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How to Develop a Research Problem Statement: A Step by Step Guide

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Developing a Research Problem Statement

Developing a research project is a challenge for many academics and students. Some questions arise during the creative process: how do I turn my theme into a problem situation? How do I organize my ideas? Where to start?

It is common to have a lot of ideas or an incredible theme, but when it comes to problematizing, it seems that everything hangs. To face these questions and develop an excellent research problem statement, it is essential to know the guideline for its formulation.

This is a process that takes time and a lot of revisions. But before we continue, it is important to conceptualise what is a research problem.

What is a Research Problem?

Every research starts with some problems or questions. However, in affirming this, it becomes convenient to clarify the meaning of this term. Problem has been defined as something that causes imbalance, malaise, and embarrassment to people. However, in the academic sense, a problem is an unresolved situation that is the subject of discussion in any knowledge domain.

When it comes to conceptualizing what a research problem is, it is necessary to consider that not every problem is amenable to scientific treatment. This means that to carry out research, it is necessary to verify if the problem considered falls into the category of experimental or intellectual.

A problem is scientific when it involves variables that can be tested, observed, manipulated. A research problem can be determined for practical or intellectual reasons.

There are endless practical and intellectual reasons that lead to the formulation of research problems. To highlight the world of possibilities that can be revealed concerning this theme, below we have presented you with the definition and examples of practical and intellectual problems:

Types of Research Problems

The interest in the choice of research problems can be influenced by different factors, such as the researcher’s social values ​​or also the social incentives for the study of a specific theme.

Thus, the research problem can be determined by practical or intellectual questions. And what are the differences between them?

Practical order research problems

Practical problems are those that aim to answer empirical questions. Examples of practical problems include:

  • 1 – A problem can be formulated so that its solution can subsidize a specific action (for example, a survey that seeks to find out the profile of a group to help implement a public program);
  • 2 – A problem designed to evaluate specific actions or programs (for example, a survey that assesses the effects of a particular public policy or private action on territory or group);
  • 3 – A problem created to assist in the planning of appropriate action (for example, research on possible socio-environmental impacts in a given area).

In other words, practical problems help to solve practical questions in different fields of knowledge.

Intellectual order research problems

Intellectual problems are those that seek to deepen theoretical questions. Examples of intellectual problems are:

  • 1 – Problems that study a little-known subject (for example, the interest in delving into a practically unexplored area);
  • 2 – Problems that work with specificities and other variables in the case of areas already explored (for example, when a researcher wants to study with greater specificity the conditions of a certain phenomenon that is previously studied);
  • 3 – Problems that test a specific theory or the description of certain phenomena (for example, when research is interested in testing a theory or describing a particular phenomenon studied).

In other words, intellectual problems are related to the deepening of theoretical questions.

In this next section, we present tips for you to learn how to develop an excellent research problem.

If you have not yet understood the importance of the research problem for your academic career, this is your opportunity to learn! So, check out our tips below:

How to develop an excellent research problem

Formulating a research problem is not an easy task and, therefore, training plays a fundamental role in this process.

As it is closely linked to the creative process, the formulation of problems is not done by observing rigid and systematic procedures. However, some conditions facilitate this task, such as:

Systematic immersion in the subject

Study of the existing literature and discussion with people who already have practical experience in the field of study in question.

The researchers’ accumulated experience also makes it possible to develop certain practical rules for formulating research problems. However, it is worth mentioning that, in some cases, the proposed problem does not fit these rules. This does not mean, however, that it should be abandoned. Often, it is best to reformulate or clarify it.

The problem should be asked as a question

This is the easiest and most direct way to formulate a problem and contribute substantially to delimiting what the research topic is and the research problem. Take, for example, research on the subject of Objectivity in History. If a researcher says that he will research this area, there is little need to explain more as it becomes obvious that is his topic. However, If a researcher says “what factors cause lack of objectivity in history?” or “how do we promote objectivity in history?”, the researcher will be effectively proposing research problems.

However, you should note that the question asked is not the research problem. It is a deduction of the problem. Technically this os called “Guiding Question. ” In this sense, it is just a heuristic resource that aims to facilitate your thinking. It would help if you problematized first. That is, the problem is built on a broad context of data and reasoning. This is where you will identify obscure situations, unanswered questions, contradictory propositions, etc. And it is in this context that the problem arises. This means that it is not correct to go around, asking questions. It is necessary to deduce them in this problematization process.

The problem must be clear and precise

The problem cannot be solved if it is not presented clearly and precisely. Often, problems presented in an unstructured way and with formulation errors lead to difficulties in solving them.

For example, “how does the doctor’s mind work?” This problem is inadequately proposed because it is not clear what it refers to. To resolve the impasse, one must start with one of the many possible reformulations to the initial question: “What psychological mechanisms can be identified in the process of diagnosing, experienced by a doctor?”

It may also happen that some formulations have improperly defined terms, which makes the problem lack clarity. For example, “is lion an intelligent animal?” The answer to this question depends on how intelligence is defined. Many problems of this type cannot be solved because they use terms taken from everyday language that, in many cases, are ambiguous.

The problem must have an empirical basis

Research problems must be based on facts. That is, they must excel in objectivity. It is up to the researcher to get as close as possible to reality without his conclusions distorted by values, personal perceptions, and prejudices. The researcher seeks to answer questions, find solutions, and not to prove preconceived opinions.

It is quite complex to investigate certain problems that already carry a lot of value judgments. For example, “should women perform typical male tasks?” or “is homosexual marriage acceptable?” These problems inevitably lead to moral judgements and, consequently, to subjective considerations, invalidating scientific investigation purposes, which has objectivity as one of the most important characteristics.

This is a very simple task when we are investigating rocks, for example, in geology. Here it is easy to separate what is objective from what is not. What we are saying in essence is that the problem arises remarkably when we investigate social facts. Here, values, personal perceptions, and prejudices are exactly the subject of research. Furthermore, there is a great identity between the researcher and the research subject. Therefore, it is up to the researcher to take special precautions to distinguish between values ​​and perceptions as the subject of research or project bias in these cases.

The problem must not be exclusively empirical

The theoretical framework here matters a lot. The researcher is not alone in the world. In one way or another, his research field already existed before his arrival and will continue to exist (in one way or another), after his departure. This means that he is located in a related community, among other ways, through theoretical debate. Also, the theory allows us to create hypotheses, problems, and solutions. It also allows us to interpret and dialogue with reality.

Thus, whatever we call “fact” is immersed in a complex field of concepts, propositions, and relationships. Thus, without denying the importance of contact with reality, it is through the theory that we build, identify, and conclude about reality.

The problem must be amenable to a solution

One problem may be clear, precise, and refer to empirical concepts, but if you can not collect the data necessary for its resolution, it becomes infeasible. Thus, to properly formulate a problem, it is necessary to have the appropriate means for its solution.

The problem must be limited to a viable dimension

In many studies, the problem tends to be formulated in very broad terms, requiring some delimitation. For example, “what do doctors think?” First, it would be necessary to delimit the universe of doctors: men, women; young, elderly; clinicians, surgeons, etc. It would be necessary to define “thinking,” since it involves many aspects, such as perception, religion, social, economic, political, psychological, professional, etc. The delimitation of the problem is closely related to the means available to carry out the research.


We hope you take advantage of these tips, as they are not easily found out there. The fact is that building a good research problem will help a lot in the formulation of your research project.

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