ARTICLE 18: How to Establish Objectives for Ph. D. or Masters Degree Research

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


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

This would be ideal. However, creating and 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.

The challenge is somewhat less in the case of a thesis for a master’s degree.

Even though you will not be required to develop new knowledge, theories, processes, etc. on master’s degree level, you will still need to conduct scientific research.

Therefore, study leaders and universities sometimes accept a dissertation or thesis because the students showed that they can do academic research on the postgraduate level.

Often universities accept a dissertation or thesis 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.

Even though master’s degree students are not required to develop new knowledge and theory, they should still follow the research steps that I describe here to analyze and gain an understanding of complex theory, philosophy and practice.

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 five elements are closely linked to your choice of research approach, research methods, paradigmatic approach, data collection methods, sampling methods, and data collection instruments.

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.

You will probably follow a quantitative approach when measuring something.

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

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

  • To test something.

You will probably also follow a quantitative approach when testing something.

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.

You will probably follow a quantitative approach when doing calculations.

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 virus are examples of such calculations.

  • To compare.

You will most likely follow a quantitative approach to compare people, artefacts, etc.

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 to different places, times, etc.

  • To understand a real-world problem.

Understanding real-world problems mostly require following a qualitative approach.

It is used to understand any threat to the well-being and survival of people.

  • To build knowledge and theory.

Building knowledge and theory will mostly require making use of a qualitative approach.

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

  • To develop interventions or programmes.

You will probably follow a qualitative approach to develop interventions or programmes.

Development might need to be measured, though.

  • To evaluate something.

Evaluation can require a quantitative or qualitative research approach.

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.

Informing a larger study will mostly require a qualitative approach.

The larger study will probably be broken down into several small projects, each with its own objectives.

  1. To identify.

Identifying people or phenomena will mostly require making use of a qualitative approach.

  1. To explore.

Exploration will mostly be done through a qualitative approach.

Exploring phenomena or events is pretty much like a detective who would seek answers or causes of events.

  1. To describe.

You will use a qualitative approach to describe something.

Here the biggest challenge is to achieve accuracy and validity.

  1. To explain.

An explanation will require a qualitative approach.

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

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


The purpose of your research will be the 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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