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Getting started with understanding aims and dissertation objectives

If you need help with dissertation objectives, in this article you will learn:


Being a student can be the adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, adventures can be highly exciting and memorable or utter nightmares. This metaphor stretches itself out not just to being a student but to writing a dissertation too. Do your homework and get super organised and it can be inspiring and enjoyable but skim over understanding how to do it and forget organisation and it can turn into a horror movie in your mind.

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Bearing this in mind, it is, therefore, really important to work out what the aims and objectives of your dissertation are. To do this, you should allow ample time and effort to pick effective ones. It can be tempting to have a tick list for your dissertation and zoom through each stage as quickly as possible so that you can get it over and hand it in. This won’t help you in the long run but if you are determined to get through it quickly, you should stop and take time to really think about your dissertation aim and objectives. These are important because they are the keystone to your dissertation. If you get these right, you have a strong base to work on, get them wrong and you are creating a weak dissertation before you truly get started.

One of the major causes of confusion when writing a dissertation is distinguishing between aims and objectives. If you find yourself gulping and feeling nauseous, don’t worry – really – help is at hand. Let’s get aims out of the way first. An aim is what you wish to achieve overall. Basically, it is your research question or your hypothesis. For instance, Did Mary Shelley’s monster in ‘Frankenstein’ depict her longing to resurrect her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft?

Take your time choosing your research question because your dissertation is an important part of your degree and a lot of work will be going into it. You also need to ensure that the subject that you are researching hasn’t been done in huge quantities in the past because if it has, the chances of you discovering something new will be unlikely. Alternatively, you should also check that your subject isn’t so narrow that your research materials will be virtually non-existent.

An objective is how you are going to prove your aim. In other words, your objectives are the steps that you will take to reach your goal. Your objectives are, in reality, your sub questions. They will agree or disagree with your hypothesis or aim, thereby, helping you to prove your research question or disprove it. For instance, if we stay with our Mary Shelley question or aim, we could use the objectives below to help us to reach our overall goal.

  • Does any biographical evidence from Mary Shelley’s correspondence demonstrate the intensity of how much she missed the mother she had never met and how it has affected her writing?
  • Will a deconstruction of ‘Frankenstein’ offer any psychoanalytical evidence?
  • Have other theorists researched this? If not, why not. If so, what were their opinions?
  • Is your objective precise? Do you understand exactly what you hope to get from it?
  • You have to have clarity as to when you have reached your goal or answered your sub question. Will you be able to see that?
  • Can you realistically achieve the goal that you are trying to fulfil? It is better to be able to complete each small goal regularly than have a set of huge goals that prevent you from moving towards reaching your overall aim.
  • This next point is also to do with realism. We all can imagine ourselves doing magnificent research projects but you have to remember that your goals have to be achievable. Basically, you have to be able to have the time, skills and finances to ensure that you can complete each objective.
  • Researching, planning and writing your dissertation is not simply about how academic you are. It is also about how organised you are. This is often an overlooked and underestimated skill. Therefore, when you plan your dissertation objectives, you seriously need to consider the time restraints for each step. You may have the best piece of research your university department has ever witnessed but if it is never finished, you will not have a dissertation. Be time aware and organised with each objective.

Choosing your objectives is as important as choosing your aim. Your objectives will demonstrate that you understand how to conduct your research so that you are using the best questions to prove or disprove your hypothesis. If you use objectives that don’t do this or fit the above criteria, you could find your research project going in a different direction than you meant to move in. Alternatively, you could spend too much time on one objective and not move onto the others. This is why it is imperative that you take your time when choosing your objectives.

Once you have a definition of your objectives, you need to be clear about which research method you will use to answer each objective. It is imperative that you demonstrate an understanding of the techniques that you are using and why you are using them. In other words, don’t automatically assume that you will use the same research method for each objective or sub question that you are answering. In some cases, you may do. However, to ensure that you are doing your dissertation justice, it is better to work through each dissertation objective individually and ask yourself how is the best way to answer that specific question or reach that objective.

It is important that you are aware of the research methods that are used in the particular discipline that you are working on. For instance, if your field is Humanities you would wish to find comparisons, connections, irregularities and discontinuities in the texts that you are studying. Once you have made these discoveries, you can demonstrate how you will analyse them. Incidentally, it is always useful to make detailed notes as you work. Don’t be tempted to do a quick scribble and think you will remember what you mean. The chances are that you won’t remember or you may translate the scribble with the wrong meaning. This would create extra work for you overall.

If your discipline is Science or any other type of empirical study, then your dissertation objectives will be answered by collecting data. For instance, if you were researching and writing a dissertation that was exploring the effects of exercise on children with Autism, you might answer your objectives or sub questions by using observations, interviews and questionnaires.

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