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How to write the statement of a problem

The first step in research is to outline the research problem – this might be an area of concern, a gap in the existing knowledge or a deviation in something that has been previously established, which warrants further investigation. 

Importance of the problem statement

The statement of a problem defines and describes the research hypothesis or question(s), along with the broad method that will be used to solve the problem. The statement of the problem serves as the basis for the introductory section of your project proposal. A well-formulated statement of the problem sets the stage for the rest of your study, including how you will address the problem and any anticipated outcomes or answers. Once you have very clearly laid out the core issue, problem or question that you’re investigating, you’ll have a much sharper focus for conducting and writing up the rest of your study. A clear and straightforward statement will also inform and impress your reader in grasping the issues that your proposed project will address.

Defining the ‘problem’

The research question should be compelling and must have an underlying basis. While formulating the problem statement, as a keen researcher, you should consider the current state of the topic in question, along with any other observations or educated guesses. 

As you are defining the ‘problem’ that you are addressing in your research, consider the following questions: 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is it a problem, and why does it need to be resolved? 
  • What are the likely benefits of solving the problem? 
  • Besides the central question, what are smaller, specific questions that need to be asked and answered?

Clarifying and refining the problem statement

In the initial stages of writing, the problem statement might be a bit rough around the edges. A final and more refined form will emerge as you reflect more deeply over the topic and delve into the literature. The current status of the topic, including what is known and what is not, will help you refine your original problem statement to a clearer and more specific one.

Wrapping it up

To conclude the section, briefly summarise the problem and emphasise the need to fix it. All potential advantages and anticipated outcomes and implications should be mentioned here. Contextualising the problem in a broad sense will also strengthen your case.

Sample problem statement

In a detailed project proposal, the statement of the problem could be nearly a page long, over several paragraphs. In a report or paper, the problem is typically expressed in a few sentences in the Introduction. Here is an example based on a fictional study.

Early and targeted warning of dengue outbreaks is critical for vector control. Current studies have primarily focused on the role of weather conditions in dengue forecasting. Environmental and microenvironmental suitability for mosquito breeding has been sorely neglected as a crucial factor, particularly in the urban setting. The surge in dengue and other mosquito-borne infections in India metropolitan cities in 2020–2021 highlights the urgent need to identify conducive features to better track and predict outbreaks. This study proposes a framework for implementing intra-urban dengue forecasting by…

Through this investigation, we aim to develop a set of early predictors for improved surveillance of dengue in large urban swathes in Indian metropolitan cities. 

Dos and don’ts of writing a problem statement

  • Write the actual problem statement as a declarative statement or as a question.
  • Explain in the statement how previous studies have not addressed the issue or have fallen short due to certain limitations.
  • Outline in your statement how you plan to overcome or circumvent previous roadblocks to fill these deficiencies.
  • Ensure the statement is lucid and to the point, without any distracting information.
  • Cite credible sources where needed.
  • Don’t leave out any element of the proposed research question (e.g. study subjects/variables and the relationships in question).

     

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