Problem Statement – 3-Step Guide

Time to read: 6 Minutes
Problem-statement-Definition

When writing a research proposal, the problem statement is one of the most important sections because it is the first thing people will read. Therefore, you need to understand what it is and what it entails.

This post provides comprehensive guidelines for defining and writing a problem statement.

Problem Statement – In a Nutshell

  • The problem statement is a description of the topic or issue that a researcher will explore.
  • The statement should feature four primary elements: context, precise problem, relevance, and objectives.
  • Problem statements may differ in theoretical and practical research.

Definition: Problem statement

A problem statement is a research proposal or paper description that explains what the research will address and why the issue needs to be addressed.

The statement is important in research and business proposals because it is one of the first things your instructor, colleagues, or potential customers will read in your document.

Once you have recognized the problem you want to explore in your project, you can come up with a problem statement by asking the questions below:1

  • What information is currently available about the problem? (Give context)
  • What should we know about the topic? (Explain the precise issue)
  • Why is this topic important? (Explain its relevance)
  • What do you intend to do to find out more about the issue? (Explain the research objectives)

When is a problem statement required?

A problem statement is applicable in various situations. Also, you can use the statement when dealing with a practical or theoretical problem, like in science.

In each case, the problem statement will look different. However, the basic principles for writing it are constant.

A problem statement is required in:

Academic research: • The statement here helps readers, including your instructor, to understand your research problem and its significance.
• It gives a contextual overview of your research subject.
• The problem statement in academic research can feature several paragraphs, as long as they are relevant and serve as a basis for your project.
• You can condense the statement into a few sentences and include it in your thesis paper’s introduction.
Business: • The problem statement here is a significant element in proposals for improvement projects.
• It explains the issues that need to be addressed in a business or institution and the most effective solutions.
• It provides an overview of how the solutions can be implemented.
• In businesses and institutions, the problem statement is usually an independent document.2
Problem statement 3 steps

1. Contextualize the problem statement

The first thing you should do when preparing a problem statement is to contextualize the problem. Here, you should give some background about the issue and what is already known.

For instance, you can quote findings from a previous study about the issue. The approach may differ depending on the problem.

Practical problem statement

A practical problem involves everyday issues arising in institutions, businesses, and lives.

In such cases, your problem statement should answer the following questions:3

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • Where does the problem arise?
  • When does it happen?
  • What steps have been made to resolve the issue?

Example:

The number of college dropouts in Texas has been increasing rapidly over the past decade compared to other states in the US. Studies show that around 1/5 of students that enroll in colleges do not see their studies through to graduation. The state has tried making colleges a friendlier environment to resolve the issue. However, this approach has not provided the expected results.

Theoretical problem statements

A theoretical problem results from abstract thinking and does not necessarily apply to everyday life. Theoretical research usually applies to scientific, historical, and geographical subjects. Therefore, your approach to theoretical research is usually different from a practical one.

When writing the problem statement for theoretical research problems, you should answer the questions below:3

  • What existing knowledge is there about the problem?
  • Is the problem restricted to a specific period?
  • Is the problem restricted to a specific geographical region?
  • Is there scholarly literature that defines or debates the problem?

Example:

Over the past decade, social media “influencing” has become a significant element in the marketing sector. Research indicates that most people between 13 and 45 years old are likely to respond better to product marketing via public figures than traditional methods. Therefore, research on effective marketing schemes has shifted its focus to social media and the internet. However, little has been done to explore why this shift is happening and whether it is positive or negative.

2. Why does the problem statement matter?

Another significant element of the statement is the relevance of the research. In other words, why is the research problem worth exploring?

Practical problem statement

In practical research, you can explain the relevance of the problem by answering the questions below:

  • What will transpire if the issue is not addressed?
  • Who will be affected the most?
  • Do similar issues exist in other contexts?

Example:

The high college dropout rate has already adversely affected Texas’ economy. However, if the issue is not addressed, students will no longer see the need to join colleges. Also, it may trickle down to the high school level as the value of education decreases among students. Besides the students, parents will also be affected by the dropouts because of increased crime rates and the declining economy. Therefore, addressing this issue will benefit Texas and other states.

Theoretical problem statement

For theoretical research, you can explain the relevance of the problem by asking the following questions:

  • How will the problem’s resolution advance the comprehension of the subject?
  • What benefits will the research have in future studies?
  • Does the issue impact society directly or indirectly?

Example:

The social media “influencing” era can be viewed as positive or negative. In-depth research is required to fully understand why this generation responds to influences from social media. Expounding on social media habits may help develop more theories regarding the influences of the internet and social media on the current generation. It will also help with policy development.

3. Objectives and aims for the problem statement

After explaining the context of the research problem and its relevance, the next step is describing how you aim to address it.

The overall goal of any research is to find conclusive solutions for a specific problem and suggest the best ways to implement the solutions. However, you can only achieve this by determining the causes or reasons for the issue.1

The aims of a problem statement are usually formulated in an infinitive form. For example:

  • I intend to investigate (the dropout rates in Texas).
  • This project seeks to explore (the increasing college dropout rates in Texas).
  • I purpose to determine (the causes of the increased college dropout rates in Texas).

The objectives are slightly different from the aims. Instead, objectives are steps you intend to apply to achieve your aim.3

Below are examples of how you can formulate your objectives:

  • I will use surveys to gather data (on the reasons students drop out of college in Texas).
  • Using qualitative procedures, this research will identify (the number of college dropouts in the past decade).
  • Statistical analysis will be applied to identify (the rates of college acceptance in Texas).

Practical research example:

This project seeks to understand students’ college experiences and factors contributing to the increasing dropout rates in Texas. I will use statistical analysis to gather insight into the rates of college acceptances and graduations in the region.4

Theoretical research example:

This study intends to investigate the impact of the social media “influencing” era on the marketing sector and what practitioners can expect. Qualitative methods will be applied to identify the impact of social media and the success rates of social media marketing.3

FAQs

A problem statement is a precise explanation of the issues a research project pursues to address. It includes:

  • Context
  • Precise issue
  • Relevance of the study
  • Objectives1

This statement is necessary for academic projects by university or college students.

However, businesses and institutions also need project statements (independent documents) when recommending improvement projects.

This statement provides readers with an overview of your project.

It also serves as a communication tool for those working on the project (it helps them know issues they should address).

The key elements of a statement problem are:

  • Context
  • Precise problem identification
  • Relevance
  • Objectives

Therefore, your statement should explain each of these elements.

Sources

1 Elsevier Author Service. “What is a Problem Statement? [with examples].” Accessed December 15, 2022. https://scientific-publishing.webshop.elsevier.com/research-process/what-problem-statement-examples/.

2 Indeed Editorial Team. “How to Write a Problem Statement (With an Example).” Indeed. February 25, 2020. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-write-a-problem-statement.

3 Kwan, Michael. “Effective Problem Statement Examples.” YourDictionary. Accessed December 15, 2022. https://examples.yourdictionary.com/problem-statement-examples.html.

4 Birt, Jamie. “What Is a Problem Statement: Definition, How-To and Example.” Indeed. February 25, 2020. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/what-is-a-problem-statement.