How to develop your aims, objectives and research questions

I have been struggling with my literature review but did not really know it. Well, I knew because it has been going very slowly, but I thought that was because I am just a slow worker. However, upon reflection I am not a slow worker. When I worked in the menswear department in a department store I was super fast I could scan, fold and do the credit card transaction in super speed time, so much so customers would comment and crowds would form. When I worked in the library, I could shelve and tidy the heavy marketing books in a flash, all perfectly in order and upright, and some of those textbooks books were very heavy.

So when I met with one of my supervisors last week she said that the reason I am having difficulties in creating an outline for my literature review and actually writing it with purpose is because I do not know what my aims are. Instead I have been writing 2000 words here and there on seemingly random sections that do not seem to have a particular purpose apart from be standalone essays of sorts I suppose. In my head they kind of make sense, but my supervisors do not see it and I have not communicated well.

She helped me think about how to create aim which will eventually will become one aim and some objectives (remember there is a difference – see this blog for discussion on this issue: https://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/aims-and-objectives-whats-the-difference/ ) and of course they will also become research questions.

  • What you need to do is just write down an aim that comes to mind – what is it you want to do?
  • Then ask Why? Who cares? Why is it important/interesting? This takes the aim to a more theoretical level.
  • What hypothesis do you have? This is not just a quants thing – think about what you suspect to be the case, what your initial thoughts are, perhaps based on common sense assumptions.
  • Next ask What are the implications of this and also what are the limitations.

Another thing she said is that when writing your literature review, think of a framework to guide you. So for example, I think that C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination where he talks about the importance of the interaction between history, biography and individual is going to be my frame. This is framing my whole thesis as it helps me to justify why I am using mixed methods and studying people’s educational trajectories using longitudinal data. I will be shifting from historical to social to individual perspectives. From policy to then how individuals enact policy for example. I will be looking at the context of people’s decision making of attending university at different time periods. Then this all links to my aims and the way I compose my research questions.

Now that I have a little bit more of a focus, I think the literature review should be much easier to write now. Better be because I have a big ball of anxiety in my chest where I feel like I have wasted so much time!

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3 comments
  1. Alan Wheeler said:

    I like this post a lot! When I meet with students who’re starting their reviews the question I always ask them is ‘what are your parameters?’ It’s almost always met with ‘what?’ and things then get messy. Has to be done though.
    And I can further confirm your shelving abilities are still spoke of in hushed tones.

    Like

    • It is strange because sometimes you don’t know that you don’t know how to do things, so your supervisors think you are doing OK because you don’t know how to ask for help. So librarians and supervisors and their questionning are vital. Just sometimes it takes a few months for the penny to drop. I don’t think I have ever done a literature review with confidence, but hopefully now I can master it.
      Hope ‘my’ marketing section in the library is doing OK without me. I will come in and give it a quick going over. Will only take five mins.

      Like

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