One source of confusion for students is the difference between an aim and an objective. The two are different although they are in fact linked. Unfortunately, the two terms are often used interchangeably. We start by defining the two terms as they are applied within an academic context.
Aim: A purpose. A plan. Something towards which one's efforts are directed.
Objective: A goal or target. The object of a course of action.
In both definitions, there is the sense of working towards something. So where does the difference lie? An aim is usually broader in scope than an objective. Furthermore, the time-scale involved for achieving an aim may not be defined, whereas an objective must be achievable within a specified period of time. Our definition of an objective also carries with it a course of action or set of activities that will be carried out in order to achieve the objective. So how do we apply aims and objectives within the context of an academic project, and how will doing so, help us when we are carrying out the project?
A statement of the overall aim for a project will help you in several respects:
1. You will know what your project is intended to accomplish, rather than just having some idea of what you want to do. Knowing what your project sets out to achieve enables you to plan your project effectively, and puts you in the position of being able to make a good, early start.
2. It will help you to remain focused on what you should be doing. Whenever you are uncertain as to how to proceed or whether something should be included in the project, refer back to the project aim. Ask yourself whether a proposed activity supports the project's aim. If it doesn't then think carefully about what it does contribute to the project.
3. The project aim can be expanded into a set of high-level project objectives that are usually set out in the Project Proposal. The high-level objectives can, for the purposes of planning and carrying out the project, be expanded into sets of lower-level objectives.
4. The project title should endeavour to express the project aim. A working title is given in the Project Proposal.
5. When the time comes to write the Abstract for the completed project, the aim should be clearly identifiable.
We can see therefore, that it is possible and even desirable, to formulate objectives at more than one level. The objectives set out for an academic computing project i.e. the objectives given in the project proposal, should be high-level objectives. These will be concerned with carrying out of a scholarly piece of work and writing-up the project. They should not for example, deal with obtaining particular system requirements or constructing analysis and design models. These are low-level objectives that refer to particular stages of the system development life cycle. Try to state your objectives in terms of what the academic project sets out to achieve. Make sure that the associated activities support the achievement of the objectives and result in deliverables that will contribute to the project write-up.
Now that we have a clearer idea of what we mean by project aims and objectives, we will give an example to illustrate how a project proposal might be written up. Let us assume that the student concerned has taken one or more courses in database design and computer security and has come up with the following proposal for a project.