Formulating Project Goals

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Defining your project goals and linking sub-aims to the overall purpose is very important to direct your research and will help you create a roadmap for your degree to keep on track.  

The activity below will guide you to… 

  • Develop a clear project objective with linked sub-goals, deliverables, and milestones. 

Important Definitions 

Goal/Objective – The long-term objective of your thesis and a high-level aim; should evolve out of your research question, and be measurable and achievable. 

Sub-Objectives/Aims – Major steps you need to complete to achieve your goal. 

Sub-Steps – An implementation strategy for your sub-objectives; specifies what tasks or experiments you will do in each sub-objective (these are the sort of items on your “to-do” list).  

Milestone – Marks a specific point in a timeline and the progress towards an output. 

Deliverable – A tangible or intangible object produced as a result of the project, e.g. a document (manuscript, patent), a prototype, a dataset.  

Suggested Activity – Identify Goals and Project Planning Elements 

Estimated time: 30 minutes  

  1. Reflect on your own research group. What are the overarching goals of the group? How is your project contributing to that goal versus others in your group? What major steps (sub-aims) will allow you to achieve your project objective? Why are these sub-aims appropriate (how will they contribute to your overall project objective) and why is their order appropriate?  
  2. Write out your thesis objective, sub-goals, and if possible specific milestones and deliverables using (Resource 1)Focus on the next 1-1.5 years of your project, for PhD students just focus on your first two aims. Share this with a peer in your group or with your supervisor for discussion and feedback. 

Activity Examples

Project Planning
Goals and Sub-Goals ExamplesFive examples of projects broken down into sub-aims, sub-steps, milestones, and deliverables.


Project Planning
1Goals and sub-goals empty template Template for organizing your thesis objectives.