How to write a problem statement for your dissertation

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:

  1. Where the problem is occurring; and
  2. 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.

Checklist: Problem statement

0 / 5

Well done!

Your problem statement should be perfect now! Use the other checklist to further improve your thesis.

See all other checklists Return to checklist
Next step: Formulate research questions

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 statementMain 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

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Sarah Vinz

Sarah's academic background includes a Master of Arts in English, a Master of International Affairs degree, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect formulation or wording and derives much satisfaction from helping students take their academic writing up a notch.

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2 comments

Mbuyiseli Lolwana
April 21, 2017 at 3:52 PM

I am doing LLB and doing reasearch methodology as part of my studies. I need help with problem statement , i want to write about the impact of children born out of wedlock, the limitation and frustrations experienced by their fathers to access their children.

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Anna Hoogterp
Anna Hoogterp (Scribbr-team)
April 25, 2017 at 12:33 PM

Dear Mbuyiseli,

Sounds like an interesting topic! Do you have a draft version yet? Then we could take a look at it. You could also talk to us via the chat if you want.

Cheers, Anna

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