A problem statement is usually one or two sentences to explain the problem your research will address. In general, a problem statement will outline the negative points of the current situation and explain why this matters. Writing the problem statement is the first step of a research. So it is of utmost importance to be able to write the problem statement.
Issues to be considered before writing a research problem
Step 1: Identify a broad problem area
As you discuss and read about your topic, look for under-explored aspects and areas of concern, conflict or controversy. Your goal is to find a gap that your research project can fill.
Practical research problems
If you are doing practical research, you can identify a problem by reading reports, following up on previous research, and talking to people who work in the relevant field or organization. You might look for:
- Issues with performance or efficiency in an organization
- Processes that could be improved in an institution
- Areas of concern among practitioners in a field
- Difficulties faced by specific groups of people in society
Examples of practical research problems
- Department A of Company B has a high staff turnover rate, affecting productivity and team cohesion.
- Some organizations provide fake review for their products or services.
Theoretical research problems
Theoretical research focuses on expanding knowledge and understanding rather than directly contributing to change. You can identify a research problem by reading recent research, theory and debates on your topic to find a gap in what is currently known about it. You might look for:
- A contradiction between two or more perspectives
- A situation or relationship that is not well understood
- A troubling question that has yet to be resolved
Theoretical problems often have practical consequences, but they are not focused on solving an immediate issue in a specific place (though you might take a case study approach to the research).
Examples of theoretical research problems
- The effects of long-term Vitamin D deficiency on cardiovascular health are not well understood.
- People are not using e-services
Step 2: Learn more about the problem
Next, you have to find out what is already known about the problem, and pinpoint the exact aspect that your research will address.
Context and background
- Who does the problem affect?
- Has it been an issue for a long time, or is it a newly discovered problem?
- What research has already been done? Have any solutions been proposed?
- What are the current debates about the problem, and what do you think is missing from them?
Specificity and relevance
- What particular place, time and/or people will you focus on?
- What will be the consequences if the problem is not resolved?
- Whose will benefit from resolving the problem (e.g. the management of an organization or future researchers)?
How to write a problem statement
After you have identified a research problem for your project, the next step is to write a problem statement. An effective problem statement is concise and concrete. It should:
- Put the problem in context (what do we already know?)
- Describe the precise issue that the research will address (what do we need to know?)
- Show the relevance of the problem (why do we need to know it?)
- Set the objectives of the research (what will you do to find out?)
- Do not propose any solution.
Defining a problem statement
In addition to what has been stated above, the following points must also be observed while defining a research problem:
- Technical terms and words or phrases, with special meanings used in the statement of the problem, should be clearly defined.
- Basic assumptions or postulates (if any) relating to the research problem should be clearly stated.
- A straight forward statement of the value of the investigation (i.e., the criteria for the selection of the problem) should be provided.
- The suitability of the time-period and the sources of data available must also be considered by the researcher in defining the problem.
- The scope of the investigation or the limits within which the problem is to be studied must be mentioned explicitly in defining a research problem.