How to write research objectives for a research proposal?

Research objectives are an important part of any research proposal.  In my years as a supervisor, I’ve seen how students struggle to write good research objectives. That is why I decided to write this post, so you can benefit from the accumulated experience.

There are several things to consider when you write a research objective. Your research objective must be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-constrained. Secondly, you must make sure that when you fulfill the objective, you solved the problem. To help in this last endeavor, you must intentionally write the variables you pretend to measure as part of your objective. These variables will help you to prove that when you achieved your objective, you solved the problem.

Table of Contents

What is a SMART objective?

The term SMART goal is widely used around the world. What is important to remember is what SMART stands for.

SMART stands for: 

  • S – Specific
  • M– Measurable
  • A– Achievable
  • R– Relevant
  • T– Time constrained

Many resources describe what is the meaning of the above words, how you must write them, for instance using positive sentences as opposed to negative, among many other recommendations.

In my case, the best and easiest way to understand it and not have to spend too much time on it is just looking at the words and asking yourself the right questions:

  1. Is my goal specific?
  2. Can I measure the results to state if I have achieved the goal?
  3. Is it achievable?
  4. Is it relevant to solve the problem I want to solve?
  5. By when do I have to achieve this goal?

If you can answer all those questions, then you have an objective.

Notice that in the case of research objectives, you don’t write about the time as part of the objective. You will define the time for each objective when you write the timeline for your whole research project. At that stage, you will have the T from SMART for your objective.

What is a research objective?

A research objective represents what do you expect to achieve at the end of your research.

It is used to guide you through the whole research process. Every step you take during your research must contribute to the fulfillment of your research objective.

Research is carried on with the aim to solve a problem. One way to measure your success in solving a particular problem is to prove that you fulfilled your research objective (s), and by achieving the objective (s) you solved the problem.

So, you need to be sure from the beginning (as sure as you can possibly be), that with the fulfillment of your research objective you will solve the problem.

This is of utmost importance. If at the end of your research you cannot prove that you solved the problem by achieving the research objective (s), you failed.

As an example, I use to see some objectives starting with the word “investigate”. These objectives are oriented to investigate reasons, causes, or certain phenomena that are still not fully understood.

I must warn you if you are planning to use such words on your objective. Make sure that by doing that, you are going to solve a real problem. You can read about writing a problem statement in this post.

Types of research objectives

In a research proposal, you will have two types of objectives:

  • Main/General Objective
  • Sub/Specific Objectives

The main objective usually describes the final result you want to achieve.

Let me give you a hint on how to write this type of objective. If you have already a title for your research, the main objective is almost the same as the title, you just have to add an action verb at the beginning.

Let’s see the following example.

Imagine you decided already that the title of your research is ” An intrusion detection system using a recurrent neural network with real-world dataset”

Then, your main objective can be “to develop an Intrusion Detection System using Recurrent Neural Networking (RNN-IDS) with data from real-world networks”.

Let’s see two variables involved in this objective: using RNN and data from real-world networks. This makes the objective specific and measurable. At the end of your research, you will assess the impact of the IDS implemented using an RNN and using a real-world data set.

The sub-objectives are necessary for a research proposal because they will guide you through your research. You basically design them considering what you have to achieve in order to fulfill your main goal.

Let’s see the example below.

Main objective:

  • To develop an Intrusion Detection System using Recurrent Neural Networking (RNN-IDS) with data from real-world networks


  • To create a practical traffic dataset from a real-world network.
  • To train an RNN-IDS using several datasets: from a real-world network and synthetic ones.
  • To evaluate the performance of the RNN-IDS.

As you can see, once you achieve all the sub-objectives, you will achieve the main one. They should be in the order you are planning to achieve them.

Notice all the objectives above (general and specific) are:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable. At the end of the research stage, you can measure if you achieve the objective or not.
  • Achievable.
  • Relevant. All of them are relevant to the problem you want to solve. Also, the sub-objectives are relevant to the main objective.
  • Time bounded. Even though you don’t specify the time in the research objectives, you will be asked to present a timeline for the whole project. Here, you will have to specify the time you will need for each objective and other tasks you have to develop.

Research objectives examples

Find below two examples to help you get started with the research objectives to complete your research proposal.

Example 1

The main objective of this research is to develop an Intrusion Detection System using Recurrent Neural Networking (RNN-IDS) with data from real-world networks.

The sub-objectives are:

  • To create a practical traffic dataset from a real-world network.
  • To train and test an RNN-IDS using several datasets: from a real-world network and synthetic ones.
  • To evaluate the performance of the RNN-IDS.

Example 2

The general objective of the research is to formalize behavior patterns of the actors in the university environment that contribute to obtaining an analysis of the interactions between them.

The general objective is broken down into the following specific objectives:

  • Define the conceptual theoretical framework to be used in this research.
  • Carry out a study of the main national and international trends on the analysis of interactions and influences in the university environment
  • Define what are the relevant concepts and patterns of behavior in the university environment.
  • Mathematically formalize the concepts and patterns defined above.
  • Design the necessary algorithms to identify these patterns and to perform influence analysis.
  • Implement a software that identifies the defined patterns and performs an influence analysis between the different actors selected for the study.
  • Theoretically validate the designed algorithms.
  • Validate the implemented software using two case studies.


Your research objective must be SMART. The T (time-constrained) shouldn’t be specified in the objective per se, but in the timeline, you must give it to your supervisor.

You can write two types of objectives: main objective and sub-objectives.

The main objective will look very similar to the title of your research.

At the end of the research, you must prove that you achieve the objective and that with it, you solved the problem.

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