Friday, 16 November 2018

What is a problem statement?

In research, a 'problem statement' is a brief outline of what our research is setting out to solve, or to provide direction on. It might be a current problem which needs to be fixed. It might be a situation which needs to be improved. It might be clarifying a relationship between two elements. Whatever our problem consists of, it needs to contain some key items. The key components of the problem statement are:
  • That a clear problem is outlined
  • It contains enough context and detail to show why our study is important
  • It provides the rationale for our project
  • It shows a clear purpose
  • It has a statement of objectives
  • It is scoped well
  • It identifies the gap between where we are now (our problem) and where we want to go (our goal)
  • It explains our proposed method to reach our goal
  • It explains who our research will be useful for.
However, we also have to remember that before we can start to clearly construct our problem statement, we first need to know about our topic area. This requires that we have thoroughly explored the relevant literature, and have scoped our topic down to a rough research question. We need to be familiar with those studies relevant to our current research project. So we have to have a pile of evidence before we start.

Then we can think about the key criteria for writing a problem statement, which are:
  1. It should fit on one page
  2. It must be concise, punchy, direct, and clear enough to guide our research project
  3. It will help to clarify our main research question, and provide context of our research study
  4. It needs to address the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, why, and how
  5. It needs to be persuasive enough for our peers to understand why this research should be done.
How we start writing a problem statement is largely up to the individual, but one suggested method to get underway is to use four sentences. The first sentence contains a general statement identifying why we are studying this issue. The second sentence(s) is more specific, contains evidence and statistics to show the reader more clearly why this is a problem which should be solved. The third sentence should talk about our proposed methods. The fourth sentence identifies who our participants are, and who our results may apply to. Then we expand each of the sentences until we have a clear problem statement.

For example:
Burnout in the legal profession is increasing (Author, date). Each year over [x] barristers exit the profession globally citing stress and overload (Author, date). This situation is different from past professional shortages, as it affects new graduates as well as seasoned barristers and judges (Author, date). For the first time in more than a century, new legal enrolments are falling at most Universities (Author, date). This crisis requires creative solutions. One solution may be a less structured leadership style, such as transformational leadership (Author, date). This qualitative case study will explore perceptions of barristers in New Zealand about transformational leadership as a strategy to alleviate or reduce factors contributing to burnout in legal professionals, seeking to undertake structured interviews with a broad range of legal professionals at a variety of career stages. Data gathered in this study may provide practice managers with information to address or mitigate factors contributing to burnout and overload.
I hope that helps!


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