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:
- Where the problem is occurring; and
- 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.
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 statement||Main 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
The below example of a problem definition relates to a dissertation that explores a practical problem. It has been written using our guide to writing a problem definition.
Background and context
The director of a primary school in London has asked for a fourth-year student from a teacher training college who could investigate opportunities for gifted students who need more challenges. An earlier survey conducted among these students’ parents/guardians has revealed that many of these children are bored and that about half of them no longer like going to school.
The British Ministry of Education has paid a great deal of attention to this issue in recent years [explain with sources]. The school has already implemented several related measures, such as enriching the curricula for compulsory subjects. A survey conducted by a university student in 2014 revealed that the children are indeed being challenged more, although the teachers are still struggling to deal with the issue. In particular, the teachers find it difficult to identify gifted students and provide appropriate counseling. The literature shows that [explain with sources].
Scope and relevance
The study focuses on the relationship between teachers and students; factors such as the home environment and peers are not taken into account. The results are relevant to society as teachers will receive practical tools that enable them to better guide gifted students. In turn, the students will feel better and perform at a higher level in school.
The teachers at this primary school do not have the skills they need to recognize or properly guide gifted students.
The aim of the research is to determine how teachers’ skills can be improved in order to better recognize and assist gifted students.