Donna Van De Water
Chief Operating Officer

How to Define Good Research Objectives

Just follow these 6 golden rules

There are a number of research guidelines that are evergreen—they don’t change and are vital for the success of any research study. This post is as important today as it was when written several years ago by our former Sr. Research Analyst, Kevin Lyons. Kevin may have moved on, but we stand by this terrific guidance.

—Donna Van De Water, September 17, 2020

A critical component of a successful research engagement is a set of clearly defined and meaningful objectives. Having well-defined objectives narrows and focuses the research and ensures that the findings are relevant to decision-makers.

The research objectives drive all aspects of the methodology, including instrument design, data collection, analysis, and ultimately the recommendations.

Six important guidelines that should be observed when developing research objectives are:
1.  They should be presented briefly and concisely
2.  They should be presented in logical sequence
3.  They should be realistic (e.g., achieved within the expected timeframe, achieved within the available resources)
4.  They should be phrased in operational terms (i.e., in a way that brings the organization closer to its business objectives)
5.  They should use action verbs that are specific enough to be evaluated or measured (e.g., assess, determine, compare, verify, calculate, describe).
6.  They should be static once the study work begins (i.e., objectives should not be moving targets)

Creating good objectives can help organizations realize their business goals. For example, a nonprofit community medical center needed to inform a communications campaign that will, in the end, expand their donor base and increase the consistency and dollar value of donations from existing donors. With these goals in mind, the presentation below explores three potential research objectives by demonstrating the following:

  • What the research must achieve
  • Example of a weak objective, and why’s it’s weak
  • Example of a stronger objective




Investing time in developing clear, articulated, and strong research objectives is an important step in a successful research engagement. Having these bullets to guide the process is invaluable and will likely save time over the course of the engagement. There is no better way to ensure that the right questions are being asked and answered.