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:
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.
- 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.
- Anchor: How one needs to resolve this problem in the research paper.
- General problem: How is impacts a larger population.
- Specific problem: How it impacts your sample population.
Example 1 (Quantitative Study)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Background of the problem: There has been increase in workplace deaths of miners from 2010 to 2011 (Cite here).
- Anchor: Study conducted by XYZ (Year) indicates that 7 out of 10 deaths in mining industry are due to abc reasons (Cite here).
- General Problem: The cost of workplace deaths negatively influences profitability to the business workers.
- 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:
- Unable to clearly identify the research problem.
- Often confused with research questions of the study.
- The problem is not encouraging enough for the researcher to read further.
- Not data driven i.e. NO citations.
- More than 300 words.
- 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
|Background of the Problem|
|Enticing and Stimulating||√|
|Citation (no older than 5 years)||√|
|Statistical reference to define the problem||√|
|Citation (No older than 5 years)||√|
|General Business Problem||√|
|Specific Business Problem||√|
- 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.
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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A problem statement describes a problem or issue that needs to be solved in your dissertation.
Before you write a problem statement, you should always define the problem that you will address in your dissertation.
See an example of a problem definition
You need it for two main reasons:
- The problem statement is the stepping-stone to your main research question. If you haven’t identified a problem, you cannot formulate the question you will explore.
- The problem statement gives you focus and makes you hone in on something very particular.
Once you have done some research and defined your research problem, you should have an idea of what specifically within the larger problem you want to address. The next step is then to transform this into a problem statement that clearly explains the problem you will help solve and demonstrates the relevance of your research.
The problem statement does not have to be limited to a single sentence. It may also be described in a short paragraph.
Example of a problem expressed in one sentence
The teachers at the Middletown school do not have the skills to recognize or properly guide gifted children in the classroom.
Example of a problem expressed in a brief paragraph
The employees of the Rabobank Netherlands are unmotivated following the announcement of a new round of layoffs. At the same time, their workload continues to be high. Illness-related absenteeism seems to be increasing, but the HR department does not currently have the tools to monitor, assess and prevent the problem.
What makes a problem statement good?
A good problem statement is based on a thoughtful problem definition and clearly indicates:
- Where the problem is occurring; and
- What the problem is.
The statement must also:
- Focus on one problem;
- Be written explicitly; and
- Be relevant
An objective is also necessary
In addition to identifying your problem, you also need to set an objective that will guide your research and justify why it needs to be undertaken.
Once you have written your problem statement, you are ready to create your main research question and related sub-questions.
Be careful: Although the problem statement and your main research question are closely linked, they are not the same thing.
|Problem statement||Main research question|
|The teachers at the Middletown school do not have the skills to recognize or properly guide gifted children in the classroom.||What practical techniques can teachers use to better identify and guide gifted children?|
Some universities may combine the concepts of a problem statement and main research question. Always take care that you are referring to the right item in your writing and when you communicate with your supervisor.
Learn more about main research questions