Determining the Scope of Your Project

What is the scope of your project?

Assessment, evaluation, and research can serve many different objectives. At the start of a project, clarifying your scope and defining specific project goals is essential. All relevant stakeholders must have a shared sense of the purpose(s) of a given assessment, evaluation, or research project. 

The scope of an assessment, evaluation, or research project reflects the type of question you would like to ask and the judgment you would like to make. You can ask questions about the need for a given intervention (e.g., a pedagogical practice, class, or educational program), the implementation process, or the outcome. It can be formative or summative in nature, as outlined in the chart below. 

TYPE OF QUESTIONFormativeSummative
NeedsWhat types of needs exist within this context, and what existing resources are there to fulfill these needs?Is there a sufficient need for the proposed intervention?
ProcessWhat is working or not working about this intervention?Is this intervention being implemented effectively?
OutcomesHow can we revise this intervention to better achieve its intended outcomes?Is this intervention meeting its goals, and is it worth the resources needed to continue it?

The same set of data may serve multiple aims. However, some objectives may create conflicting motivations. For example, suppose data are being collected to determine whether an intervention is worth continuing. In that case, some stakeholders may hesitate to ask the questions that would allow data to also be used for outcomes improvement purposes. In general, the motivations and processes involved in assessing for improvement and for accountability can conflict.

If you are unclear as to the scope of a project, consider the following questions:

  • What do you hope to learn from the data you collect?
  • What would it look like for this program/course/intervention to be successful? How would you know if it was successful?
  • Who will be reviewing the results of this study?
  • How will the results be used?
  • Will the results be shared externally?

Writing research aims and/or questions

Research aims refer to clear, specific, and measurable goals for a research, evaluation, or assessment project. For example:

  • Evaluate whether problem-based learning improves student performance on problem sets and final course grades.
  • Determine whether group work in laboratory classes improves student attitudes toward the course.

You may choose to frame your research aims as questions that you would like to answer as a result of this study. For example:

  • Can a student-centered syllabus improve student engagement in a course?
  • Does learning students’ names increase their attendance during office hours?

Defining clear, specific, and measurable research aims/questions will allow you to select appropriate, rigorous research methods and will guide you in analyzing, interpreting, and using the results.