What are Objectives for your coursework?

Aims and Objectives are the most important part of a report/coursework because without these your coursework has no direction and has no reason to be done. It is also a very simple (but fundamental) part because there’s no technicalities involved in this section. One should get it right because usually aims and objectives are given in the assessment brief (but may be worded differently so you should not copy and paste from the coursework brief). If you don’t understand the objectives of the report then no matter how detailed your research is, how good your writing skills are and how good rest of your report is, you will fail your task.

This reminds me an incident a few years back. A very good student of mine came to me and said that he has failed a coursework due to a very simple and silly mistake. In his opinion, he should not have failed because the issue was too small. He requested me check his work to give opinion on the marks awarded and if I agreed with the marker or not.

At first, I was surprised to hear that he failed as he was a very good student and, in my coursework, he scored very high marks. After reading his work, I realized that the report was very good but there was a simple but a fundamental mistake.

The assessment required students to write down the characteristics of a private limited company (aim of the report) e.g., few number of shareholders, close control by shareholder, few number of directors, usually small in size etc. The student had done that very well but when he was typing/ writing the report, instead of writing down Pvt LTD, he wrote PLC (Public Limited Company) which changed the whole perspective of the report.

I explained to the student that “you were supposed to talk about private limited company which you did but then you referred everything to a PLC, which is a fundamental error, and I don’t blame the marker for failing you on that.”

The worst thing was that he knew the difference between a Pvt LTD and a PLC very well, but he did not pay attention while typing the work.

This example above shows that even a slight misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation of the objectives of the work can have a disastrous impact on the coursework marks. Last semester while marking students’ coursework, I noticed that rather than giving the objectives of the report, some students were giving me objectives of the businesses they were analysing. This is a simple but a fundamental mistake because objectives determine what is going to be in the report. If your objectives are inappropriate and incorrect then your whole report will not make any sense and it does not carry any value. While marking a piece of coursework, markers try to assess if the writer has achieved the objectives set for the report or not. If the objectives haven’t been achieved ( or not given at all), the work would score fewer marks if not failed, no matter how good the report is.

So, what are the objectives of the report?

Objectives of the report should be derived from the aim of the report and closely aligned with the aim. I recommend to my students to have a separate section for aims and objectives in their coursework.

For example, one of my modules “Managing Finance”, the coursework requires students to write down a report analysing the performance of the business in three areas of

  • Profitability
  • Liquidity and
  • Efficiency

This assessment brief clearly gives the aim of the report, however, students should always rephrase it differently as if many students simply copy and paste these word into their coursework, it will be highlighted in a plagiarism check. For example, the wording used in the assessment brief can be changed to

“the aim of the report is to assess and analyse the profitability, liquidity and Efficiency of Tesco PLC for the year ending 2019-2021.”

The next step would be to divide the aim into smaller parts, chunks, steps and actions which will become your objectives of the report. These should be smart. SMART means

  • Specific – how the profitability will be assessed? E.g., using ratio analysis, profitability ratio, ROCE etc
  • Measurable – how the marker (and you) would know if you have achieved your objectives e.g., calculate and compare the ratios
  • Achievable – within timeframe and scope of the assessment and module
  • Relevant – to the assessment and module, and
  • Timely – data set is current and as set by the assessment brief

All of these qualities may not be possible for you to achieve for all of your objectives but should aim to achieve as many as possible.

For example, “objectives of this report is to

  • Calculate the efficiency of this company by calculating efficiency ratios of …..
  • Interpret the result and understand the performance by comparing the performance of the company with the previous years’ results and competitors and/or industry data.

I believe that objectives should be written in bullet points as that makes them more specific.

The main body of the report should revolve around the work to achieve the objectives. You will find it interesting and useful that objectives have a direct link with the conclusion too. Many students get confused about what to write in the conclusion. The best way to conclude your work is to justify how you have achieved your objectives and if you were unable to do so then why (limitations of the study) and what should be done to achieve those objectives.

This article is written by Raja Mizan who is a senior lecturer in accounting & finance in a UK university. He is an ACCA member and also runs his own accountancy practice RMR Accountants & Business Advisors.

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