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What are the differences in usage and meaning?

For example, is it,

My targets for 2011 are...

or

My goals for 2011 are...

Which one is correct or more suitable here?

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I would never say "My targets for 2011 are" unless I already knew what kinds of targets I was referring to. –  msanford Apr 19 '11 at 16:37
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7 Answers 7

Targets implies a numerical goal. Usually you hear this in sales meetings, as in "Our Q4 target for the sales team is $12M."

Goal is a bit broader and more general. Where target may imply a very specific goal, goal can be broader. You can say "My goal is to lose weight this year," but using target there would sound odd because the general concept of losing weight isn't specific enough for that word. You would more likely specify a quantity, as in "My weight-loss target is 15 lbs."

Nevertheless, you could use the two interchangeably. There is nothing wrong with saying "Our Q4 goal for the sales team is $12M."

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So, regardless of whether you use targets or goals, the verb should be are since they're plural.

In the usage you're describing, targets and goals are similar. The biggest difference to me is that targets tend to be specific values while goals can be more generic. For example if in 2011 I wanted to learn to ski, I would consider that a goal, but not really a target. However, if I wanted to sell $10M worth of something for my company, I could call that a sales target. It could also be referred to as a sales goal though, if you preferred.

If you're making a list that includes both types, I'd go with goals.

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In addition to the other's answers, a helpful analogy for the differences between target and goal is found in sports. A "target" will be an object focused on a specific point that the athlete is aiming to hit. Success is measured in distance from that point. A "goal" will be a larger object such as what is used in soccer/football or hockey. Success for a goal will be anything that fits through the goal; it is either in or out.

The idea here is that a personal goal is something that is not necessarily focused on a particular, measurable point. A target will be. This distinction is mostly unofficial, however, and I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to what I am positing here -- even within the world of sports.

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I think they are not difference much in common use.

Target is used to talk about short term goal. When you talk about target, you already imagine how it will done.

Goal is broader and maybe you still don't know how to do it, you just know that is your goal and you will be happy if you get it done.

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I disagree. Take the sentence "my goal this year is to reach my target weight". I think that "my goal this year is to reach my goal weight" is acceptable, but that "my target this year is to reach my goal weight" is not. My problem with the second phrase is the use of "target" not with "goal". –  msanford Apr 19 '11 at 16:34
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Along the lines of MrHen's comment, I think of a "target" as something you want to hit - dead-on.

On the other hand a "goal" is something to be met or exceeded.

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Further to Robusto's answer, I think "target" is not only more specific but more serious in its intention as well.

Our Q4 goal for the sales team is $12M.

Compared to...

Our Q4 target for the sales team is $12M.

One might interpret the latter as a required target, whereas the former may be interpreted or used as a way of specifying what the sales team would like to achieve.

As such, use of one or the other could influence the effect of its interpretation significantly.

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  • A goal describes what you want to accomplish.
  • A key performance indicator (KPI) monitors progress towards a specific objective.
  • A target is the value of a KPI at a defined moment in time.

My longer explanation is here: http://jonathanbecher.com/2008/10/05/target-vs-goal

Jonathan (@jbecher)

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