13.4.2 Research objectives
The final part of clarifying your research project involves thinking in more detail about your research objectives. Research objectives should be closely related to the statement of the problem and summarise what you hope will be achieved by the study. For example, if the problem identified is low utilisation of antenatal care services, the general objective of the study could be to identify the reasons for this low uptake, in order to find ways of improving it.
Writing your research objectives clearly helps to:
- Define the focus of your study
- Clearly identify variables to be measured
- Indicate the various steps to be involved
- Establish the limits of the study
- Avoid collection of any data that is not strictly necessary.
What do you think might happen if you started a research project, but hadn’t written any clear research objectives?
Without clearly written research objectives, you might be confused about the limits of the study, what data should be collected, or how to conduct the research.
Objectives can be general or specific. The general objective of your study states what you expect to achieve in general terms. Specific objectives break down the general objective into smaller, logically connected parts that systematically address the various aspects of the problem. Your specific objectives should specify exactly what you will do in each phase of your study, how, where, when and for what purpose.
How should your objectives be stated?
Your objectives should be stated using action verbs that are specific enough to be measured, for example: to compare, to calculate, to assess, to determine, to verify, to calculate, to describe, to explain, etc. Avoid the use of vague non-active verbs such as: to appreciate, to understand, to believe, to study, etc., because it is difficult to evaluate whether they have been achieved.
Case Study 13.3 General and specific objectives for a counselling project
A research study designed to assess the accessibility and acceptability of the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Services for HIV infection in kebele X had the following general and specific objectives:
General objective: To identify factors that affects the acceptability of VCT services and to assess community attitudes towards comprehensive care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
- To assess the knowledge, attitude and practice of the community towards HIV/AIDS and VCT services.
- To identify barriers and concerns related to VCT and its uptake.
- To assess the awareness and perception of the study community regarding comprehensive care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
What is the difference between the specific objectives and the general objective of a research project? You can use the example in Case Study 13.3 to help you answer this question.
Specific objectives are detailed objectives that describe what will be researched during the study, whereas the general objective is a much broader statement about what the study aims to achieve overall.
In the next study session, we will move on to teach you about research strategies and alternative study designs that you may choose to conduct for a small-scale research project in your community.