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Writing a Strong Statement of the Problem in Research

Starting a research project is like setting out on a thrilling expedition. It's full of discoveries, challenges, and growth. However, one aspect that can be a bit tricky is formulating the statement of the problem. This critical component is the compass that navigates the course of your entire research paper, laying the groundwork and providing the necessary context for your study. So, the pressing question is: how do we craft a problem statement that's not only convincing but also hits the nail on the head?

Let's take a closer look at this all-important aspect of research. Whether you're a seasoned researcher or just taking your first steps into the world of research, the goal here is to simplify and demystify the process. By breaking it down into manageable chunks, we aim to make crafting a problem statement less of a daunting task and more of an exciting challenge. So, let's roll up our sleeves and get started on our journey to master the art of writing an effective problem statement for research.

What is the statement of the problem?

At its heart, the statement of the problem, or simply the problem statement, is a clear and unambiguous description of the specific issue or set of issues your research sets out to address. It's an essential bridge, a conceptual link that forges a connection between your research question and the more in-depth analysis and detailed discussions that form the body of your research paper.

Consider your problem statement as the trusty roadmap for your research expedition. It outlines the terrain, providing a sketch of the background or context in which the problem exists. It then zooms in, placing the issues of concern center stage, underlining their significance. Your problem statement tells the story of why finding solutions or answers to these issues matters, both in the context of your research and the broader field of study.

With its emphasis on focus and clarity, a well-crafted problem statement serves a dual purpose. First, it provides you with a clear path to follow during your research. It guides your thought process, influences your research decisions, and helps ensure your efforts are targeted and relevant. This can be invaluable in maintaining focus and direction, particularly in large-scale or complex research projects.

Secondly, it sets the stage for your readers, letting them know what to expect from your research paper. It primes the audience, providing them with the necessary context and background to understand your research. It sets out the problem you're addressing, why it's important, and hints at the approach you'll be taking to tackle it. In essence, it ensures your readers are on the same page as you from the get-go, enhancing their understanding and engagement with your research.

In sum, a well-crafted problem statement is the cornerstone of any successful research project, and taking the time to get it right can set the tone for the entire study.

The building blocks of a strong problem statement

When writing your problem statement, you're essentially trying to answer three main questions:

What is the problem?
Why is it a problem?
How will your research address the problem?

Let's break these down one by one.

1. What is the problem?

This is your starting point. You are tasked with defining the core issue that will serve as the focus of your research. Remember, clarity and specificity are key here—you want to present the issue in such a way that your readers instantly comprehend what you're addressing, without the need for interpretation or guesswork.

For instance, if you've chosen to investigate the issue of low student engagement in online learning, you might frame your problem like this: "In spite of the rapidly growing adoption of online learning across educational institutions, a significant concern that many educators report is a noticeable drop in levels of student engagement."

It's crucial to note that this initial definition of the problem serves as the foundation of your research project. This statement is the first impression your readers get about the nature of your study. The clearer and more explicit you are in defining the problem, the easier it will be for your readers to understand the purpose of your research. Thus, investing time and thought into crafting an articulate and comprehensive problem statement can go a long way in setting the right tone for your study.

2. Why is it a problem?

Once you've defined the problem, your next step is to articulate why this issue constitutes a problem. This involves discussing the implications or adverse consequences resulting from the problem. Essentially, you're showcasing why this problem is worthy of attention and why it necessitates a solution.

To build on our earlier example regarding low student engagement in online learning, you could say: "The lack of engagement observed in students during online learning isn't just a minor inconvenience; it's a major hurdle with profound implications. It negatively impacts students' academic performance, creating a domino effect that hampers their overall learning experience. More so, it fosters a sense of disconnection and dissatisfaction among students, which, if left unchecked, can lead to increased dropout rates."

In this part of the problem statement, you're not merely stating the problem, but also drawing attention to the gravity of its consequences. Your goal here is to convince your readers that this issue is a genuine problem that needs addressing. This step brings the practical relevance of your research into sharp focus, highlighting the potential for your study to effect meaningful change.

3. How will your research address the problem?

Lastly, you'll sketch out how your research will contribute to addressing or mitigating the problem. This part doesn't require you to lay out your entire research methodology in detail; rather, it's about providing a brief preview of the direction your research will take.

Sticking with our example of low student engagement in online learning, you could state: "The purpose of this study is to delve into and explore potential strategies that educators could adopt to foster and increase student engagement within online learning environments."

This element of your problem statement offers a glimpse into the solution you're proposing or the insight your research aims to provide. It serves to reassure your readers that your research isn't merely a critique of an existing issue, but also a constructive endeavor aimed at finding solutions or better understanding the problem. In a nutshell, it underscores the value and potential impact of your research, demonstrating how your study could bring about positive change or contribute to the existing body of knowledge.

Striking a balance: clear, concise, and focused

Crafting your problem statement is a delicate balancing act. You strive for clarity and conciseness while maintaining a sharp focus. It's about capturing the core of the problem, elucidating its significance, and providing a snapshot of how your research intends to tackle it. And the icing on the cake? All this needs to be communicated in a manner that's effortlessly comprehensible to your readers.

Let's delve into some practical tips that can help you strike just the right balance in your problem statement:

Avoid jargon

When you're doing academic research, you'll definitely bump into plenty of technical terms related to your field of study. It just comes with the territory. But, when you're pulling together your problem statement, it's really important to go easy on the jargon. Overdoing it with too much technical language can muddy the waters and might even throw your readers off track.

The real magic of your problem statement is in its power to convey your message with clarity and precision. Think of it as a lighthouse guiding your readers to the heart of your research. If the light gets blocked by a dense fog of jargon, it can leave your readers feeling lost at sea.

Now, sometimes, you just can't avoid using technical terms. When that happens, your mission is to make sure they're clearly understood. This could mean providing a simple definition or using the term in a way that shines a light on its meaning. In the end, your aim is to keep your problem statement as reader-friendly as possible while staying true to the specifics of your research.

Stay focused

Think of your problem statement as the backbone of your research paper— it needs to be strong, straight, and centered around one main issue. If you attempt to tackle a bunch of problems at the same time, your problem statement can become a tangled mess, leaving your research paper looking scattered and lacking clear direction.

Picture this: you're diving into a deep sea of knowledge. If you focus on one spot, you can dive deep, discover the hidden treasures, and understand the intricacies of that specific area. But if you try to cover too much territory, you'll only manage to skim the surface, missing out on the depth and richness that a more focused approach would offer.

Keeping your problem statement tightly centered on the particular issue you're studying is like setting a precise GPS for your research journey. It guides every step you take, ensures your research remains coherent and unified, and adds depth to your insights. In turn, this clarity and focus will help your readers grasp your research's core purpose and the specific problem it's addressing. So, embrace the power of focus in crafting your problem statement—your research paper will be all the better for it.

Be concise

Brevity is the soul of a great problem statement. It's all about being succinct, capturing the essence of the problem, highlighting its significance, and indicating how your research aims to tackle it, without any unnecessary frills or side-trips. In other words, it's about delivering maximum impact with minimal wordage.

However, being concise doesn't mean giving crucial details the short shrift. Far from it! It's about packing your punch in a compact manner, ensuring every word you use is pulling its weight. It's a bit like packing for a trip. You don't want to lug around a giant suitcase stuffed with unnecessary items, but you also don't want to forget your passport or other essentials.

In crafting your problem statement, aim for something that's lean and mean, but chock-full of insights. Remember, the key lies in balancing brevity and depth. Doing so allows you to present a problem statement that's efficient, compelling, and packed with all the necessary information to guide your research and inform your readers.

Show the impact

Merely stating the problem isn't enough; you need to show your readers why it's a problem that needs attention. This is where you highlight the ripple effects of the issue—how does it impact individuals, communities, or perhaps even the broader world? It's like drawing a vivid picture that shows the potential or actual fallout of the problem.

When you paint this picture, you're adding a sense of gravity to your problem statement, underscoring why it's critical to address this issue. More importantly, you're highlighting the relevance and urgency of your research. Your work isn't just an exercise in intellectual curiosity; it's an expedition with real-world consequences.

The trick here is to weave the human story into your problem statement. Show your readers that your research isn't happening in a vacuum, but is instead deeply connected to the world we all live in. By doing this, you'll help your readers see the larger significance of your work, lending both depth and weight to your problem statement.


Putting together a compelling and impactful problem statement may seem like a daunting task at first glance, but don't sweat it. With a bit of practice, some patience, and the guidelines we've discussed, you'll soon be crafting problem statements that hit the mark with ease.

Think about it this way: your problem statement is far more than just a tick-box requirement for your research paper. It's akin to laying down the cornerstone of a building—the first crucial piece on which everything else is built. Its quality and precision directly influence the structure that will rise above it.

That's why it's worth taking the time to craft your problem statement with care. It's not a step to be rushed or taken lightly. When you invest the time and effort here, it sets the stage for a strong, focused, and compelling research paper. It's your opening move in the chess game of academic research, and a well-thought-out move can set you on the path to victory. So, gear up, embrace the process, and remember, every great research paper starts with a clear, concise, and compelling problem statement.

Header image by Getty Images.

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