Course Resource

Statement of the Problem

Put simply, a statement of the problem is an alternative to a research question. Both should contain some of the same information and attributes: They must be researchable and require a bounded, clear outline of the issue under consideration. You may begin to think that terms are interchangeable because scholars refer to many inquiries as research questions, research statements, and research problems. However, they are written in different formats and some articles will contain both a question and a statement. The attributes we discuss here will be useful for you to consider whether you are using a question, a statement, or both. The actual name is not as important as is the content of this section.

For our purposes here, a statement of a research problem contains a clear explanation of the need and importance of the study by describing the connection to relevant information, data, trends, or practices in a field to justify more study of the topic. It expresses an issue of concern; a condition to be changed; a problem to be solved; a puzzle that has arisen from research; or consideration of a policy, theory, or practice that defies easy explanation. A statement of the problem will set out the "how" and "why" of the issue that requires deep, meaningful understanding through deliberate research. The problem statement must be sufficiently convincing and supported with evidence that it creates a justifiable argument for the research, and this emphasis on the "so what" leads it to sometimes be called a statement of purpose.

Bryman (2007) writes that the purpose of a problem statement is to introduce the reader to the importance of the topic, then put it into context to "define the parameters" and provides a framework for what the study is intended to produce and how research will achieve a greater understanding of the issue. These statements provide background on the issue to orient the reader and can be found as part of an Introduction section of a research paper or longer project. They show the reader that there is a gap in the literature and argue for why this warrants further investigation.

This statement requires a commitment and focused intent from you as a writer, ensuring that your quest is bounded and researchable and that you have a clear grasp of the problem. The greater the specificity at the outset, the more likely you are to meet your research objectives and stay on topic, rather than diluting the veracity of your findings and failing to reach well-reasoned conclusions.

Strive to achieve the following in your problem statements:

  • clear, precise, and measurable objectives (not sweeping generalizations or fuzzy, unsupported statements about what might be)
  • persuasive arguments that you can acquire, analyze, and use information to make supportable conclusions
  • identification of key terms, time frames, variables, and the boundaries of the study
  • some promise of wider application and usefulness beyond the immediate study
  • expression of how the study adds to the body of knowledge on its subject and is not trivial or purely descriptive


Bryman, A. (2007). The research question in social research: What is its role? International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 10, 5–20.

Newman, I., & Covrig, D. (2013). Writer's forum: Building consistency between title, problem statement, purpose, and research questions to improve the quality of research plans and reports. New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, 25(1), 70–79.

Examples of Problem Statements From an Array of Disciplines

1.       Tombak, B., & Altun, S. (2016). The effect of cooperative learning: University example. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 64, 173–196.

Motivation is a significant component of success in education, and it is best achieved by constructivist learning methods, especially Cooperative Learning (CL). CL is a popular method among primary and secondary schools, but it is rarely used in higher education due to the large numbers of students and time restrictions. The literature does not give much space to the use of CL and its motivational effects. This study aimed to fill this gap in the literature and practice. Purpose of the Study: This study sought to investigate the effects of CL on students' motivation and student products at university level.

2.       Stansbury, M. (2002). Problem statements in seven LIS journals: An application of the Hernon/Metoyer-Duran attributes. Library & Information Science Research, 24(2), 157–168.

The components of a research article work together in a manner similar to those of a long-span structure, such as a bridge. Critical to the strength and flexibility of the bridge is the use of some sort of truss. Such is the role of the problem statement in research writings, providing structural strength to the presentation of argument, method, and analysis. Analyzing characteristics of problem statements in the writings of library and information science (LIS) is one way in which the communication system of the discipline can be understood. After all, scholarly writings are social entities. LaTour (1987) said that they are "more social than so-called normal social ties" because of the "disproportionate amount of linkages" used to support the creation of technical literature (p. 62). Such linkages include the very structure of the scholarly article. Hernon and Metoyer-Duran (1993) maintained that "the statement of the problem is the first, and perhaps most important, step in setting up a research study" (p. 71). This study addresses the question: To what extent do problem statements in library and information science research publications exhibit the attributes identified by Hernon and Metoyer-Duran (1993)? If we are to teach research methods and writing to future professionals and scholars, and if we are to construct our own research studies, problem statement attribute models such as Hernon's and Metoyer-Duran's (1993; Metoyer-Duran & Hernon, 1994) provide an approach to understanding the substructure (problem statement) of the structure (scholarly/research writing).

3.       Seelandt J.C., Kaderli, R.M., Tschan F., & Businger, A.P. (2014). The surgeon's perspective: Promoting and discouraging factors for choosing a career in surgery as perceived by surgeons. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102756. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102756

Previous studies have primarily focused on the perspectives of medical students when investigating the aspects that influence the choice of surgery as a career [4–9]. However, students' decisions regarding their career choices are based on little information, which may be biased by their lack of knowledge of the discipline. One of the main influences on surgery as a career choice, particularly in the early stages of medical training, is the positive impact of role models and mentors [11–15]. Thus, surgeons must promote their discipline, and it is important that they understand the concerns that potential candidates have that influence their choice of surgery as a career. It is crucial to increase our understanding of how surgeons perceive the factors that promote or discourage becoming and being a surgeon in today's graduates. The primary goal of this paper is to identify the factors that surgeons perceive as promoting surgery as attractive or unattractive to today's graduates.