How to Establish Objectives for Ph.D. Research


Almost all professors at universities will tell you that you are expected to develop new knowledge, theories, processes, medication, etc. on doctoral level.

This would be the ideal. However, creating adding value to the existing knowledge and skills often take much longer than it would take to do research for a Ph. D.

Sometimes scientists stumble upon new knowledge, new inventions, new medicines or processes purely by chance.

Mostly, however, new discoveries require systematic research and gradual progress over a long period.

Therefore, study leaders and universities often accept a research report for a Ph. D. just because the students showed that they can do academic research on doctoral level.

Often universities accept a research report because they can see the potential of the student to conduct further research, perhaps as part of a research team of the university.

It is then that the student might develop something new.

Objectives for Ph. D. Research

Most students start with an idea, from which they will develop a topic, a title, a purpose, objectives and a research question, problem statement or hypothesis.

It would not be impossible to start at any point in this circle, depending on what you have been given or have identified.

These six elements impact on the selection of your research approach, research methods, paradigmatic approach, data collection methods, sampling methods, and data collection instrument development.

The verb that you choose for your research objectives will largely determine which research approach you will follow.

The following are examples of possible research objectives:

  1. To measure something.

Most likely a quantitative approach.

The examples of things that need to be measured are endless.

Examples – rainfall, changes in temperature over a period and at different places, lengths, weights, etc.

  • To test something.

Most likely a quantitative approach.

Medication can be tested, how people respond to treatment, the strength of concrete, the performance of people in many different fields, how people respond to certain impulses, events, etc.

  • To calculate something.

Most likely a quantitative approach.

Finances are often calculated for many different purposes.

Population numbers are counted, animal species after widespread fires in Australia, People who contracted and perhaps even perished because of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus are examples of such calculations.

  • To compare.

Most likely a quantitative approach.

Any competition has an element of comparison in it.

The performance of countries in almost any field can be compared.

Anything that can be measured can be compared for different places, times, etc.

  • To understand a real-world problem.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

Used to understand any threat to the well-being and survival of people.

  • To build knowledge and theory.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

It is guided by existing knowledge and theory in order to improve the existing knowledge and theory.

  • To develop interventions or programmes.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

Development might need to be measured, though.

  • To evaluate something.

Can be quantitative or qualitative.

Performance in a wide variety of fields is often evaluated to identify deficiencies and to achieve improvement.

Products, interventions, programmes, processes, conduct, etc. need to be evaluated.

Measuring quality is an example of this.

  • To inform a larger study.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

Will probably be broken down into a number of small projects, each with its own objectives.

  1. To identify.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

  1. To explore.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

Pretty much like a detective who would seek answers or causes of events.

  1. To describe.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

The biggest challenge is to achieve accuracy and validity.

  1. To explain.

Most likely a qualitative approach.

You will need to delve deep into the thought processes of others.

You will need to identify the causes of events or phenomena.


The purpose of your research will be a deciding factor if you should follow a quantitative or qualitative approach.

You will follow a quantitative approach if the achievement of your purpose will require statistical analysis and accurate evidence.

You will follow a qualitative approach if the achievement of your purpose will require descriptive work.

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