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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. If the problem is too big or too vague, it will be difficult to scope out a purpose that is manageable for one person, given the time available to execute and finish the dissertation research study.
Through your research, your aim is to obtain information that helps address a problem so it can be resolved. Note that the researcher does not actually solve the problem themselves by conducting research but provides new knowledge that can be used toward a resolution. Typically, the problem is solved (or partially solved) by practitioners in the field, using input from researchers.
Given the above, the problem statement should do three things:
- Specify and describe the problem (with appropriate citations)
- Explain the consequences of NOT solving the problem
Explain the knowledge needed to solve the problem (i.e., what is currently unknown about the problem and its resolution – also referred to as a gap )
What is a problem?
The world is full of problems! Not all problems make good dissertation research problems, however, because they are either too big, complex, or risky for doctorate candidates to solve. A proper research problem can be defined as a specific, evidence-based, real-life issue faced by certain people or organizations that have significant negative implications to the involved parties.
Example of a proper, specific, evidence-based, real-life dissertation research problem:
“Only 6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women” (Center for Leadership Studies, 2019).
Specific refers to the scope of the problem, which should be sufficiently manageable and focused to address with dissertation research. For example, the problem “terrorism kills thousands of people each year” is probably not specific enough in terms of who gets killed by which terrorists, to work for a doctorate candidate; or “Social media use among call-center employees may be problematic because it could reduce productivity,” which contains speculations about the magnitude of the problem and the possible negative effects.
Evidence-based here means that the problem is well-documented by recent research findings and/or statistics from credible sources. Anecdotal evidence does not qualify in this regard. Quantitative evidence is generally preferred over qualitative ditto when establishing a problem because quantitative evidence (from a credible source) usually reflects generalizable facts, whereas qualitative evidence in the form of research conclusions tend to only apply to the study sample and may not be generalizable to a larger population. Example of a problem that isn’t evidence-based: “Based on the researcher’s experience, the problem is that people don’t accept female leaders;” which is an opinion-based statement based on personal (anecdotal) experience.
Real-life means that a problem exists regardless of whether research is conducted or not. This means that “lack of knowledge” or “lack of research” cannot be used as the problem for a dissertation study because it’s an academic issue or a gap; and not a real-life problem experienced by people or organizations. Example of a problem that doesn’t exist in real life: “There is not enough research on the reasons why people distrust minority healthcare workers.” This type of statement also reveals the assumption that people actually do mistrust minority healthcare workers; something that needs to be supported by actual, credible evidence to potentially work as an underlying research problem.
What are consequences?
Consequences are negative implications experienced by a group of people or organizations, 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.
What is a gap?
To establish a complete basis for a dissertation research study, the problem has to be accompanied by a gap . A gap is missing knowledge or insights about a particular issue that contributes to the persistence of the problem. We use gaps to “situate” new research in the existing literature by adding to the knowledge base in the business research field, in a specific manner (determined by the purpose of the research). Identifying gaps requires you to review the literature in a thorough fashion, to establish a complete understanding of what is known and what isn’t known about a certain problem. In the example from above about the underrepresentation of female CEOs, a gap may be that male-dominated boards have not been studied extensively in terms of their CEO hiring decisions, which might then warrant a study of such boards, to uncover implicit biases and discriminatory practices against female candidates.
How to Write a Problem Statement
- Here is one way to construct a problem section (keep in mind you have a 250-300 word limit, but you can write first and edit later):
It is helpful to begin the problem statement with a sentence : “The problem to be addressed through this study is… ” Then, fill out the rest of the paragraph with elaboration of that specific problem, making sure to “document” it, as NU reviewers will look for research-based evidence that it is indeed a problem (emphasis also on timeliness of the problem, supported by citations within the last 5 years).
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, NU reviewers will want to see research-based citations and statistics that indicate the negative implications are significant.
In the final paragraph, you will explain what information (research) is needed in order to fix the problem. This paragraph shows that the problem is worthy of doctoral-level research. What isn’t known about the problem? Ie, what is the gap? Presumably, if your problem and purpose are aligned, your research will try to close or minimize this gap by investigating the problem. Have other researchers investigated the issue? What has their research left unanswered?
- 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 dissertation 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 1) at least 3 authors’ research related to the problem; and 2) 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:
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. Briefly tell what will happen if the problem isn’t addressed.
4. Find at least 3 current studies and write a sentence or two for each study that
i. briefly discusses the author(s)’ work, what they studied, and
ii. state their recommendation for further research about the problem
- 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
- Explain context and state problem (“the problem is XYZ”), supported by statistics and/or recent research findings
- Explain the negative consequences of the problem to stakeholders, supported by statistics and/or recent research findings
- Explain the gap in the literature.
Example of a problem statement that follows the 3-part outline (295 words):
The problem to be addressed by this study is the decline of employee well-being for followers of novice mid-level managers and the corresponding rise in employee turnover faced by business leaders across the financial services industry (Oh et al., 2014). Low levels of employee well-being are toxic for morale and result in expensive turnover costs, dysfunctional work environments, anemic corporate cultures, and poor customer service (Compdata, 2018; Oh et al., 2014). According to Ufer (2017), the financial services industry suffers from one of the highest turnover rates among millennial-aged employees in all industries in the developed world, at 18.6% annually. Starkman (2015) reported that 50% of those surveyed in financial services were not satisfied with a single one of the four key workplace aspects: job, firm, pay or career path.
Low levels of employee well-being interrupt a financial services’ company’s ability to deliver outstanding customer service in a world increasingly dependent on that commodity (Wladawsky-Berger, 2018).Mid-level managers play an essential role in support of the success of many of top businesses today (Anicich & Hirsh, 2017).
The current body of literature does not adequately address the well-being issue in the financial services industry from the follower’s perspective (Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carsten, 2014). Strategic direction flows top-down from senior executives and passes through mid-level leadership to individual contributors at more junior grades. The mid-level managers’ teams are tasked with the achievement of core tasks and the managers themselves are expected to maintain the workforce’s morale, motivation and welfare (Anicich & Hirsh, 2017). Unless industry leaders better understand the phenomenon of employee well-being from the follower perspective and its role in positioning employees to provide a premium client experience, they may be handicapped from preserving their most significant principal market differentiator: customer service (Wladawsky-Berger, 2018).
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How to Write a Problem Statement in Research
What is a Research Problem Statement?
A research problem statement is a concise statement describing the problem or issue addressed by the research study. The research problem should be composed in a way that both experts and non-experts in the field can understand.
Every research paper describes the investigation of a problem: by adding knowledge to the existing literature, revisiting known observations, or finding concrete solutions. What contribution your publication makes to your field or the scientific community at large depends on whether your research is “basic” (i.e., mainly interested in providing further knowledge that researchers can later apply to specific problems) or “applied” (i.e., developing new techniques, processes, and products).
In any case, a research proposal or research paper must clearly identify and describe the “problem” that is being investigated, so that the reader understands where the research comes from, why the study is relevant, if the applied methods are appropriate, and if the presented results are valid and answer the stated questions. This is known as the “statement of the problem.”
Table of Contents:
- What is a Research Problem?
How to Write a Problem Statement in a Research Paper
- Statement of the Problem Example
- Where Does the Problem Statement Go in Your Paper?
Consider Using Professional Editing Services
Understanding how to write a research problem.
Your research problem defines the gap in existing knowledge you want to address (e.g., global warming causes), an issue with a certain process (e.g., voter registration) or practices (e.g., patient treatment) that is known and well documented and needs a solution, or some surprising phenomena or earlier findings that point to the need for further investigation. Your approach can be theoretical or practical, and the specific type of problem you choose to address depends on the type of research you want to do.
In any case, your paper should not repeat what other studies have already said. It also should not ask a question that is too broad in scope to be answered within your study, nor should it be so vague that your reader cannot grasp your motivation or focus. To avoid such problems, you need to clearly define your research question, put it into context, and emphasize its significance for your field of research, the wider research community, or even the general public.
When including your statement of the research problem, several key factors must be considered in order to make a statement that is clear, concise, relevant, and convincing to readers. Think about the following elements not as “steps” to writing your problem statement, but as necessary conditions on which your statement can be firmly grounded and stand out.
Provide context for your study
Putting your research problem in context means providing the reader with the background information they need to understand why you want to study or solve this particular problem and why it is relevant. If there have been earlier attempts at solving the problem or solutions that are available but seem imperfect and need improvement, include that information here.
If you are doing applied research, this part of the problem statement (or “research statement”) should tell the reader where a certain problem arises and who is affected by it. In basic or theoretical research, you make a review of relevant literature on the topic that forms the basis for the current work and tells the reader where your study fits in and what gap in existing knowledge you are addressing.
Establish the relevance of this research
The problem statement also needs to clearly state why the current research matters, or why future work matters if you are writing a research proposal. Ask yourself (and tell your readers) what will happen if the problem continues and who will feel the consequences the most. If the solution you search for or propose in your study has wider relevance outside the context of the subjects you have studied, then this also needs to be included here. In basic research, the advancement of knowledge does not always have clear practical consequences—but you should clearly explain to the reader how the insights your study offers fit into the bigger picture, and what potential future research they could inspire.
Define specific aims and Objectives
Now that the reader knows the context of your research and why it matters, briefly introduce the design and the methods you used or are planning to use. While describing these, you should also formulate your precise aims more clearly, and thereby bring every element in your paper together so that the reader can judge for themselves if they (a) understand the rationale behind your study and (b) are convinced by your approach.
This last part could maybe be considered the actual “statement of the problem” of your study, but you need to prepare the reader by providing all the necessary details before you state it explicitly. If the background literature you cite is too broad and the problem you introduced earlier seems a bit vague, then the reader will have trouble understanding how you came up with the specific experiments you suddenly describe here. Make sure your readers can follow the logical structure of your presentation and that no important details are left out.
Research Problem Statement Example
The following is a sample statement of the problem for a practical research study on the challenges of online learning. Note that your statement might be much longer (especially the context section where you need to explain the background of the study) and that you will need to provide sources for all the claims you make and the earlier literature you cite. You will also not include the headers “context”, “relevance” and “aims and objectives” but simply present these parts as different paragraphs. But if your problem statement follows this structure, you should have no problem convincing the reader of the significance of your work.
Providing context: Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, most educational institutions around the world have transitioned to a fully online study model, at least during peak times of infections and social distancing measures. This transition has not been easy and even two years into the pandemic, problems with online teaching and studying persist (reference needed) . While the increasing gap between those with access to technology and equipment and those without access has been determined to be one of the main challenges (reference needed) , others claim that online learning offers more opportunities for many students by breaking down barriers of location and distance (reference needed) .
Establishing relevance: Since teachers and students cannot wait for circumstances to go back to normal, the measures that schools and universities have implemented during the last two years, their advantages and disadvantages, and the impact of those measures on students’ progress, satisfaction, and well-being need to be understood so that improvements can be made and demographics that have been left behind can receive the support they need as soon as possible.
Defining aims and objectives: To identify what changes in the learning environment were considered the most challenging and how those changes relate to a variety of student outcome measures, we conducted surveys and interviews among teachers and students at ten institutions of higher education in four different major cities, two in the US (New York and Chicago), one in South Korea (Seoul), and one in the UK (London). Responses were analyzed with a focus on different student demographics and how they might have been affected differently by the current situation.
Where Does the Problem Statement Go in Your Paper?
If you write a statement of the problem for a research proposal, then you could include it as a separate section at the very beginning of the main text (unless you are given a specific different structure or different headings, however, then you will have to adapt to that). If your problem statement is part of a research paper manuscript for publication in an academic journal, then it more or less constitutes your introduction section , with the context/background being the literature review that you need to provide here.
If you write the introduction section after the other parts of your paper, then make sure that the specific research question and approach you describe here are in line with the information provided in the research paper abstract , and that all questions you raise here are answered at the end of the discussion section —as always, consistency is key. Knowing where to put the research question can depend on several important contextual factors.
Receive instant editing with Wordvice.AI, our automated grammar checker . Then hand over your manuscript or paper to a professional English editing service for paper editing , thesis editing , or other academic editing services .
And if you need advice on how to write the other parts of your research paper , on how to make a research paper outline if you are struggling with putting everything you did together, or on how to come up with a good research question in case you are not even sure where to start, then head over to the Wordvice academic resources website where we have a lot more articles and videos for you.
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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 May 31, 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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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.
Learn how to formulate research questions
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.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- 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
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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- Research Process
What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]
- 5 minute read
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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Research Problem Statement — Find out how to write an impactful one!
Table of Contents
What Is a Research Problem Statement?
A research problem statement is a clear, concise, and specific statement that describes the issue or problem that the research project addresses. It should be written in a way that is easily understandable to both experts and non-experts in the field.
To write a research problem statement, you should:
- Identify the general area of interest: Start by identifying the general area of research that interests you.
- Define the specific problem: Narrow down the general area of interest to a specific problem or issue.
- Explain the significance of the problem: Provide context for the problem by explaining why it is important to study and what gap in current knowledge or understanding it fills.
- Provide a clear and concise statement: State the problem in a clear and concise manner, making sure to use language that is easily understood by your intended audience.
- Use a scientific and objective tone: The problem statement should be written in a neutral and objective tone, avoiding any subjective language and personal bias .
An Example of a Research Problem Statement
“The increasing prevalence of obesity in children is a growing public health concern. Despite the availability of information on healthy eating and physical activity, many children are still not engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors. The problem this study addresses is the lack of understanding of the barriers and facilitators to healthy lifestyle behaviors in children.”
When to Write a Problem Statement in Research?
A research problem statement should be written at the beginning of the research process, before any data collection or analysis takes place. This is because the statement sets the foundation for the entire research project by clearly defining the problem that the research is trying to address.
Writing a problem statement early in the research process helps to guide the research design and methodology , and ensures that the research is focused on addressing the specific problem at hand. It also helps to ensure that the research is relevant and addresses a gap in current knowledge or understanding.
In addition, a well-written problem statement effectively communicates the purpose and significance of the research to potential funders, collaborators, and other stakeholders. It also generates interest and support for the research project.
It’s also important to note that, during the research process, the statement can be refined or updated as new information is discovered or as the research progresses. This is normal and it’s a good idea to revise the statement as needed to ensure that it remains clear and concise and that it accurately reflects the current focus of the research project.
What Does a Research Problem Statement Include?
A research problem statement typically includes the following elements:
1. The research topic:
The general area of interest or field of study that the research project addresses.
2. The specific problem or issue:
A clear and concise statement of the problem or issue that the research project aims to address.
3. The significance of the problem:
A discussion of why the problem is important and what gap in current knowledge or understanding it fills.
4. The research questions:
A set of questions that the research project aims to answer, in order to address the problem or issue.
5. The research objectives:
A set of specific and measurable objectives that the research project aims to achieve.
6. The scope of the research:
A description of the specific population, setting, or context that the research project will focus on.
7. The theoretical framework:
A discussion of the theoretical concepts and principles that inform the research project.
8. The research design:
A description of the research methodologies that will be used to collect and analyze data in order to address the research questions and objectives.
It’s important to note that the problem statement is usually brief and concise, typically a few sentences or a short paragraph. But it should provide enough information to convey the main idea of the research project.
Important Features of Research Problem Statement
The problem statement should be clear and easy to understand. Write it in a way that is accessible to both experts and non-experts in the field.
The statement should be specific and clearly define the problem or issue that the research project aims to address. It should be narrow enough to be manageable, but broad enough to be of interest to others in the field.
The statement should explain why the problem is important and what gap in current knowledge or understanding it fills. It should provide context for the research project and help to justify its importance.
The statement should be relevant to the field of study and address an issue that is currently of concern to researchers.
5. Research questions
The statement should include a set of research questions that the research project aims to answer in order to address the problem or issue.
6. Research objectives
The statement should include a set of specific and measurable objectives that the research project aims to achieve.
The statement should define the specific population, setting, or context that the research project will focus on.
8. Theoretical framework
The statement should provide an overview of the theoretical concepts and principles that inform the research project.
9. Research design
The statement should provide an overview of the research methodologies. This will be useful collect and analyze data in order to address the research questions and objectives.
Difference Between a Thesis Statement and a Problem Statement
A thesis statement and a problem statement are related but distinct elements of a research project.
A thesis statement is a statement that summarizes the central argument or claim of a research paper or essay. It presents the main idea of the paper and sets the direction for the rest of the content. It’s usually located at the end of the introduction, and it’s often one sentence.
A problem statement, on the other hand, is a statement that describes a specific problem or issue that the research project aims to address. It sets the foundation for the entire research project by clearly defining the research problem. It is usually located at the beginning of a research paper or proposal, and is of one or a few paragraphs.
In summary, a thesis statement is a summary of the main point or key argument of the research paper. A problem statement describes the specific issue that the research project aims to address. A thesis statement is more focused on the final outcome of the research. While a problem statement is focused on the current state of knowledge and the gap in understanding that the research project aims to fill.
A problem statement is a critical component of the research project, as it provides a clear and concise roadmap for the research, and helps to ensure that the research is well-designed and addresses a significant and relevant issue.
We hope this blog has clarified your doubts and confusion associated with research problem statement and helps you write an effective statement for your research project!
comprehensive contents. thanks!
Very good writing and easy to understand
WOW..its easy to understand…
This has opened up my mind, Systematically outlined steps.
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The Research Problem & Statement
What they are & how to write them (with examples)
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | March 2023
If you’re new to academic research, you’re bound to encounter the concept of a “ research problem ” or “ problem statement ” fairly early in your learning journey. Having a good research problem is essential, as it provides a foundation for developing high-quality research, from relatively small research papers to a full-length PhD dissertations and theses.
In this post, we’ll unpack what a research problem is and how it’s related to a problem statement . We’ll also share some examples and provide a step-by-step process you can follow to identify and evaluate study-worthy research problems for your own project.
Overview: Research Problem 101
What is a research problem.
- What is a problem statement?
Where do research problems come from?
- How to find a suitable research problem
- Key takeaways
A research problem is, at the simplest level, the core issue that a study will try to solve or (at least) examine. In other words, it’s an explicit declaration about the problem that your dissertation, thesis or research paper will address. More technically, it identifies the research gap that the study will attempt to fill (more on that later).
Let’s look at an example to make the research problem a little more tangible.
To justify a hypothetical study, you might argue that there’s currently a lack of research regarding the challenges experienced by first-generation college students when writing their dissertations [ PROBLEM ] . As a result, these students struggle to successfully complete their dissertations, leading to higher-than-average dropout rates [ CONSEQUENCE ]. Therefore, your study will aim to address this lack of research – i.e., this research problem [ SOLUTION ].
A research problem can be theoretical in nature, focusing on an area of academic research that is lacking in some way. Alternatively, a research problem can be more applied in nature, focused on finding a practical solution to an established problem within an industry or an organisation. In other words, theoretical research problems are motivated by the desire to grow the overall body of knowledge , while applied research problems are motivated by the need to find practical solutions to current real-world problems (such as the one in the example above).
As you can probably see, the research problem acts as the driving force behind any study , as it directly shapes the research aims, objectives and research questions , as well as the research approach. Therefore, it’s really important to develop a very clearly articulated research problem before you even start your research proposal . A vague research problem will lead to unfocused, potentially conflicting research aims, objectives and research questions .
What is a research problem statement?
As the name suggests, a problem statement (within a research context, at least) is an explicit statement that clearly and concisely articulates the specific research problem your study will address. While your research problem can span over multiple paragraphs, your problem statement should be brief , ideally no longer than one paragraph . Importantly, it must clearly state what the problem is (whether theoretical or practical in nature) and how the study will address it.
Here’s an example of a problem statement:
Rural communities across Ghana lack access to clean water, leading to high rates of waterborne illnesses and infant mortality. Despite this, there is little research investigating the effectiveness of community-led water supply projects within the Ghanaian context. Therefore, this study aims to investigate the effectiveness of such projects in improving access to clean water and reducing rates of waterborne illnesses in these communities.
As you can see, this problem statement clearly and concisely identifies the issue that needs to be addressed (i.e., a lack of research regarding the effectiveness of community-led water supply projects) and the research question that the study aims to answer (i.e., are community-led water supply projects effective in reducing waterborne illnesses?), all within one short paragraph.
Need a helping hand?
Wherever there is a lack of well-established and agreed-upon academic literature , there is an opportunity for research problems to arise, since there is a paucity of (credible) knowledge. In other words, research problems are derived from research gaps . These gaps can arise from various sources, including the emergence of new frontiers or new contexts, as well as disagreements within the existing research.
Let’s look at each of these scenarios:
New frontiers – new technologies, discoveries or breakthroughs can open up entirely new frontiers where there is very little existing research, thereby creating fresh research gaps. For example, as generative AI technology became accessible to the general public in 2023, the full implications and knock-on effects of this were (or perhaps, still are) largely unknown and therefore present multiple avenues for researchers to explore.
New contexts – very often, existing research tends to be concentrated on specific contexts and geographies. Therefore, even within well-studied fields, there is often a lack of research within niche contexts. For example, just because a study finds certain results within a western context doesn’t mean that it would necessarily find the same within an eastern context. If there’s reason to believe that results may vary across these geographies, a potential research gap emerges.
Disagreements – within many areas of existing research, there are (quite naturally) conflicting views between researchers, where each side presents strong points that pull in opposing directions. In such cases, it’s still somewhat uncertain as to which viewpoint (if any) is more accurate. As a result, there is room for further research in an attempt to “settle” the debate.
Of course, many other potential scenarios can give rise to research gaps, and consequently, research problems, but these common ones are a useful starting point. If you’re interested in research gaps, you can learn more here .
How to find a research problem
Given that research problems flow from research gaps , finding a strong research problem for your research project means that you’ll need to first identify a clear research gap. Below, we’ll present a four-step process to help you find and evaluate potential research problems.
If you’ve read our other articles about finding a research topic , you’ll find the process below very familiar as the research problem is the foundation of any study . In other words, finding a research problem is much the same as finding a research topic.
Step 1 – Identify your area of interest
Naturally, the starting point is to first identify a general area of interest . Chances are you already have something in mind, but if not, have a look at past dissertations and theses within your institution to get some inspiration. These present a goldmine of information as they’ll not only give you ideas for your own research, but they’ll also help you see exactly what the norms and expectations are for these types of projects.
At this stage, you don’t need to get super specific. The objective is simply to identify a couple of potential research areas that interest you. For example, if you’re undertaking research as part of a business degree, you may be interested in social media marketing strategies for small businesses, leadership strategies for multinational companies, etc.
Depending on the type of project you’re undertaking, there may also be restrictions or requirements regarding what topic areas you’re allowed to investigate, what type of methodology you can utilise, etc. So, be sure to first familiarise yourself with your institution’s specific requirements and keep these front of mind as you explore potential research ideas.
Step 2 – Review the literature and develop a shortlist
Once you’ve decided on an area that interests you, it’s time to sink your teeth into the literature . In other words, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the existing research regarding your interest area. Google Scholar is a good starting point for this, as you can simply enter a few keywords and quickly get a feel for what’s out there. Keep an eye out for recent literature reviews and systematic review-type journal articles, as these will provide a good overview of the current state of research.
At this stage, you don’t need to read every journal article from start to finish . A good strategy is to pay attention to the abstract, intro and conclusion , as together these provide a snapshot of the key takeaways. As you work your way through the literature, keep an eye out for what’s missing – in other words, what questions does the current research not answer adequately (or at all)? Importantly, pay attention to the section titled “ further research is needed ”, typically found towards the very end of each journal article. This section will specifically outline potential research gaps that you can explore, based on the current state of knowledge (provided the article you’re looking at is recent).
Take the time to engage with the literature and develop a big-picture understanding of the current state of knowledge. Reviewing the literature takes time and is an iterative process , but it’s an essential part of the research process, so don’t cut corners at this stage.
As you work through the review process, take note of any potential research gaps that are of interest to you. From there, develop a shortlist of potential research gaps (and resultant research problems) – ideally 3 – 5 options that interest you.
Step 3 – Evaluate your potential options
Once you’ve developed your shortlist, you’ll need to evaluate your options to identify a winner. There are many potential evaluation criteria that you can use, but we’ll outline three common ones here: value, practicality and personal appeal.
Value – a good research problem needs to create value when successfully addressed. Ask yourself:
- Who will this study benefit (e.g., practitioners, researchers, academia)?
- How will it benefit them specifically?
- How much will it benefit them?
Practicality – a good research problem needs to be manageable in light of your resources. Ask yourself:
- What data will I need access to?
- What knowledge and skills will I need to undertake the analysis?
- What equipment or software will I need to process and/or analyse the data?
- How much time will I need?
- What costs might I incur?
Personal appeal – a research project is a commitment, so the research problem that you choose needs to be genuinely attractive and interesting to you. Ask yourself:
- How appealing is the prospect of solving this research problem (on a scale of 1 – 10)?
- Why, specifically, is it attractive (or unattractive) to me?
- Does the research align with my longer-term goals (e.g., career goals, educational path, etc)?
Depending on how many potential options you have, you may want to consider creating a spreadsheet where you numerically rate each of the options in terms of these criteria. Remember to also include any criteria specified by your institution . From there, tally up the numbers and pick a winner.
Step 4 – Craft your problem statement
Once you’ve selected your research problem, the final step is to craft a problem statement. Remember, your problem statement needs to be a concise outline of what the core issue is and how your study will address it. Aim to fit this within one paragraph – don’t waffle on. Have a look at the problem statement example we mentioned earlier if you need some inspiration.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:
- A research problem is an explanation of the issue that your study will try to solve. This explanation needs to highlight the problem , the consequence and the solution or response.
- A problem statement is a clear and concise summary of the research problem , typically contained within one paragraph.
- Research problems emerge from research gaps , which themselves can emerge from multiple potential sources, including new frontiers, new contexts or disagreements within the existing literature.
- To find a research problem, you need to first identify your area of interest , then review the literature and develop a shortlist, after which you’ll evaluate your options, select a winner and craft a problem statement .
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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How to Write a Statement of the Problem for Your Research Proposal
Defining your research problem is essential when conducting an experiment. In this article, you will learn how to write a statement of the problem for your research proposal. Learn about the characteristics of a good statement of the problem and examples of research questions.
Updated on May 17, 2022
You are a great researcher. You are full of ideas and questions as to where to go next with your work. You would not be in this position if you were not good at coming up with interesting questions within your area.
One problem, though, is knowing where to spend your time, energy, and money. Which ideas, questions, and problems are worthwhile?
You need to be able to define a good research problem. A research problem addresses an existing gap in knowledge in your field and leads to further investigations by you and other researchers. Inspiring others with your research problem will lead to citations, enhancing your and your institution's impact.
In order to write a clear and useful problem statement, you need to describe a question and its consequences.
One key way to assess the ‘usefulness' of your research ideas is to learn how to express them as clear problems.
In this article, we will talk about how to write a statement of the problem for your next research proposal. This is important not just for assessing the ‘usefulness' of research ideas, but also for formulating a grant application or proposal. We'll talk about how to explain your research ideas to others in the form of a problem statement in your proposal.
What is a statement of the problem in research?
All research projects should start with a clear problem statement. A problem statement is a formulation of an issue which is usually a ‘gap' within your area. A research gap is an unanswered question, an issue, controversy, or untested hypothesis that has not yet been addressed.
The trick with research problems is working out whether they are actually worth investing the time, energy, and money to figure out. This comes with experience, or you could just read on!
Since a clear problem statement is going to form the basis of your next research project, the question is: How can I write one?
How is this done? The first step is to become familiar with the basic elements of a problem statement in effective research.
Characteristics of a problem statement
A research problem statement has two key attributes:
- The problem must be challenging and original, but also potentially achievable by your team.
- The problem must not be incremental. In other words, don't try to address a small change or advance on an existing study that leads to no new scientific insight. This could be damaging to your and your team's reputation, and will likely not lead to a meaningful publication.
Developing a ‘good' research problem statement, therefore, involves systematic planning and setting time-based, realistic objectives. Your problem has to be achievable.
You'll also need to apply feasible research methods based on an approach that best suits the research question. Your methods have to make sense. They must be usable. In other words, you must be able to acquire statistically sufficient and relevant data that is reproducible.
Finally, the problem you define means you'll need to train team members in this particular research area and methods.
Writing a statement of the problem
Stating a research problem is done by defining it within the general area of your research. This depends on your previous work and experience. It may be an area you want to move into or a topic related to what you have already worked on as a researcher. Examples could include a question in astrophysics within physics, robotics within engineering, nutrition within medicine, or marine biology within ocean and Earth science.
Once you've determined your overall area (and you'll know this already of course), it's time to drill down, decide, and define a research problem within that field.
First , your statement should identify a problem that needs to be addressed within your selected sub-area.
This will almost certainly require literature work, but the idea may arise from:
- Discussions you've had with colleagues;
- Discussions at a conference;
- A paper you've read.
Second , your problem statement should be a “good research problem.” This will require further investigation and reading as you consider “what has been done?” and “what needs to be done?”
Third , search for more information, perhaps by:
- Locating relevant books, papers and other materials;
- Evaluating the quality and authority of the information collected;
- Maintaining a regular literature review throughout the project;
- Making regular notes on background material;
- Deciding how this literature search will be carried out within the research group;
- Deciding how information gained will be disseminated to the group (e.g., via each researcher carrying out a regular literature review in their sub-area and information disseminated at group meetings or via email at regular intervals).
This process may well change or modify how your research problem is stated or formulated.
Once your research problem has been identified, research questions within the problem need to be specified.
How long should your statement of the problem be?
Not too long. One page is more than enough for a clear and effective problem statement.
Research questions within your problem
The first stage of writing your research problem statement involves formulating your questions in a meaningful way. In the context of important questions, we are looking for things that many readers across different disciplines find to be interesting. But at the same time, set your question within your field.
Thus, once a research problem has been established, several questions can be written down. These questions should specify exactly what needs to be determined to address the problem.
These questions should also be specific enough that they can be answered using appropriate available research methods - or methods that could be made available to the research group (e.g. by buying or borrowing equipment).
These questions should require complex in-depth investigation, analysis, and argument. They should not be simple enough that they can be answered easily with well-established facts or yes/no answers.
All research questions should be focused, specific, appropriately complex, and relevant to the overall aims of the project.
Examples of questions and next steps
- How do government regulations prevent companies from polluting water systems?
- What factors have influenced population growth in the fastest growing countries?
- How can a bespoke thermal desorption unit be designed and built for use in detection of trace particulate matter in a polluted environment (e.g., a busy city street)?
- What methods and procedures can be used to understand, and hence control, fundamental chemical processes that occur in flames?
- How can measurement protocols used in mass spectrometry in a university research laboratory be developed and standardized to enable direct comparison with related measurements in a government laboratory?
Once the problem and questions have been identified, the resources required to carry out the research will need to be assessed. This will involve:
- Identifying the equipment needed. Find out what is available and what needs to be purchased.
- Assessing which consumables (e.g., chemicals) are needed for the project, and determining if they can be obtained on a regular basis (i.e., in the right quantities at the appropriate times).
- Identifying the software, data-analyses and other computer support needed. Assess what needs to be purchased.
- Assessing what laboratory and office space is needed. And if more is required, discuss this with the relevant laboratory manager.
- Identifying what support for travel is needed for the group, as well as what resources are required for the group to attend relevant conferences and training of group personnel.
Defining and writing a clear statement of a problem as the basis of a project is the first - and most important - step in any research. The tips and ideas in this article will help you clearly identify the purpose of the research you are developing.
A clear research problem statement will likely form the skeleton of the Introduction of your final article. If you are able to clearly direct your reader (the most important person in the publishing process) to an important and interesting question, they will likely stay engaged, and use and cite your article in the future.
The AJE Team
The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your research proposal
Statement of the Problem
- A statement of the problem is used in research work as a claim that outlines the problem addressed by a study.
- A good research problem should address an existing gap in knowledge in the field and lead to further research.
- To write a persuasive problem statement, you need to describe (a) the ideal, (b), the reality, and (c) the consequences.
Research is a systematic investigative process employed to increase or revise current knowledge by discovering new facts. It can be divided into two general categories: (1) Basic research, which is inquiry aimed at increasing scientific knowledge, and (2) Applied research, which is effort aimed at using basic research for solving problems or developing new processes, products, or techniques.
The first and most important step in any research is to identify and delineate the research problem: that is, what the researcher wants to solve and what questions he/she wishes to answer. A research problem may be defined as an area of concern, a gap in the existing knowledge, or a deviation in the norm or standard that points to the need for further understanding and investigation. Although many problems turn out to have several solutions (the means to close the gap or correct the deviation), difficulties arise where such means are either not obvious or are not immediately available. This then necessitates some research to reach a viable solution.
A statement of the problem is used in research work as a claim that outlines the problem addressed by a study. The statement of the problem briefly addresses the question: What is the problem that the research will address?
What are the goals of a statement of the problem?
The ultimate goal of a statement of the problem is to transform a generalized problem (something that bothers you; a perceived lack) into a targeted, well-defined problem; one that can be resolved through focused research and careful decision-making.
Writing a statement of the problem should help you clearly identify the purpose of the research project you will propose. Often, the statement of the problem will also serve as the basis for the introductory section of your final proposal, directing your reader’s attention quickly to the issues that your proposed project will address and providing the reader with a concise statement of the proposed project itself.
A statement of problem need not be long and elaborate: one page is more than enough for a good statement of problem.
A good research problem should have the following characteristics:
- It should address a gap in knowledge.
- It should be significant enough to contribute to the existing body of research
- It should lead to further research
- The problem should render itself to investigation through collection of data
- It should be of interest to the researcher and suit his/her skills, time, and resources
- The approach towards solving the problem should be ethical
What is the format for writing a statement of the problem?
A persuasive statement of problem is usually written in three parts:
Part A (The ideal): Describes a desired goal or ideal situation; explains how things should be.
Part B (The reality): Describes a condition that prevents the goal, state, or value in Part A from being achieved or realized at this time; explains how the current situation falls short of the goal or ideal.
Part C (The consequences): Identifies the way you propose to improve the current situation and move it closer to the goal or ideal.
Here is an example:
The Ministry of Youth is dedicated to allocating enterprise development funds to both the youth and women. These funds are made available in order to start entrepreneurial ventures that create and expand employment. (Provide relevant statistics and quote)
One of the main focuses of the ministry is consistency. Unfortunately, consistency in allocating funds to the next generation of recipients requires prior knowledge of previous allocations and established practices. The current continuous disbursement method does not allow for adequate analysis of previous disbursements before a current disbursement is done.
Continuing with this current disbursement method prevents consistency and causes decisions to become grossly political, which in turn inhibits the achievement of the goals of the funds. Developing a more informed disbursement system could help better implement the consistency focus of the ministry and at the same time help the ministry better monitor and evaluate its funds.
This proposed research aspires to explore options for a new funds disbursement system that would focus on consistency. To do this, the researcher will carry out a full stakeholder analysis and use it to propose appropriate policy interventions.
Sample statement of a problem
An established trend in the small business start-up financing in Kenya is to establish funds. Some of these funds include the youth fund and women fund. These funds have helped improve the rate of start-ups in the country. However, after the start-up stage, the ventures start developing problems. First, they face problems in management which lead to a marketing problem and eventually to stagnation and early exit.
A study by the Institute of Development Studies (RoK, 2004) revealed that only 38% of the businesses are expanding while 58% have not added workers. According to the survey, more enterprises are likely to close in their first three years of operation. Four years later the same institute conducted another study in Central Kenya. This study revealed that 57% of small businesses are in stagnation with only 33% of them showing some level of growth.
In our current project, we propose to examine factors that have an impact on small business sustainability. We will employ both qualitative and quantitative approaches to gather both primary and secondary data and information with the objective of determining success factors for the growth of small business in Kenya.
Specifically, we shall employ the product life cycle (PLC) model to identify the needs of a small business at the various stages of the PLC.
Now that you’ve learnt the basics, hone your skills and write an ideal statement of the problem with this advanced course by our expert Prof. Henry Bwisa .
1. RoK, (2008). Economic Survey . Nairobi, Kenya. Government Printer.
2. Nyaga C.N. (2009). Non-financial constraints hindering growth of SMEs in Kenya: The case of plastic manufacturing companies in industrial area in Nairobi county. (A masters research thesis, University of Nairobi).
3. Nyagah C.N. (2013). Non-financial constraints hindering growth of SME’S in Kenya: the case of plastic manufacturing companies in industrial area in Nairobi County (Doctoral dissertation).
This post is a modified version of the article Is it problem statement or statement of the problem? published on the website of Mukmik consultants. This post has been modified and republished with the permission of the author.
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Published on: May 15, 2018
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How to Write a Statement of the Problem in Research
Table of Contents
The problem statement is a foundation of academic research writing , providing a precise representation of an existing gap or issue in a particular field of study.
Crafting a sharp and focused problem statement lays the groundwork for your research project.
- It highlights the research's significance .
- Emphasizes its potential to influence the broader academic community.
- Represents the initial step for you to make a meaningful contribution to your discipline.
Therefore, in this article, we will discuss what is a statement of the problem in research and how to craft a compelling research problem statement.
What is a research problem statement?
A research problem statement is a concise, clear, and specific articulation of a gap in current knowledge that your research aims to bridge. It not only sets forth the scope and direction of your research but also establishes its relevance and significance.
Your problem statement in your research paper aims to:
- Define the gap : Clearly identify and articulate a specific gap or issue in the existing knowledge.
- Provide direction : Serve as a roadmap, guiding the course of your research and ensuring you remain focused.
- Establish relevance : Highlight the importance and significance of the problem in the context of your field or the broader world.
- Guide inquiry : Formulate the research questions or hypotheses you'll explore.
- Communicate intent : Succinctly convey the core purpose of your research to stakeholders, peers, and any audience.
- Set boundaries : Clearly define the scope of your research to ensure it's focused and achievable.
When should you write a problem statement in research?
Initiate your research by crafting a clear problem statement. This should be done before any data collection or analysis, serving as a foundational anchor that clearly identifies the specific issue you aim to address.
By establishing this early on, you shape the direction of your research, ensuring it targets a genuine knowledge gap.
Furthermore, an effective and a concise statement of the problem in research attracts collaborators, funders, and supporters, resonating with its clarity and purpose. Remember, as your research unfolds, the statement might evolve, reflecting new insights and staying pertinent.
But how do you distinguish between a well-crafted problem statement and one that falls short?
Effective vs. ineffective research problem statements
Imagine a scenario where medical researchers aim to tackle a new strain of virus. Their effective problem statement wouldn't merely state the existence of the virus. Instead, it would delve into the specifics — the regions most affected, the demographics most vulnerable, and the current limitations in medical interventions.
Whereas an ineffective research problem statement is vague, overly broad, or ambiguous, failing to provide a clear direction for the research. It may not be rooted in existing literature, might lack clarity on its significance, or could be framed in a way that makes the research objectives unachievable or irrelevant.
To understand it better, let's consider the topic of “Remote work and employee productivity.”
Effective problem statement
“Over the past decade, there has been a 70% increase in organizations adopting remote work policies. While some studies suggest remote work enhances employee productivity, others indicate potential declines due to distractions at home.
However, there’s a lack of comprehensive research examining the specific factors in a remote environment that influence productivity. This study aims to identify and analyze these factors, providing organizations with actionable insights to optimize remote work policies.”
Why is this statement of a problem in research effective?
- Specificity : The statement provides a clear percentage to highlight the rise in remote work.
- Context : It acknowledges existing research and the conflicting findings.
- Clear gap identification : It points out the lack of comprehensive research on specific factors affecting productivity in remote work.
- Purpose : The statement concludes with a clear aim for the research.
Ineffective problem statement
"People are working from home a lot now, especially since there are so many internet tools. Some say it's good; others say it's not that great. This research will just look into the whole work-from-home thing and see what's up."
Why is this statement of a problem in research ineffective?
- Informal language : Phrases like "what's up" and "the whole work-from-home thing" are not suitable for academic writing.
- Vagueness : The statement doesn't provide any specific data or context about the rise of remote work.
- Lack of clear focus : It's unclear what aspect of remote work the research will address.
- Ambiguous purpose : The statement doesn't specify the research's objectives or expected outcomes.
After gaining an understanding of what an effective research problem statement looks like, let's dive deeper into how to write one.
How to write a problem statement in research?
Drafting your research problem statement at the onset of your research journey ensures that your research remains anchored. That means by defining and articulating the main issue or challenge you intend to address at the very beginning of your research process; you provide a clear focus and direction for the entire study.
Here's a detailed guide to how you can write an effective statement of the problem in research.
Identify the research area : Before addressing a specific problem, you need to know the broader domain or field of your study. This helps in contextualizing your research and ensuring it aligns with existing academic disciplines.
Example: If you're curious about the effects of digital technology on human behavior, your broader research area might be Digital Sociology or Media Studies.
Conduct preliminary literature review : Familiarize yourself with existing research related to your topic. This will help you understand what's already known and, more importantly, identify gaps or unresolved questions in the existing knowledge. This step also ensures you're advancing upon existing work rather than replicating it.
Example: Upon reviewing literature on digital technology and behavior, you find many studies on social media's impact on youth but fewer on its effects on the elderly.
Read how to conduct an effective literature review .
Define the specific problem : After thoroughly reviewing the literature, pinpoint a particular issue that your research will address. Ensure that this chosen issue is not only of substantial importance in its field but also realistically approachable given your resources and expertise. To define it precisely, you might consider:
- Highlighting discrepancies or contradictions in existing literature.
- Emphasizing the real-world implications of this gap.
- Assessing the feasibility of exploring this issue within your means and timeframe.
Example: You decide to investigate how digital technology, especially social media, affects the mental well-being of the elderly, given the limited research in this area.
Articulate clearly and concisely : Your problem statement should be straightforward and devoid of jargon. It needs to convey the essence of your research issue in a manner that's understandable to both experts and non-experts.
Example: " The impact of social media on the mental well-being of elderly individuals remains underexplored, despite the growing adoption of digital technology in this age group. "
Highlight the significance : Explain why your chosen research problem matters. This could be due to its real-world implications, its potential to fill a knowledge gap or its relevance to current events or trends.
Example: As the elderly population grows and becomes more digitally connected, understanding the psychological effects of social media on this demographic could inform digital literacy programs and mental health interventions.
Ensure feasibility : Your research problem should be something you can realistically study, given your resources, timeframe, and expertise. It's essential to ensure that you can gather data, conduct experiments, or access necessary materials or participants.
Example: You plan to survey elderly individuals in local community centers about their social media usage and perceived mental well-being, ensuring you have the means to reach this demographic.
Seek feedback : Discuss your preliminary problem statement with peers, mentors, or experts in the field. They can provide insights, point out potential pitfalls, or suggest refinements.
Example: After discussing with a gerontologist, you decide to also consider the role of digital training in moderating the effects of social media on the elderly.
Refine and Revise : Based on feedback and further reflection, revise and improve your problem statement. This iterative process ensures clarity, relevance, and precision.
Example: Your refined statement reads: Despite the increasing digital connectivity of the elderly, the effects of social media on their mental well-being, especially in the context of digital training, remain underexplored.
By following these detailed steps, you can craft a research problem statement that is both compelling and academically rigorous.
Having explored the details of crafting a research problem statement, it's crucial to distinguish it from another fundamental element in academic research: the thesis statement.
Difference between a thesis statement and a problem statement
While both terms are central to research, a thesis statement presents your primary claim or argument, whereas a problem statement describes the specific issue your research aims to address.
Think of the thesis statement as the conclusion you're driving towards, while the problem statement identifies a specific gap in current knowledge.
For instance, a problem statement might highlight the rising mental health issues among teenagers, while the thesis statement could propose that increased screen time is a significant contributor.
Refer to the comparison table between what is a thesis and a problem statement in the research below:
Common mistakes to avoid in writing statement of the problem in research
Mistakes in the research problem statement can lead to a domino effect, causing misalignment in research objectives, wasted resources, and even inconclusive or irrelevant results.
Recognizing and avoiding these pitfalls not only strengthens the foundation of your research but also ensures that your efforts concede impactful insights.
Here's a detailed exploration of frequent subjective, qualitative, quantitative and measurable mistakes and how you can sidestep them.
Being too broad or too narrow
A problem statement that's too broad can lack focus, making it challenging to derive specific research questions or objectives. Conversely, a statement that's too narrow might limit the scope of your research or make it too trivial.
Example of mistake: "Studying the effects of diet on health" is too broad, while "Studying the effects of eating green apples at 3 pm on heart health" is overly narrow.
You can refine the scope based on preliminary research. The correct way to write this problem statement will be "Studying the effects of a high-fiber diet on heart health in adults over 50." This statement is neither too broad nor too narrow, and it provides a clear direction for the research.
Using unnecessary jargon or technical language
While academic writing often involves academic terms, overloading your problem statement with jargon can alienate readers and obscure the actual problem.
Example of Mistake: "Examining the diurnal variations in macronutrient ingestion vis-à-vis metabolic homeostasis."
To ensure it’s not complicated, you can simplify and clarify. "Examining how daily changes in nutrient intake affect metabolic balance" conveys the same idea more accessible.
Not emphasizing the "Why" of the problem
It's not enough to state a problem; you must also convey its significance. Why does this problem matter? What are the implications of not addressing it?
Example of Mistake: "Many students are not engaging with online learning platforms."
You can proceed with the approach of highlighting the significance here. "Many students are not engaging with online learning platforms, leading to decreased academic performance and widening educational disparities."
Circular reasoning and lack of relevance
Your problem statement should be grounded in existing research or observed phenomena. Avoid statements that assume what they set out to prove or lack a clear basis in current knowledge.
Example of Mistake: "We need to study X because not enough research has been done on X."
Instead, try grounding your statement based on already-known facts. "While several studies have explored Y, the specific impact of X remains unclear, necessitating further research."
Being overly ambitious
While it's commendable to aim high, your problem statement should reflect a challenge that's achievable within your means, timeframe, and resources.
Example of Mistake: "This research will solve world hunger."
Here, you need to be realistic and focused. "This research aims to develop sustainable agricultural techniques to increase crop yields in arid regions."
By being mindful of these common mistakes, you can craft a problem statement that is clear, relevant and sets a solid foundation for your research.
Over-reliance on outdated data
Using data that is no longer relevant can mislead the direction of your research. It's essential to ensure that the statistics or findings you reference are current and pertinent to the present scenario.
Example of Mistake: "According to a 1995 study, only 5% of the population uses the internet for daily tasks."
You always cross-check the dates and relevance of the data you're using. For a contemporary study on internet usage, you'd want to reference more recent statistics.
Not specifying the sample size or demographic
A problem statement should be clear about the population or sample size being studied, especially when making generalizations or claims.
Example of Mistake: "People prefer online shopping to in-store shopping."
Here, you would benefit from specifying the demographic or sample size when presenting data to avoid overgeneralization. " In a survey of 1,000 urban residents aged 18-35, 70% expressed a preference for online shopping over in-store shopping. "
Ignoring conflicting data
Cherry-picking data that supports your hypothesis while ignoring conflicting data can lead to a biased problem statement.
Example of Mistake: "Research shows that all students benefit from online learning."
You’ve to ensure a balanced view by considering all relevant data, even if it contradicts your hypothesis. " While many studies highlight the advantages of online learning for students, some research points to challenges such as decreased motivation and lack of face-to-face interaction. "
Making unsubstantiated predictions
Projecting future trends without solid data can weaken the credibility of your problem statement.
Example of Mistake: "The demand for electric cars will increase by 500% in the next year."
Base your predictions on current trends and reliable data sources, avoiding hyperbolic or unsupported claims. " With the current growth rate and recent advancements in battery technology, there's potential for a significant rise in the demand for electric cars. "
A well-crafted problem statement ensures that your research is focused, relevant, and contributes meaningfully to the broader academic community.
However, the consequences of an incorrect or poorly constructed problem statement can be severe. It can lead to misdirected research efforts, wasted resources, compromised credibility, and even ethical concerns. Such pitfalls underscore the importance of dedicating time and effort to craft a precise and impactful problem statement.
So, as you start your research journey , remember that a well-defined problem statement is not just a starting point; it guides your entire research journey, ensuring clarity, relevance, and meaningful contributions to your field.