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How to write a dissertation problem statement, published by steve tippins on may 7, 2020 may 7, 2020.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 03:07 am

Your Problem Statement is one of the most important sections of your dissertation.

Let that sink in for a moment.

(Breathe. Say an om. Try to fend off the existential anxiety that is a natural part of the dissertation-writing process).

Okay, ready to know more?

The reason why it’s so important is that your study is essentially a response to a problem. Your Purpose Statement arises from the problem. So, essentially, your problem statement dictates what your entire dissertation will be about.

Fortunately for you, it also has some pretty specific requirements, and if you follow these, you’ll nail your problem statement and write a strong dissertation proposal.

That’s why I wrote this article: to help you understand the specific requirements of a dissertation problem statement so that you can write one effectively.

woman in a white shirt holding a book in a library

How to Find a Research Problem for your Dissertation

Before you can write your dissertation’s problem statement, you have to find the research problem.

Your problem statement arises from a gap in literature . When there’s something that hasn’t been studied, and when also a good reason to study it, that constitutes a problem. At its essence, a problem statement is essentially saying, “We don’t know enough about X, and we really should because of Y.” 

So how do you find a research problem? There are several commonly-accepted approaches.

Literature Review

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Oftentimes, the easiest and most direct way to discover a research problem is through a review of the literature. You will have to conduct a literature review anyway as part of your proposal, so make sure to write notes as you go along. 

Make sure you’re familiar with seminal texts, but the real gold is often found in more recent studies. The “Recommendations for Further Research” section may explicitly state gaps in research that need to be filled, leading to your problem.

statement of the problem in phd thesis

Personal Experience

Another excellent way of discovering a problem is through personal experience. Perhaps you’ve worked in a field and noticed a persistent problem that nobody has found an effective answer to. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the literature, though, before taking it too far–it could be somebody has already studied it (in which case you could still build off their study).

Discussion with Experts

Asking experts in the field is not only an expedient way to discover a research problem, it often leads to the most interesting problems as well. Those who have worked in the field for a long time have a depth and breadth of knowledge, and also often work at the frontier of knowledge in their field. They can provide a perspective that even a complete literature review on its own won’t be able to.

Discussion with Colleagues

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The old over-used phrase “synergy” applies here. Sometimes, even when two people have roughly the same level of knowledge and expertise in a subject, coming together in dialogue may produce ideas that neither could have found on their own. Or maybe your colleague has just read something interesting that leads you to your research problem. Either way, getting another perspective is always helpful.

Research Agendas

An advisor or group of faculty may already be working with an established research agenda. While your scope will be limited, you may also benefit from contributing to a larger research effort.

Contradictory Evidence

Look at the literature (or ask your advisors) with an eye towards contradicting evidence. If similar studies have contradicting results, the area must be explored more. This is related to “provocative exception,” when a consistent and accepted conclusion is contradicted by the appearance of a new finding. Keeping a key eye on the research can aid your awareness of these instances.

What Makes a Good Research Problem?

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You are interested in the problem. This may sound obvious, but may doctoral students have found themselves enmeshed in a research project that they have no genuine interest in because a faculty member thought they should pursue a particular topic. A dissertation is too long of a project to devote to something you’re not interested in. Plus, the quality of your research and writing will be much higher if indeed you are interested in the topic.

The scope of the problem is manageable . So many students submit problem statements that are beyond the scope of what can be explored in a single research project. Remember, the scope of the problem must be hyper-focused.

You have the time and resources to investigate the problem. This means that you can handle it with the time and resources you have now (or can count on having during the process). It’s far better to make small steps of progress than it is to bite off more than you can chew in an attempt to go in leaps and bounds.

The problem has theoretical or practical significance. This is essentially the answer to the question, “so what?” There are many problems in the world that don’t necessarily merit scientific inquiry. As I am writing at the picnic table outside, a slug appears to be trying to climb from one blade of grass to another but cannot reach the second one. This may be a problem for the slug, but doesn’t have great significance beyond this particular slug at this particular moment. Even if we were to consider the importance of this slug’s goal, it would still take longer than a day to conduct a study about how to help it, by which point I expect it will have already moved on.

It is ethical to investigate the problem. The history of scientific research is, unfortunately, marked by a trail of unethical behavior. From the scientific inquiries of the Nazis, to psychologically harmful studies here in the US, to horrific experiments that are still conducted on live animals, much harm has been done in the name of the pursuit of knowledge. As researchers, it is imperative that we consider the ethics of pursuing any research project.

man in a denim jacket focused on taking notes with his laptop

Now that you’ve identified the research problem you plan to address–that is, the hyper-specific area of focus for your study– you just have to write your dissertation’s problem statement.

The Key Elements of a Dissertation Problem Statement:

Essentially, you want to establish (a) what the problem is, (b) that it matters, and (c) that it addresses a meaningful gap in the literature. 

  • Give some brief background information. A few sentences to help the reader understand the context of the problem.
  • State the general research problem. This is one sentence that usually starts something like, “The general problem is…”
  • Establish relevancy. Here’s where you’ll cite research that supports that the general problem you just stated is relevant, current, and significant to the discipline.
  • Specific Problem Statement. This sentence should be worded similarly to your title and (future) purpose statement.
  • Conclusion and transition. Here, you’ll include a few sentences on the impacts of the problem on society or the relevant population, and transition to the next section.

Here are some recommended ways of beginning your dissertation problem statement:

  • It is not known ___
  • Absent from the literature is ___
  • While the literature indicates __, it is not known in ___ if
  • It is not known how or to what extent ___

After reading your problem statement, someone should have a very clear answer to the questions, “So what?” or “Why does it matter?”

Tips for Writing your Problem Statement

blonde professor giving advice to her stressed out student

Be concise . The wording of your problem statement should be clear and easy to follow. Avoid complexity. One of the most common mistakes students make is making their problem statement too complex. When in doubt, simplify.

Use Citations. Make sure that every claim you make is backed up by research. The vast majority of studies build on the work of previous researchers.

Focus on only one (very specific) problem. Don’t try to roll several problems into your problem statement. Also, avoid making your problem statement too broad.

Do not offer a ready solution. At most, explore possible avenues for solutions that may be tested with the help of your research.

Stay in alignment. It is also very important that your problem statement is in alignment with your title, gap in literature, purpose statement, and research questions. That means it’s saying the same thing, that it has the same hyper-specific focus. 

statement of the problem in phd thesis

How Long Is a Problem Statement?

While the actual General Problem Statement and Specific Problem Statement are one sentence each, the Problem Statement section can account for anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages. More than a few pages is usually too long. Remember, simplicity and specificity are key.

woman in a grey turtleneck studying next to the window

Dissertation Problem Statement Example

From Wiley :

The career development process is critical for the success of organizations. Research has shown that women managers experience career development differently from men. In addition, more and more African-American women are now joining the ranks of management, which presents new challenges and opportunities for these individuals.  However, little is known about the combined effects of sex and race on the career development process of individuals, and to the extent that current career development models accurately describe the process is unclear.  If career development is important for organizations and career development is viewed differently by women and men managers and more African-American women are now serving in the ranks of management, and if little is known about the combined effects of sex and race on the career development process, then more needs to be known about how African-American women perceive their career development experiences.  The purpose of this study was to focus on African-American women first-line supervisors undertake and conduct a qualitative study of their career development process.  *Adapted from: Cushnie, M. (1999). African-American women first-line supervisors: a qualitative study of their career development process.   From Wiley

From University of Houston : 

The importance of developing a constraint-free and reliable work plan has long been recognized by the [construction] industry. However, numerous construction projects are still plagued by delays and cost overruns, which can frequently be traced to ineffective identification and treatment of constraints. First, when a constraint is not properly identified during scheduling, subsequent conflicts in the field are inevitable. Today’s projects are becoming more and more technically complex and logistically challenging, which exposes construction operations to even more complex constraints.  Second, the traditional scheduling methods, bar charts and Critical Path Method (CPM) which are widely used as a basis for constraint analysis, greatly limit our capability in modeling and resolving constraints during look-ahead scheduling.  These methods have long been blamed for their limitations in modeling and communicating constraints, including inability to cope with non-time-related precedence constraints and difficulty to evaluate and communicate inter-dependencies at the field operation level (e.g. Sriprasert and Dawood 2002; Chua and Shen 2001). In summary, there is a need for a better understanding of constraints in construction and a structured approach in identifying and modeling constraints to ensure a constraint-free work plan.  From University of Houston

Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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The Research Problem & Statement

What they are & how to write them (with examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | March 2023

If you’re new to academic research, you’re bound to encounter the concept of a “ research problem ” or “ problem statement ” fairly early in your learning journey. Having a good research problem is essential, as it provides a foundation for developing high-quality research, from relatively small research papers to a full-length PhD dissertations and theses.

In this post, we’ll unpack what a research problem is and how it’s related to a problem statement . We’ll also share some examples and provide a step-by-step process you can follow to identify and evaluate study-worthy research problems for your own project.

Overview: Research Problem 101

What is a research problem.

  • What is a problem statement?

Where do research problems come from?

  • How to find a suitable research problem
  • Key takeaways

A research problem is, at the simplest level, the core issue that a study will try to solve or (at least) examine. In other words, it’s an explicit declaration about the problem that your dissertation, thesis or research paper will address. More technically, it identifies the research gap that the study will attempt to fill (more on that later).

Let’s look at an example to make the research problem a little more tangible.

To justify a hypothetical study, you might argue that there’s currently a lack of research regarding the challenges experienced by first-generation college students when writing their dissertations [ PROBLEM ] . As a result, these students struggle to successfully complete their dissertations, leading to higher-than-average dropout rates [ CONSEQUENCE ]. Therefore, your study will aim to address this lack of research – i.e., this research problem [ SOLUTION ].

A research problem can be theoretical in nature, focusing on an area of academic research that is lacking in some way. Alternatively, a research problem can be more applied in nature, focused on finding a practical solution to an established problem within an industry or an organisation. In other words, theoretical research problems are motivated by the desire to grow the overall body of knowledge , while applied research problems are motivated by the need to find practical solutions to current real-world problems (such as the one in the example above).

As you can probably see, the research problem acts as the driving force behind any study , as it directly shapes the research aims, objectives and research questions , as well as the research approach. Therefore, it’s really important to develop a very clearly articulated research problem before you even start your research proposal . A vague research problem will lead to unfocused, potentially conflicting research aims, objectives and research questions .

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What is a research problem statement?

As the name suggests, a problem statement (within a research context, at least) is an explicit statement that clearly and concisely articulates the specific research problem your study will address. While your research problem can span over multiple paragraphs, your problem statement should be brief , ideally no longer than one paragraph . Importantly, it must clearly state what the problem is (whether theoretical or practical in nature) and how the study will address it.

Here’s an example of a statement of the problem in a research context:

Rural communities across Ghana lack access to clean water, leading to high rates of waterborne illnesses and infant mortality. Despite this, there is little research investigating the effectiveness of community-led water supply projects within the Ghanaian context. Therefore, this study aims to investigate the effectiveness of such projects in improving access to clean water and reducing rates of waterborne illnesses in these communities.

As you can see, this problem statement clearly and concisely identifies the issue that needs to be addressed (i.e., a lack of research regarding the effectiveness of community-led water supply projects) and the research question that the study aims to answer (i.e., are community-led water supply projects effective in reducing waterborne illnesses?), all within one short paragraph.

Need a helping hand?

statement of the problem in phd thesis

Wherever there is a lack of well-established and agreed-upon academic literature , there is an opportunity for research problems to arise, since there is a paucity of (credible) knowledge. In other words, research problems are derived from research gaps . These gaps can arise from various sources, including the emergence of new frontiers or new contexts, as well as disagreements within the existing research.

Let’s look at each of these scenarios:

New frontiers – new technologies, discoveries or breakthroughs can open up entirely new frontiers where there is very little existing research, thereby creating fresh research gaps. For example, as generative AI technology became accessible to the general public in 2023, the full implications and knock-on effects of this were (or perhaps, still are) largely unknown and therefore present multiple avenues for researchers to explore.

New contexts – very often, existing research tends to be concentrated on specific contexts and geographies. Therefore, even within well-studied fields, there is often a lack of research within niche contexts. For example, just because a study finds certain results within a western context doesn’t mean that it would necessarily find the same within an eastern context. If there’s reason to believe that results may vary across these geographies, a potential research gap emerges.

Disagreements – within many areas of existing research, there are (quite naturally) conflicting views between researchers, where each side presents strong points that pull in opposing directions. In such cases, it’s still somewhat uncertain as to which viewpoint (if any) is more accurate. As a result, there is room for further research in an attempt to “settle” the debate.

Of course, many other potential scenarios can give rise to research gaps, and consequently, research problems, but these common ones are a useful starting point. If you’re interested in research gaps, you can learn more here .

How to find a research problem

Given that research problems flow from research gaps , finding a strong research problem for your research project means that you’ll need to first identify a clear research gap. Below, we’ll present a four-step process to help you find and evaluate potential research problems.

If you’ve read our other articles about finding a research topic , you’ll find the process below very familiar as the research problem is the foundation of any study . In other words, finding a research problem is much the same as finding a research topic.

Step 1 – Identify your area of interest

Naturally, the starting point is to first identify a general area of interest . Chances are you already have something in mind, but if not, have a look at past dissertations and theses within your institution to get some inspiration. These present a goldmine of information as they’ll not only give you ideas for your own research, but they’ll also help you see exactly what the norms and expectations are for these types of projects.

At this stage, you don’t need to get super specific. The objective is simply to identify a couple of potential research areas that interest you. For example, if you’re undertaking research as part of a business degree, you may be interested in social media marketing strategies for small businesses, leadership strategies for multinational companies, etc.

Depending on the type of project you’re undertaking, there may also be restrictions or requirements regarding what topic areas you’re allowed to investigate, what type of methodology you can utilise, etc. So, be sure to first familiarise yourself with your institution’s specific requirements and keep these front of mind as you explore potential research ideas.

Step 2 – Review the literature and develop a shortlist

Once you’ve decided on an area that interests you, it’s time to sink your teeth into the literature . In other words, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the existing research regarding your interest area. Google Scholar is a good starting point for this, as you can simply enter a few keywords and quickly get a feel for what’s out there. Keep an eye out for recent literature reviews and systematic review-type journal articles, as these will provide a good overview of the current state of research.

At this stage, you don’t need to read every journal article from start to finish . A good strategy is to pay attention to the abstract, intro and conclusion , as together these provide a snapshot of the key takeaways. As you work your way through the literature, keep an eye out for what’s missing – in other words, what questions does the current research not answer adequately (or at all)? Importantly, pay attention to the section titled “ further research is needed ”, typically found towards the very end of each journal article. This section will specifically outline potential research gaps that you can explore, based on the current state of knowledge (provided the article you’re looking at is recent).

Take the time to engage with the literature and develop a big-picture understanding of the current state of knowledge. Reviewing the literature takes time and is an iterative process , but it’s an essential part of the research process, so don’t cut corners at this stage.

As you work through the review process, take note of any potential research gaps that are of interest to you. From there, develop a shortlist of potential research gaps (and resultant research problems) – ideally 3 – 5 options that interest you.

The relationship between the research problem and research gap

Step 3 – Evaluate your potential options

Once you’ve developed your shortlist, you’ll need to evaluate your options to identify a winner. There are many potential evaluation criteria that you can use, but we’ll outline three common ones here: value, practicality and personal appeal.

Value – a good research problem needs to create value when successfully addressed. Ask yourself:

  • Who will this study benefit (e.g., practitioners, researchers, academia)?
  • How will it benefit them specifically?
  • How much will it benefit them?

Practicality – a good research problem needs to be manageable in light of your resources. Ask yourself:

  • What data will I need access to?
  • What knowledge and skills will I need to undertake the analysis?
  • What equipment or software will I need to process and/or analyse the data?
  • How much time will I need?
  • What costs might I incur?

Personal appeal – a research project is a commitment, so the research problem that you choose needs to be genuinely attractive and interesting to you. Ask yourself:

  • How appealing is the prospect of solving this research problem (on a scale of 1 – 10)?
  • Why, specifically, is it attractive (or unattractive) to me?
  • Does the research align with my longer-term goals (e.g., career goals, educational path, etc)?

Depending on how many potential options you have, you may want to consider creating a spreadsheet where you numerically rate each of the options in terms of these criteria. Remember to also include any criteria specified by your institution . From there, tally up the numbers and pick a winner.

Step 4 – Craft your problem statement

Once you’ve selected your research problem, the final step is to craft a problem statement. Remember, your problem statement needs to be a concise outline of what the core issue is and how your study will address it. Aim to fit this within one paragraph – don’t waffle on. Have a look at the problem statement example we mentioned earlier if you need some inspiration.

Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • A research problem is an explanation of the issue that your study will try to solve. This explanation needs to highlight the problem , the consequence and the solution or response.
  • A problem statement is a clear and concise summary of the research problem , typically contained within one paragraph.
  • Research problems emerge from research gaps , which themselves can emerge from multiple potential sources, including new frontiers, new contexts or disagreements within the existing literature.
  • To find a research problem, you need to first identify your area of interest , then review the literature and develop a shortlist, after which you’ll evaluate your options, select a winner and craft a problem statement .

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Developing a phd dissertation research problem: a guide for doctoral students.

  • One of the important goals of any problem statement is to define the problem being addressed in a way that’s clear and precise. It aims to focus on the process improvement team’s activities and steer the scope of the project
  • PhD Dissertation Problem Statement Helps to identify a clear, definite statement of the area of concern or investigation and is backed by evidence
  • Thesis problem Identification is the key thing that drives the research process and produces a framework

statement of the problem in phd thesis


A Research Problem is the Statement in the research writing about an area of concern, a condition to be improved or difficulty eliminated, or a troubling question that exist in the scholarly article. In academic writing, a problem statement can help readers to contextualize and understand the significance of the research problem stated. The research problem may be a paragraph or in a few lines that states the whole thesis. The problem statement will vary depending on whether you’re dealing with a practical, real-world problem or a theoretical scientific issue. But all problem statements have a similar process.

Research Problem

PhD Thesis Problem Statement is the driving force of the research. Generally, Researchers find a Gap in the scholarly article and then pick the area of study to make the study more practical and manageable. Since it is the driving force having a well-conceived problem statement is an essential component of all these activities. So, the problem statement serves as the foundation role that formally communicates with the readers.

The main function of the problem statement is to justify useful information that might help investigate the problem. PhD Dissertation Problem Identification might be helpful to form a solution to the problem. The evaluation might determine the extent to which the solution addressed.

The problem statement represents the purpose of the present study to address the trouble. This process is carried out to check whether the presence of the same study or the same information by different researchers may propose the same of different problems and identify the different goals for the Research. 

Deriving Problem Statements

A problem statement should be in the form that describes an undesirable gap between current state performance and the desired future performance. A problem statement should include relative measures of the problem that quantify the gap, but should not include possible cause or solution. 

Key elements of a significant problem statement include:

  • Identify the current gap.
  • Mention the time frame, location and trend: Describe when and where the problem was first observed and what type of trend following. 
  • Impact: Quantify the gap in cost, time, quality, environmental. 
  • Importance: Developing a Dissertation Research Problem to the organization, the individual, to the betterment of the environment or society. 

Steps to develop the research problem

  • Choosing the area for research:

The most important step in any PhD Problem Identification is to identify the problem area before stating the research problem. Select the unexplored broad area topic. Broad area topic will be helpful to find the gap easily. The ultimate aim is to find gaps in your work. Always look for a broad area of research then make the study area narrowing down to choose an appropriate scholarly journal to carry out the research. 

  • Understanding the Research Problem:

After choosing the area to conduct the research, make sure you understand the problem statement before picking it to your work. If it is understood clearly, then it is used in the research to frame a proper question that is related to your research work. In this step, the researcher has the responsibility to understand completely what the research is to address the findings of the research.  

  • Observe and identify:

Observing and identifying the right research based on the subject chosen is important. Dissertation Identifying a Research Problem assist in observing the research problem that will help you find the relevant statement to the research you are engaged. It is essential to identify the novel work that is new in the research area you choose if you find the research problem statement. 

  • Review the key factors involved:

Review the key terms in the research that help you to find the relevant article to your search. To do this, you have to note the factors that will affect the research project and begin formulating a different kind of methods to control them. Make a note of key terms that drive your research and put a list of words to review the factors. It is best to consider the relationships between factors and the degree of control you have to do over them. It will help you to define whether the findings of your project will produce enough information that worth the cost.

You need to determine,

  • Which causes can be controlled and used for the research purpose, and to what extent.
  • The functional relationships between the factors
  • Determine the key term that drives the solution to the research problem.
  • Which factors directly affect the solution to the research problem.
  • Give priority:

Give priority based on your area of research. Collect a list of article and align according to the need or according to the relevance of the paper. This step is a critical step to carry out because it takes time and needs expert help to complete this challenging task. It has a more chance to select the article that is not at all similar to the research work you are going to carry out. PhD Thesis Problem Statement Help you in choosing the research paper that is relevant to your field of study. 

Once found the potential research problem, there is a need to evaluate them to ensure the selected statement is relevant to the appropriate research. PhD Thesis Problem Identification assists in finding Stronger research problems that are more likely to succeed in publication, presentation, and application. So, PhD Dissertation Research problem Identification help you to find a strong, manageable research question to your dissertation. 


  • Jacobs, R. L. (2013). Developing a dissertation research problem: A guide for doctoral students in human resource development and adult education. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 25(3), 103-117.
  • Osanloo, A., & Grant, C. (2016). Understanding, selecting, and integrating a theoretical framework in dissertation research: Creating the blueprint for your “house”. Administrative issues journal: connecting education, practice, and research, 4(2), 7.
  • Fernando, D. M., & Hulse‐Killacky, D. (2006). Getting to the point: Using research meetings and the inverted triangle visual to develop a dissertation research question. Counselor Education and Supervision, 46(2), 103-115.


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What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]

  • 5 minute read

Table of Contents

The statement of the problem is one of the first things that a colleague or potential client will read. With the vastness of the information available at one’s fingertips in the online9 world, your work may have just a few seconds to draw in a reader to take a deeper look at your proposal before moving on to the next option. It explains quickly to the reader, the problem at hand, the need for research, and how you intend to do it.

A strong, clear description of the problem that drew you to your research has to be straightforward, easy to read and, most important, relevant. Why do you care about this problem? How can solving this problem impact the world? The problem statement is your opportunity to explain why you care and what you propose to do in the way of researching the problem.

A problem statement is an explanation in research that describes the issue that is in need of study . What problem is the research attempting to address? Having a Problem Statement allows the reader to quickly understand the purpose and intent of the research. The importance of writing your research proposal cannot be stressed enough. Check for more information on Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal .

It is expected to be brief and concise , and should not include the findings of the research or detailed data . The average length of a research statement is generally about one page . It is going to define the problem, which can be thought of as a gap in the information base. There may be several solutions to this gap or lack of information, but that is not the concern of the problem statement. Its purpose is to summarize the current information and where a lack of knowledge may be presenting a problem that needs to be investigated .

The purpose of the problem statement is to identify the issue that is a concern and focus it in a way that allows it to be studied in a systematic way . It defines the problem and proposes a way to research a solution, or demonstrates why further information is needed in order for a solution to become possible.

What is Included in a Problem Statement?

Besides identifying the gap of understanding or the weakness of necessary data, it is important to explain the significance of this lack.

-How will your research contribute to the existing knowledge base in your field of study?

-How is it significant?

-Why does it matter?

Not all problems have only one solution so demonstrating the need for additional research can also be included in your problem statement. Once you identify the problem and the need for a solution, or for further study, then you can show how you intend to collect the needed data and present it.

How to Write a Statement of Problem in Research Proposal

It is helpful to begin with your goal. What do you see as the achievable goal if the problem you outline is solved? How will the proposed research theoretically change anything? What are the potential outcomes?

Then you can discuss how the problem prevents the ability to reach your realistic and achievable solution. It is what stands in the way of changing an issue for the better. Talk about the present state of affairs and how the problem impacts a person’s life, for example.

It’s helpful at this point to generally layout the present knowledge and understanding of the subject at hand, before then describing the gaps of knowledge that are currently in need of study. Your problem statement is a proposed solution to address one of these gaps.

A good problem statement will also layout the repercussions of leaving the problem as it currently stands. What is the significance of not addressing this problem? What are the possible future outcomes?

Example of Problem Statement in Research Proposal

If, for example , you intended to research the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the immune system , you would begin with a review of the current knowledge of vitamin D’s known function in relation to the immune system and how a deficiency of it impacts a person’s defenses.

You would describe the ideal environment in the body when there is a sufficient level of vitamin D. Then, begin to identify the problems associated with vitamin D deficiency and the difficulty of raising the level through supplementation, along with the consequences of that deficiency. Here you are beginning to identify the problem of a common deficiency and the current difficulty of increasing the level of vitamin D in the blood.

At this stage, you may begin to identify the problem and narrow it down in a way that is practical to a research project. Perhaps you are proposing a novel way of introducing Vitamin D in a way that allows for better absorption by the gut, or in a combination with another product that increases its level in the blood.

Describe the way your research in this area will contribute to the knowledge base on how to increase levels of vitamin D in a specific group of subjects, perhaps menopausal women with breast cancer. The research proposal is then described in practical terms.

How to write a problem statement in research?

Problem statements differ depending on the type and topic of research and vary between a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

However, the problem statement should not drag on needlessly. Despite the absence of a fixed format, a good research problem statement usually consists of three main parts:

Context: This section explains the background for your research. It identifies the problem and describes an ideal scenario that could exist in the absence of the problem. It also includes any past attempts and shortcomings at solving the problem.

Significance: This section defines how the problem prevents the ideal scenario from being achieved, including its negative impacts on the society or field of research. It should include who will be the most affected by a solution to the problem, the relevance of the study that you are proposing, and how it can contribute to the existing body of research.

Solution: This section describes the aim and objectives of your research, and your solution to overcome the problem. Finally, it need not focus on the perfect solution, but rather on addressing a realistic goal to move closer to the ideal scenario.

Here is a cheat sheet to help you with formulating a good problem statement.

1. Begin with a clear indication that the problem statement is going to be discussed next. You can start with a generic sentence like, “The problem that this study addresses…” This will inform your readers of what to expect next.

2. Next, mention the consequences of not solving the problem . You can touch upon who is or will be affected if the problem continues, and how.

3. Conclude with indicating the type of research /information that is needed to solve the problem. Be sure to reference authors who may have suggested the necessity of such research.

This will then directly lead to your proposed research objective and workplan and how that is expected to solve the problem i.e., close the research gap.

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How to Write an Effective Statement of the Problem

How to write an effective statement of the problem

As PhD students or early career researchers, one of the most important tasks in your academic journey is drafting a research proposal that will help you get the necessary funds and support for performing your research. You may find that, among the different components of a proposal, writing the statement of the problem is perhaps the most challenging since it sets the tone for your proposal. A badly written statement of the problem not only sets the precedent for an unconvincing research proposal, but may also indirectly point to your lack of understanding about your own research. Therefore, it is essential to dedicate sufficient time and effort toward drafting this particular component of a research proposal. And, if you, like many others are struggling with writing statement of the problem in research proposal, then this article might help you out.  

What is the statement of the problem in research proposals?

Before we begin deep-diving into the details, let us understand what a statement of the problem actually signifies. A statement of the problem should ideally be a comprehensive summary of the question that will be addressed as a part of the research, while convincing the reader that the time spent on the research is worth the monetary investment.   

Naturally therefore, a lot needs to be taken into consideration while writing this component. Here are some of the key characteristics of the statement of problem in research proposals: 

  • Addresses a distinct gap area – a research proposal will only be truly significant if you are describing a gap area that is distinct and unexplored. To identify this unique and distinct gap area, you may need to perform some background research regarding the current issues in your field as well as your ability to address them using your specific skill-set or knowledge. The more relevant a problem is to real-world issues, the better are your chances of getting it funded. Therefore, this is a key point you must remember even before writing a statement of the problem.  
  • Provides a clear solution – apart from addressing a distinct gap area, the statement of the problem should also provide a clear solution to solve the issue at hand. Further, this clarity should be demonstrated adequately. Therefore, it is important to be practical while choosing the gap area and to ensure that the solution is attainable as well as feasible.  
  • Leads to further research in the same or relevant field – the statement of the problem should not only describe the research that you are going to undertake, but should also set the stage for any further research that could be carried out in order to contribute toward the existing knowledge base. 
  • Is reproducible and subject to investigation – a good statement of the problem is always subject to scrutiny and allows for a critical analysis of the feasibility and efficacy of the solution that is being provided. It is important to demonstrate that, although you are addressing a distinct gap area, the solution/research work is reproducible.  

statement of the problem in phd thesis

The ideal structure when writing a statement of the problem

Apart from the above-mentioned key characteristics, there is also a structural approach that you can follow in order to draft a good statement of the problem.  

  • Begin with a short background of the gap area that you wish to address with your research. In this part, you may also include some aspects about any previous work that was done to address the gap area. 
  • After the background, you can proceed to discuss the consequences of not addressing that particular gap area. Additionally, you can also discuss about the potential benefits of addressing the gap area properly. Here, you can briefly introduce your solution and also talk about how your solution might help circumvent any roadblocks that previous studies might have encountered.  
  • You can then proceed to describe your solution in depth, by talking about the specific areas that will be addressed with the help of your research. Avoid adding too many technical details in this part as you would be describing them in depth in the latter part of your proposal. Here you can also talk about the greater significance of your research – this should include indirect benefits that are not addressed by your research but are nonetheless relevant.  
  • Keep the length crisp and precise – the main intention is to get the reader invested in your research proposal, and also keep him/her interested enough to read through the rest of the proposal.  

We hope that the above guidelines help you in drafting a strong statement of the problem, which can translate into a compelling research proposal. 

Further reading

1. The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your research proposal. Editage Insights https://www.editage.com/insights/the-basics-of-writing-a-statement-of-the-problem-for-your-research-proposal (2018). 

2. Graffin, G. How to Write Statement of a Problem in Research. Research Prospect https://www.researchprospect.com/how-to-write-statement-of-a-problem-in-research/ (2021). 

3. What is a Problem Statement? With Examples | Author Services Blog. Elsevier Author Services – Articles https://scientific-publishing.webshop.elsevier.com/research-process/what-problem-statement-examples/ (2022). 

4. How to write the problem statement for your research | CW Authors. https://www.cwauthors.com/article/how-to-write-the-statement-of-a-problem. 

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How to Write a Statement of a Problem in Research with Steps

Published by Grace Graffin at August 11th, 2021 , Revised On October 3, 2023

Research is a systematic investigation to find new techniques, products or processes to solve problems. Apart from being systematic, research is empirical in nature: it’s based on observations and measurement of those observations.

It’s what comes before the development. Impacts and policies that are born in society are borne out of the research.

The most important step to perform any research is to identify a problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, it is necessary to define a research problem before starting the actual research process. Once a research problem has been identified, the next step is to write a problem statement.

Philosopher Kaoru Ishikawa said: “You will have a problem half-solved by defining it correctly on the first day.”

This quote perfectly reflects the importance of a problem statement in research. Before writing a problem statement, it is essential to pinpoint a specific problem, the difficulties you can expect to face as you try to solve it and the research gaps you aim to fill with your research.

The last part—how your research aims to fill a gap in the existing literature—will act as a springboard to the solution(s) that policy makers, for instance, might eventually take to solve that problem.

Filling a gap, therefore, is very important towards solving an existing problem.

What is a Problem Statement?

A problem statement is a clear and concise description of an issue or challenge that needs to be addressed. It typically outlines the existing gap between the current state (what currently is) and the desired state (what should be). Crafting a well-defined problem statement is critical for problem-solving, research, or project planning, as it serves as a guidepost and sets the direction for the subsequent steps.

Research Problem and Research Method – A Cyclical Process

The type of research strategy used in research determines whether you will be analysing theoretical problems to add value to existing knowledge, discussing practical issues to become an agent of change for an organisation or industry or looking at both aspects in relation to any given problem.

However, the kind of problem you aim to tackle with your research, to begin with, will also help you narrow down which research design , method or strategy to opt for.

This is therefore a cyclical process. Your research aim guides your research design can help you focus on a specific kind of research gap/problem.

However, generally, your research will focus on one or the other.

Here is all you need to know about how to write a statement of the problem in research, also called problem statement by some research writers .

Why do you Need a Statement of the Problem, to Begin with?

You need a statement of the problem to transform a generalised problem into a well-defined, brief, targeted statement to perform research in the decision-making process. The problem statement helps the researcher to identify the purpose of the ongoing research.

The problem statement in the dissertation is the pillar of the introduction chapter through which the reader can understand the research questions and scope of the project. If you do not define the problem statement properly, the results might become unmanageable.

Writing Problem Statement for a Business or Organisation

In the business world, problem statements provide the basis for the enhancement and refinement of projects. Without identifying and understanding the problem, it will be hard to find and effectively implement solutions.

A stand-alone document that solely provides an in-depth and detailed problem statement is usually the answer for organisations and businesses when it becomes imperative to find the solution to a problem.

Writing Problem Statement for Academic Research

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Problem Statement – How to Write it

Ask yourself the following questions before writing the problem statement:

  • What is wrong in the research area/subarea XYZ?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • To what extent (how much)?
  • I know that because…(evidence)

‘What’ always defines the defect of the problem at hand and explains why it matters? ‘Where’ defines the geological location of the problem. ‘When’ defines the history and the pattern of the problem, the goal of the stated problem and the scope of research.

‘How much’ defines the trend of the problem as to how many objects are facing the same defect and to what extent. The last part, ‘I know this because…’, will help the researcher identify the standard(s) that he must meet.

Step 1: Understanding the Problem

The problem statement should provide a clear and concise background to the research problem you are investigating. Before starting your research , review the literature about the specific problem and find a gap to fill with your own research.

Practical Research Problem Statement

If you are doing experimental research , you can identify problems by talking to people working in a relevant field, studying research reports, and reviewing previous research. Here are some examples of practical research problems:

  • A problem that hinders the efficiency of a company
  • An institutional process that needs interventions
  • An area of concern in your field/sub-field of interest
  • Members of a society facing a specific difficulty

The problem statement should focus on the details related to the problem, such as:

  • When and where was the problem observed?
  • Who is/are affected by it?
  • What research has been conducted and what practical steps have been taken to resolve the problem?

Example of Practical Research Problem Statement

The production of a company is low for the months of July and August every year. Initial research has been conducted by the company, which revealed poor production in July and August is due to the unavailability of local raw material.

The company has made some effective attempts at engaging the local suppliers to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the raw material, but these efforts are yet to have any significant impact on the production levels.

Theoretical Research Problem Statement

According to USC Libraries, “A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is used for your particular study…theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts…relevant to the topic of your research paper and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.”

The theoretical research indirectly contributes to the change by identifying the problem, expanding knowledge and improving understanding. The researcher can find a specific problem by brainstorming the topic and reviewing already published theories and research.

When writing a problem statement based on a theoretical research problem , it is important to recognise the historical, geographical, social and scientific background. Here are the elements of the theoretical problem statement framework that you should consider:

  • What are the facts about the problem?
  • Does the problem relate to a certain geographical area or time period?
  • How is the problem discussed and explained in the existing literature?

Example of Theoretical Research Problem Statement

The production of a company is low for July and August every year. Initial research has been conducted by the company, which revealed poor production in July and August is due to the unavailability of local raw material. The company has made some effective attempts to engage the local suppliers to ensure an uninterrupted raw material supply. Still, these efforts are yet to have any significant impact on the production levels.

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Step 2 – Show why it’s Important and Relevant

By discussing the importance of the problem under investigation, you are demonstrating the relevance of your research. However, this does not mean that you will end up discovering something unimaginable or extraordinary.

The objective here is to clearly state how and why your research problem is relevant in your chosen area of study and why it requires further research.

As indicated previously, practical research deals with a problem affecting society, social group, firm or organisation on a broader scale. To elaborate on why it is important to solve this problem and why your research is significant, you could consider the following questions:

  • What will be the consequences if the problem remains unsolved?
  • Who do these consequences have the most implications for?
  • What is the wider relevance of the problem being investigated?

Low production in July and August negatively affects the company’s marketing capital, thereby becoming an area of deep concern for the directors and stakeholders. The marketing budget cut in July and August is hindering its ability to promote its products uninterruptedly.

Addressing this problem will have practical benefits for the company and help establish the reasons for disruption in raw material supply.

The relevance of all theoretical issues may not be too obvious, even though most theoretical problems do have practical implications. Here are some questions for you to ponder to establish the importance of your research problem:

  • Will your research help to advance understanding of the topic under investigation?
  • Are there any benefits of you resolving the problem for other researchers who wish to explore this topic further in the future?
  • What are the direct or indirect implications (s) of the problem you are trying to solving?

The new forms of employment such as freelance, contract-based work and zero-hour work arrangements are recognised as either a manipulative last option or a flexible active choice. It is necessary to conduct comprehensive qualitative research to uncover why fresh graduates take up these types of employment in the gig economy. There is a need to advance more vigorous concepts relating to instability and flexibility in modern forms of employment from employees’ perspectives, which will also help shape future policies.

Also see: How to Write the Abstract for Dissertation

Step 3 – Declaring the Problem

Before you jump on to state your research’s problem statements, it’s important to devote a sentence or two to let your readers know the precise, narrowed-down research problem you will be discussing about.

For language clarity purposes, here are some strong opening statements to achieve this step:

  • Recently, there has been growing interest in …
  • The possibility of…has generated wide interest in …
  • The development of…is a classic problem in…
  • The development of…has led to the hope that …
  • The…has become a favourite topic for analysis …
  • Knowledge of…has great importance for …
  • The study of…has become an important aspect of …
  • A central issue in…is…
  • The…has been extensively studied in recent years.
  • Many investigators have recently turned to …
  • The relationship between…has been investigated by many researchers.
  • Many recent studies have found out…

Step 4 – Establishing Aim and Objectives

The last step in writing a problem statement is to provide a framework for solving the problem. This will help you, the researcher, stay focused on your research aims and not stray; it will also help you readers keep in mind the reason as to why you conducted this study, to begin with.

A good problem statement does not provide the exact solution to any problem. Rather, it focuses more on how to effectively understand or tackle a problem by establishing the possible causes.

The aim of a research study is its end goal or overall purpose. Following are some examples of how you can craft your research aim statements:

  • This research study aims to investigate…
  • This paper is aimed at exploring…
  • This research aims to identify…

On the other hand, objectives are the smaller steps that a researcher must take to address the aim of the research. Once you have laid out the research problem your research will deal with, it’s important to next mention the how behind that. Objectives are mostly imperative statements, often beginning with transitive verbs like ‘to analyse,’ ‘to investigate,’ etc.

Some more examples are:

  • Statistical analysis will be conducted to determine…
  • Both quantitative and qualitative research methods will be employed to probe…
  • Face-to-face interviews will be carried out with the participants to establish…

Practical Research Aim and Objectives

This project aims to identify the causes of disturbed supply of raw material in the region, which resulted in low production for the company in July and August. This will be achieved by conducting interviews and surveys with the suppliers to understand why the supply is unpredictable in those two months and what can be done to ensure orderliness. Practical experiments will also be conducted to observe the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

Theoretical Research Aim and Objectives

This study aims to understand and unearth the experiences of fresh graduates in the modern economy. The sample population will participate in this study through qualitative research methods, which are expected to provide a deeper insight into the perceptions and motives of these fresh graduates working as freelancers and contract-based employees. The data collected from this exercise and the existing literature on the topic will be analysed in statistical analysis software.

TIP: Search the common themes of the problem statement in your field of research before writing a problem statement.

Also see: Argumentative Essay Writing Service

Problem Statement versus Significance of the Study

Even though both may sound similar, the statement of the problem and the significance of your study are going to be different. The latter does develop upon and from the former, though.

The problem statement tells your readers what’s wrong, whereas the significance of the study will tell them how your research contributed to that problem. You can’t have a significance of a study without mentioning the problem statement first.

Furthermore, signifying your study implies mentioning 4 key points related to it:

  • How your study will further develop the theory behind the existing problem
  • Practical solutions that might be implemented to solve the problem (especially in field research work)
  • Whether your study or research will pave way for innovative methods to solve the existing problem.
  • How your study can help in policy making and implementation, impact studies, etc.

Problem statement in research is the description of an existing issue that needs to be addressed. The problem statement is a focal point of any research and a bridge between the  literature review  and the  research methodology .

Problem statement often has three elements; the problem itself, the method of solving the problem, and the purpose. There are five aspects of every problem: What, Where, When, to what extent, and what defects you know about the topic. Here is an  example of a problem statement in a research proposal  for your better understanding.

If you wish to know more about how to start your research process, then you might want to take a look at the “ Starting the Research Process ” section on our website, which has several articles relating to a  research problem , problem statement, research aim and objectives, and  research proposal .

ResearchProspect is a UK-registered business that offers academic support and assistance to students across the globe. Our writers can help you with individual chapters of your dissertation or the full dissertation writing service , no matter how urgent or complex your requirements might be.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it necessary to write a problem statement.

Yes, the most important step to perform any research is to identify a problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, it is necessary to define a research problem before starting the actual research process .

How is a problem statement different from a problem statement written for an organisation?

In the business world, problem statements provide the basis for the enhancement and refinement of projects. Whereas, in academic research, A problem statement helps researchers understand and realise organised the significance of a research problem .

What is a practical research problem?

Doing experimental research can identify problems by talking to people working in a relevant field, studying research reports, and reviewing previous research. 

What is a theoretical research problem?

A theoretical research problem is when the researcher finds a specific problem by brainstorming and reviewing already published theories and research.

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Problem Statement 

The problem needs to be very focused because everything else from the applied doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice logically flows from the problem. If the problem is too big or too vague, it will be difficult to scope out a purpose that is manageable, given the time to execute and finish the project. The problem should be the result of a practical need or an opportunity to further an applicational study or project.

Given the above, the problem statement should do four things: 

Specify and describe the problem (with appropriate citations) 

Provide evidence of the problem’s existence  

Explain the consequences of NOT solving the problem  

Identify what is not known about the problem that should be known.

What is a problem?

Example of a proper, specific, evidence-based, real-life problem: , evidence-based, what are consequences.

Consequences are negative implications experienced by a group of people, organization, profession, or industry as a result of the problem. The negative effects should be of a certain magnitude to warrant research. For example, if fewer than 1% of the stakeholders experience a negative consequence of a problem and that consequence only constitutes a minor inconvenience, research is probably not warranted. Negative consequences that can be measured weigh stronger than those that cannot be put on some kind of scale. 

In the example above, a significant negative consequence is that women face much larger barriers than men when attempting to get promoted to executive jobs; or are 94% less likely than men to get to that level in Corporate America. 

While a problem may be referred to as a gap in traditional research, in a doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice, the problem could be a statement of the situational condition that requires a scholar-practitioner approach. For the applied degree, this may be the part of the program or procedure that is not working. 

NOTE: The applied doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice includes checklists for all sections of the document, including problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions. You should make sure you use these checklists and follow margin instructions. The present document is intended to provide additional help and examples, and also explain the importance of alignment. Alignment enables you to ensure consistency in your language and presentation of information, as well as provide a logical flow of your narrative.

Resource: Ellis, T., & Levy, Y. (2008). Framework of problem-based research: A guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem. Informing Science , 11, 17-33.  http://proxy1.ncu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db= a9h&AN=36030721&site=eds-live  

  • PDF Template

Option 1: Writing the Problem Statement

Do not exceed 250-300 words.

It is helpful to begin the problem statement with a sentence:  “The problem to be addressed through this project  is…”

Paragraph 1

The problem should be evidenced-based and focus on practice within your perspective field or domain.  Then, fill out the rest of the paragraph with an elaboration of that specific problem, making sure to “document” it, as your doctoral committee will look for evidence that it is indeed a problem (emphasis also on the timeliness of the problem, supported by citations within the last 5 years).  Identify the negative consequences that are occurring as a result of the problem.

Paragraph 2

Next, write a paragraph explaining the consequences of NOT solving the problem. Who will be affected? How will they be affected? How important is it to fix the problem? Again, your doctoral committee will want to see research-based citations and statistics that indicate the negative implications are significant. 

Paragraph 3

In the final paragraph, you will explain what is not known that should be known. What isn’t known about the problem? Presumably, if your problem and purpose are aligned, your research will try to close or minimize this gap by investigating the problem. Have other practitioners investigated the issue? What has their research left unanswered? 

Option 2: Writing the Problem Statement

Another way to tackle the statement of the problem: .

The Statement of the Problem section is a very clear, concise identification of the problem. It must stay within the template guidelines of 250-300 words but more importantly, must contain four elements as outlined below.

A worthy problem should be able to address all of the following points: 

  • identification of the problem itself--what is "going wrong" (Ellis & Levy, 2008) 
  • who is affected by the problem 
  • the consequences that will result from a continuation of the problem 
  • a brief discussion of 
  • at least 3 authors’ research related to the problem; and 
  • their stated suggestion/recommendation for further research related to the problem 

Use the following to work on the Statement of the Problem by first outlining the section as follows: 

One clear, concise statement that tells the reader what is not working in the profession or industry. Be specific and support it with current studies. 

Tell who is affected by the problem identified in #1. 

Briefly tell what will happen if the problem isn’t addressed. 

Find at least 3 current studies and write a sentence or two for each study that 

  • briefly discusses the author(s)’ work, what they studied, and 
  • state their recommendation for further insight or exploration about the problem 

Option 3: Writing the Problem Statement

Finally, you can follow this simple 3-part outline when writing the statement of the problem section.

Your problem statement is a short (250-300 words), 3 paragraph section, in which you:

Example of a problem statement that follows this 3-part outline (295 words):  

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Each student must write a dissertation that presents the results of a research project carried out by the student.

An appropriate research project involves a substantive piece of original and independent research grounded in an appropriate body of literature. It is relevant to an identifiable field as it is currently practiced. It presents a hypothesis tested by data and analysis and provides a significant contribution or advancement in that field. It is the responsibility of the student's doctoral committee to evaluate the dissertation in these terms and to recommend the awarding of the doctoral degree only if the dissertation is judged to demonstrate these qualities.

Characteristics that a dissertation should demonstrate are:

  • Establishment of an historical context for the presentation of an innovative and creative approach to the problem analysis and solution
  • Clear understanding of the problem area as revealed by analysis and synthesis of a broad literature base
  • Well-defined research design
  • Clarity in composition and careful documentation
  • Results of sufficient merit to be published in refereed journals or to form the basis of a book or monograph
  • Sufficient detail so that other scholars can build on it in subsequent work
  • Preparation of the author to assume a position within the academic nursing profession

The date and title of the defense must be submitted to the PhD Program Director one month prior to the final defense so that this event can be announced to the University community; see Policy 227 for more information.

Dissertation Committee

The student selects a qualified nursing faculty member with expertise in the area of research focus to guide the research and chair the dissertation committee.

In consultation with the committee chair, the student selects a minimum of three faculty members in addition to the committee chair to serve as dissertation committee members.

  • The majority of the committee, including the major advisor, must be full or adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Three committee members, including the chair, must have a faculty appointment in the School of Nursing.
  • One member must be from a school or department outside of the School of Nursing.

The dissertation committee must be approved by the PhD Program Director and the Dean

This dissertation committee has the responsibility to advise the student during the progress of the candidate's research and has the authority to require high-quality research and/or the rewriting of any portion or all of the dissertation. It conducts the final oral examination and determines whether the dissertation meets acceptable standards; see Policy 227 for more information.

Meetings of the doctoral candidate and his/her dissertation committee must occur at least annually from the time the student gains admission to doctoral candidacy. During these meetings, the committee should assess the student's progress toward the degree and discuss objectives for the following year and a timetable for completing degree requirements.

Membership of the doctoral committee may be changed whenever it is appropriate or necessary, subject to the approval of the PhD Program Director and the Dean.

Dissertation Topic Approval

The dissertation focus must be approved by the student's dissertation committee and reported to the PhD Council by the student's dissertation chair before the student can proceed with the selected research. This Dissertation Committee's approval will be based on the appropriateness of the abstract of the planned study to the science of nursing and the match between the School of Nursing faculty and the student's research topic.

See Policy 227 for more information.

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How to write a PhD thesis problem statement

  • How to write a PhD thesis literature review
  • How to Write a PhD or Master research proposal

PhD thesis vs dissertation

What is a problem statement?

The term “research” refers to a systematic investigation procedure used to add to or update existing knowledge through the discovery of new facts. It may be classified into two broad categories: (1) fundamental research, which is focused on expanding scientific knowledge, and (2) applied research, which is focused on using basic research to solve problems or develop new processes, products, or procedures.

The first and most critical stage in doing any research work is defining and defining the research problem: that is, what the researcher intends to solve and what questions he or she wishes to answer. A research problem may be characterized as an area of concern, a knowledge gap, or a divergence from the norm or standard that indicates the need for more understanding and inquiry. While many issues have many solutions (the means to close the gap or correct the deviation), challenges emerge when the methods to close the gap or correct the deviation are either not evident or not immediately available. This therefore needs more study in order to arrive at a feasible answer.

A thesis research problem statement is a short paragraph that defines the scope of the research. It should include the problem, relevant issue, and how it can be solved. The thesis research problem statement should be able to answer some of these questions:

-What is the current situation? -What are some of the problems with the current situation? -How can I solve this problem?

When do you need a problem statement.

There are several instances where you may be required to create a problem statement. Writing a problem statement is a critical stage in business and other organizations’ improvement efforts. It is critical to have a well-defined and well-understood problem in order to identify and implement successful solutions. Typically, the problem statement is a self-contained document in this situation.

Writing a problem statement might assist you in contextualizing and comprehending the relevance of your research topic in academic research. A problem statement might be many pages lengthy and serve as the foundation for your research proposal, or it can be reduced into a few words for your paper or thesis’s introduction. The problem statement will vary based on whether you are addressing a practical real-world issue or a theoretical scientific one. However, all issue statements are created in a same manner.

Why is the problem statement important?

The issue statement should also highlight the research’s relevance: why is it critical to tackle the problem?

This does not need you to accomplish anything revolutionary or world-changing. It is more critical that the challenge be researchable, practical, and directly address a pertinent issue in your profession.

Define your research objectives

Finally, the problem statement should define your approach to resolving the issue. Your objective should not be to discover a definite answer, but to ascertain the underlying causes of the problem and to offer more effective strategies for resolving or comprehending it. The objective is the overarching goal of your research. Typically, it is written in an infinitive manner like “This work aims to investigate or explore or propose or develop”.

Once you’ve created your issue statement, you may begin writing the remainder of your paper. From this point on, you’ll be detailing your methods, presenting the findings of your study, and reporting your conclusions, all of which will be founded in a solid issue statement that established the thesis’s purpose from the start.

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View from behind of a female police officer in a high vis vest at night

Most crime has fallen by 90% in 30 years – so why does the public think it’s increased?

statement of the problem in phd thesis

Associate Professor in Criminal Justice Data Analytics, University of Leeds

statement of the problem in phd thesis

Professor of Crime Science, University of Leeds

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Seventy-eight per cent of people in England and Wales think that crime has gone up in the last few years, according to the latest survey . But the data on actual crime shows the exact opposite.

As of 2024, violence, burglary and car crime have been declining for 30 years and by close to 90%, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) – our best indicator of true crime levels. Unlike police data , the CSEW is not subject to variations in reporting and recording.

The drop in violence includes domestic violence and other violence against women. Anti-social behaviour has similarly declined. While increased fraud and computer misuse now make up half of crime , this mainly reflects how far the rates of other crimes have fallen.

All high-income countries have experienced similar trends, and there is scientific consensus that the decline in crime is a real phenomenon .

Graph showing that violence, burglary and car crime has steadily and dramatically declined from a peak in the mid to late 1990s

There is strong research evidence that security improvements were responsible for the drop. This is most obvious with vehicle electronic immobilisers and door deadlocks, and better household security – stronger door frames, double glazed windows and security fittings – along with an avalanche of security in shopping centres, sports stadiums, schools, businesses and elsewhere. Quite simply, it became more difficult to commit crimes.

Decreases in crimes often committed by teenagers, such as joyriding or burglary, had a multiplying effect: when teenagers could no longer commit these easy “debut crimes” they did not progress to longer criminal careers.

There are, of course, exceptions. Some places, times and crime types had a less pronounced decline or even an increase. For many years, phone theft was an exception to the general decline in theft. Cybercrime, measured by the CSEW as fraud and computer misuse, has increased and is the most prominent exception.

But this increase was not due to thwarted burglars and car thieves switching targets: the skillset, resources and rewards for cybercrime are very different . Rather, it reflects new crime opportunities facilitated by the internet. Preventive policy and practice is slowly getting better at closing off opportunities for computer misuse, but work is needed to accelerate those prevention efforts.

The perception gap

So why is there such a gulf between public perception and the reality of crime trends? A regular YouGov poll asks respondents for their top three concerns from a broad set of issues. Concern about crime went from a low in 2016 (when people were more concerned with Brexit), quadrupled by 2019 and plummeted during the pandemic when people had other worries. But in the last year, the public’s concern about crime has risen again.

Proportion of people naming crime as a top three issue facing the country:

Graph showing fluctuations in public perception of crime since 2012

There are many possible explanations for this, of which the first is poor information. A study published in 1998 found that “people who watch a lot of television or who read a lot of newspapers will be exposed to a steady diet of crime stories” that does not reflect official statistics.

The old news media adage “if it bleeds, it leads” reflects how violent news stories, including crime increases and serious crimes, capture public attention. Knife crime grabs headlines in the UK, but our shock at individual incidents is testament to their rarity and our relative success in controlling violence – many gun crimes do not make the news in the US.

Most recent terrorist attacks in the UK have featured knives (plus a thwarted Liverpool bomber ), but there is little discussion of how this indicates that measures to restrict guns and bomb-making resources are effective.

Political rhetoric can also skew perceptions, particularly in the run-up to elections. During the recent local elections, the Conservatives were widely criticised for an advert portraying London as “a crime capital of the world” (using a video of New York), while Labour has also made reference to high levels of crime under the current government.

There are also some “crime drop deniers”, who have vested interests in crime not declining due to, for example, fear of budget cuts. One of us (Graham) worked with a former police chief who routinely denied the existence of declining crime.

Close up of someone typing on a computer with a screen full of code

Despite the evidence of crime rates dropping, some concerns are justified. Victims, along with their families and friends, have legitimate concerns, particularly as crime is more likely to recur against the same people and at the same places.

And, while the trend is clear, there are nevertheless localised increases in some types of offending. When these relate to harmful and emotive issues like knife crime in London , for example, it is natural that this might have a substantial influence.

We are unlikely to be able to change political agendas or journalists’ approach to reporting. But governments should be taking a more rational approach to crime that is based on evidence, not public perception.

Local governments need to keep on top of their local crime hotspots: problem bars and clubs where crime occurs, shops where shoplifting is concentrated, local road traffic offence hotspots and so on. The common theme here is how crime concentrates.

National government, meanwhile, should lead on reducing crime opportunities via national-level levers. Only national government can influence social media platforms and websites that host online crime and encourage larger businesses to improve manufacturing, retailing and service industry practices.

The positive story around crime rarely makes headlines, but this should not put us off from learning the lessons borne out in the data. We know this can work from past success, but it took decades to get car makers to improve vehicle security and to get secure-by-design ideas in building regulations. Society needs to move more quickly.

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Fulbright information session for interested students

On May 22, 2024, at 12 p.m. MST, the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) will host a virtual session focused on developing a key component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program application: the statement of grant purpose.

In partnership with more than 140 countries worldwide, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers, “unparalleled opportunities in all academic disciplines to passionate and accomplished graduating college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals from all backgrounds. Program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or teach English abroad.”

Deadline The application for Fulbright’s 2025-2026 competition opened on April 2, 2024, and ONCS’s internal deadline will be August 31, 2024. To attend the virtual session on developing a statement of grant purpose, register here:


For questions, please contact the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships at [email protected] .


Winners named for the ivory prize, celebrating innovative solutions to housing affordability.

These visionary winners embody the spirit of innovation and demonstrate the power of transformative ideas in solving the housing affordability crisis.

National Endowment for the Arts funds UtahPresents’ Stage Door Series

In total, the NEA will award 1,135 Grants for Arts Projects awards totaling more than $37 million as part of its second round of fiscal year 2024 grants.

March with the U at Pride!

The U is calling on all students, staff and faculty to join us in our delegation!

$4.8M to predict snowfall in Intermountain West

The S2noCliME Field Campaign aims to better predict snowfall processes that are critical to water supply in the Intermountain West.

Invest in your U experience with the Ken Garff University Club

Don’t miss out on our special May offer: A discounted initiation fee of only $75.

Marriott Library announces 2024 Honors thesis awards

The recipients of the 2024 Alison Regan Library Thesis Award are Eliza Diggins, Savannah McDaniel and J. Clista Galecki.

Eccles School of Business to graduate 1,600

Degrees awarded range from accounting to quantitative analysis, with 752 students earning graduate degrees

Davar Khoshnevisan, Distinguished Professor

Davar Khoshnevisan’s appointment to Distinguished Professor recognizes his outstanding contributions to the research, teaching, and service missions of the department.

Introducing U Service Corps

Intern with some of Utah’s most notable nonprofits, schools and public agencies to gain valuable real-life skills and earn $5,000.


  1. Thesis Problem Statement

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  1. Dissertation Alignment Problem Statement #phd #phdlife #thesis #phdstudent #dissertation #doctorate


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  1. How to Write a Problem Statement

    Step 3: Set your aims and objectives. Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal here should not be to find a conclusive solution, but rather to propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it. The research aim is the overall purpose of your research.

  2. How to Write a Dissertation Problem Statement

    The Key Elements of a Dissertation Problem Statement: Essentially, you want to establish (a) what the problem is, (b) that it matters, and (c) that it addresses a meaningful gap in the literature. Give some brief background information. A few sentences to help the reader understand the context of the problem.

  3. The Research Problem & Problem Statement

    If you're new to academic research, you're bound to encounter the concept of a "research problem" or "problem statement" fairly early in your learning journey.Having a good research problem is essential, as it provides a foundation for developing high-quality research, from relatively small research papers to a full-length PhD dissertations and theses.

  4. PhD Dissertation Problems: Guide for Students

    Research Problem. PhD Thesis Problem Statement is the driving force of the research. Generally, Researchers find a Gap in the scholarly article and then pick the area of study to make the study more practical and manageable. Since it is the driving force having a well-conceived problem statement is an essential component of all these activities.

  5. What is a Problem Statement? [with examples]

    1. Begin with a clear indication that the problem statement is going to be discussed next. You can start with a generic sentence like, "The problem that this study addresses…". This will inform your readers of what to expect next. 2. Next, mention the consequences of not solving the problem.

  6. What is a Problem Statement in Research? How to Write It with Examples

    A problem statement is different from a thesis statement in that the former highlights the main points of a research paper while emphasizing the hypothesis, whilst the latter identifies the issue for which research is being done. Why is a problem statement needed in a research proposal? A problem statement identifies the specific problem that ...

  7. Problem Statement

    Use the following to work on the Statement of the Problem by first outlining the section as follows: 1. One clear, concise statement that tells the reader what is not working, what is "going wrong". Be specific and support it with current studies. 2. Tell who is affected by the problem identified in #1. 3.

  8. How to Write a Statement of the Problem in Research

    The problem statement is a foundation of academic research writing, providing a precise representation of an existing gap or issue in a particular field of study.. Crafting a sharp and focused problem statement lays the groundwork for your research project. It highlights the research's significance.; Emphasizes its potential to influence the broader academic community.

  9. Developing a dissertation research problem: A guide for doctoral

    Problem statements typically have four major components which communicate the basis of the study, or the perplexing or troublesome situation, and the general action that will be taken the situation. Taken together, problem statements represent a system of argument - or a conditional syllogism - that is based on information that is ...

  10. How to Write an Effective Statement of the Problem

    Keep the length crisp and precise - the main intention is to get the reader invested in your research proposal, and also keep him/her interested enough to read through the rest of the proposal. We hope that the above guidelines help you in drafting a strong statement of the problem, which can translate into a compelling research proposal.

  11. How to Write a Statement of a Problem in Research

    Step 1: Understanding the Problem. The problem statement should provide a clear and concise background to the research problem you are investigating. Before starting your research, review the literature about the specific problem and find a gap to fill with your own research. Practical Research Problem Statement.

  12. Problem Statement

    The problem should be the result of a practical need or an opportunity to further an applicational study or project. Given the above, the problem statement should do four things: Specify and describe the problem (with appropriate citations) Provide evidence of the problem's existence. Explain the consequences of NOT solving the problem.


    The next step is now to link this to the specific problem area and the problem. itself. Remember, this is a simp le generalized view to enable one understand problem statement, it can also be ...

  14. ARTICLE: "Research Methods and Strategies: Problem Statement

    A well-written problem statement defines the problem and helps identify the variables investigated in the study. The problem statement provides the: (a) rationale for the study;

  15. PDF PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach—How to Write ...

    free from individual interest). As such, a PhD thesis must meet the above condi-tions of a scientific research procedure (Mincu, 2015). 2. Problem Statement Thesis writing is a skill that every PhD candidate must acquire to convey his or her research findings clearly. Unfortunately majority of PhD candidates find it

  16. The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your ...

    The ultimate goal of a statement of the problem is to transform a generalized problem (something that bothers you; a perceived lack) into a targeted, well-defined problem; one that can be resolved through focused research and careful decision-making. Writing a statement of the problem should help you clearly identify the purpose of the research ...

  17. What Is a Thesis?

    Revised on April 16, 2024. A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  18. (PDF) Problem Statement (Dr.Omer)

    Abstract. Content uploaded by Omer Hassan Ali Mahfoodh. Author content. Content may be subject to copyright. Construction of the 'Statement of. the Problem' in PhD theses. Dr. OMER MAHFOODH ...

  19. How to Write a Problem Statement for a Thesis

    For example, you might write the following statement to contextualize your research on the negative effects of online learning on the mental health of high school students: Example 1: Mental health issues among students have been an increasing concern and hence a crucial matter to investigate. Example 2:

  20. PhD Dissertation

    PhD Dissertation. Each student must write a dissertation that presents the results of a research project carried out by the student. An appropriate research project involves a substantive piece of original and independent research grounded in an appropriate body of literature. It is relevant to an identifiable field as it is currently practiced.

  21. How to write a PhD thesis problem statement

    From this point on, you'll be detailing your methods, presenting the findings of your study, and reporting your conclusions, all of which will be founded in a solid issue statement that established the thesis's purpose from the start. Proofreading and editing services for academic manuscripts: PhD theses, dissertations and research papers.

  22. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

    In many cases, it will do both. Ultimately, your introduction should explain how your thesis or dissertation: Helps solve a practical or theoretical problem. Addresses a gap in the literature. Builds on existing research. Proposes a new understanding of your topic. Relevance and importance example.

  23. Most crime has fallen by 90% in 30 years

    As of 2024, violence, burglary and car crime have been declining for 30 years and by close to 90%, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) - our best indicator of true crime ...

  24. New Program Gives Graduate Students a LIFT

    Berlin Awach, right, who is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology, presents her idea for Wellpalm65+ during the finale of the UMass Lowell Innovative Fellows Training (LIFT) program at Saab ETIC. Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Russell Perkins '18, '20 has witnessed the devastating effect of criminal scams targeting seniors.

  25. Fulbright information session for interested students

    On May 22, 2024, at 12 p.m. MST, the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) will host a virtual session focused on developing a key component of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program application: the statement of grant purpose. In partnership with more than 140 countries worldwide, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers ...