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  • How to Write a Problem Statement | Guide & Examples

How to Write a Problem Statement | Guide & Examples

Published on November 6, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 20, 2023.

A problem statement is a concise and concrete summary of the research problem you seek to address. It should:

  • Contextualize the problem. What do we already know?
  • Describe the exact issue your research will address. What do we still need to know?
  • Show the relevance of the problem. Why do we need to know more about this?
  • Set the objectives of the research. What will you do to find out more?

Table of contents

When should you write a problem statement, step 1: contextualize the problem, step 2: show why it matters, step 3: set your aims and objectives.

Problem statement example

Other interesting articles

Frequently asked questions about problem statements.

There are various situations in which you might have to write a problem statement.

In the business world, writing a problem statement is often the first step in kicking off an improvement project. In this case, the problem statement is usually a stand-alone document.

In academic research, writing a problem statement can help you contextualize and understand the significance of your research problem. It is often several paragraphs long, and serves as the basis for your research proposal . Alternatively, it can be condensed into just a few sentences in your introduction .

A problem statement looks different depending on whether you’re dealing with a practical, real-world problem or a theoretical issue. Regardless, all problem statements follow a similar process.

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problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

The problem statement should frame your research problem, giving some background on what is already known.

Practical research problems

For practical research, focus on the concrete details of the situation:

  • Where and when does the problem arise?
  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What attempts have been made to solve the problem?

Theoretical research problems

For theoretical research, think about the scientific, social, geographical and/or historical background:

  • What is already known about the problem?
  • Is the problem limited to a certain time period or geographical area?
  • How has the problem been defined and debated in the scholarly literature?

The problem statement should also address the relevance of the research. Why is it important that the problem is addressed?

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to do something groundbreaking or world-changing. It’s more important that the problem is researchable, feasible, and clearly addresses a relevant issue in your field.

Practical research is directly relevant to a specific problem that affects an organization, institution, social group, or society more broadly. To make it clear why your research problem matters, you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen if the problem is not solved?
  • Who will feel the consequences?
  • Does the problem have wider relevance? Are similar issues found in other contexts?

Sometimes theoretical issues have clear practical consequences, but sometimes their relevance is less immediately obvious. To identify why the problem matters, ask:

  • How will resolving the problem advance understanding of the topic?
  • What benefits will it have for future research?
  • Does the problem have direct or indirect consequences for society?

Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal here should not be to find a conclusive solution, but rather to propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it.

The research aim is the overall purpose of your research. It is generally written in the infinitive form:

  • The aim of this study is to determine …
  • This project aims to explore …
  • This research aims to investigate …

The research objectives are the concrete steps you will take to achieve the aim:

  • Qualitative methods will be used to identify …
  • This work will use surveys to collect …
  • Using statistical analysis, the research will measure …

The aims and objectives should lead directly to your research questions.

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You can use these steps to write your own problem statement, like the example below.

Step 1: Contextualize the problem A family-owned shoe manufacturer has been in business in New England for several generations, employing thousands of local workers in a variety of roles, from assembly to supply-chain to customer service and retail. Employee tenure in the past always had an upward trend, with the average employee staying at the company for 10+ years. However, in the past decade, the trend has reversed, with some employees lasting only a few months, and others leaving abruptly after many years.

Step 2: Show why it matters As the perceived loyalty of their employees has long been a source of pride for the company, they employed an outside consultant firm to see why there was so much turnover. The firm focused on the new hires, concluding that a rival shoe company located in the next town offered higher hourly wages and better “perks”, such as pizza parties. They claimed this was what was leading employees to switch. However, to gain a fuller understanding of why the turnover persists even after the consultant study, in-depth qualitative research focused on long-term employees is also needed. Focusing on why established workers leave can help develop a more telling reason why turnover is so high, rather than just due to salaries. It can also potentially identify points of change or conflict in the company’s culture that may cause workers to leave.

Step 3: Set your aims and objectives This project aims to better understand why established workers choose to leave the company. Qualitative methods such as surveys and interviews will be conducted comparing the views of those who have worked 10+ years at the company and chose to stay, compared with those who chose to leave.

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Methodology

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

All research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly

Writing Strong Research Questions

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

Your research objectives indicate how you’ll try to address your research problem and should be specific:

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How to write a dissertation problem statement, published by steve tippins on may 7, 2020 may 7, 2020.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 03:07 am

Your Problem Statement is one of the most important sections of your dissertation.

Let that sink in for a moment.

(Breathe. Say an om. Try to fend off the existential anxiety that is a natural part of the dissertation-writing process).

Okay, ready to know more?

The reason why it’s so important is that your study is essentially a response to a problem. Your Purpose Statement arises from the problem. So, essentially, your problem statement dictates what your entire dissertation will be about.

Fortunately for you, it also has some pretty specific requirements, and if you follow these, you’ll nail your problem statement and write a strong dissertation proposal.

That’s why I wrote this article: to help you understand the specific requirements of a dissertation problem statement so that you can write one effectively.

woman in a white shirt holding a book in a library

How to Find a Research Problem for your Dissertation

Before you can write your dissertation’s problem statement, you have to find the research problem.

Your problem statement arises from a gap in literature . When there’s something that hasn’t been studied, and when also a good reason to study it, that constitutes a problem. At its essence, a problem statement is essentially saying, “We don’t know enough about X, and we really should because of Y.” 

So how do you find a research problem? There are several commonly-accepted approaches.

Literature Review

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Oftentimes, the easiest and most direct way to discover a research problem is through a review of the literature. You will have to conduct a literature review anyway as part of your proposal, so make sure to write notes as you go along. 

Make sure you’re familiar with seminal texts, but the real gold is often found in more recent studies. The “Recommendations for Further Research” section may explicitly state gaps in research that need to be filled, leading to your problem.

problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

Personal Experience

Another excellent way of discovering a problem is through personal experience. Perhaps you’ve worked in a field and noticed a persistent problem that nobody has found an effective answer to. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the literature, though, before taking it too far–it could be somebody has already studied it (in which case you could still build off their study).

Discussion with Experts

Asking experts in the field is not only an expedient way to discover a research problem, it often leads to the most interesting problems as well. Those who have worked in the field for a long time have a depth and breadth of knowledge, and also often work at the frontier of knowledge in their field. They can provide a perspective that even a complete literature review on its own won’t be able to.

Discussion with Colleagues

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The old over-used phrase “synergy” applies here. Sometimes, even when two people have roughly the same level of knowledge and expertise in a subject, coming together in dialogue may produce ideas that neither could have found on their own. Or maybe your colleague has just read something interesting that leads you to your research problem. Either way, getting another perspective is always helpful.

Research Agendas

An advisor or group of faculty may already be working with an established research agenda. While your scope will be limited, you may also benefit from contributing to a larger research effort.

Contradictory Evidence

Look at the literature (or ask your advisors) with an eye towards contradicting evidence. If similar studies have contradicting results, the area must be explored more. This is related to “provocative exception,” when a consistent and accepted conclusion is contradicted by the appearance of a new finding. Keeping a key eye on the research can aid your awareness of these instances.

What Makes a Good Research Problem?

african american woman in white knitted sweater writing in a notebook by the window

You are interested in the problem. This may sound obvious, but may doctoral students have found themselves enmeshed in a research project that they have no genuine interest in because a faculty member thought they should pursue a particular topic. A dissertation is too long of a project to devote to something you’re not interested in. Plus, the quality of your research and writing will be much higher if indeed you are interested in the topic.

The scope of the problem is manageable . So many students submit problem statements that are beyond the scope of what can be explored in a single research project. Remember, the scope of the problem must be hyper-focused.

You have the time and resources to investigate the problem. This means that you can handle it with the time and resources you have now (or can count on having during the process). It’s far better to make small steps of progress than it is to bite off more than you can chew in an attempt to go in leaps and bounds.

The problem has theoretical or practical significance. This is essentially the answer to the question, “so what?” There are many problems in the world that don’t necessarily merit scientific inquiry. As I am writing at the picnic table outside, a slug appears to be trying to climb from one blade of grass to another but cannot reach the second one. This may be a problem for the slug, but doesn’t have great significance beyond this particular slug at this particular moment. Even if we were to consider the importance of this slug’s goal, it would still take longer than a day to conduct a study about how to help it, by which point I expect it will have already moved on.

It is ethical to investigate the problem. The history of scientific research is, unfortunately, marked by a trail of unethical behavior. From the scientific inquiries of the Nazis, to psychologically harmful studies here in the US, to horrific experiments that are still conducted on live animals, much harm has been done in the name of the pursuit of knowledge. As researchers, it is imperative that we consider the ethics of pursuing any research project.

man in a denim jacket focused on taking notes with his laptop

Now that you’ve identified the research problem you plan to address–that is, the hyper-specific area of focus for your study– you just have to write your dissertation’s problem statement.

The Key Elements of a Dissertation Problem Statement:

Essentially, you want to establish (a) what the problem is, (b) that it matters, and (c) that it addresses a meaningful gap in the literature. 

  • Give some brief background information. A few sentences to help the reader understand the context of the problem.
  • State the general research problem. This is one sentence that usually starts something like, “The general problem is…”
  • Establish relevancy. Here’s where you’ll cite research that supports that the general problem you just stated is relevant, current, and significant to the discipline.
  • Specific Problem Statement. This sentence should be worded similarly to your title and (future) purpose statement.
  • Conclusion and transition. Here, you’ll include a few sentences on the impacts of the problem on society or the relevant population, and transition to the next section.

Here are some recommended ways of beginning your dissertation problem statement:

  • It is not known ___
  • Absent from the literature is ___
  • While the literature indicates __, it is not known in ___ if
  • It is not known how or to what extent ___

After reading your problem statement, someone should have a very clear answer to the questions, “So what?” or “Why does it matter?”

Tips for Writing your Problem Statement

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Be concise . The wording of your problem statement should be clear and easy to follow. Avoid complexity. One of the most common mistakes students make is making their problem statement too complex. When in doubt, simplify.

Use Citations. Make sure that every claim you make is backed up by research. The vast majority of studies build on the work of previous researchers.

Focus on only one (very specific) problem. Don’t try to roll several problems into your problem statement. Also, avoid making your problem statement too broad.

Do not offer a ready solution. At most, explore possible avenues for solutions that may be tested with the help of your research.

Stay in alignment. It is also very important that your problem statement is in alignment with your title, gap in literature, purpose statement, and research questions. That means it’s saying the same thing, that it has the same hyper-specific focus. 

problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

How Long Is a Problem Statement?

While the actual General Problem Statement and Specific Problem Statement are one sentence each, the Problem Statement section can account for anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages. More than a few pages is usually too long. Remember, simplicity and specificity are key.

woman in a grey turtleneck studying next to the window

Dissertation Problem Statement Example

From Wiley :

The career development process is critical for the success of organizations. Research has shown that women managers experience career development differently from men. In addition, more and more African-American women are now joining the ranks of management, which presents new challenges and opportunities for these individuals.  However, little is known about the combined effects of sex and race on the career development process of individuals, and to the extent that current career development models accurately describe the process is unclear.  If career development is important for organizations and career development is viewed differently by women and men managers and more African-American women are now serving in the ranks of management, and if little is known about the combined effects of sex and race on the career development process, then more needs to be known about how African-American women perceive their career development experiences.  The purpose of this study was to focus on African-American women first-line supervisors undertake and conduct a qualitative study of their career development process.  *Adapted from: Cushnie, M. (1999). African-American women first-line supervisors: a qualitative study of their career development process.   From Wiley

From University of Houston : 

The importance of developing a constraint-free and reliable work plan has long been recognized by the [construction] industry. However, numerous construction projects are still plagued by delays and cost overruns, which can frequently be traced to ineffective identification and treatment of constraints. First, when a constraint is not properly identified during scheduling, subsequent conflicts in the field are inevitable. Today’s projects are becoming more and more technically complex and logistically challenging, which exposes construction operations to even more complex constraints.  Second, the traditional scheduling methods, bar charts and Critical Path Method (CPM) which are widely used as a basis for constraint analysis, greatly limit our capability in modeling and resolving constraints during look-ahead scheduling.  These methods have long been blamed for their limitations in modeling and communicating constraints, including inability to cope with non-time-related precedence constraints and difficulty to evaluate and communicate inter-dependencies at the field operation level (e.g. Sriprasert and Dawood 2002; Chua and Shen 2001). In summary, there is a need for a better understanding of constraints in construction and a structured approach in identifying and modeling constraints to ensure a constraint-free work plan.  From University of Houston

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  • Research Process

What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]

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Table of Contents

The statement of the problem is one of the first things that a colleague or potential client will read. With the vastness of the information available at one’s fingertips in the online9 world, your work may have just a few seconds to draw in a reader to take a deeper look at your proposal before moving on to the next option. It explains quickly to the reader, the problem at hand, the need for research, and how you intend to do it.

A strong, clear description of the problem that drew you to your research has to be straightforward, easy to read and, most important, relevant. Why do you care about this problem? How can solving this problem impact the world? The problem statement is your opportunity to explain why you care and what you propose to do in the way of researching the problem.

A problem statement is an explanation in research that describes the issue that is in need of study . What problem is the research attempting to address? Having a Problem Statement allows the reader to quickly understand the purpose and intent of the research. The importance of writing your research proposal cannot be stressed enough. Check for more information on Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal .

It is expected to be brief and concise , and should not include the findings of the research or detailed data . The average length of a research statement is generally about one page . It is going to define the problem, which can be thought of as a gap in the information base. There may be several solutions to this gap or lack of information, but that is not the concern of the problem statement. Its purpose is to summarize the current information and where a lack of knowledge may be presenting a problem that needs to be investigated .

The purpose of the problem statement is to identify the issue that is a concern and focus it in a way that allows it to be studied in a systematic way . It defines the problem and proposes a way to research a solution, or demonstrates why further information is needed in order for a solution to become possible.

What is Included in a Problem Statement?

Besides identifying the gap of understanding or the weakness of necessary data, it is important to explain the significance of this lack.

-How will your research contribute to the existing knowledge base in your field of study?

-How is it significant?

-Why does it matter?

Not all problems have only one solution so demonstrating the need for additional research can also be included in your problem statement. Once you identify the problem and the need for a solution, or for further study, then you can show how you intend to collect the needed data and present it.

How to Write a Statement of Problem in Research Proposal

It is helpful to begin with your goal. What do you see as the achievable goal if the problem you outline is solved? How will the proposed research theoretically change anything? What are the potential outcomes?

Then you can discuss how the problem prevents the ability to reach your realistic and achievable solution. It is what stands in the way of changing an issue for the better. Talk about the present state of affairs and how the problem impacts a person’s life, for example.

It’s helpful at this point to generally layout the present knowledge and understanding of the subject at hand, before then describing the gaps of knowledge that are currently in need of study. Your problem statement is a proposed solution to address one of these gaps.

A good problem statement will also layout the repercussions of leaving the problem as it currently stands. What is the significance of not addressing this problem? What are the possible future outcomes?

Example of Problem Statement in Research Proposal

If, for example , you intended to research the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the immune system , you would begin with a review of the current knowledge of vitamin D’s known function in relation to the immune system and how a deficiency of it impacts a person’s defenses.

You would describe the ideal environment in the body when there is a sufficient level of vitamin D. Then, begin to identify the problems associated with vitamin D deficiency and the difficulty of raising the level through supplementation, along with the consequences of that deficiency. Here you are beginning to identify the problem of a common deficiency and the current difficulty of increasing the level of vitamin D in the blood.

At this stage, you may begin to identify the problem and narrow it down in a way that is practical to a research project. Perhaps you are proposing a novel way of introducing Vitamin D in a way that allows for better absorption by the gut, or in a combination with another product that increases its level in the blood.

Describe the way your research in this area will contribute to the knowledge base on how to increase levels of vitamin D in a specific group of subjects, perhaps menopausal women with breast cancer. The research proposal is then described in practical terms.

How to write a problem statement in research?

Problem statements differ depending on the type and topic of research and vary between a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

However, the problem statement should not drag on needlessly. Despite the absence of a fixed format, a good research problem statement usually consists of three main parts:

Context: This section explains the background for your research. It identifies the problem and describes an ideal scenario that could exist in the absence of the problem. It also includes any past attempts and shortcomings at solving the problem.

Significance: This section defines how the problem prevents the ideal scenario from being achieved, including its negative impacts on the society or field of research. It should include who will be the most affected by a solution to the problem, the relevance of the study that you are proposing, and how it can contribute to the existing body of research.

Solution: This section describes the aim and objectives of your research, and your solution to overcome the problem. Finally, it need not focus on the perfect solution, but rather on addressing a realistic goal to move closer to the ideal scenario.

Here is a cheat sheet to help you with formulating a good problem statement.

1. Begin with a clear indication that the problem statement is going to be discussed next. You can start with a generic sentence like, “The problem that this study addresses…” This will inform your readers of what to expect next.

2. Next, mention the consequences of not solving the problem . You can touch upon who is or will be affected if the problem continues, and how.

3. Conclude with indicating the type of research /information that is needed to solve the problem. Be sure to reference authors who may have suggested the necessity of such research.

This will then directly lead to your proposed research objective and workplan and how that is expected to solve the problem i.e., close the research gap.

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  • Section 1: Home
  • Narrowing Your Topic

Defining The Problem Statement

How to write the problem statement.

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Problem Statement 

The problem needs to be very focused because everything else from the applied doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice logically flows from the problem. If the problem is too big or too vague, it will be difficult to scope out a purpose that is manageable, given the time to execute and finish the project. The problem should be the result of a practical need or an opportunity to further an applicational study or project.

Given the above, the problem statement should do four things: 

Specify and describe the problem (with appropriate citations) 

Provide evidence of the problem’s existence  

Explain the consequences of NOT solving the problem  

Identify what is not known about the problem that should be known.

What is a problem?

Example of a proper, specific, evidence-based, real-life problem: , evidence-based, what are consequences.

Consequences are negative implications experienced by a group of people, organization, profession, or industry as a result of the problem. The negative effects should be of a certain magnitude to warrant research. For example, if fewer than 1% of the stakeholders experience a negative consequence of a problem and that consequence only constitutes a minor inconvenience, research is probably not warranted. Negative consequences that can be measured weigh stronger than those that cannot be put on some kind of scale. 

In the example above, a significant negative consequence is that women face much larger barriers than men when attempting to get promoted to executive jobs; or are 94% less likely than men to get to that level in Corporate America. 

While a problem may be referred to as a gap in traditional research, in a doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice, the problem could be a statement of the situational condition that requires a scholar-practitioner approach. For the applied degree, this may be the part of the program or procedure that is not working. 

NOTE: The applied doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice includes checklists for all sections of the document, including problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions. You should make sure you use these checklists and follow margin instructions. The present document is intended to provide additional help and examples, and also explain the importance of alignment. Alignment enables you to ensure consistency in your language and presentation of information, as well as provide a logical flow of your narrative.

Resource: Ellis, T., & Levy, Y. (2008). Framework of problem-based research: A guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem. Informing Science , 11, 17-33.  http://proxy1.ncu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db= a9h&AN=36030721&site=eds-live  

  • PDF Template

Option 1: Writing the Problem Statement

Do not exceed 250-300 words.

It is helpful to begin the problem statement with a sentence:  “The problem to be addressed through this project  is…”

Paragraph 1

The problem should be evidenced-based and focus on practice within your perspective field or domain.  Then, fill out the rest of the paragraph with an elaboration of that specific problem, making sure to “document” it, as your doctoral committee will look for evidence that it is indeed a problem (emphasis also on the timeliness of the problem, supported by citations within the last 5 years).  Identify the negative consequences that are occurring as a result of the problem.

Paragraph 2

Next, write a paragraph explaining the consequences of NOT solving the problem. Who will be affected? How will they be affected? How important is it to fix the problem? Again, your doctoral committee will want to see research-based citations and statistics that indicate the negative implications are significant. 

Paragraph 3

In the final paragraph, you will explain what is not known that should be known. What isn’t known about the problem? Presumably, if your problem and purpose are aligned, your research will try to close or minimize this gap by investigating the problem. Have other practitioners investigated the issue? What has their research left unanswered? 

Option 2: Writing the Problem Statement

Another way to tackle the statement of the problem: .

The Statement of the Problem section is a very clear, concise identification of the problem. It must stay within the template guidelines of 250-300 words but more importantly, must contain four elements as outlined below.

A worthy problem should be able to address all of the following points: 

  • identification of the problem itself--what is "going wrong" (Ellis & Levy, 2008) 
  • who is affected by the problem 
  • the consequences that will result from a continuation of the problem 
  • a brief discussion of 
  • at least 3 authors’ research related to the problem; and 
  • their stated suggestion/recommendation for further research related to the problem 

Use the following to work on the Statement of the Problem by first outlining the section as follows: 

One clear, concise statement that tells the reader what is not working in the profession or industry. Be specific and support it with current studies. 

Tell who is affected by the problem identified in #1. 

Briefly tell what will happen if the problem isn’t addressed. 

Find at least 3 current studies and write a sentence or two for each study that 

  • briefly discusses the author(s)’ work, what they studied, and 
  • state their recommendation for further insight or exploration about the problem 

Option 3: Writing the Problem Statement

Finally, you can follow this simple 3-part outline when writing the statement of the problem section.

Your problem statement is a short (250-300 words), 3 paragraph section, in which you:

Example of a problem statement that follows this 3-part outline (295 words):  

  • Statement of the Problem Template Use this fillable PDF to help craft your Statement of the Problem
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How to Write the Statement of the Problem in Research

dissertation problem statement

Do you want to write a dissertation problem statement for your academic paper? In this case, you probably know already that the dissertation problem statement is the first step towards writing the research proposal. And yes, it is a very important part of your dissertation. Truth be told, everyone working on a complex paper such as a dissertation, that requires extensive research, should start with a dissertation problem statement. You will learn why in just a bit. For now, let’s explain what problem statements really are, how you write them and then show you a couple of excellent examples. We believe that you will be able to do a far better job writing the problem statement if you read a couple of examples.

What Is the Dissertation Problem Statement?

How to write a problem statement for a dissertation: the 4 steps, three dissertation problem statement examples, final word on problem statement.

First, we would like to make sure you understand what a problem statement is and what it is used for. Basically, the dissertation problem statement is a short paragraph of condensed ideas that show your readers how your research project will solve a problem. In other words, you will need to briefly state the current problem or problems, and then explain how your work solves them. You need to clearly define the problem and show how you will address it, in a very clear and concise manner. You can then use this statement to write the research proposal. Of course, you can also integrate it into the introduction of your dissertation. The bottom line, the research statement, is considered by many academics and thesis writers to be the heart of your dissertation.

Now that you know what the problem statement is and why it is so important for your dissertation, it’s time to go on to the next step. Let’s show you how to write a problem statement for a dissertation in just 4 steps. Our experienced dissertation writers have put together this guide to help you compose your statement as fast as possible. After all, you have plenty of work to do with research, analysis, writing, editing, etc. We advise you to check our tips to learn more about these steps. Without further ado, the 4 steps to write a problem statement for a dissertation:

  • Think about the ideal situation or the desired goal. Start the statement with how things should be, in an ideal case.
  • Think about what prevents this ideal situation. This is the problem you want to solve! Describe what is preventing the goal from being achieved and what stands in the way. In other words, use the second part of the statement to show your reader the problem you will be solving with your dissertation research and with your work.
  • Enumerate all the consequences of your solution (if the solution works, of course). How will your work improve the situation? What do you aim to achieve? This is the last part of the statement; the part where you show your readers the benefits of your work.
  • Read everything out loud and make sure it flows. The logic behind the statement must be strong and everything should be very clearly stated. Avoid ambiguity and don’t be afraid to cut our sections that don’t add value to the statement!

This is how a statement of the problem in the thesis generally looks like. To make things even easier for you, we have 3 examples for you.

Here are three dissertation problem statement examples that should make it clear how your statement should be organized:

  • According to various studies, university students are more focused and more efficient when their dorms are equipped with modern facilities (Ideal Situation). Students in Dorm B currently don’t have AC units and temperatures are exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months (Problem). My study plans to discover if students become more focused after AC units are installed in their dorm rooms (Solution).
  • All children must feel safe on the playground, regardless of where the playground is located in the city (Ideal Situation). Yet children in the northern part of the city fear playing on the playground after 6 PM because of hooligans (Problem). My research shows that proper policing around playgrounds after 6 PM greatly decreases violence against children (Solution).
  • Nonprofits need adequate funding and a supporting legal system to be able to help communities (Ideal Situation). The lack of funds and severe legal requirements are preventing certain foundations in the city from providing help to specific populations (Problem). My research demonstrates that softening regulations and increasing funding helps nonprofits provide assistance to 30% more people (Solution).

You can use any of the examples above as a thesis proposal template. Keep in mind that the problem statement for the dissertation must put the problem in context, describe all the details of the problem, show why the problem is important, and then clearly show what your research demonstrates. In other words, clearly and concisely show your audience why the problem is serious and how your research uncovers the best solution.

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How to Write a Statement of a Problem in Research with Steps

Published by Grace Graffin at August 11th, 2021 , Revised On October 3, 2023

Research is a systematic investigation to find new techniques, products or processes to solve problems. Apart from being systematic, research is empirical in nature: it’s based on observations and measurement of those observations.

It’s what comes before the development. Impacts and policies that are born in society are borne out of the research.

The most important step to perform any research is to identify a problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, it is necessary to define a research problem before starting the actual research process. Once a research problem has been identified, the next step is to write a problem statement.

Philosopher Kaoru Ishikawa said: “You will have a problem half-solved by defining it correctly on the first day.”

This quote perfectly reflects the importance of a problem statement in research. Before writing a problem statement, it is essential to pinpoint a specific problem, the difficulties you can expect to face as you try to solve it and the research gaps you aim to fill with your research.

The last part—how your research aims to fill a gap in the existing literature—will act as a springboard to the solution(s) that policy makers, for instance, might eventually take to solve that problem.

Filling a gap, therefore, is very important towards solving an existing problem.

What is a Problem Statement?

A problem statement is a clear and concise description of an issue or challenge that needs to be addressed. It typically outlines the existing gap between the current state (what currently is) and the desired state (what should be). Crafting a well-defined problem statement is critical for problem-solving, research, or project planning, as it serves as a guidepost and sets the direction for the subsequent steps.

Research Problem and Research Method – A Cyclical Process

The type of research strategy used in research determines whether you will be analysing theoretical problems to add value to existing knowledge, discussing practical issues to become an agent of change for an organisation or industry or looking at both aspects in relation to any given problem.

However, the kind of problem you aim to tackle with your research, to begin with, will also help you narrow down which research design , method or strategy to opt for.

This is therefore a cyclical process. Your research aim guides your research design can help you focus on a specific kind of research gap/problem.

However, generally, your research will focus on one or the other.

Here is all you need to know about how to write a statement of the problem in research, also called problem statement by some research writers .

Why do you Need a Statement of the Problem, to Begin with?

You need a statement of the problem to transform a generalised problem into a well-defined, brief, targeted statement to perform research in the decision-making process. The problem statement helps the researcher to identify the purpose of the ongoing research.

The problem statement in the dissertation is the pillar of the introduction chapter through which the reader can understand the research questions and scope of the project. If you do not define the problem statement properly, the results might become unmanageable.

Writing Problem Statement for a Business or Organisation

In the business world, problem statements provide the basis for the enhancement and refinement of projects. Without identifying and understanding the problem, it will be hard to find and effectively implement solutions.

A stand-alone document that solely provides an in-depth and detailed problem statement is usually the answer for organisations and businesses when it becomes imperative to find the solution to a problem.

Writing Problem Statement for Academic Research

statement of research problem

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Problem Statement – How to Write it

Ask yourself the following questions before writing the problem statement:

  • What is wrong in the research area/subarea XYZ?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • To what extent (how much)?
  • I know that because…(evidence)

‘What’ always defines the defect of the problem at hand and explains why it matters? ‘Where’ defines the geological location of the problem. ‘When’ defines the history and the pattern of the problem, the goal of the stated problem and the scope of research.

‘How much’ defines the trend of the problem as to how many objects are facing the same defect and to what extent. The last part, ‘I know this because…’, will help the researcher identify the standard(s) that he must meet.

Step 1: Understanding the Problem

The problem statement should provide a clear and concise background to the research problem you are investigating. Before starting your research , review the literature about the specific problem and find a gap to fill with your own research.

Practical Research Problem Statement

If you are doing experimental research , you can identify problems by talking to people working in a relevant field, studying research reports, and reviewing previous research. Here are some examples of practical research problems:

  • A problem that hinders the efficiency of a company
  • An institutional process that needs interventions
  • An area of concern in your field/sub-field of interest
  • Members of a society facing a specific difficulty

The problem statement should focus on the details related to the problem, such as:

  • When and where was the problem observed?
  • Who is/are affected by it?
  • What research has been conducted and what practical steps have been taken to resolve the problem?

Example of Practical Research Problem Statement

The production of a company is low for the months of July and August every year. Initial research has been conducted by the company, which revealed poor production in July and August is due to the unavailability of local raw material.

The company has made some effective attempts at engaging the local suppliers to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the raw material, but these efforts are yet to have any significant impact on the production levels.

Theoretical Research Problem Statement

According to USC Libraries, “A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is used for your particular study…theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts…relevant to the topic of your research paper and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.”

The theoretical research indirectly contributes to the change by identifying the problem, expanding knowledge and improving understanding. The researcher can find a specific problem by brainstorming the topic and reviewing already published theories and research.

When writing a problem statement based on a theoretical research problem , it is important to recognise the historical, geographical, social and scientific background. Here are the elements of the theoretical problem statement framework that you should consider:

  • What are the facts about the problem?
  • Does the problem relate to a certain geographical area or time period?
  • How is the problem discussed and explained in the existing literature?

Example of Theoretical Research Problem Statement

The production of a company is low for July and August every year. Initial research has been conducted by the company, which revealed poor production in July and August is due to the unavailability of local raw material. The company has made some effective attempts to engage the local suppliers to ensure an uninterrupted raw material supply. Still, these efforts are yet to have any significant impact on the production levels.

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Step 2 – Show why it’s Important and Relevant

By discussing the importance of the problem under investigation, you are demonstrating the relevance of your research. However, this does not mean that you will end up discovering something unimaginable or extraordinary.

The objective here is to clearly state how and why your research problem is relevant in your chosen area of study and why it requires further research.

As indicated previously, practical research deals with a problem affecting society, social group, firm or organisation on a broader scale. To elaborate on why it is important to solve this problem and why your research is significant, you could consider the following questions:

  • What will be the consequences if the problem remains unsolved?
  • Who do these consequences have the most implications for?
  • What is the wider relevance of the problem being investigated?

Low production in July and August negatively affects the company’s marketing capital, thereby becoming an area of deep concern for the directors and stakeholders. The marketing budget cut in July and August is hindering its ability to promote its products uninterruptedly.

Addressing this problem will have practical benefits for the company and help establish the reasons for disruption in raw material supply.

The relevance of all theoretical issues may not be too obvious, even though most theoretical problems do have practical implications. Here are some questions for you to ponder to establish the importance of your research problem:

  • Will your research help to advance understanding of the topic under investigation?
  • Are there any benefits of you resolving the problem for other researchers who wish to explore this topic further in the future?
  • What are the direct or indirect implications (s) of the problem you are trying to solving?

The new forms of employment such as freelance, contract-based work and zero-hour work arrangements are recognised as either a manipulative last option or a flexible active choice. It is necessary to conduct comprehensive qualitative research to uncover why fresh graduates take up these types of employment in the gig economy. There is a need to advance more vigorous concepts relating to instability and flexibility in modern forms of employment from employees’ perspectives, which will also help shape future policies.

Also see: How to Write the Abstract for Dissertation

Step 3 – Declaring the Problem

Before you jump on to state your research’s problem statements, it’s important to devote a sentence or two to let your readers know the precise, narrowed-down research problem you will be discussing about.

For language clarity purposes, here are some strong opening statements to achieve this step:

  • Recently, there has been growing interest in …
  • The possibility of…has generated wide interest in …
  • The development of…is a classic problem in…
  • The development of…has led to the hope that …
  • The…has become a favourite topic for analysis …
  • Knowledge of…has great importance for …
  • The study of…has become an important aspect of …
  • A central issue in…is…
  • The…has been extensively studied in recent years.
  • Many investigators have recently turned to …
  • The relationship between…has been investigated by many researchers.
  • Many recent studies have found out…

Step 4 – Establishing Aim and Objectives

The last step in writing a problem statement is to provide a framework for solving the problem. This will help you, the researcher, stay focused on your research aims and not stray; it will also help you readers keep in mind the reason as to why you conducted this study, to begin with.

A good problem statement does not provide the exact solution to any problem. Rather, it focuses more on how to effectively understand or tackle a problem by establishing the possible causes.

The aim of a research study is its end goal or overall purpose. Following are some examples of how you can craft your research aim statements:

  • This research study aims to investigate…
  • This paper is aimed at exploring…
  • This research aims to identify…

On the other hand, objectives are the smaller steps that a researcher must take to address the aim of the research. Once you have laid out the research problem your research will deal with, it’s important to next mention the how behind that. Objectives are mostly imperative statements, often beginning with transitive verbs like ‘to analyse,’ ‘to investigate,’ etc.

Some more examples are:

  • Statistical analysis will be conducted to determine…
  • Both quantitative and qualitative research methods will be employed to probe…
  • Face-to-face interviews will be carried out with the participants to establish…

Practical Research Aim and Objectives

This project aims to identify the causes of disturbed supply of raw material in the region, which resulted in low production for the company in July and August. This will be achieved by conducting interviews and surveys with the suppliers to understand why the supply is unpredictable in those two months and what can be done to ensure orderliness. Practical experiments will also be conducted to observe the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

Theoretical Research Aim and Objectives

This study aims to understand and unearth the experiences of fresh graduates in the modern economy. The sample population will participate in this study through qualitative research methods, which are expected to provide a deeper insight into the perceptions and motives of these fresh graduates working as freelancers and contract-based employees. The data collected from this exercise and the existing literature on the topic will be analysed in statistical analysis software.

TIP: Search the common themes of the problem statement in your field of research before writing a problem statement.

Also see: Argumentative Essay Writing Service

Problem Statement versus Significance of the Study

Even though both may sound similar, the statement of the problem and the significance of your study are going to be different. The latter does develop upon and from the former, though.

The problem statement tells your readers what’s wrong, whereas the significance of the study will tell them how your research contributed to that problem. You can’t have a significance of a study without mentioning the problem statement first.

Furthermore, signifying your study implies mentioning 4 key points related to it:

  • How your study will further develop the theory behind the existing problem
  • Practical solutions that might be implemented to solve the problem (especially in field research work)
  • Whether your study or research will pave way for innovative methods to solve the existing problem.
  • How your study can help in policy making and implementation, impact studies, etc.

Problem statement in research is the description of an existing issue that needs to be addressed. The problem statement is a focal point of any research and a bridge between the  literature review  and the  research methodology .

Problem statement often has three elements; the problem itself, the method of solving the problem, and the purpose. There are five aspects of every problem: What, Where, When, to what extent, and what defects you know about the topic. Here is an  example of a problem statement in a research proposal  for your better understanding.

If you wish to know more about how to start your research process, then you might want to take a look at the “ Starting the Research Process ” section on our website, which has several articles relating to a  research problem , problem statement, research aim and objectives, and  research proposal .

ResearchProspect is a UK-registered business that offers academic support and assistance to students across the globe. Our writers can help you with individual chapters of your dissertation or the full dissertation writing service , no matter how urgent or complex your requirements might be.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it necessary to write a problem statement.

Yes, the most important step to perform any research is to identify a problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, it is necessary to define a research problem before starting the actual research process .

How is a problem statement different from a problem statement written for an organisation?

In the business world, problem statements provide the basis for the enhancement and refinement of projects. Whereas, in academic research, A problem statement helps researchers understand and realise organised the significance of a research problem .

What is a practical research problem?

Doing experimental research can identify problems by talking to people working in a relevant field, studying research reports, and reviewing previous research. 

What is a theoretical research problem?

A theoretical research problem is when the researcher finds a specific problem by brainstorming and reviewing already published theories and research.

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ARTICLE: Problem Statement Development: How to Write a Problem Statement in A Dissertation

Profile image of D. Anthony  Miles

Most researchers and doctoral students have considerable trouble writing a problem statement with their research projects dissertations, and theses. We have to ask ourselves, why that is? Why are we encountering doctoral students and researchers that have trouble writing the problem statement? Why the disconnect? This is a common occurrence with doctoral students. We would think the required research methods course would address this. However, that is not case. Thus, this article addresses, discusses and illustrates how to develop a problem statement. This article will provide a model and template for developing a problem statement. As basis for a research study, it is important the researcher and doctoral student know how to construct a problem statement. First, this article discusses the problem statement. Second, this article provides a model as a for developing a problem statement. Last, the article provides examples of problem statements using the conceptual template. Doctoral Student Workshop: Problem Statement Development and Strategies

Related Papers

International Journal of Doctoral Studies

shardul pandya

Aim/Purpose: Provide methodology suggesting steps to doctoral mentors to work with students in constructing their research problem statement in their dissertation. Background: Doctoral students face difficulties writing their dissertation and they begin by writing the research problem statement. Methodology: This paper uses a framework widely used to describe student adjustment to graduate studies in general and to doctoral program in particular. Contribution: This study provides a framework to mentors/advisors that is helpful in guiding the students to writing their research problem statement. Findings: Writing a research problem statement is difficult by itself. Following a methodological approach suggested in this study could help with writing it. Recommendations for Practitioners: A methodological approach in writing the dissertation is helpful to mitigate the difficulties of writing the dissertation. Our study tackles difficulties with writing the research problem statement. Re...

problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

InSITE Conference

Aim/Purpose: Develop instructional rubrics that help in writing and evaluating the doctoral dissertation research problem statement. Background: This is a follow-up study. In the first paper, we introduced a model for writing a research problem statement that takes the students through four phases to complete their writing. In this paper, we introduce an instructional rubric to be used for helping to write the research problem statement. Methodology: This paper builds on the previous model and adds Socratic questions to trigger critical thinking to help with writing the research problem statement. Contribution: Developing the instructional rubrics is the contribution of this study. The instructional rubrics can help with writing the research problem statement. Findings: Writing a research problem statement is difficult by itself. Following the methodological approach suggested in this study will help students with the task of writing their own. Following this instructional rubric wi...

Journal of Physics: Conference Series

Mahyuddin K. M. Nasution

This paper aims to provide an understanding of designing a problem statement that must be present in every research proposal or other scientific work. A study, from proposals to scientific papers, requires a problem statement. The design of the program statement is basically always present from research interests. Objectives as a translation of the problem statement will be described through a methodology that matches the answers to be given to the interests. In the industry 4.0 era, problem statement in research prioritize innovation or change to improve welfare.

Leo Andrew B . Diego

Borrowed materials (i.e., songs, stories, poems, pictures, photos, brand names, trademarks, etc.) included in this module are owned by their respective copyright holders. Every effort has been exerted to locate and seek permission to use these materials from their respective copyright owners. The publisher and authors do not represent nor claim ownership over them.

Manu Mathew

Dr. Md Inaam Akhtar

Aptisi Transactions on Management (ATM)

Eka Purnama Harahap

Basically in conducting a study there are problems that can be used as a means toachieve a goal or goal in the study. Everyone who conducts research must have their ownmethod, concept, or method in formulating the problem that is the object of the research. In thispaper will explain the techniques or ways that can be done in relation to formulating problems inresearch including determining a topic to be discussed in research, making backgroundproblems, explaining problem identification, limiting the scope of research, determiningproblems that are worthy of research, making questions in research, and determine the goals,benefits, and uses of the research. With the concept of planning and mature thinking toformulate and determine the formulation of the problem, it is expected that the research that willbe conducted will be focused and directed so that it does not extend to the discussion that is notthe topic of his research. With the formulation of this problem also the reader becomes...

Princy Jain

Edupedia Publications

Research is an investigation or experimentation that is aimed at a discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of theories or laws or practical application of the new or revised theories or laws. Identification of research problem leads in conducting a research. To initiate a research, the necessity for the research, to be carried out should be generated.The ideas and topics are developed while consulting literatures, discussions with experts and continuation of activities related to the subject matter. These ideas/topics generally called research problems and are statements about areas of concern, a condition to be improved, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling question that exists in scholarly literature, in theory, or in practice that points to the need for meaningful understanding and deliberate investigation. A research problem does not state how to do something, offer a vague or broad proposition, or present a value question. The problem must be significant researchable lead to further research and suitable for the researcher. Formulation of the problem should lead to empirical investigation. Formulation of research problem should depict what is to be determined and scope of the study.It also involves key concept definitions questions to be asked. The objective of the present paper highlights the above stated issues.

International Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

IJHASS Journal

The current study aims at investigating the difficulties encountering Jordanian EFL students in the writing problem statement section. The study grouped those difficulties into two main categories, namely academic skills difficulties and language skills difficulties. It has been noticed that undergraduate as well as postgraduate students, lack the required skills enabling them to conduct a well-constructed research article, which sparkles the idea of this study. In addition, no previous study has examined the challenges encountered by Jordanian EFL students when conducting a research paper in general and the problem statement section in particular. For the purpose of collecting the required data of the present study, twenty Jordanian EFL students had a teaching program about research writing skills. They were introduced thoroughly to all sections of the research article, with special emphasis on the research problem, section which is the main concern of this study following that the participants were given a month period to accomplish their research papers before submission. The results of the study reveal that the participants lack the academic skills enabling them to conduct a well-constructed problem statement section. More specifically, the vast majority of the participants fail to provide an overview of their topics and to identify their research gap within the current literature. The study also shows that the participants face serious grammatical errors when writing research problem section. It could be concluded that conducting a scholarly research article in general and problem statement, in particular, is a demanding issue and need to be further highlighted by researchers and academicians to identify the challenges facing learners.

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Effective problem statements have these 5 components

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We’ve all encountered problems on the job. After all, that’s what a lot of work is about. Solving meaningful problems to help improve something. 

Developing a problem statement that provides a brief description of an issue you want to solve is an important early step in problem-solving .

It sounds deceptively simple. But creating an effective problem statement isn’t that easy, even for a genius like Albert Einstein. Given one hour to work on a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes finding solutions. (Or so the story goes.)

Einstein was probably exaggerating to make a point. But considering his success in solving complex problems, we think he was on to something. 

As humans, we’re wired to jump past the problem and go directly to the solution stage. In emergencies, this behavior can be lifesaving, as in leaping out of the way of a speeding car. But when dealing with longer-range issues in the workplace, this can lead to bad decisions or half-baked solutions. 

That’s where problem statements come in handy. They help to meaningfully outline objectives to reach effective solutions. Knowing how to develop a great problem statement is also a valuable tool for honing your management skills .

But what exactly is a problem statement, when should you use one, and how do you go about writing one? In this article, we'll answer those questions and give you some tips for writing effective problem statements. Then you'll be ready to take on more challenges large and small.

What is a problem statement?

First, let’s start by defining a problem statement. 

A problem statement is a short, clear explanation of an issue or challenge that sums up what you want to change. It helps you, team members, and other stakeholders to focus on the problem, why it’s important, and who it impacts. 

A good problem statement should create awareness and stimulate creative thinking . It should not identify a solution or create a bias toward a specific strategy.

Taking time to work on a problem statement is a great way to short-circuit the tendency to rush to solutions. It helps to make sure you’re focusing on the right problem and have a well-informed understanding of the root causes. The process can also help you take a more proactive than reactive approach to problem-solving . This can help position you and your team to avoid getting stuck in constant fire-fighting mode. That way, you can take advantage of more growth opportunities.  

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When to use a problem statement

The best time to create a problem statement is before you start thinking of solutions. If you catch yourself or your team rushing to the solution stage when you’re first discussing a problem, hit the brakes. Go back and work on the statement of the problem to make sure everyone understands and agrees on what the real problem is. 

Here are some common situations where writing problem statements might come in handy: 

  • Writing an executive summary for a project proposal or research project
  • Collaborating   on a cross-functional project with several team members
  • Defining the customer issue that a proposed product or service aims to solve
  • Using design thinking to improve user experience
  • Tackling a problem that previous actions failed to solve 

problem-statement-colleagues-solving-at-laptop

How to identify a problem statement

Like the unseen body of an iceberg, the root cause of a specific problem isn’t always obvious. So when developing a problem statement, how do you go about identifying the true, underlying problem?

These two steps will help you uncover the root cause of a problem :

  • Collect information from the research and previous experience with the problem
  • Talk to multiple stakeholders who are impacted by the problem

People often perceive problems differently. Interviewing stakeholders will help you understand the problem from diverse points of view. It can also help you develop some case studies to illustrate the problem. 

Combining these insights with research data will help you identify root causes more accurately. In turn, this methodology will help you craft a problem statement that will lead to more viable solutions. 

What are problem statements used for?

You can use problem statements for a variety of purposes. For an organization, it might be solving customer and employee issues. For the government, it could be improving public health. For individuals, it can mean enhancing their own personal well-being . Generally, problem statements can be used to:

  • Identify opportunities for improvement
  • Focus on the right problems or issues to launch more successful initiatives – a common challenge in leadership
  • Help you communicate a problem to others who need to be involved in finding a solution
  • Serve as the basis for developing an action plan or goals that need to be accomplished to help solve the problem
  • Stimulate thinking outside the box  and other types of creative brainstorming techniques

3 examples of problem statements

When you want to be sure you understand a concept or tool, it helps to see an example. There can also be some differences in opinion about what a problem statement should look like. For instance, some frameworks include a proposed solution as part of the problem statement. But if the goal is to stimulate fresh ideas, it’s better not to suggest a solution within the problem statement. 

In our experience, an effective problem statement is brief, preferably one sentence. It’s also specific and descriptive without being prescriptive. 

Here are three problem statement examples. While these examples represent three types of problems or goals, keep in mind that there can be many other types of problem statements.        

Example Problem Statement 1: The Status Quo Problem Statement

Example: 

The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons.

This can be used to describe a current pain point within an organization that may need to be addressed. Note that the statement specifies that the issue occurs during the company’s slow time as well as the busy season. This is helpful in performing the root cause analysis and determining how this problem can be solved. 

The average customer service on-hold time for Example company exceeds five minutes during both its busy and slow seasons. The company is currently understaffed and customer service representatives are overwhelmed.

Background:

Example company is facing a significant challenge in managing their customer service on-hold times. In the past, the company had been known for its efficient and timely customer service, but due to a combination of factors, including understaffing and increased customer demand, the on-hold times have exceeded five minutes consistently. This has resulted in frustration and dissatisfaction among customers, negatively impacting the company's reputation and customer loyalty.

Reducing the on-hold times for customer service callers is crucial for Example company. Prolonged waiting times have a detrimental effect on customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to potential customer churn and loss of revenue. Additionally, the company's declining reputation in terms of customer service can have a lasting impact on its competitive position in the market. Addressing this problem is of utmost importance to improve customer experience and maintain a positive brand image.

Objectives:

The primary objective of this project is to reduce the on-hold times for customer service callers at Example company. The specific objectives include:

  • Analyzing the current customer service workflow and identifying bottlenecks contributing to increased on-hold times.
  • Assessing the staffing levels and resource allocation to determine the extent of understaffing and its impact on customer service.
  • Developing strategies and implementing measures to optimize the customer service workflow and reduce on-hold times.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented measures through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as average on-hold time, customer satisfaction ratings, and customer feedback.
  • Establishing a sustainable approach to maintain reduced on-hold times, taking into account both busy and slow seasons, through proper resource planning, training, and process improvements.

Example Problem Statement 2: The Destination Problem Statement

Leaders at Example company want to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. 

This approach can be used to describe where an organization wants to be in the future. This type of problem statement is useful for launching initiatives to help an organization achieve its desired state. 

Like creating SMART goals , you want to be as specific as possible. Note that the statement specifies “net revenue” instead of “gross revenue." This will help keep options open for potential actions. It also makes it clear that merely increasing sales is not an acceptable solution if higher marketing costs offset the net gains. 

Leaders at Example company aim to increase net revenue for its premium product line of widgets by 5% for the next fiscal year. However, the company currently lacks the necessary teams to tackle this objective effectively. To achieve this growth target, the company needs to expand its marketing and PR teams, as well as its product development teams, to prepare for scaling. 

Example company faces the challenge of generating a 5% increase in net revenue for its premium product line of widgets in the upcoming fiscal year. Currently, the company lacks the required workforce to drive this growth. Without adequate staff in the marketing, PR, and product development departments, the company's ability to effectively promote, position, and innovate its premium product line will be hindered. To achieve this kind of growth, it is essential that Example company expands teams, enhances capabilities, and strategically taps into the existing pool of loyal customers.

Increasing net revenue for the premium product line is crucial for Example company's overall business success. Failure to achieve the targeted growth rate can lead to missed revenue opportunities and stagnation in the market. By expanding the marketing and PR teams, Example company can strengthen its brand presence, effectively communicate the value proposition of its premium product line, and attract new customers.

Additionally, expanding the product development teams will enable the company to introduce new features and innovations, further enticing existing and potential customers. Therefore, addressing the workforce shortage and investing in the necessary resources are vital for achieving the revenue growth objective.

The primary objective of this project is to increase net revenue for Example company's premium product line of widgets by 5% in the next fiscal year. The specific objectives include:

  • Assessing the current workforce and identifying the gaps in the marketing, PR, and product development teams.
  • Expanding the marketing and PR teams by hiring skilled professionals who can effectively promote the premium product line and engage with the target audience.
  • Strengthening the product development teams by recruiting qualified individuals who can drive innovation, enhance product features, and meet customer demands.
  • Developing a comprehensive marketing and PR strategy to effectively communicate the value proposition of the premium product line and attract new customers.
  • Leveraging the existing base of loyal customers to increase repeat purchases, referrals, and brand advocacy.
  • Allocating sufficient resources, both time and manpower, to support the expansion and scaling efforts required to achieve the ambitious revenue growth target.
  • Monitoring and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as net revenue, customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer satisfaction to measure the success of the growth initiatives.
  • Establishing a sustainable plan to maintain the increased revenue growth beyond the next fiscal year by implementing strategies for continuous improvement and adaptation to market dynamics.

Example Problem Statement 3 The Stakeholder Problem Statement

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys , less than 30% of employees at Eample company stated that they feel valued by the company. This represents a 20% decline compared to the same period in the year prior. 

This strategy can be used to describe how a specific stakeholder group views the organization. It can be useful for exploring issues and potential solutions that impact specific groups of people. 

Note the statement makes it clear that the issue has been present in multiple surveys and it's significantly worse than the previous year. When researching root causes, the HR team will want to zero in on factors that changed since the previous year.

In the last three quarterly employee engagement surveys, less than 30% of employees at the Example company stated that they feel valued by the company. This indicates a significant decline of 20% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The company aspires to reduce this percentage further to under 10%. However, achieving this goal would require filling specialized roles and implementing substantial cultural changes within the organization.

Example company is facing a pressing issue regarding employee engagement and perceived value within the company. Over the past year, there has been a notable decline in the percentage of employees who feel valued. This decline is evident in the results of the quarterly employee engagement surveys, which consistently show less than 30% of employees reporting a sense of value by the company.

This decline of 20% compared to the previous year's data signifies a concerning trend. To address this problem effectively, Example company needs to undertake significant measures that go beyond superficial changes and necessitate filling specialized roles and transforming the company culture.

Employee engagement and a sense of value are crucial for organizational success. When employees feel valued, they tend to be more productive, committed, and motivated. Conversely, a lack of perceived value can lead to decreased morale, increased turnover rates, and diminished overall performance.

By addressing the decline in employees feeling valued, Example company can improve employee satisfaction, retention, and ultimately, overall productivity. Achieving the desired reduction to under 10% is essential to restore a positive work environment and build a culture of appreciation and respect.

The primary objective of this project is to increase the percentage of employees who feel valued by Example company, aiming to reduce it to under 10%. The specific objectives include:

  • Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the factors contributing to the decline in employees feeling valued, including organizational policies, communication practices, leadership styles, and cultural norms.
  • Identifying and filling specialized roles, such as employee engagement specialists or culture change agents, who can provide expertise and guidance in fostering a culture of value and appreciation.
  • Developing a holistic employee engagement strategy that encompasses various initiatives, including training programs, recognition programs, feedback mechanisms, and communication channels, to enhance employee value perception.
  • Implementing cultural changes within the organization that align with the values of appreciation, respect, and recognition, while fostering an environment where employees feel valued.
  • Communicating the importance of employee value and engagement throughout all levels of the organization, including leadership teams, managers, and supervisors, to ensure consistent messaging and support.
  • Monitoring progress through regular employee surveys, feedback sessions, and key performance indicators (KPIs) related to employee satisfaction, turnover rates, and overall engagement levels.
  • Providing ongoing support, resources, and training to managers and supervisors to enable them to effectively recognize and appreciate their teams and foster a culture of value within their respective departments.
  • Establishing a sustainable framework for maintaining high employee value perception in the long term, including regular evaluation and adaptation of employee engagement initiatives to address evolving needs and expectations.

problem-statement-man-with-arms-crossed-smiling

What are the 5 components of a problem statement?

In developing a problem statement, it helps to think like a journalist by focusing on the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why or how. Keep in mind that every statement may not explicitly include each component. But asking these questions is a good way to make sure you’re covering the key elements:

  • Who: Who are the stakeholders that are affected by the problem?
  • What: What is the current state, desired state, or unmet need? 
  • When: When is the issue occurring or what is the timeframe involved?
  • Where: Where is the problem occurring? For example, is it in a specific department, location, or region?
  • Why: Why is this important or worth solving? How is the problem impacting your customers, employees, other stakeholders, or the organization? What is the magnitude of the problem? How large is the gap between the current and desired state? 

How do you write a problem statement?

There are many frameworks designed to help people write a problem statement. One example is outlined in the book, The Conclusion Trap: Four Steps to Better Decisions, ” by Daniel Markovitz. A faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, the author uses many case studies from his work as a business consultant.

To simplify the process, we’ve broken it down into three steps:

1. Gather data and observe

Use data from research and reports, as well as facts from direct observation to answer the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. 

Whenever possible, get out in the field and talk directly with stakeholders impacted by the problem. Get a firsthand look at the work environment and equipment. This may mean spending time on the production floor asking employees questions about their work and challenges. Or taking customer service calls to learn more about customer pain points and problems your employees may be grappling with.    

2. Frame the problem properly  

A well-framed problem will help you avoid cognitive bias and open avenues for discussion. It will also encourage the exploration of more options.

A good way to test a problem statement for bias is to ask questions like these:

3. Keep asking why (and check in on the progress)

When it comes to problem-solving, stay curious. Lean on your growth mindset to keep asking why — and check in on the progress. 

Asking why until you’re satisfied that you’ve uncovered the root cause of the problem will help you avoid ineffective band-aid solutions.

Refining your problem statements

When solving any sort of problem, there’s likely a slew of questions that might arise for you. In order to holistically understand the root cause of the problem at hand, your workforce needs to stay curious. 

An effective problem statement creates the space you and your team need to explore, gain insight, and get buy-in before taking action.

If you have embarked on a proposed solution, it’s also important to understand that solutions are malleable. There may be no single best solution. Solutions can change and adapt as external factors change, too. It’s more important than ever that organizations stay agile . This means that interactive check-ins are critical to solving tough problems. By keeping a good pulse on your course of action, you’ll be better equipped to pivot when the time comes to change. 

BetterUp can help. With access to virtual coaching , your people can get personalized support to help solve tough problems of the future.

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Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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How to Write a Problem Statement | Guide & Examples

Published on 8 November 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George.

A problem statement is a concise and concrete summary of the research problem you seek to address. It should:

  • Contextualise the problem. What do we already know?
  • Describe the exact issue your research will address. What do we still need to know?
  • Show the relevance of the problem. Why do we need to know more about this?
  • Set the objectives of the research. What will you do to find out more?

Table of contents

When should you write a problem statement, step 1: contextualise the problem, step 2: show why it matters, step 3: set your aims and objectives.

Problem statement example

Frequently asked questions about problem statements

There are various situations in which you might have to write a problem statement.

In the business world, writing a problem statement is often the first step in kicking off an improvement project. In this case, the problem statement is usually a stand-alone document.

In academic research, writing a problem statement can help you contextualise and understand the significance of your research problem. It is often several paragraphs long, and serves as the basis for your research proposal . Alternatively, it can be condensed into just a few sentences in your introduction .

A problem statement looks different depending on whether you’re dealing with a practical, real-world problem or a theoretical issue. Regardless, all problem statements follow a similar process.

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The problem statement should frame your research problem, giving some background on what is already known.

Practical research problems

For practical research, focus on the concrete details of the situation:

  • Where and when does the problem arise?
  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What attempts have been made to solve the problem?

Theoretical research problems

For theoretical research, think about the scientific, social, geographical and/or historical background:

  • What is already known about the problem?
  • Is the problem limited to a certain time period or geographical area?
  • How has the problem been defined and debated in the scholarly literature?

The problem statement should also address the relevance of the research. Why is it important that the problem is addressed?

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to do something groundbreaking or world-changing. It’s more important that the problem is researchable, feasible, and clearly addresses a relevant issue in your field.

Practical research is directly relevant to a specific problem that affects an organisation, institution, social group, or society more broadly. To make it clear why your research problem matters, you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen if the problem is not solved?
  • Who will feel the consequences?
  • Does the problem have wider relevance? Are similar issues found in other contexts?

Sometimes theoretical issues have clear practical consequences, but sometimes their relevance is less immediately obvious. To identify why the problem matters, ask:

  • How will resolving the problem advance understanding of the topic?
  • What benefits will it have for future research?
  • Does the problem have direct or indirect consequences for society?

Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal here should not be to find a conclusive solution, but rather to propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it.

The research aim is the overall purpose of your research. It is generally written in the infinitive form:

  • The aim of this study is to determine …
  • This project aims to explore …
  • This research aims to investigate …

The research objectives are the concrete steps you will take to achieve the aim:

  • Qualitative methods will be used to identify …
  • This work will use surveys to collect …
  • Using statistical analysis, the research will measure …

The aims and objectives should lead directly to your research questions.

Learn how to formulate research questions

You can use these steps to write your own problem statement, like the example below.

Step 1: Contextualise the problem A family-owned shoe manufacturer has been in business in New England for several generations, employing thousands of local workers in a variety of roles, from assembly to supply-chain to customer service and retail. Employee tenure in the past always had an upward trend, with the average employee staying at the company for 10+ years. However, in the past decade, the trend has reversed, with some employees lasting only a few months, and others leaving abruptly after many years.

Step 2: Show why it matters As the perceived loyalty of their employees has long been a source of pride for the company, they employed an outside consultant firm to see why there was so much turnover. The firm focused on the new hires, concluding that a rival shoe company located in the next town offered higher hourly wages and better “perks”, such as pizza parties. They claimed this was what was leading employees to switch. However, to gain a fuller understanding of why the turnover persists even after the consultant study, in-depth qualitative research focused on long-term employees is also needed. Focusing on why established workers leave can help develop a more telling reason why turnover is so high, rather than just due to salaries. It can also potentially identify points of change or conflict in the company’s culture that may cause workers to leave.

Step 3: Set your aims and objectives This project aims to better understand why established workers choose to leave the company. Qualitative methods such as surveys and interviews will be conducted comparing the views of those who have worked 10+ years at the company and chose to stay, compared with those who chose to leave.

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement.

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarise the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

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How to Write a Problem Statement for Your Dissertation?

After successfully specifying your project’s research problem, penning a problem statement pursues. Two crucial properties of an efficient problem statement are its conciseness and tangibility.

problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

Penning a problem statement

After successfully specifying your project’s research problem, penning a  problem statement  pursues. Two crucial properties of an efficient problem statement are its conciseness and tangibility. Therefore, a productive problem statement should

a) lay the problem in its appropriate milieu, covering what you have already known

b) specifically define the issue to be covered, stating what you need to learn

c) depict the applicability of the problem, disclosing why you must learn about it

d) ultimately delineate the research objective, suggesting what you will or hope to discover.

What is the right time for writing a problem statement?

Many situations exist to render the writing of research problem indispensable. Penning a problem statement is critical in improvement projects for businesses and other organizations. If you wish to find and apply practical solutions, you should have a plainly-defined and easily comprehendible problem statement. Suppose it is the case. Then, the problem statement will be a separate document.

In academic research, thanks to a problem statement, you can contextualize and understand the vitality of your research problem. A problem statement can include many paragraphs and functions as the foundation for your research proposal. In contrast, it can merely have a couple of sentences in the introduction of your dissertation, thesis, or article. It would be best to remember that the problem statement primarily depends on whether you handle a practical, real-world problem or address a theoretical issue. Irrespective of the case, all problem statements undergo ingeniously similar processes. 

Stage 1: The problem contextualization

Ensure that you have framed your  research problem  in its given context and presented what has already been covered about that issue.

a. Down-to-earth research problems

Suppose you conduct practical research. In that case, you must concentrate on the tangible details of the situation addressing the following issues. You must state where and when the problem has originated. You must also note who the problem affects the most. On top of that, you must list the attempts to solve the issue. The pursuing sample problem might help you.

Sample problem

Students’ participation in clubs has dramatically declined over the past five years. The surveys have shown that this is especially true for engineering students. Even though the university administration has provided incentives to increase student involvement, the impact is not imminent.

b. Hypothetical research problems

Hypothetical research covers the scientific, social, geographical, or historical background. Therefore, it should address what has already been known about the problem, state whether the problem is specific or affects a larger geographical region, and how the literature has described and discussed the issue. The pursuing sample is helpful.

The “online economy” has boosted unprecedented levels in the past three years. It has raised e-commerce’s share of global retail trade from 14% in 2019 to approximately 17% in 2020. Because lockdowns befitted the new trend, businesses and consumers had to go digital, providing and purchasing more goods and services online. UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant stated: “Businesses and consumers that were able to ‘go digital’ have helped mitigate the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.’’

Stage 2: Depict why it is crucial

The problem statement is expected to cover the weight of the research and explain why the problem must be addressed. It does not necessarily suggest that you must conduct something groundbreaking or world-changing. Exceedingly critical illustrates that the problem is addressable and viable and clearly discusses a pertinent issue in your field.

Stage 3: Establish your objectives

Ultimately, the problem statement should formulate how you target addressing the problem. Your goal should be beyond finding a definitive solution. Instead, it should explore the reasons behind the problem and suggest more fundamental approaches to confronting or comprehending it.

The research aim should be inclusive and cover the entire research. More frequently, the literature uses the infinitive form. Therefore, you can find expressions such as “the objective of this study is to determine such and such; this research aims to investigate the following, and finally, we aim to explore…”

The research objectives include the tangible stages you follow to achieve the goal. They can have statements like “we will employ quantitative methods to identify parameters; we will utilize surveys to collect the data, and we will use ‘x’ statistical software for the statistical analysis.”

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Now, you have finished your thesis or dissertation. The next is writing a research paper based on your thesis and dissertation. A research paper is vital for academic writing, supplying in-depth analysis, comments, and in-depth discussion about your research.

problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

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problem statement development how to write a problem statement in a dissertation

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  1. PDF Problem Statement Development: How to Write a Problem Statement in A

    The problem statement is defined in the following points: (1) clarity and precision (a well-written statement does not make sweeping generalizations and irresponsible statements); (2)...

  2. How to Write a Problem Statement

    Step 1: Contextualize the problem Step 2: Show why it matters Step 3: Set your aims and objectives Problem statement example Other interesting articles Frequently asked questions about problem statements When should you write a problem statement? There are various situations in which you might have to write a problem statement.

  3. How to Write a Dissertation Problem Statement

    The Key Elements of a Dissertation Problem Statement: Essentially, you want to establish (a) what the problem is, (b) that it matters, and (c) that it addresses a meaningful gap in the literature. Give some brief background information. A few sentences to help the reader understand the context of the problem.

  4. ARTICLE: "Research Methods and Strategies: Problem Statement

    Example: The Statement Grid -for Problem Statement Development Overall Problem Statement: Write and describe the overall problem as identified by the researcher. Then write, The central problem to ...

  5. PDF Developing the Problem Statement for Your Dissertation Proposal

    Developing the Problem Statement for Your Dissertation Proposal The Problem Is the Problem As I said in the introduction, many students wrestl with "the problem is the prob-lem"; they just can't seem to get started.

  6. Problem Statement

    Chapter 1 Problem Statement Overview The dissertation problem needs to be very focused because everything else from the dissertation research logically flows from the problem. You may say that the problem statement is the very core of a dissertation research study.

  7. PDF A Complete Dissertation

    Chapter 1 Objectives Provide a cursory glance at the constitution of an entire dissertation. Offer a comprehensive outline of all key elements for each section of the dissertation—that is, precursor of what is to come, with each element being more fully developed and explained further along in the book.

  8. Developing a dissertation research problem: A guide for doctoral

    Developing a dissertation research problem: ... How to communicate the research problem demands more than good writing skills alone, though this aspect is an essential competency. For many students as emerging scholars, constructing the problem statement often presents an intellectual challenge of a new sort, apart from designing the study and ...

  9. What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]

    -How is it significant? -Why does it matter? Not all problems have only one solution so demonstrating the need for additional research can also be included in your problem statement. Once you identify the problem and the need for a solution, or for further study, then you can show how you intend to collect the needed data and present it.

  10. PDF Problem Statement Help (adapted by Dr. Sherry Lowrance)

    Use the following to work on the Statement of the Problem by first outlining the section as follows: 1. One clear, concise statement that tells the reader what is not working, what is "going wrong". Be specific and support it with current studies. 2. Tell who is affected by the problem identified in #1. 3.

  11. A Four Stage Framework for the Development of a Research Problem

    Background: Writing a doctoral dissertation is a long journey, and it typically starts with writing the research problem statement. Students face challenges in articulating the research problem ...

  12. Writing a Problem Statement

    Writing a Problem Statement. Information on the Problem Statement can be found at: Writing the Dissertation & Applied Doctoral Project; ... This site by University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-4.0 International License.

  13. Problem Statement

    Section 1 Defining The Problem Statement Problem Statement The problem needs to be very focused because everything else from the applied doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice logically flows from the problem.

  14. How to Write a Clear Research Problem Statement

    A compelling problem statement encompasses specific aspects of the research. Bloomberg and Volpe (2008) suggest that a well-crafted problem statement should: Summarize the literature substantiating the study, Highlight the need for the study in the context of an identified literature gap, Describe the problem to be investigated and set ...

  15. How to Write the Statement of the Problem in Research

    Without further ado, the 4 steps to write a problem statement for a dissertation: Think about the ideal situation or the desired goal. Start the statement with how things should be, in an ideal case. Think about what prevents this ideal situation. This is the problem you want to solve!

  16. How to Write a Statement of a Problem in Research

    It typically outlines the existing gap between the current state (what currently is) and the desired state (what should be). Crafting a well-defined problem statement is critical for problem-solving, research, or project planning, as it serves as a guidepost and sets the direction for the subsequent steps.

  17. ARTICLE: Problem Statement Development: How to Write a Problem

    2021 • Aim/Purpose: Provide methodology suggesting steps to doctoral mentors to work with students in constructing their research problem statement in their dissertation. Background: Doctoral students face difficulties writing their dissertation and they begin by writing the research problem statement.

  18. How to Write a Problem Statement

    Dr. Guy E. White of The Dissertation Mentor® ( www.TheDissertationMentor.com ) discusses How to Write a a Problem Statement for Your Dissertation, How to write a dissertation, and How...

  19. How to Write a Problem Statement (With 3 Examples)

    Big 5 Personality Test Learn how to leverage your natural strengths to determine your next steps and meet your goals faster. Take quiz What is a problem statement? First, let's start by defining a problem statement. What is a problem statement?

  20. How to Write a Problem Statement

    Step 3: Set your aims and objectives. Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal here should not be to find a conclusive solution, but rather to propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it. The research aim is the overall purpose of your research.

  21. How to Write a Problem Statement for Your Dissertation?

    27.09.2022 How to Write a Problem Statement for Your Dissertation? Penning a problem statement After successfully specifying your project's research problem, penning a problem statement pursues. Two crucial properties of an efficient problem statement are its conciseness and tangibility. Therefore, a productive problem statement should

  22. How to Write a Research Problem Statement

    Learn how to write a research problem statement. In this video, Dr. Jessica Parker helps you gain clarity about both what a research problem is and is not. F...

  23. How do I write my problem statement for my capstone?

    A problem statement is a statement where the writer describes a problem and presents an argument as to why further research on this problem is necessary. The requirements for how to write the problem statement depend on the type of degree (PhD, EdD, DBA, DNP, etc.).