What is a Problem Statement?
Students often have difficulty in writing the “problem statement” for the selected paper. Remember problem statement is a “single” statement. If you can not identify the problem a paper is trying to solve, you have not understood why the paper was written. Problem statement is the reason of existence for a research. Eventually for your MPhil/PhD research proposal you will be struggling to compose the problem statement of your proposed research.
Problem statement is an issue, lacking, problem, concern, shortcoming that is making it difficult or harder to achieve an objective of your selected area of interest.
- Problem statement should state why some thing is not happening the way it should. It is some thing that results in lack of performance, lack of quality, lack of security, lack of speed, occupies excessive space, lack of accuracy, or lack of some other qualitative attribute related to the problem.
- Problem statement describes with a qualitative “adjective” the shortcoming or lack of some thing in the problem area. A problem statement should contain at least one word or a phrase that should have a negative connotation. A word similar to the following negative words should be included: “lack of”, “difficult”, “not”, “unavailable”, “slow”, “deficiency”, “excessive”, “costly”, “complicated”, “complexity”, “hard”, “incomplete”, “insufficient”, “unnecessary”, “inefficient”, “infeasible”, “unreliable”, “not integrated”, “not modular”, “incoherent”, “unrelated”, “insecure”, etc.
- Typically, problem statement is identifiable from a reading of the abstract. In some case you may have to also read the introduction and the conclusions.
- Difference between a good paper and the bad paper is in the difficulty of identifying the problem statement.
- Please note that a paper always tries to establish the contribution that the researcher has made in a particular area.
- A well-written paper establishes in the first few paragraphs what is the issue that the paper is focusing on and what is the approach for its resolution. You need to identify the central thrust of the paper.
- A good problem statement identifies a specific measurable variable or a relationship: “Takes more time, is slow, takes more space, requires more bandwidth, requires more computation etc”. Time, space, computation, bandwidth are quantities that can be measured and one can prove or disprove the claim. A good problem statement is not vague or general. It states some thing which is concrete. Some thing that can be measured, tested and proven. All good thesis statements and problem statements are clear, concise statement that can be proven or refuted through measurement or experimentation.
- A problem statement must take a stand and state the problem in a categorical fashion in the form of a “refutable” and “falsifiable” assertion. Falsifiability and refutability of a statement is the demarcation line that differentiates science from pseudo science. All researchers must understand this demarcation line which gained currency through Karl Popper.
- Problem statement explains the significance of your work. Most of your defense would involve convincing the examiners that the problem you have selected is real and concrete. If you are unable to establish the validity and importance of your problem statement, your entire thesis effort falls down.
- Problem Statement is not a question, it is not a wish, or need, or a want.
- The articulation of your thesis problem statement goes through an evolution as your research progresses. Your research reveals the concrete terms that best explain the problem you are solving.
How do you arrive at the Problem Statement
- See also: Conclusion vs Assumption in Research Writing- Flipping the Thread of Argument in your PhD Thesis
The research questions that have led you to the problem statement also have been identified from the literature. These research questions (RQ1, RQ2, …, RQn) when abstracted at a higher level constitute your problem statement.
Coming up with a powerful “problem statement” that can convince the experts about its importance, need and significance ensures the success of the later part of your defense. However, your dissertation defense is in trouble if the problem statement fails to convince the examiners about its need or importance.
Evolution of your Problem Statement
- Motivation: Why PhD?
What is PhD?
- What does it Mean to Have a PhD: Myths of Specialization and Departmental Expertise
- What is the Difference between MS/MPhil Research and PhD Research
- Why PhD is Difficult to Complete and Why there are so many ABDs and PhD Dropouts
- How Progress of Research is related to the Mood and Psychology of a PhD Student
Starting with your PhD
- How to Read a Research Paper and Extract Problem Statement and Thesis Statement
- How Literature Review of a PhD Dissertation Presents the State of the Art: Synthesis vs Listing
- What is a Problem Statement and its role in MS-PhD Research
- What is a Thesis Statement and its Role in PhD-MS Research
- What is meant by Rigor of PhD Research
- Dynamic Role of Abstract in Guiding the Flow of Writing of a PhD Dissertation
- Conclusion vs Assumption in Research Writing- Flipping the Thread of Argument in your PhD Thesis
- PhD is about Pursuit of Excellence. Pursuit of Excellence vs Guzara: How to teach excellence through everyday examples
- Myth: Impact Factor Measures Real Impact
- Pursuit of Excellence vs Guzara: How to teach excellence through everyday examples
- Discerning the Forest from the Trees – The Insights from my PhD Supervisor JC Browne
- A Formula is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Dijkstra vs Buzan’s Mind-Maps
- Fairness in Grading: A Lesson by the Great Dijkstra
- Lesser known dimensions of US Universities – Archives of history and literature