A research objective, also known as a goal or an objective, is a sentence or question that summarizes the purpose of your study or test. In other words, it’s an idea you want to understand deeper by performing research. Objectives should be the driving force behind every task you assign and each question that you ask. These objectives should be centered on specific features or processes of your product. By having a solid understanding of the information you need when running your usability study, you’ll be able to better stay on track throughout your development process.
How do I write a research objective?
Before you write your objective, you need a problem statement, which you can source from your support team and the frequent customer issues they encounter, negative customer reviews, or feedback from social media. From there, your objective might look like, “Do people find value in this new product idea?” or “How do our competitors describe their offerings compared to us?”
Many UX researchers agree that the more specific the objectives, the easier it is to write tasks and questions. Subsequently, it’ll also be easier to extract answers later on in the analysis. In addition, your objective doesn’t have to spark one angle alone; it could have the potential to inspire multiple test directions. For instance, take this research objective, “I want to understand and resolve the barriers customers face when looking for answers about products and services on our website.”
From this one objective, potential study angles could be:
- Content quality: Learn whether the FAQ questions anticipate users’ needs and if the answers are sufficiently detailed and directive.
- FAQ accessibility: Can customers easily find the FAQ section? What access points should we consider?
- FAQ concept test: Is the design approach we’re considering for the proposed redesign understandable? What can we do to optimize it?
As you can see, the above objective can be branched out to address content, usability, and design. For further inspiration, collaborate with the product’s stakeholders. You can start the conversation at a high level by determining what features or processes they want test participants to review, like a navigation menu or website messaging.
And before you put a stamp of approval on a research objective, ask for feedback from your team. Two researchers could write very different test plans when an objective is unclear or misaligned. For example, one researcher may hone in on design while another focuses on usability. Meanwhile, another may keep their objective more broad while another writes on that’s more detailed. And while the findings from either case would be insightful, they might not match up with what the team actually needs to learn. So to summarize, start the process with a problem statement, loop in stakeholders early if applicable, and ensure your team is aligned on your objective(s).
When should I write a research objective—and how should they be prioritized?
After you’ve written a rough draft of your research objective, the ink might not even be dry when stakeholders could get involved by offering you an abundance of objectives. To figure out what to tackle first, ask your stakeholders to prioritize their needs. This step could happen via email or in a meeting, but another method could be to list out all of the possible objectives in a Google form and have everyone rearrange the list into their ideal order.
And if stakeholders haven’t handed you a list of objectives and you’re on your own for brainstorming and prioritizing, opt for the objective that’s tied to a KPI—from increasing website conversions to driving more daily active users in your SaaS product. This will help you size up the relevance and impact your research has on the metrics your business is measuring. The added benefit here is when you’re asked about the impact of that research, you can tie back your ROI calculations to tangible and relatable objectives that you know the business is tracking.
How many research objectives do I need?
The type of research you do will depend on the stage of product development you’re in. Each stage of development has different research objectives—and different questions that need to be answered. And once you’ve decided on a problem statement, you could either have one or multiple research objectives that tie back to that statement. Typically, this means that you’ll want to select one to three objectives; the less you have, the more manageable your test (and timeline) will be.
For more, the UserTesting template library is a great place to start for common questions that you need answers to or inspiration for your research objective.