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Writing the Problem Statement
The first step in
any study is determining what the problem is you are trying to solve.
Remember that a problem is something that needs to be solved. It is NOT your purpose statement (the purpose is to SOLVE the problem). After you have clearly defined your problem, you will establish the purpose, write research questions (and hypotheses for quantitative studies), determine your methodology, conduct the study, and analyze the data.
Your data analysis should lead to you to constructive suggestions that constituents can apply to solve real-world problems.
Without a solid problem statement, the rest of your study becomes a 'house of cards' that will collapse at some point - early or late - in the process.
|Advancing knowledge||Remember that the purpose of a
research study is to advance knowledge in your subject area.
If you already know a solution to the problem, this is NOT a good research study!
A TOPIC is
not A PROBLEM
A topic is not a problem. The problem must have a potential solution, but this is not always identified at the start of the study.
|Provide a clear rationale||You must have a clear
rationale for the hypotheses in your study.
This rationale begins with the statement of the problem.
|Guide the reader||Be sure that you are leading the reader directly to the purpose of the study and the questions that you will be addressing. Indicate that this is a problem that has not been previously addressed by the research literature. If, however, the problem has been previously addressed, you will need to indicate that you are studying a new aspect of the problem (a different twist), are verifying the results of a previous inquiry in some new or unique fashion, or are testing the results with a previously untested population.|
|Support your problem statement||Begin with a review of the literature. Find recent studies (preferably less than a year old, since by the time you complete your dissertation or thesis, they will be much older than that!) where the author indicates suggestions for future research. This is a great place to find support for the need for your study - or to find a problem to study.|
|Identify a compelling need||
An effective problem statement clearly describes the nature and extent of the problem you expect to solve with your research study. The problem statement also identifies factors/variables that contribute to the problem. You will need to provide citations for this section - your opinion is NOT enough! The reader must be able to discern the seriousness of the problem and understand the need for the study and its further elucidation.
If you are doing "action research" - research that identifies and solves a specific problem at a specific institution with little or no generalizability - you should provide support with personal communications: find a leader/supervisor who supports/explains the need for the study. Explain clearly why this problem is of sufficient scope for a dissertation study.
|Include 4 key elements||
|Say it in plain English||Don't write your problem
statement with language that only a Ph.D. can understand.
Write it so a high school student can understand it.
|Understand the impact of the problem||Be sure you understand
the direct and indirect impact of the problem.
How does it affect the population?
How does it affect members of the community or other stakeholds who are not members of the research population?
|Understand the impact of the solution||How will the results of your study solve the problem or improve circumstances for members of the population? Are the results meaningful? If the results of the study will not provide information that will enable leaders to change the impact of the problem, then there is no point to the study. Although you will address this later (when discussing the significance of the study), you must understand it now, otherwise, you'll be spinning your wheels.|
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Copyright BOLD Educational Software 2011
Diane M. Dusick, Ph.D.
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