget. These components provide a comprehensive overview of the proposed research, showcasing its significance, research questions, methods, and anticipated outcomes.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California , and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.


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