Writing Dissertations

All the elements needed for a successful dissertation.

Dissertation proposals

Aims and objectives

The primary focus of your research project is usually expressed in terms of aims and objectives.

Many students find it difficult to understand the difference between aims and objectives.  However, in the academic context there is a clear distinction between these terms.

Aim =  what you hope to achieve.
Objective = the action(s) you will take in order to achieve the aim.

Aims are statements of intent. They are usually written in broad terms. They set out what you hope to achieve at the end of the project.

Objectives, on the other hand, should be specific statements that define measurable outcomes, e.g. what steps will be taken to achieve the desired outcome.
When writing your objectives try to use strong positive statements.

Strong verbs - collect, construct, classify, develop, devise, measure, produce, revise, select, synthesise

Weak verbs - appreciate, consider, enquire, learn, know, understand, be aware of, appreciate, listen, perceive

Objectives should also be S.M.A.R.T. - which means they should be:
Specific – be precise about what you are going to do
Measureable –you will know when you have reached your goal
Achievable – Don’t attempt too much – a less ambitious but completed objective is better than an over-ambitious one that you cannot possible achieve.
Realistic – do you have the necessary resources to achieve the objective – time, money, skills, etc.
Time constrained – determine when each stage needs to be completed. Is there time in your schedule to allow for unexpected delays.

How many aims or objectives should there be?

Please check with your project supervisor. Some tutors are happy with one clear strong aim, while others like to see a main aim supported by at least two subsidiary aims.

Likewise, there is no fixed number of objectives but you will be required to produce sufficient objectives to be able to measure progress towards meeting the aim/s.

Example of aim and objectives

To investigate the relationship between tectonic-plate movement and the gravitational effect of the alignment of the major planets.

  • Data sets will be extracted from the known historical record of tectonic-plate movement
  • Data sets will be extracted from astronomical tables detailing the various alignments of the major planets covering the same period as data from the geological record.
  • The data from both sets will be synthesised to establish if correlation points exist between major geological events and planetary alignments.

The next page covers what will be expected in your methodology.