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Aim(s) and objectives

In general, a student project should have a single aim. Trying to address multiple aims in the same project has several downsides:

  • It is confusing

    What is the project about, this thing or that thing? The project is a way of investigating an issue and the project report is about communicating what you have found. Your job is to make that final piece of communication as clear as possible. Focussing on a single aim eliminates many potential ambiguities.

  • You are multiplying the work required

    A major consideration in project management is whether the project is feasible. One method for safeguarding project success is to control the scope of the project so that it does not exceed the resources available. In a student project, the main resource in short supply is your time. Trying to address two independent aims is unnecessary and simply acts as a drain on already tight resources. Why do it?

  • Your work will lack depth

    Even if you manage to give attention to multiple goals through strict time management, you will have proportionally less time to spend on each of them. The result will be that you do not have sufficient time to treat any of them at the expected level of detail. A common error is to imagine that quantity of work is equal value to quality. This is not true: to demonstrate your command of a topic, you have to get down into the details. If you have not given yourself enough time to do so, you are making it impossible to achieve the expected quality. Remember: the best student projects are small ad detailed.

The aim of your project is closely related to the title. The difference is that the title is typically conceptual (e.g. A comparison of relational and non-relational databases for collaborative discussion applications), while the aim will typically quantify the purpose of the project (e.g. To evaluate the relative merits of two prototype discussion applications based on the most popular open-source relational and non-relational databases using a set of objective criteria). The wording of the aim in this example is more cumbersome and would not make a good title. However, it places some clear constraints on the scope of the project:

  • It involves building prototype applications
  • There will be two prototypes, one relational and one not
  • There are specific criteria for the databases to be used
  • The means of evaluation is stated

These quantitative aspects of the aim should be captured in a set of objectives which can be thought of as interim deliverables, or steps in the process of achieving the overall aim. In most student projects, the first objective is to provide a literature review. Thereafter, the objectives are specific to the project. In our discussion application example, the objectives could be as follows:

  • Produce a review of current related literature
  • Identify the most popular open-source relational and non-relational databases
  • Identify an appropriate set of objective evaluation criteria
  • Design and develop two application prototypes
  • Design and carry out an evaluation exercise using the criteria identified
  • Report the evaluation results

When you are working out how to express your objectives, it is useful to apply the SMART criteria: each objective should be

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bounded

MindTools SMART goals