Statement of the Problem – What it is, function, how to write it

We explain what is the statement of the problem in a research project, what is its function and how to write it.

Problem Statement
The problem statement is usually the first section of a project.

Problem Statement

In methodology, one of the initial steps in defining a research project is known as a problem statement, which is usually expressed as the first section of a project or preliminary project.

In this instant the researcher details which is the specific issue that occupies his interest and in what specific way he proposes to think about it. This is essential, since no problem can be solved without first identifying and understanding it correctly.

Therefore, the statement of the problem can be understood as the basis of the investigation itself, in which an attempt is made to answer the question what thing?, that is, “what are we going to investigate?” or “what problem is it that we are going to give an answer to?”

Obviously, when we speak of problem here, we must not understand the word in an exclusively literal way. A research problem may or may not translate into a concrete problem in everyday life; and it may indeed be somewhat problematic, requiring an applicable solution (such as the cure of a disease) or it may consist of a theoretical problem, in the absence of a valid answer to complete a vision of the world.

On the other hand, the statement of the problem plays a key role in defining the research topic. A well-defined project will have a greater chance of success, since the concrete objectives will have been identified and the paths towards their fulfillment will be able to be well traced.

For example: it is not the same to investigate the cure for cancer, thus, in general terms, than to investigate the effect of a certain medicine in patients who suffer from a certain specific type of cancer and who have the same age range. This logic can be applied to any topic of research, scientific, humanistic or social-scientific.

In this sense, in posing the problem we must:

  • Identify the problem, that is, to find the specific research topic and its possible edges, complexities and difficulties.
  • Narrow the problem, that is, to identify our point of approach to the problem and how far we intend to go, understanding that we will investigate within a given context (real, imaginary, theoretical).

In this way, the problem statement must be a text that descriptively addresses the research topic, without offering solutions, conclusions, blame, and without proceeding with procedures. These things will be dealt with by the justification of the research and the theoretical framework and / or methodological framework.

How to write the problem statement?

The problem statement is usually the first formal chapter of a project, and should be written in concise prose, to the point, consistent, and you should organize your ideas to move from the most general of the research topic to the most specific.

In other words, if we are interested in studying the possible influence of surrealism on Basque architecture, it is likely that we must first start from the latter, its regional significance, and then move towards the specific features that make us think that surrealism may be involved.

Or, on the contrary, we can start from surrealism and its cultural importance in 20th century Europe, and then investigate the unique features that it shares with Spanish architecture, within which we will study Basque.

Now, resuming what has been said above, the writing of the problem statement must respond to the following conceptual steps:

  • Identify the problem. The first thing we must do is say what is the matter that we are going to deal with. Describe it, separate it from a range of similar topics, that is, first approach it from a general perspective and then move towards the specific problem.
    For example, if we intend to study the incidence of an antibiotic in the life expectancy of farm pigs, it is likely that we should identify the problem by establishing the importance of pigs in the contemporary diet and how the reduction of the life of pigs it is an observed and worrying phenomenon.
  • Contextualize the problem. Once the problem is identified, we must offer context about it, that is, we must speak in less general terms, going towards the specific object of study. This implies considering questions such as where? when? who? when necessary.
    Continuing with the previous example, our study of pigs and antibiotics is probably not worldwide, but rather takes into consideration pigs from a specific region of our country, where the decrease in life expectancy has been more noticeable, and only a few specific pens, in which it is known that the antibiotic we are studying is administered and not others.
  • Narrow the problem. Finally, the delimitation of the problem implies offering the most concrete, specific and punctual data of our approach to the problem: where do we start from? Where do we want to go? What could be some important limitations? All of this must be taken into account.
    The example of the study of pigs, then, would delimit their problem by explaining that the presence of the antibiotic in question can only be determined after some time after the pig is born, after vaccines and when they start to get fat, so the antibiotic has time to act on your liver and cause some pre-determined effect, which is suspected to be responsible for premature death. This is due to a certain compound of the antibiotic that can be explained in greater detail, and is the reason why that antibiotic will be studied and not others.

Let us bear in mind that no statement of the problem will respond exactly and unquestionably to this conceptual scheme, but it is convenient to think of it this way in order to organize our ideas. So we should not worry whether identification and contextualization, to say the least, turn out to be one.

Finally, a statement of the problem normally takes a few pages, depending on the complexity of the problem and the approach to the investigation, but in no case will it be a mere introduction to the topic (or the project). If the statement has been correctly written, the reasons for the justification and the general objective of the investigation should subsequently be deduced from it.