The problem statement is a critical part of any solid research proposal. It gives the reader an idea of what you plan on studying and how you plan to study it.
Posted: September 26th, 2022
The problem statement is a critical part of any solid research proposal. It gives the reader an idea of what you plan on studying and how you plan to study it. The point is not just to describe some phenomenon, but to explain why the phenomenon exists and what consequences follow from that existence. Fundamentally, the problem statement should tell your reader what to expect from you. It also acts as a “conversion point” between the abstract and specific. Without an artfully crafted problem statement, much of your work could be lost in translation. 9paragraphs can help you craft a professional research plan outline if need be!
Problem statements are divided into two parts: the phenomenon and the consequences. The phenomenon is simply what you plan on studying. For example, imagine you are trying to study why certain people have low levels of vitamin D even though they are given enough sunlight for their skins to produce plenty of it naturally. This would be part of your problem statement’s first section (phenomenon). You can include any observable phenomena that fall under this study area- not just the one that defines your research. In this document, I will go through a few components of a problem statement and give examples for each one.
a) it is a complete sentence,
b) it has two parts:
1. the phenomenon
2. the consequences,
c) the phenomenon must be observable,
d) you cannot make claims about what might happen or why- only state what already happens,
e) there should be some context for this phenomenon (e.g., an experimenter wants to test whether people will eat more food if they are told that it’s healthy),
f ) “consequences” describes what would happen as a result of your study of this phenomenon
The point of a research plan is to take your readers, who may know nothing about your subject, and convince them that you know what you’re doing. As the problem statement, your research plan should start by telling us what phenomena we will be studying and why those phenomena exist. It should then tell us how we will study those phenomena (e.g., using an experiment) and what resources we need to do so (e.g., 5 lab rats). Finally, it should clearly state what would happen if our proposed experiments were successful- the consequences of the phenomenon. A good research plan not only shows where your project fits into a larger body of work but also tells a story about it:
1) the current situation
2) something interesting has been discovered
3) a problem exists because of this discovery
4) you have a plan to follow, and
5) your work will impact the future. This is what readers want from a research plan- it’s their “source material” for understanding your project. [Include some more resources on following a good research plan]
In a good research plan, the problem statement should be part of a bridge that takes readers from the abstract to the specific. This means giving a brief overview of what you’ll study and then following up with exactly how you’re going to study it. The problem statement is one-half of this bridge: it tells us what we’ll be studying and why, but does not tell how or why these phenomena exist in current society. For example, if someone were researching whether people will eat more food when told that it’s healthy than when they’re given no information about its healthiness, their problem statement would give an overview of this phenomenon (i.e., “people tend to eat less food when they are given no information about its health
One of the most important functions of a problem statement is that it provides more detail about what you’re trying to do without getting bogged down in details. The reader knows that they are not going to be inundated with details or more questions, but instead get an answer to one simple question: how does what I’m doing relate to what I already know? The purpose of a problem statement is to give your readers information that they can use to orient themselves in your project- no overviews just details if you want them.
The first section: Phenomenon: what we see happening
Every good research plan has an abstract and concrete part. This means describing what we’ll be studying and then telling us how we will study it (the method). You should start with the phenomenon because this question summarizes everything else: it tells us what’s going on (“people tend to eat less food when they are given no information about its healthiness”), gives some context for these things (“when people do not know how healthy
The most important part of a problem statement is that it tells readers what they’re going to learn and the purpose behind your study. Many times, students focus too much on telling readers about their phenomena and not enough on why we need to know this information. For example, someone might say:
“People tend to eat less food when they are given no information about its healthiness.”
This tells us nothing! What does eating less food have to do with anything? Does society as a whole care if people eat less or more? How does this impact our society or our world generally? It’s these questions that researchers want to be answered- it’s the “why” of the problem statement.
While there is no official format for writing a research plan, it should contain at least the following components:
1) statement about the phenomena you are studying
2) statement about why you are studying this phenomenon
3) if applicable, a statement about what needs to change in society because of these phenomena
4) hypothesis (if conducting an experiment)- what will happen if your study is successful in terms of the problem that was just presented?
5) consequences- how would things change in society if your study were successful? What does success look like? If your study doesn’t produce an answer, what might be altered? These questions can help guide students in writing both their problem statements and hypothesis statements.
In conclusion, a reader can tell from a research plan whether or not an author is trying to write about the phenomena in current society. This means that you should take time to think about what it is exactly that makes your phenomenon interesting before writing your problem statement. Remember: if you state what you’re studying and why we should know this information, you’ll fulfill your purpose. Now get out there and publish that paper- good luck!
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