How to write a problem statement

After you have identified a research problem for your project, the next step is to write a problem statement. An effective problem statement is concise and concrete. It should:

  • Put the problem in context (what do we already know?)
  • Describe the precise issue that the research will address (what do we need to know?)
  • Show the relevance of the problem (why do we need to know it?)
  • Set the objectives of the research (what will you do to find out?)

When should you write a problem statement?

There are various situations in which you might have to write a problem statement.

In businesses and other organizations, writing a problem statement is an important step in improvement projects. A clearly defined and well-understood problem is crucial to finding and implementing effective solutions. In this case, the problem statement is usually a stand-alone document.

In academic research, writing a problem statement can help you contextualize and understand the significance of your research problem. A problem statement can be several paragraphs long and serve as the basis for your research proposal, or it can be condensed into just a few sentences in the introduction of your paper or thesis.

The problem statement will look different depending on whether you’re dealing with a practical real-world problem or a theoretical scientific issue. But all problem statements follow a similar process.

Step 1: Contextualize the problem

The problem statement should frame your research problem in its particular context and give some background on what is already known about it.

Practical research problems

For practical research, focus on the concrete details of the situation:

  • Where and when does the problem arise?
  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What attempts have been made to solve the problem?
Example

Voter turnout in region X has been decreasing steadily over the past ten years, in contrast to other areas of the country. According to surveys conducted by organization Y, turnout is lowest among under-25s and people on low incomes. There have been some effective attempts at engaging these groups in other regions, and in the last two elections parties A and B increased their campaigning efforts in region X, but these interventions have yet to have any significant effect on turnout.

Theoretical research problems

For theoretical research, think about the scientific, social, geographical and/or historical background:

  • What is already known about the problem?
  • Is the problem limited to a certain time period or geographical area?
  • How has the problem been defined and debated in the scholarly literature?
Example

In the past ten years, the “gig economy” has become an increasingly important segment of the labour market. Under-30s are more likely to engage in freelance, contracted or zero-hour work arrangements instead of traditional full-time jobs. Research on the reasons for and consequences of this shift has focused on objective measures of income, working hours and employment conditions, but there has been little work exploring young people’s subjective experiences of the gig economy.

What is your plagiarism score?

Compare your paper with over 60 billion web pages and 30 million publications.

  • Best plagiarism checker of 2019
  • Plagiarism report & percentage
  • Largest plagiarism database

Scribbr Plagiarism Checker

Step 2: Show why it matters

The problem statement should also address the relevance of the research: why is it important that the problem is solved?

This doesn’t mean you have to do something groundbreaking or world-changing. It’s more important that the problem is researchable, feasible, and clearly addresses a relevant issue in your field.

Practical research problems

Practical research is directly relevant to a specific problem that affects an organization, institution, social group, or society more broadly. To make it clear why your research problem matters, you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen if the problem is not solved?
  • Who will feel the consequences?
  • Does the problem have wider relevance (e.g. are similar issues found in other contexts)?
Example

Low voter turnout has been shown to have negative associations with social cohesion and civic engagement, and is becoming an area of increasing concern in many European democracies. When specific groups of citizens lack political representation, they are likely to become more excluded over time, leading to an erosion of trust in democratic institutions. Addressing this problem will have practical benefits for region X and contribute to understanding of this widespread phenomenon.

Theoretical research problems

Sometimes theoretical issues have clear practical consequences, but sometimes their relevance is less immediately obvious. To identify why the problem matters, ask:

  • How will resolving the problem advance understanding of the topic?
  • What benefits will it have for future research?
  • Does the problem have direct or indirect consequences for society?
Example

In the literature on the gig economy, these new forms of employment are sometimes characterized as a flexible active choice and sometimes as an exploitative last resort. To gain a fuller understanding of why young people engage in the gig economy, in-depth qualitative research is required. Focusing on workers’ experiences can help develop more robust theories of flexibility and precarity in contemporary employment, as well as potentially informing future policy objectives.

Step 3: Set your aims and objectives

Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal should not be to find a conclusive solution, but to seek out the reasons behind the problem and propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it.

The aim is the overall purpose of your research. It is generally written in the infinitive form:

  • The aim of this study is to determine
  • This project aims to explore
  • I aim to investigate

The objectives are the concrete steps you will take to achieve the aim:

  • Qualitative methods will be used to identify
  • I will use surveys to collect
  • Using statistical analysis, the research will measure
Practical research aims and objectives

The aim of this research is to investigate effective engagement strategies to increase voter turnout in region X. It will identify the most significant factors in non-voting through surveys and interviews, and conduct experiments to measure the effectiveness of different strategies.

Theoretical research aims and objectives

This project aims to better understand young people’s experiences in the gig economy. Qualitative methods will be used to gain in-depth insight into the motivations and perceptions of under-30s engaged in freelance and zero-hour work across various industries. This data will be contextualized with a review of recent literature on the gig economy and statistical analysis of demographic changes in the workforce.

The aims and objectives should lead directly to your research questions.

Learn how to formulate research questions

Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

26 comments

carlo
October 16, 2020 at 2:42 PM

this is my title for my action research"increasing students achievements in mathematics of grade 8 students through the use of collaborative teaching strategies"
can you help me formulate statement of the problem?
thanks

Reply

Daniel Evangelista
September 19, 2020 at 8:39 AM

Statement of the Problem for this title "The Impact of Learning Management System on the Academic Performance"

Reply

Rochelle Burce
October 10, 2020 at 7:32 AM

Hi! I'm a senior highschool student. First week of the class we're required to do an individual research. So many subjects that needed to pass on Monday 20 activities per subjects and almost of it is stories/essays. I am so tired. Then do the class president duties. I read your article all of it. But please help me. I need to formulate a statement of the problem. The title is.

"Academic Performance of Cookery 1201 Under Modular Distance Learning"

I am hoping that you could reply to me as soon as possible.
I'm sorry for bothering you. :<

Reply

Laura
September 11, 2020 at 1:42 PM

What is the difference between writing the research problem and writing the problem statement?

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
September 16, 2020 at 12:32 PM

Hi Laura,

A research problem is simply the issue you will investigate; it may be described in one or two sentences. A problem statement is usually a more detailed explanation of this issue, framing the context and relevance of the problem and stating how you plan to solve it.

I hope that helps!

Reply

Chezya Sakala
October 8, 2020 at 5:57 PM

Thanks for the clarity Shona!

Reply

bev
September 7, 2020 at 4:09 PM

hi there

I am doing my marketing honours and have put a draft problem statement and objectives together however, they are not passing the grade and need some assistance in this regard

thanks
bev

Reply

Sebastián
July 7, 2020 at 7:01 AM

Excellent its very important and easy. Thanks

Reply

Precious
July 3, 2020 at 8:53 AM

I need help on the statement of the problem about factors that contributing into positive learning and teaching school environment ?

Reply

Ovririe
June 30, 2020 at 5:22 PM

This piece has been very helpful thank u for sharing

Reply

Patie Keilah
April 29, 2020 at 12:00 AM

A helpful article, though I personally can't formulate my own research problem yet😪.

Reply

RhofRob
May 9, 2020 at 11:17 AM

same here

Reply

Gamer Penguin
August 31, 2020 at 8:30 AM

Same 😥

Reply

musa umar goni
February 4, 2020 at 9:24 PM

I really appreciated , I learnt a lot of things, I got a oblation and benevolent thanks for everything

Reply

frank ssemujju
January 28, 2020 at 10:34 AM

i am so grateful. i have benefited so much.

Reply

Rebecca
January 22, 2020 at 11:36 PM

This is super cool, it made it 10× easier to write my problem statement i hope there is something more concerning other parts of research

Reply

simin
December 11, 2019 at 10:10 AM

Thank you for this helpful text. It will definitely help me write my academic proposal :)

Reply

Yagos
September 11, 2019 at 2:28 PM

Such a wonderful work, will help me in developing my PhD work.

Reply

Akera santo
May 22, 2019 at 1:22 PM

May you help me with the problem statement for. my academic research work on the topic:knowledge attitude and practices of school going girls aged 15-24 years on utilization of family planning services. Give specific objectives too

Reply

Mary
April 24, 2019 at 4:40 AM

Hi,

I would like to conduct and appreciative inquiry, I mean study where I am not necessarily look at the negative side but what has worked in my study. I am studying internal Quality assurance systems in Universities and I am interested in looking at what has worked for the systems. How do I state the problem to bring out the positives that Universities have put in place?

Thanks,

Mary

Reply

Guna
July 28, 2018 at 6:08 AM

Good morning madam..
I'm facing difficult in writing problem statement on the topic below.
'the relationship between super brain yoga and emotional intelligence'
Can u please help madam..
Thank you

Reply

Victoria Mrosek
Victoria Mrosek (Scribbr-team)
July 29, 2018 at 11:59 AM

Dear Guna,
Thanks for your comment.
Unfortunately, Scribbr cannot help you writing the problem statement.
But you can find lots of tips on academic writing here: https://www.scribbr.com/category/academic-writing/
Best of luck!

Reply

hannatu makka
July 19, 2018 at 2:34 PM

i am doing a research on a womanist reading of some texts and u can't seem to come up with a suitable statement of the problem

Reply

Denise
Denise (Scribbr-team)
July 21, 2018 at 2:35 PM

Hi Hannatu,

Thank you for your question!
Try to define a research problem about your topic :). You can find more information on how to do that here .

If you have any questions still, you can also talk to us via the chat.

Cheers,
Denise

Reply

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.

Reply

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

Reply

Comment or ask a question.

Please click the checkbox on the left to verify that you are a not a bot.