Stating The Problem In A Research Paper

SURF Workshop Resources: Problem Statements

Summary:

These resources discuss the importance of problem crafting strong problem statements when presenting and writing up your research. 

Contributors:Patti Poblete, Tristan Abbott
Last Edited: 2017-07-25 04:51:43

Problem Statements: A Brief Introduction

A problem statement is a move that a document makes to help the reader realize why the document is important. Problem statements can be either formal--like a thesis statement--or they can be informal--usually a sentence that explains how what you are saying will impact the reader. A carefully crafted problem statement will help you to connect with your audience and will help your audience to see why your document is important. 

In order to write a strong problem statement, you should consider the following questions: 

  1. What does my reader already know about my topic?
  2. What will I need to explicitly explain to my reader for them to understand the significance of my topic?

In order to answer these questions, you will need to consider: the kind of terminology that your audience will be comfortable with; what beliefs, or mindsets, are shared between you and your intended audience; and, what canonical works your audience will be familiar with. 

In regards to terminology, you should carefully choose what discipline specific terms to use and how to define them. This decision should be based on who your audience is. For example, if you are writing to a lay audience about first and second language users, you would not want to use the terms "L1" and "L2" without first defining them. 

When considering the beliefs and mindsets of your audience, you should keep in mind that the audiences' beliefs/mindset may change the way that they interpret or understand the statements that you make in your document.

Finally, canonical research refers to texts and/or theories that the majority of experts in a given field find foundational to their work. When you're writing your problem statement, you want to be careful not to assume that everyone knows of all of the major works that you're referencing. 

This serves as a very brief introduction to writing effective problem statements. Protracted examples of each of these can be found in the SURF Workshop: Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation. 

Resources Available

The materials for the workshop include a PowerPoint slide presentation that details how audience considerations affect the construction of problem statements, as well as handouts that provide students with opportunities to share, summarize, and recontextualize their research for different audiences.

A problem statement is a brief overview of the issues or problems existing in the concerned area selected for the research. It is an explanation of the issues prevalent in a particular sector which drives the researcher to take interest in that sector for in-depth study and analysis, so as to understand and solve them (Saunders et al. 2009).

Purpose behind writing problem statement in any research study is to:

Problem Statement

Components of problem statement

The word count of problem statement for a thesis or dissertation should be in range of 150-300 words. The problem statement in any research therefore includes four important segments i.e.

  1. Background of the Problem: Here you can reflect on facts related to the problem to make the reader understand about the gravity of the problem.
  2. Anchor: How one needs to resolve this problem in the  research paper.
  3. General problem: How is impacts a larger population.
  4. Specific problem: How it impacts your sample population.

Example 1 (Quantitative Study)

  1. Background of the problem: The high attrition rate in manufacturing organization is creating anxiety and fear among the employees and thus affecting the productivity of the organization as a whole.
    Here you need to refer to previous research done in the past in the manufacturing sector to determine the key reasons for high attrition rate. It should stimulate the reader to read further.
  2. Anchor: This must include a statistical value to magnify and elucidates the problem.
    Here you can present the attrition percentage within the manufacturing industry and compare it with the case company.
  3. General Problem: The general business problem is to determine the financial lost to the organisation.
    The general business problem needs to just outline the problem.
  4. Specific Problem: Since high attrition rate is affecting the overall productivity of the employees it is in turn affecting the performance of the organization. In order to do so one needs to determine the relationship between employee productivity and organisational performance.
    This is narrower in scope than the general business problem and focused around need of the study which allows easy transition to Need of the Study.

Example 2 (Qualitative Study)

  1. Background of the problem: There has been increase in workplace deaths of miners from 2010 to 2011 (Cite here).
  2. Anchor: Study conducted by XYZ (Year) indicates that 7 out of 10 deaths in mining industry are due to abc reasons (Cite here).
  3. General Problem: The cost of workplace deaths negatively influences profitability to the business workers.
  4. Specific Problem: There is little information on what measures can be undertaken to reduce the workplace death toll.

General problems with problem statement

Quite often students are not able to frame their problem statement properly as they miss out on one or the other component or get confused on what to include or not. Most common problems which are observed have been highlighted below which will improve your ability to write problem statement:

  1. Unable to clearly identify the research problem.
  2. Often confused with research questions of the study.
  3. The problem is not encouraging enough for the researcher to read further.
  4. Not data driven i.e. NO citations.
  5. More than 300 words.
  6. Not focused with the research subject.

Problem statement checklist

To summarise, I have developed this checklist which needs to be kept in mind when writing your problem statement. It includes a list of all the things which should be included in your problem statement

CriteriaYesNo
General
150-300 words
Background of the Problem  
Enticing and Stimulating
Citation (no older than 5 years)
Anchor
Statistical reference to define the problem
Citation (No older than 5 years)
General Business Problem
Specific Business Problem

Further Reading

  • Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research methods for business students, 5th ed., Harlow, Pearson Education.
  • Bryman, A. (2008) Social research methods, 4th edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2009) Business Research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, 3rd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Sudeshna

Senior Analyst at Project Guru

Sudeshna likes to observe and pen down the goings-on in her surrounding, socially and politically. Having a Master's degree in International Relations, her interests lies in analyzing the occurrences of various countries. Previously worked as a teacher, she now holds the position of a Research Analyst in Project Guru and writes down her thoughts through various articles in the Knowledge Tank section.

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