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I tend to believe that starting with a well defined goal is an undeniable prerequisite for publishing a quality paper on a certain topic.

Alas, can a PhD revolve around a fuzzy subject, that offers the student a lot of freedom of choice regarding what problem to solve, as long as the problem is solved using the methods in that field of study?

More explicitly, is it possible to develop a quality research paper in an applied scientific field without fixing the goal beforehand?

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> a well defined goal is an undeniable prerequisite - Wow... really? – LordStryker Feb 10 '14 at 13:36
Well, I believe that this wasn't the case in the past :).. when people were pretty much in the fog and just wanted to find out what properties a specific phenomenon had (e.g. Quantum Physics - people probably didn't start by knowing/having the intuition of what they had to achieve in terms of good results). – teodron Feb 10 '14 at 13:38
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your question contains two related questions

  • "can a PhD revolve around a fuzzy subject... as long as the problem is solved using the methods in that field of study?"

  • Is it possible to write and publish a quality paper without a well-defined goal?

In research, almost by definition you do not know what you are going to find. (See the answers to this question.) If you did, it wouldn't be research! So it is definitely possible to have your PhD 'revolve around' a fuzzy subject. But when it comes to writing the actual paper, you will need a well-defined goal for the paper. The paper may not, and probably will not, cover the entire scope of your research. So although your research goal may be nebulous--at least in the beginning--when you are writing a paper to report the findings of said research, you should be able to very clearly articulate the purpose of this specific paper.

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Thanks for clarifying the issues. I had the wrong impression that the paper's strictly defined topic should be reflected in the overall research effort. Definitely not the case when searching for the "unknown".. The real trick is finding a solid goal for a paper report - there's the danger that too much freedom may tempt the author in not producing a unitary report, especially a novice in Academia. – teodron Feb 10 '14 at 14:00

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