A problem statement is a concise description of an issue or problem that needs to be addressed. They are used in both business and academic research:
In business, problem statements are used to define an existing practical problem and plan a solution. This can be a short, stand-alone document in some cases, but it might also be part of a more detailed report or plan.
Academic problem statements are used to help identify a research question, either as part of a research proposal, or within the introductory section of an essay or dissertation that then goes on to address the problem identified.
But how do you write a good problem statement? In this post, we’ll look at writing problem statements for both business writing and academic research.
The Key Elements of a Problem Statement
In both business and research, a problem statement needs to do three things:
Introduce the problem and provide details.
Address why the problem needs to be solved.
Put forward your aims and objectives.
However, this might look a little different depending on whether you’re trying to address a practical problem for a business or organisation or a theoretical problem in an academic context. Therefore, we will look at each of these in turn.
Problem Statements in Business Writing
In a practical or business context, the first step in writing a problem statement is explaining the problem and setting out background information, such as:
What is the issue that needs to be solved?
Where and when is it taking place?
Who is it affecting?
What has been done to address the problem so far?
For example, the opening passage of a problem statement about lateness among employees at a business might look like this:
A recent review has found that 10% of Company X’s employees arrive 20 minutes (or more) late for work at least 20% of the time. This affects relations within the company and with clients. Interviews have already been held with the persons concerned to determine the reasons for their lateness.
Next, you will want to explain the significance of the problem. This might also involve citing research to show what will happen if it isn’t solved (e.g. what it might cost the organisation). For instance, the next paragraph might say:
Research by Smith (2020) shows that lateness can reduce productivity at SMEs by up to 15%. At Company X, this lack of productivity could cost up $84,000 per year. In addition, delays caused by lateness may damage the company’s reputation with clients (Jones 2002), causing further potential losses.
Finally, a solution-focused problem statement should end with either:
A concrete recommendation for how to solve the issue.
A ‘next step’ to take toward resolving the issue, such as conducting further research to identify an effective solution if one isn’t immediately available.
For example, to complete our example problem statement, we might say:
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To address this problem, the company should develop a staff survey to determine how employees are travelling to work and the obstacles they experience in getting to work on time. Managerial staff can then use the data gathered to hold focus groups with selected employees and discuss potential solutions.
Taken as a whole, the full problem statement now identifies the problem, explains its significance and recommends what to do next in a few short paragraphs.
Problem Statements in Academic Writing
An academic problem statement will focus more on giving a reason for researching something than addressing a practical issue. It will, therefore, usually begin by setting out the relevant theoretical background for the research. For instance:
Around 32% of patients in intensive care units in Australia in 2019 contracted urinary tract infections (UTIs) during their time in hospital (Hanson and Perkins 2020). The reasons for this are not clear, although a study in Singapore suggests that it may be due to dehydration (Sepe 2018). However, the small sample size in this study means it cannot easily be generalised.
In terms of establishing the significance of the problem, as well as noting the gap in existing research, you may want to consider the wider social or practical consequences of the issue at hand. For example:
UTIs in existing hospital patients cost the public health system approximately $2 million per year, as well as slowing the recovery of patients and thereby causing a shortage of available beds (Department of Health 2020). Finding an effective way to reduce incidences of UTIs will therefore have significant benefits to public health as well as advance the existing knowledge in this subject area.
And to conclude a theoretical problem statement, you will need to explain how the research will address or offer insight into the problem:
This research will use quantitative analysis to identify the causes of UTIs in intensive care patients by replicating the Singapore study in a larger population. A trial will also be conducted, providing higher quantities of intravenous fluids as a method for preventing dehydration among vulnerable patients.
In total, these steps will allow you to briefly explain the nature and significance of a research project, although you may also need to provide a full literature review and a detailed explanation of the methodology elsewhere in your paper.
Expert Proofreading Services
We hope these tips have helped you to write a perfect problem statement. But to make sure your writing is the best it can be, don’t forget to have it proofread! Proofed’s professional proofreading services are available 24 hours a day.