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How to Write a Purpose Statement for a Dissertation or Thesis

writing the purpose statement The heart of a purpose statement in a dissertation or thesis tells the reader what the primary goal of the research is. John Creswell (2003) refers to it as the most crucial statement in any qualitative or quantitative study. In addition to stating the objective of the research, it informs the reader of the method of research, population studied, the setting, and includes the phenomena or variables being studied. The following steps are an adaptation of Creswell’s discussion.

Step 1: Type of Study

Determine the type of study proposed. Is it qualitative or quantitative? What specific method of inquiry or testing will be used? Ethnography, experiment, correlational analysis? Label this part (a). Use the word “purpose” or "objective" in conjunction with the type of study.

The purpose of this (a) quantitative, correlational study

Step 2: Type of Analysis

Next, indicate the type of analysis and the primary variables or topic of exploration. Are you going to test something? Discover something? Analyze something? Indicate the variables or phenomenon you are testing, analyzing, or hoping to discover. Label this (b) and add it to (a).

The purpose of this (a) quantitative, correlational study was to (b) test whether the quality of the leader-member exchange correlates with member job satisfaction.

Warning! Qualitative purpose statements contain infinitives and verbs related to the emergent, non-predictive nature of qualitative research, such as to discover, to describe, to develop, and to explore, while quantitative purpose statements use infinitives and verbs that indicate prediction and comparison (e.g., to examine the relationship, to compare, to test, to examine the correlation between) (Creswell, 2003).

Step 3: Population and Setting

Indicate the population and setting of the study and label this (c). Add it to (a) and (b).

The purpose of this (a) quantitative, correlational study was to (b) test whether an increase in the quality of the leader-member exchange correlates with an increase in job satisfaction (c) for employees working in a national hotel chain.

Addtional Information

The heart of a quantitative or qualitative purpose statement often contain these three elements. In addition, the section will typically contain a variety of other elements such as:

• Additional purpose related to the primary purpose.
• Additional variables related to secondary purposes.
• Definition and brief explanation of quantitative variables.
• Description of qualitative phenomena.
• More description of context of study (setting and popluation), especially for qualitative research.
• Importance of the variables or phenomena.
• Role of the researcher and participants in a qualitative study.
• Definition of specfic methodology used (e.g., a definition of Grounded Theory).
• Connecting purpose to other aspects of the study.

Tips for Composing a Purpose Statement

1. Proposal and dissertation/thesis purpose statements are nearly identical. The only difference is that proposals will be in future tense, indicating what the purpose will be, while dissertations/theses will be written in the past tense.

2. Look at a dissertation from your university or department to get a feel for an actual purpose statement.


Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods
(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.