How to define a research problem for your dissertationDate published December 27, 2016 by Date updated: March 24, 2017
Defining the problem you will address in your research (and why!) is one of the most important steps in writing a dissertation.
1. Identify a general problem area
Start by identifying a problem you would like to focus on. Depending on your program or field of study, this problem may be more practical or more theoretical in nature. It may also relate to understanding why a certain situation exists.
|A high school in Amsterdam is facing a decrease in enrolment due to demographic shifts that cannot be altered. The director is worried that the unrest that is resulting from the uncertainty surrounding contracts for the coming year is disrupting the teachers. She is afraid that if nothing is done, the best teachers will leave and the school’s image will be harmed.|
|The effect of nutrition on athletic performance in children is an underexplored topic.|
2. Learn more about the problem
The next step is to research the problem, with the goal of developing the understanding you need to pinpoint the aspect of the problem that you will address in your dissertation.
Depending on the issue, your research may include consulting the literature and other relevant information sources or speaking to experts. As you conduct this research, keep the following questions in mind.
Who has a problem, and when/where does the problem arise? What is the cause of the problem (e.g., does it stem from earlier research or does it relate to a change in some factor)?
What is known about the problem? What do researchers and other individuals involved have to say about it? What has been done to solve the problem? Have any solutions been successful – and if yes, why? Has any cause been focused on in particular?
What exactly are you going to help to solve? What will you not tackle?
Why is it important for society or the profession to solve the problem? What will happen if it is not solved? Who will feel the consequences?