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Research Problem – Examples, Types and Guide

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Research Problem

Research Problem

Definition:

Research problem is a specific and well-defined issue or question that a researcher seeks to investigate through research. It is the starting point of any research project, as it sets the direction, scope, and purpose of the study.

Types of Research Problems

Types of Research Problems are as follows:

Descriptive problems

These problems involve describing or documenting a particular phenomenon, event, or situation. For example, a researcher might investigate the demographics of a particular population, such as their age, gender, income, and education.

Exploratory problems

These problems are designed to explore a particular topic or issue in depth, often with the goal of generating new ideas or hypotheses. For example, a researcher might explore the factors that contribute to job satisfaction among employees in a particular industry.

Explanatory Problems

These problems seek to explain why a particular phenomenon or event occurs, and they typically involve testing hypotheses or theories. For example, a researcher might investigate the relationship between exercise and mental health, with the goal of determining whether exercise has a causal effect on mental health.

Predictive Problems

These problems involve making predictions or forecasts about future events or trends. For example, a researcher might investigate the factors that predict future success in a particular field or industry.

Evaluative Problems

These problems involve assessing the effectiveness of a particular intervention, program, or policy. For example, a researcher might evaluate the impact of a new teaching method on student learning outcomes.

How to Define a Research Problem

Defining a research problem involves identifying a specific question or issue that a researcher seeks to address through a research study. Here are the steps to follow when defining a research problem:

  • Identify a broad research topic : Start by identifying a broad topic that you are interested in researching. This could be based on your personal interests, observations, or gaps in the existing literature.
  • Conduct a literature review : Once you have identified a broad topic, conduct a thorough literature review to identify the current state of knowledge in the field. This will help you identify gaps or inconsistencies in the existing research that can be addressed through your study.
  • Refine the research question: Based on the gaps or inconsistencies identified in the literature review, refine your research question to a specific, clear, and well-defined problem statement. Your research question should be feasible, relevant, and important to the field of study.
  • Develop a hypothesis: Based on the research question, develop a hypothesis that states the expected relationship between variables.
  • Define the scope and limitations: Clearly define the scope and limitations of your research problem. This will help you focus your study and ensure that your research objectives are achievable.
  • Get feedback: Get feedback from your advisor or colleagues to ensure that your research problem is clear, feasible, and relevant to the field of study.

Components of a Research Problem

The components of a research problem typically include the following:

  • Topic : The general subject or area of interest that the research will explore.
  • Research Question : A clear and specific question that the research seeks to answer or investigate.
  • Objective : A statement that describes the purpose of the research, what it aims to achieve, and the expected outcomes.
  • Hypothesis : An educated guess or prediction about the relationship between variables, which is tested during the research.
  • Variables : The factors or elements that are being studied, measured, or manipulated in the research.
  • Methodology : The overall approach and methods that will be used to conduct the research.
  • Scope and Limitations : A description of the boundaries and parameters of the research, including what will be included and excluded, and any potential constraints or limitations.
  • Significance: A statement that explains the potential value or impact of the research, its contribution to the field of study, and how it will add to the existing knowledge.

Research Problem Examples

Following are some Research Problem Examples:

Research Problem Examples in Psychology are as follows:

  • Exploring the impact of social media on adolescent mental health.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating anxiety disorders.
  • Studying the impact of prenatal stress on child development outcomes.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to addiction and relapse in substance abuse treatment.
  • Examining the impact of personality traits on romantic relationships.

Research Problem Examples in Sociology are as follows:

  • Investigating the relationship between social support and mental health outcomes in marginalized communities.
  • Studying the impact of globalization on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of gentrification in urban neighborhoods.
  • Investigating the impact of family structure on social mobility and economic outcomes.
  • Examining the effects of social capital on community development and resilience.

Research Problem Examples in Economics are as follows:

  • Studying the effects of trade policies on economic growth and development.
  • Analyzing the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Investigating the factors that contribute to economic inequality and poverty.
  • Examining the impact of fiscal and monetary policies on inflation and economic stability.
  • Studying the relationship between education and economic outcomes, such as income and employment.

Political Science

Research Problem Examples in Political Science are as follows:

  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of political polarization and partisan behavior.
  • Investigating the impact of social movements on political change and policymaking.
  • Studying the role of media and communication in shaping public opinion and political discourse.
  • Examining the effectiveness of electoral systems in promoting democratic governance and representation.
  • Investigating the impact of international organizations and agreements on global governance and security.

Environmental Science

Research Problem Examples in Environmental Science are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of air pollution on human health and well-being.
  • Investigating the effects of deforestation on climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Analyzing the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs.
  • Studying the relationship between urban development and ecological resilience.
  • Examining the effectiveness of environmental policies and regulations in promoting sustainability and conservation.

Research Problem Examples in Education are as follows:

  • Investigating the impact of teacher training and professional development on student learning outcomes.
  • Studying the effectiveness of technology-enhanced learning in promoting student engagement and achievement.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to achievement gaps and educational inequality.
  • Examining the impact of parental involvement on student motivation and achievement.
  • Studying the effectiveness of alternative educational models, such as homeschooling and online learning.

Research Problem Examples in History are as follows:

  • Analyzing the social and economic factors that contributed to the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
  • Investigating the impact of colonialism on indigenous societies and cultures.
  • Studying the role of religion in shaping political and social movements throughout history.
  • Analyzing the impact of the Industrial Revolution on economic and social structures.
  • Examining the causes and consequences of global conflicts, such as World War I and II.

Research Problem Examples in Business are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of corporate social responsibility on brand reputation and consumer behavior.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of leadership development programs in improving organizational performance and employee satisfaction.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to successful entrepreneurship and small business development.
  • Examining the impact of mergers and acquisitions on market competition and consumer welfare.
  • Studying the effectiveness of marketing strategies and advertising campaigns in promoting brand awareness and sales.

Research Problem Example for Students

An Example of a Research Problem for Students could be:

“How does social media usage affect the academic performance of high school students?”

This research problem is specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular area of interest, which is the impact of social media on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on social media usage and academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because it addresses a current and important issue that affects high school students.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use various methods, such as surveys, interviews, and statistical analysis of academic records. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between social media usage and academic performance, which could help educators and parents develop effective strategies for managing social media use among students.

Another example of a research problem for students:

“Does participation in extracurricular activities impact the academic performance of middle school students?”

This research problem is also specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular type of activity, extracurricular activities, and its impact on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on students’ participation in extracurricular activities and their academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because extracurricular activities are an essential part of the middle school experience, and their impact on academic performance is a topic of interest to educators and parents.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use surveys, interviews, and academic records analysis. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, which could help educators and parents make informed decisions about the types of activities that are most beneficial for middle school students.

Applications of Research Problem

Applications of Research Problem are as follows:

  • Academic research: Research problems are used to guide academic research in various fields, including social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and engineering. Researchers use research problems to identify gaps in knowledge, address theoretical or practical problems, and explore new areas of study.
  • Business research : Research problems are used to guide business research, including market research, consumer behavior research, and organizational research. Researchers use research problems to identify business challenges, explore opportunities, and develop strategies for business growth and success.
  • Healthcare research : Research problems are used to guide healthcare research, including medical research, clinical research, and health services research. Researchers use research problems to identify healthcare challenges, develop new treatments and interventions, and improve healthcare delivery and outcomes.
  • Public policy research : Research problems are used to guide public policy research, including policy analysis, program evaluation, and policy development. Researchers use research problems to identify social issues, assess the effectiveness of existing policies and programs, and develop new policies and programs to address societal challenges.
  • Environmental research : Research problems are used to guide environmental research, including environmental science, ecology, and environmental management. Researchers use research problems to identify environmental challenges, assess the impact of human activities on the environment, and develop sustainable solutions to protect the environment.

Purpose of Research Problems

The purpose of research problems is to identify an area of study that requires further investigation and to formulate a clear, concise and specific research question. A research problem defines the specific issue or problem that needs to be addressed and serves as the foundation for the research project.

Identifying a research problem is important because it helps to establish the direction of the research and sets the stage for the research design, methods, and analysis. It also ensures that the research is relevant and contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field.

A well-formulated research problem should:

  • Clearly define the specific issue or problem that needs to be investigated
  • Be specific and narrow enough to be manageable in terms of time, resources, and scope
  • Be relevant to the field of study and contribute to the existing body of knowledge
  • Be feasible and realistic in terms of available data, resources, and research methods
  • Be interesting and intellectually stimulating for the researcher and potential readers or audiences.

Characteristics of Research Problem

The characteristics of a research problem refer to the specific features that a problem must possess to qualify as a suitable research topic. Some of the key characteristics of a research problem are:

  • Clarity : A research problem should be clearly defined and stated in a way that it is easily understood by the researcher and other readers. The problem should be specific, unambiguous, and easy to comprehend.
  • Relevance : A research problem should be relevant to the field of study, and it should contribute to the existing body of knowledge. The problem should address a gap in knowledge, a theoretical or practical problem, or a real-world issue that requires further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem should be feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It should be realistic and practical to conduct the study within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem should be novel or original in some way. It should represent a new or innovative perspective on an existing problem, or it should explore a new area of study or apply an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem should be important or significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It should have the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Manageability : A research problem should be manageable in terms of its scope and complexity. It should be specific enough to be investigated within the available time and resources, and it should be broad enough to provide meaningful results.

Advantages of Research Problem

The advantages of a well-defined research problem are as follows:

  • Focus : A research problem provides a clear and focused direction for the research study. It ensures that the study stays on track and does not deviate from the research question.
  • Clarity : A research problem provides clarity and specificity to the research question. It ensures that the research is not too broad or too narrow and that the research objectives are clearly defined.
  • Relevance : A research problem ensures that the research study is relevant to the field of study and contributes to the existing body of knowledge. It addresses gaps in knowledge, theoretical or practical problems, or real-world issues that require further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem ensures that the research study is feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It ensures that the research is realistic and practical to conduct within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem ensures that the research study is original and innovative. It represents a new or unique perspective on an existing problem, explores a new area of study, or applies an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem ensures that the research study is important and significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It has the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Rigor : A research problem ensures that the research study is rigorous and follows established research methods and practices. It ensures that the research is conducted in a systematic, objective, and unbiased manner.

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Muhammad Hassan

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How to identify and resolve research problems

Updated July 12, 2023

In this article, we’re going to take you through one of the most pertinent parts of conducting research: a research problem (also known as a research problem statement).

When trying to formulate a good research statement, and understand how to solve it for complex projects, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Not only are there multiple perspectives (from stakeholders to project marketers who want answers), you have to consider the particular context of the research topic: is it timely, is it relevant and most importantly of all, is it valuable?

In other words: are you looking at a research worthy problem?

The fact is, a well-defined, precise, and goal-centric research problem will keep your researchers, stakeholders, and business-focused and your results actionable.

And when it works well, it's a powerful tool to identify practical solutions that can drive change and secure buy-in from your workforce.

Free eBook: The ultimate guide to market research

What is a research problem?

In social research methodology and behavioral sciences , a research problem establishes the direction of research, often relating to a specific topic or opportunity for discussion.

For example: climate change and sustainability, analyzing moral dilemmas or wage disparity amongst classes could all be areas that the research problem focuses on.

As well as outlining the topic and/or opportunity, a research problem will explain:

  • why the area/issue needs to be addressed,
  • why the area/issue is of importance,
  • the parameters of the research study
  • the research objective
  • the reporting framework for the results and
  • what the overall benefit of doing so will provide (whether to society as a whole or other researchers and projects).

Having identified the main topic or opportunity for discussion, you can then narrow it down into one or several specific questions that can be scrutinized and answered through the research process.

What are research questions?

Generating research questions underpinning your study usually starts with problems that require further research and understanding while fulfilling the objectives of the study.

A good problem statement begins by asking deeper questions to gain insights about a specific topic.

For example, using the problems above, our questions could be:

"How will climate change policies influence sustainability standards across specific geographies?"

"What measures can be taken to address wage disparity without increasing inflation?"

Developing a research worthy problem is the first step - and one of the most important - in any kind of research.

It’s also a task that will come up again and again because any business research process is cyclical. New questions arise as you iterate and progress through discovering, refining, and improving your products and processes. A research question can also be referred to as a "problem statement".

Note: good research supports multiple perspectives through empirical data. It’s focused on key concepts rather than a broad area, providing readily actionable insight and areas for further research.

Research question or research problem?

As we've highlighted, the terms “research question” and “research problem” are often used interchangeably, becoming a vague or broad proposition for many.

The term "problem statement" is far more representative, but finds little use among academics.

Instead, some researchers think in terms of a single research problem and several research questions that arise from it.

As mentioned above, the questions are lines of inquiry to explore in trying to solve the overarching research problem.

Ultimately, this provides a more meaningful understanding of a topic area.

It may be useful to think of questions and problems as coming out of your business data – that’s the O-data (otherwise known as operational data) like sales figures and website metrics.

What's an example of a research problem?

Your overall research problem could be: "How do we improve sales across EMEA and reduce lost deals?"

This research problem then has a subset of questions, such as:

"Why do sales peak at certain times of the day?"

"Why are customers abandoning their online carts at the point of sale?"

As well as helping you to solve business problems, research problems (and associated questions) help you to think critically about topics and/or issues (business or otherwise). You can also use your old research to aid future research -- a good example is laying the foundation for comparative trend reports or a complex research project.

(Also, if you want to see the bigger picture when it comes to research problems, why not check out our ultimate guide to market research? In it you'll find out: what effective market research looks like, the use cases for market research, carrying out a research study, and how to examine and action research findings).

The research process: why are research problems important?

A research problem has two essential roles in setting your research project on a course for success.

1. They set the scope

The research problem defines what problem or opportunity you’re looking at and what your research goals are. It stops you from getting side-tracked or allowing the scope of research to creep off-course .

Without a strong research problem or problem statement, your team could end up spending resources unnecessarily, or coming up with results that aren’t actionable - or worse, harmful to your business - because the field of study is too broad.

2. They tie your work to business goals and actions

To formulate a research problem in terms of business decisions means you always have clarity on what’s needed to make those decisions. You can show the effects of what you’ve studied using real outcomes.

Then, by focusing your research problem statement on a series of questions tied to business objectives, you can reduce the risk of the research being unactionable or inaccurate.

It's also worth examining research or other scholarly literature (you’ll find plenty of similar, pertinent research online) to see how others have explored specific topics and noting implications that could have for your research.

Four steps to defining your research problem

Defining a research problem

Image credit: http://myfreeschooltanzania.blogspot.com/2014/11/defining-research-problem.html

1. Observe and identify

Businesses today have so much data that it can be difficult to know which problems to address first. Researchers also have business stakeholders who come to them with problems they would like to have explored. A researcher’s job is to sift through these inputs and discover exactly what higher-level trends and key concepts are worth investing in.

This often means asking questions and doing some initial investigation to decide which avenues to pursue. This could mean gathering interdisciplinary perspectives identifying additional expertise and contextual information.

Sometimes, a small-scale preliminary study might be worth doing to help get a more comprehensive understanding of the business context and needs, and to make sure your research problem addresses the most critical questions.

This could take the form of qualitative research using a few in-depth interviews , an environmental scan, or reviewing relevant literature.

The sales manager of a sportswear company has a problem: sales of trail running shoes are down year-on-year and she isn’t sure why. She approaches the company’s research team for input and they begin asking questions within the company and reviewing their knowledge of the wider market.

2. Review the key factors involved

As a marketing researcher, you must work closely with your team of researchers to define and test the influencing factors and the wider context involved in your study. These might include demographic and economic trends or the business environment affecting the question at hand. This is referred to as a relational research problem.

To do this, you have to identify the factors that will affect the research and begin formulating different methods to control them.

You also need to consider the relationships between factors and the degree of control you have over them. For example, you may be able to control the loading speed of your website but you can’t control the fluctuations of the stock market.

Doing this will help you determine whether the findings of your project will produce enough information to be worth the cost.

You need to determine:

  • which factors affect the solution to the research proposal.
  • which ones can be controlled and used for the purposes of the company, and to what extent.
  • the functional relationships between the factors.
  • which ones are critical to the solution of the research study.

The research team at the running shoe company is hard at work. They explore the factors involved and the context of why YoY sales are down for trail shoes, including things like what the company’s competitors are doing, what the weather has been like – affecting outdoor exercise – and the relative spend on marketing for the brand from year to year.

The final factor is within the company’s control, although the first two are not. They check the figures and determine marketing spend has a significant impact on the company.

3. Prioritize

Once you and your research team have a few observations, prioritize them based on their business impact and importance. It may be that you can answer more than one question with a single study, but don’t do it at the risk of losing focus on your overarching research problem.

Questions to ask:

  • Who? Who are the people with the problem? Are they end-users, stakeholders, teams within your business? Have you validated the information to see what the scale of the problem is?
  • What? What is its nature and what is the supporting evidence?
  • Why? What is the business case for solving the problem? How will it help?
  • Where? How does the problem manifest and where is it observed?

To help you understand all dimensions, you might want to consider focus groups or preliminary interviews with external (including consumers and existing customers) and internal (salespeople, managers, and other stakeholders) parties to provide what is sometimes much-needed insight into a particular set of questions or problems.

After observing and investigating, the running shoe researchers come up with a few candidate questions, including:

  • What is the relationship between US average temperatures and sales of our products year on year?
  • At present, how does our customer base rank Competitor X and Competitor Y’s trail running shoe compared to our brand?
  • What is the relationship between marketing spend and trail shoe product sales over the last 12 months?

They opt for the final question, because the variables involved are fully within the company’s control, and based on their initial research and stakeholder input, seem the most likely cause of the dive in sales. The research question is specific enough to keep the work on course towards an actionable result, but it allows for a few different avenues to be explored, such as the different budget allocations of offline and online marketing and the kinds of messaging used.

Get feedback from the key teams within your business to make sure everyone is aligned and has the same understanding of the research problem and questions, and the actions you hope to take based on the results. Now is also a good time to demonstrate the ROI of your research and lay out its potential benefits to your stakeholders.

Different groups may have different goals and perspectives on the issue. This step is vital for getting the necessary buy-in and pushing the project forward.

The running shoe company researchers now have everything they need to begin. They call a meeting with the sales manager and consult with the product team, marketing team, and C-suite to make sure everyone is aligned and has bought into the direction of the research topic. They identify and agree that the likely course of action will be a rethink of how marketing resources are allocated, and potentially testing out some new channels and messaging strategies .

Can you explore a broad area and is it practical to do so?

A broader research problem or report can be a great way to bring attention to prevalent issues, societal or otherwise, but are often undertaken by those with the resources to do so.

Take a typical government cybersecurity breach survey, for example. Most of these reports raise awareness of cybercrime, from the day-to-day threats businesses face to what security measures some organizations are taking. What these reports don't do, however, is provide actionable advice - mostly because every organization is different.

The point here is that while some researchers will explore a very complex issue in detail, others will provide only a snapshot to maintain interest and encourage further investigation. The "value" of the data is wholly determined by the recipients of it - and what information you choose to include.

To summarize, it can be practical to undertake a broader research problem, certainly, but it may not be possible to cover everything or provide the detail your audience needs. Likewise, a more systematic investigation of an issue or topic will be more valuable, but you may also find that you cover far less ground.

It's important to think about your research objectives and expected findings before going ahead.

Ensuring your research project is a success

A complex research project can be made significantly easier with clear research objectives, a descriptive research problem, and a central focus. All of which we've outlined in this article.

If you have previous research, even better. Use it as a benchmark

Remember: what separates a good research paper from an average one is actually very simple: valuable, empirical data that explores a prevalent societal or business issue and provides actionable insights.

And we can help.

Sophisticated research made simple with Qualtrics

Trusted by the world's best brands, our platform enables researchers from academic to corporate to tackle the hardest challenges and deliver the results that matter.

Our CoreXM platform supports the methods that define superior research and delivers insights in real-time. It's easy to use (thanks to drag-and-drop functionality) and requires no coding, meaning you'll be capturing data and gleaning insights in no time.

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It also excels in flexibility; you can track consumer behavior across segments , benchmark your company versus competitors , carry out complex academic research, and do much more, all from one system.

It's one platform with endless applications, so no matter your research problem, we've got the tools to help you solve it. And if you don't have a team of research experts in-house, our market research team has the practical knowledge and tools to help design the surveys and find the respondents you need.

Of course, you may want to know where to begin with your own market research . If you're struggling, make sure to download our ultimate guide using the link below.

It's got everything you need and there’s always information in our research methods knowledge base.

Scott Smith

Scott Smith, Ph.D. is a contributor to the Qualtrics blog.

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Research Process Guide

  • Step 1 - Identifying and Developing a Topic
  • Step 2 - Narrowing Your Topic
  • Step 3 - Developing Research Questions
  • Step 4 - Conducting a Literature Review
  • Step 5 - Choosing a Conceptual or Theoretical Framework
  • Step 6 - Determining Research Methodology
  • Step 6a - Determining Research Methodology - Quantitative Research Methods
  • Step 6b - Determining Research Methodology - Qualitative Design
  • Step 7 - Considering Ethical Issues in Research with Human Subjects - Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  • Step 8 - Collecting Data
  • Step 9 - Analyzing Data
  • Step 10 - Interpreting Results
  • Step 11 - Writing Up Results

Step 1: Identifying and Developing a Topic

how to identify a research topic and problem

Whatever your field or discipline, the best advice to give on identifying a research topic is to choose something that you find really interesting. You will be spending an enormous amount of time with your topic, you need to be invested. Over the course of your research design, proposal and actually conducting your study, you may feel like you are really tired of your topic, however,  your interest and investment in the topic will help you persist through dissertation defense. Identifying a research topic can be challenging. Most of the research that has been completed on the process of conducting research fails to examine the preliminary stages of the interactive and self-reflective process of identifying a research topic (Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).  You may choose a topic at the beginning of the process, and through exploring the research that has already been done, one’s own interests that are narrowed or expanded in scope, the topic will change over time (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019). Where do I begin? According to the research, there are generally two paths to exploring your research topic, creative path and the rational path (Saunders et al., 2019).  The rational path takes a linear path and deals with questions we need to ask ourselves like: what are some timely topics in my field in the media right now?; what strengths do I bring to the research?; what are the gaps in the research about the area of research interest? (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).The creative path is less linear in that it may include keeping a notebook of ideas based on discussion in coursework or with your peers in the field. Whichever path you take, you will inevitably have to narrow your more generalized ideas down. A great way to do that is to continue reading the literature about and around your topic looking for gaps that could be explored. Also, try engaging in meaningful discussions with experts in your field to get their take on your research ideas (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020). It is important to remember that a research topic should be (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019; Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020):

  • Interesting to you.
  • Realistic in that it can be completed in an appropriate amount of time.
  • Relevant to your program or field of study.
  • Not widely researched.

                                                               

Dwarkadas, S., & Lin, M. C. (2019, August 04). Finding a research topic. Computing Research Association for Women, Portland State University. https://cra.org/cra-wp/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/04/FindingResearchTopic/2019.pdf

Saunders, M. N. K., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2019). Research methods for business students (8th ed.). Pearson.

Wintersberger, D., & Saunders, M. (2020). Formulating and clarifying the research topic: Insights and a guide for the production management research community. Production, 30 . https://doi.org/10.1590/0103-6513.20200059

  • Last Updated: Jun 29, 2023 1:35 PM
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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.

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how to identify a research topic and problem

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 .

how to identify a research topic and problem

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Identifying a research problem: a step-by-step guide.

Identifying a Research Problem: A Step-by-Step Guide

Identifying a research problem is a crucial first step in the research process, serving as the foundation for all subsequent research activities. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the steps involved in identifying a research problem, from understanding its essence to employing advanced strategies for refinement.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the definition and importance of a research problem is essential for academic success.
  • Exploring diverse sources such as literature reviews and consultations can help in formulating a solid research problem.
  • A clear problem statement, aligned research objectives, and well-defined questions are crucial for a focused study.
  • Evaluating the feasibility and potential impact of a research problem ensures its relevance and scope.
  • Advanced strategies, including interdisciplinary approaches and technology utilization, can enhance the identification and refinement of research problems.

Understanding the Essence of Identifying a Research Problem

Defining the research problem.

A research problem is the focal point of any academic inquiry. It is a concise and well-defined statement that outlines the specific issue or question that the research aims to address. This research problem usually sets the tone for the entire study and provides you, the researcher, with a clear purpose and a clear direction on how to go about conducting your research.

Importance in Academic Research

It also demonstrates the significance of your research and its potential to contribute new knowledge to the existing body of literature in the world. A compelling research problem not only captivates the attention of your peers but also lays the foundation for impactful and meaningful research outcomes.

Initial Steps to Identification

To identify a research problem, you need a systematic approach and a deep understanding of the subject area. Below are some steps to guide you in this process:

  • Conduct a thorough literature review to understand what has been studied before.
  • Identify gaps in the existing research that could form the basis of your study.
  • Consult with academic mentors to refine your ideas and approach.

Exploring Sources for Research Problem Identification

Literature review.

When you embark on the journey of identifying a research problem, a thorough literature review is indispensable. This process involves scrutinizing existing research to find literature gaps and unexplored areas that could form the basis of your research. It's crucial to analyze recent studies, seminal works, and review articles to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Existing Theories and Frameworks

The exploration of existing theories and frameworks provides a solid foundation for developing a research problem. By understanding the established models and theories, you can identify inconsistencies or areas lacking in depth which might offer fruitful avenues for research.

Consultation with Academic Mentors

Engaging with academic mentors is vital in shaping a well-defined research problem. Their expertise can guide you through the complexities of your field, offering insights into feasible research questions and helping you refine your focus. This interaction often leads to the identification of unique and significant research opportunities that align with current academic and industry trends.

Formulating the Research Problem

Crafting a clear problem statement.

To effectively address your research problem, start by crafting a clear problem statement . This involves succinctly describing who is affected by the problem, why it is important, and how your research will contribute to solving it. Ensure your problem statement is concise and specific to guide the entire research process.

Setting Research Objectives

Setting clear research objectives is crucial for maintaining focus throughout your study. These objectives should directly align with the problem statement and guide your research activities. Consider using a bulleted list to outline your main objectives:

  • Understand the underlying factors contributing to the problem
  • Explore potential solutions
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of proposed solutions

Determining Research Questions

The formulation of precise research questions is a pivotal step in defining the scope and direction of your study. These questions should be directly derived from your research objectives and designed to be answerable through your chosen research methods. Crafting well-defined research questions will help you maintain a clear focus and avoid common pitfalls in the research process.

Evaluating the Scope and Relevance of the Research Problem

Feasibility assessment.

Before you finalize a research problem, it is crucial to assess its feasibility. Consider the availability of resources, time, and expertise required to conduct the research. Evaluate potential constraints and determine if the research problem can be realistically tackled within the given limitations.

Significance to the Field

Ensure that your research problem has a clear and direct impact on the field. It should aim to contribute to existing knowledge and address a real-world issue that is relevant to your academic discipline.

Potential Impact on Existing Knowledge

The potential impact of your research problem on existing knowledge cannot be understated. It should challenge, extend, or refine current understanding in a meaningful way. Consider how your research can add value to the existing body of work and potentially lead to significant advancements in your field.

Techniques for Refining the Research Problem

Narrowing down the focus.

To effectively refine your research problem, start by narrowing down the focus . This involves pinpointing the specific aspects of your topic that are most significant and ensuring that your research problem is not too broad. This targeted approach helps in identifying knowledge gaps and formulating more precise research questions.

Incorporating Feedback

Feedback is crucial in the refinement process. Engage with academic mentors, peers, and experts in your field to gather insights and suggestions. This collaborative feedback can lead to significant improvements in your research problem, making it more robust and relevant.

Iterative Refinement Process

Refinement should be seen as an iterative process, where you continuously refine and revise your research problem based on new information and feedback. This approach ensures that your research problem remains aligned with current trends and academic standards, ultimately enhancing its feasibility and relevance.

Challenges in Identifying a Research Problem

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Identifying a research problem can be fraught with common pitfalls such as selecting a topic that is too broad or too narrow. To avoid these, you should conduct a thorough literature review and seek feedback from peers and mentors. This proactive approach ensures that your research question is both relevant and manageable.

Dealing with Ambiguity

Ambiguity in defining the research problem can lead to significant challenges down the line. Ensure clarity by operationalizing variables and explicitly stating the research objectives. This clarity will guide your entire research process, making it more structured and focused.

Balancing Novelty and Practicality

While it's important to address a novel issue in your research, practicality should not be overlooked. A research problem should not only contribute new knowledge but also be feasible and have clear implications. Balancing these aspects often requires iterative refinement and consultation with academic mentors to align your research with real-world applications.

Advanced Strategies for Identifying a Research Problem

Interdisciplinary approaches.

Embrace the power of interdisciplinary approaches to uncover unique and comprehensive research problems. By integrating knowledge from various disciplines, you can address complex issues that single-field studies might overlook. This method not only broadens the scope of your research but also enhances its applicability and depth.

Utilizing Technology and Data Analytics

Leverage technology and data analytics to refine and identify research problems with precision. Advanced tools like machine learning and big data analysis can reveal patterns and insights that traditional methods might miss. This approach is particularly useful in fields where large datasets are involved, or where real-time data integration can lead to more dynamic research outcomes.

Engaging with Industry and Community Needs

Focus on the needs of industry and community to ensure your research is not only academically sound but also practically relevant. Engaging with real-world problems can provide a rich source of research questions that are directly applicable and beneficial to society. This strategy not only enhances the relevance of your research but also increases its potential for impact.

Dive into the world of academic success with our 'Advanced Strategies for Identifying a Research Problem' at Research Rebels. Our expertly crafted guides and action plans are designed to simplify your thesis journey, transforming complex academic challenges into manageable tasks. Don't wait to take control of your academic future. Visit our website now to learn more and claim your special offer!

In conclusion, identifying a research problem is a foundational step in the academic research process that requires careful consideration and systematic approach. This guide has outlined the essential steps involved, from understanding the context and reviewing existing literature to formulating clear research questions. By adhering to these guidelines, researchers can ensure that their studies are grounded in a well-defined problem, enhancing the relevance and impact of their findings. It is crucial for scholars to approach this task with rigor and critical thinking to contribute meaningfully to the body of knowledge in their respective fields.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a research problem.

A research problem is a specific issue, inconsistency, or gap in knowledge that needs to be addressed through scientific inquiry. It forms the foundation of a research study, guiding the research questions, methodology, and analysis.

Why is identifying a research problem important?

Identifying a research problem is crucial as it determines the direction and scope of the study. It helps researchers focus their inquiry, formulate hypotheses, and contribute to the existing body of knowledge.

How do I identify a suitable research problem?

To identify a suitable research problem, start with a thorough literature review to understand existing research and identify gaps. Consult with academic mentors, and consider relevance, feasibility, and your own interests.

What are some common pitfalls in identifying a research problem?

Common pitfalls include choosing a problem that is too broad or too narrow, not aligning with existing literature, lack of originality, and failing to consider the practical implications and feasibility of the study.

Can technology help in identifying a research problem?

Yes, technology and data analytics can aid in identifying research problems by providing access to a vast amount of data, revealing patterns and trends that might not be visible otherwise. Tools like digital libraries and research databases are particularly useful.

How can I refine my research problem?

Refine your research problem by narrowing its focus, seeking feedback from peers and mentors, and continually reviewing and adjusting the problem statement based on new information and insights gained during preliminary research.

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  • How to Define a Research Problem | Ideas & Examples

How to Define a Research Problem | Ideas & Examples

Published on 8 November 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George.

A research problem is a specific issue or gap in existing knowledge that you aim to address in your research. You may choose to look for practical problems aimed at contributing to change, or theoretical problems aimed at expanding knowledge.

Some research will do both of these things, but usually the research problem focuses on one or the other. The type of research problem you choose depends on your broad topic of interest and the type of research you think will fit best.

This article helps you identify and refine a research problem. When writing your research proposal or introduction , formulate it as a problem statement and/or research questions .

Table of contents

Why is the research problem important, step 1: identify a broad problem area, step 2: learn more about the problem, frequently asked questions about research problems.

Having an interesting topic isn’t a strong enough basis for academic research. Without a well-defined research problem, you are likely to end up with an unfocused and unmanageable project.

You might end up repeating what other people have already said, trying to say too much, or doing research without a clear purpose and justification. You need a clear problem in order to do research that contributes new and relevant insights.

Whether you’re planning your thesis , starting a research paper , or writing a research proposal , the research problem is the first step towards knowing exactly what you’ll do and why.

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As you read about your topic, look for under-explored aspects or areas of concern, conflict, or controversy. Your goal is to find a gap that your research project can fill.

Practical research problems

If you are doing practical research, you can identify a problem by reading reports, following up on previous research, or talking to people who work in the relevant field or organisation. You might look for:

  • Issues with performance or efficiency
  • Processes that could be improved
  • Areas of concern among practitioners
  • Difficulties faced by specific groups of people

Examples of practical research problems

Voter turnout in New England has been decreasing, in contrast to the rest of the country.

The HR department of a local chain of restaurants has a high staff turnover rate.

A non-profit organisation faces a funding gap that means some of its programs will have to be cut.

Theoretical research problems

If you are doing theoretical research, you can identify a research problem by reading existing research, theory, and debates on your topic to find a gap in what is currently known about it. You might look for:

  • A phenomenon or context that has not been closely studied
  • A contradiction between two or more perspectives
  • A situation or relationship that is not well understood
  • A troubling question that has yet to be resolved

Examples of theoretical research problems

The effects of long-term Vitamin D deficiency on cardiovascular health are not well understood.

The relationship between gender, race, and income inequality has yet to be closely studied in the context of the millennial gig economy.

Historians of Scottish nationalism disagree about the role of the British Empire in the development of Scotland’s national identity.

Next, you have to find out what is already known about the problem, and pinpoint the exact aspect that your research will address.

Context and background

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • Is it a newly-discovered problem, or a well-established one?
  • What research has already been done?
  • What, if any, solutions have been proposed?
  • What are the current debates about the problem? What is missing from these debates?

Specificity and relevance

  • What particular place, time, and/or group of people will you focus on?
  • What aspects will you not be able to tackle?
  • What will the consequences be if the problem is not resolved?

Example of a specific research problem

A local non-profit organisation focused on alleviating food insecurity has always fundraised from its existing support base. It lacks understanding of how best to target potential new donors. To be able to continue its work, the organisation requires research into more effective fundraising strategies.

Once you have narrowed down your research problem, the next step is to formulate a problem statement , as well as your research questions or hypotheses .

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement.

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarise the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

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  • How To Formulate A Research Problem

Olayemi Jemimah Aransiola

Introduction

In the dynamic realm of academia, research problems serve as crucial stepping stones for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements. Research problems lay the groundwork for inquiry and exploration that happens when conducting research. They direct the path toward knowledge expansion.

In this blog post, we will discuss the different ways you can identify and formulate a research problem. We will also highlight how you can write a research problem, its significance in guiding your research journey, and how it contributes to knowledge advancement.

Understanding the Essence of a Research Problem

A research problem is defined as the focal point of any academic inquiry. It is a concise and well-defined statement that outlines the specific issue or question that the research aims to address. This research problem usually sets the tone for the entire study and provides you, the researcher, with a clear purpose and a clear direction on how to go about conducting your research.

There are two ways you can consider what the purpose of your research problem is. The first way is that the research problem helps you define the scope of your study and break down what you should focus on in the research. The essence of this is to ensure that you embark on a relevant study and also easily manage it. 

The second way is that having a research problem helps you develop a step-by-step guide in your research exploration and execution. It directs your efforts and determines the type of data you need to collect and analyze. Furthermore, a well-developed research problem is really important because it contributes to the credibility and validity of your study.

It also demonstrates the significance of your research and its potential to contribute new knowledge to the existing body of literature in the world. A compelling research problem not only captivates the attention of your peers but also lays the foundation for impactful and meaningful research outcomes.

Identifying a Research Problem

To identify a research problem, you need a systematic approach and a deep understanding of the subject area. Below are some steps to guide you in this process:

  • Conduct a Literature Review: Before you dive into your research problem, ensure you get familiar with the existing literature in your field. Analyze gaps, controversies, and unanswered questions. This will help you identify areas where your research can make a meaningful contribution.
  • Consult with Peers and Mentors: Participate in discussions with your peers and mentors to gain insights and feedback on potential research problems. Their perspectives can help you refine and validate your ideas.
  • Define Your Research Objectives: Clearly outline the objectives of your study. What do you want to achieve through your research? What specific outcomes are you aiming for?

Formulating a Research Problem

Once you have identified the general area of interest and specific research objectives, you can then formulate your research problem. Things to consider when formulating a research problem:

  • Clarity and Specificity: Your research problem should be concise, specific, and devoid of ambiguity. Avoid vague statements that could lead to confusion or misinterpretation.
  • Originality: Strive to formulate a research problem that addresses a unique and unexplored aspect of your field. Originality is key to making a meaningful contribution to the existing knowledge.
  • Feasibility: Ensure that your research problem is feasible within the constraints of time, resources, and available data. Unrealistic research problems can hinder the progress of your study.
  • Refining the Research Problem: It is common for the research problem to evolve as you delve deeper into your study. Don’t be afraid to refine and revise your research problem if necessary. Seek feedback from colleagues, mentors, and experts in your field to ensure the strength and relevance of your research problem.

How Do You Write a Research Problem?

Steps to consider in writing a Research Problem:

  • Select a Topic: The first step in writing a research problem is to select a specific topic of interest within your field of study. This topic should be relevant, and meaningful, and have the potential to contribute to existing knowledge.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: Before formulating your research problem, conduct a thorough literature review to understand the current state of research on your chosen topic. This will help you identify gaps, controversies, or areas that need further exploration.
  • Identify the Research Gap: Based on your literature review, pinpoint the specific gap or problem that your research aims to address. This gap should be something that has not been adequately studied or resolved in previous research.
  • Be Specific and Clear: The research problem should be framed in a clear and concise manner. It should be specific enough to guide your research but broad enough to allow for meaningful investigation.
  • Ensure Feasibility: Consider the resources and constraints available to you when formulating the research problem. Ensure that it is feasible to address the problem within the scope of your study.
  • Align your Research Goals: The research problem should align with the overall goals and objectives of your study. It should be directly related to the research questions you intend to answer.
Related: How to Write a Problem Statement for your Research

Research Problem vs Research Questions

Research Problem: The research problem is a broad statement that outlines the overarching issue or gap in knowledge that your research aims to address. It provides the context and motivation for your study and helps establish its significance and relevance. The research problem is typically stated in the introduction section of your research proposal or thesis.

Research Questions: Research questions are specific inquiries that you seek to answer through your research. These questions are derived from the research problem and help guide the focus of your study. They are often more detailed and narrow in scope compared to the research problem. Research questions are usually listed in the methodology section of your research proposal or thesis.

Difference Between a Research Problem and a Research Topic

Research Problem: A research problem is a specific issue, gap, or question that requires investigation and can be addressed through research. It is a clearly defined and focused problem that the researcher aims to solve or explore. The research problem provides the context and rationale for the study and guides the research process. It is usually stated as a question or a statement in the introduction section of a research proposal or thesis.

Example of a Research Problem: “ What are the factors influencing consumer purchasing decisions in the online retail industry ?”

Research Topic: A research topic, on the other hand, is a broader subject or area of interest within a particular field of study. It is a general idea or subject that the researcher wants to explore in their research. The research topic is more general and does not yet specify a specific problem or question to be addressed. It serves as the starting point for the research, and the researcher further refines it to formulate a specific research problem.

Example of a Research Topic: “ Consumer behavior in the online retail industry.”

In summary, a research topic is a general area of interest, while a research problem is a specific issue or question within that area that the researcher aims to investigate.

Difference Between a Research Problem and Problem Statement

Research Problem: As explained earlier, a research problem is a specific issue, gap, or question that you as a researcher aim to address through your research. It is a clear and concise statement that defines the focus of the study and provides a rationale for why it is worth investigating.

Example of a Research Problem: “What is the impact of social media usage on the mental health and well-being of adolescents?”

Problem Statement: The problem statement, on the other hand, is a brief and clear description of the problem that you want to solve or investigate. It is more focused and specific than the research problem and provides a snapshot of the main issue being addressed.

Example of a Problem Statement: “ The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between social media usage and the mental health outcomes of adolescents, with a focus on depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.”

In summary, a research problem is the broader issue or question guiding the study, while the problem statement is a concise description of the specific problem being addressed in the research. The problem statement is usually found in the introduction section of a research proposal or thesis.

Challenges and Considerations

Formulating a research problem involves several challenges and considerations that researchers should carefully address:

  • Feasibility: Before you finalize a research problem, it is crucial to assess its feasibility. Consider the availability of resources, time, and expertise required to conduct the research. Evaluate potential constraints and determine if the research problem can be realistically tackled within the given limitations.
  • Novelty and Contribution: A well-crafted research problem should aim to contribute to existing knowledge in the field. Ensure that your research problem addresses a gap in the literature or provides innovative insights. Review past studies to understand what has already been done and how your research can build upon or offer something new.
  • Ethical and Social Implications: Take into account the ethical and social implications of your research problem. Research involving human subjects or sensitive topics requires ethical considerations. Consider the potential impact of your research on individuals, communities, or society as a whole. 
  • Scope and Focus: Be mindful of the scope of your research problem. A problem that is too broad may be challenging to address comprehensively, while one that is too narrow might limit the significance of the findings. Strike a balance between a focused research problem that can be thoroughly investigated and one that has broader implications.
  • Clear Objectives: Ensure that your research problem aligns with specific research objectives. Clearly define what you intend to achieve through your study. Having well-defined objectives will help you stay on track and maintain clarity throughout the research process.
  • Relevance and Significance: Consider the relevance and significance of your research problem in the context of your field of study. Assess its potential implications for theory, practice, or policymaking. A research problem that addresses important questions and has practical implications is more likely to be valuable to the academic community and beyond.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: In some cases, involving relevant stakeholders early in the process of formulating a research problem can be beneficial. This could include experts in the field, practitioners, or individuals who may be impacted by the research. Their input can provide valuable insights that can help you enhance the quality of the research problem.

In conclusion, understanding how to formulate a research problem is fundamental for you to have meaningful research and intellectual growth. Remember that a well-crafted research problem serves as the foundation for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in various fields. It not only enhances the credibility and relevance of your study but also contributes to the expansion of knowledge and the betterment of society.

Therefore, put more effort into the process of identifying and formulating research problems with enthusiasm and curiosity. Engage in comprehensive literature reviews, observe your surroundings, and reflect on the gaps in existing knowledge. Lastly, don’t forget to be mindful of the challenges and considerations, and ensure your research problem aligns with clear objectives and ethical principles.

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Identifying the Research Problem

  • First Online: 13 April 2022

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how to identify a research topic and problem

  • Yanmei Li 3 &
  • Sumei Zhang 4  

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The first step of conducting research is identifying a researchable problem. This chapter explains the procedures to identify the research problem. The procedure of research involves systematically investigating a subject matter to reveal facts or reach new conclusions. Research can be theory driven or problem driven. Most of the studies in urban and regional planning attempt to investigate issues or problems either to: (1) identity and define the problem, and/or (2) probe further to answer research questions after identifying, defining, and operationalizing the problem. This chapter introduces methods, such as factual data mining, back of envelope analysis, quick research, and issues unique to a sub-discipline of planning, to identify the research problem.

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Li, Y., Zhang, S. (2022). Identifying the Research Problem. In: Applied Research Methods in Urban and Regional Planning. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-93574-0_2

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Selecting a Research Topic: Overview

  • Refine your topic
  • Background information & facts
  • Writing help

Here are some resources to refer to when selecting a topic and preparing to write a paper:

  • MIT Writing and Communication Center "Providing free professional advice about all types of writing and speaking to all members of the MIT community."
  • Search Our Collections Find books about writing. Search by subject for: english language grammar; report writing handbooks; technical writing handbooks
  • Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation Online version of the book that provides examples and tips on grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other writing rules.
  • Select a topic

Choosing an interesting research topic is your first challenge. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic.
  • If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus.
  • Background reading can help you choose and limit the scope of your topic. 
  • Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.  Ask your professor or TA for suggestions.
  • Refer to lecture notes and required texts to refresh your knowledge of the course and assignment.
  • Talk about research ideas with a friend.  S/he may be able to help focus your topic by discussing issues that didn't occur to you at first.
  • WHY did you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?
  • WHO are the information providers on this topic?  Who might publish information about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?
  • WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?
  • WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?
  • WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

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Importance of Narrowing the Research Topic

Whether you are assigned a general issue to investigate, must choose a problem to study from a list given to you by your professor, or you have to identify your own topic to investigate, it is important that the scope of the research problem is not too broad, otherwise, it will be difficult to adequately address the topic in the space and time allowed. You could experience a number of problems if your topic is too broad, including:

  • You find too many information sources and, as a consequence, it is difficult to decide what to include or exclude or what are the most relevant sources.
  • You find information that is too general and, as a consequence, it is difficult to develop a clear framework for examining the research problem.
  • A lack of sufficient parameters that clearly define the research problem makes it difficult to identify and apply the proper methods needed to analyze it.
  • You find information that covers a wide variety of concepts or ideas that can't be integrated into one paper and, as a consequence, you trail off into unnecessary tangents.

Lloyd-Walker, Beverly and Derek Walker. "Moving from Hunches to a Research Topic: Salient Literature and Research Methods." In Designs, Methods and Practices for Research of Project Management . Beverly Pasian, editor. ( Burlington, VT: Gower Publishing, 2015 ), pp. 119-129.

Strategies for Narrowing the Research Topic

A common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is determining how and in what ways to narrow down your topic . Even if your professor gives you a specific topic to study, it will almost never be so specific that you won’t have to narrow it down at least to some degree [besides, it is very boring to grade fifty papers that are all about the exact same thing!].

A topic is too broad to be manageable when a review of the literature reveals too many different, and oftentimes conflicting or only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point early in the writing process. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help narrow the thematic focus of your paper :

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in South Asian religious rituals, study the role of food in Hindu marriage ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
  • Components -- determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who choose to use tobacco].
  • Methodology -- the way in which you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem [e.g., a single case study can be designed to generate data that does not require as extensive an explanation as using multiple cases].
  • Place -- generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations issues in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon as a case study that helps to explain economic problems in the region].
  • Relationship -- ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, child/adult, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus [e.g., restricting the study of trade relations between Niger and Cameroon to only the period of 2010 - 2020].
  • Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena [e.g., a study of developing safer traffic patterns near schools can focus on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of traffic signals in the area].
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic more narrowly.

NOTE: Apply one of the above strategies first in designing your study to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate. You will know if the problem is manageable by reviewing the literature on your more narrowed problem and assessing whether prior research is sufficient to move forward in your study [i.e., not too much, not too little]. Be careful, however, because combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem--your problem becomes too narrowly defined and you can't locate enough research or data to support your study.

Booth, Wayne C. The Craft of Research . Fourth edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016; Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Narrowing a Topic. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Narrowing Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Strategies for Narrowing a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Ways to Narrow Down a Topic. Contributing Authors. Utah State OpenCourseWare.

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  5. Best Tips To Write the Research Problem & Significance of the Study: The Reverse Engineering Method

  6. How to identify a research problem? What are the major sources of research problems? -22-Fiza Rajper

COMMENTS

  1. How to Define a Research Problem

    The type of research problem you choose depends on your broad topic of interest and the type of research you think will fit best. This article helps you identify and refine a research problem. When writing your research proposal or introduction, formulate it as a problem statement and/or research questions.

  2. Research Problem

    Defining a research problem involves identifying a specific question or issue that a researcher seeks to address through a research study. Here are the steps to follow when defining a research problem: Identify a broad research topic: Start by identifying a broad topic that you are interested in researching. This could be based on your personal ...

  3. Research Problems: How to Identify & Resolve

    2. Review the key factors involved. As a marketing researcher, you must work closely with your team of researchers to define and test the influencing factors and the wider context involved in your study. These might include demographic and economic trends or the business environment affecting the question at hand.

  4. Step 1

    Identifying a research topic can be challenging. Most of the research that has been completed on the process of conducting research fails to examine the preliminary stages of the interactive and self-reflective process of identifying a research topic (Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).

  5. PDF Identifying a Research Problem and Question, and Searching Relevant

    identify the problem they want to study. What Is a Research Problem? A research problem, or phenomenon as it might be called in many forms of qualitative methodology, is the topic you would like to address, investigate, or study, whether descriptively or experimentally. It is the focus or reason for engaging in your research.

  6. What is a Research Problem? Characteristics, Types, and Examples

    A research problem is a gap in existing knowledge, a contradiction in an established theory, or a real-world challenge that a researcher aims to address in their research. It is at the heart of any scientific inquiry, directing the trajectory of an investigation. The statement of a problem orients the reader to the importance of the topic, sets ...

  7. The Research Problem/Question

    NOTE: Do not confuse a research problem with a research topic. A topic is something to read and obtain information about, whereas a problem is something to be solved or framed as a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution, or explained as a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. ... "Identifying the Research Problem." In ...

  8. The Research Problem & Problem Statement

    In this post, we'll unpack what a research problem is and how it's related to a problem statement. ... 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.

  9. Identifying a Research Problem: A Step-by-Step Guide

    To identify a research problem, you need a systematic approach and a deep understanding of the subject area. Below are some steps to guide you in this process: Conduct a thorough literature review to understand what has been studied before. Identify gaps in the existing research that could form the basis of your study.

  10. 1. Choosing a Research Problem

    Resources for Identifying a Research Problem. If you are having difficulty identifying a topic to study or need basic background information, the following web resources and databases can be useful: CQ Researcher-- a collection of single-themed public policy reports that provide an overview of an issue. Each report includes background ...

  11. Finding Researchable Problems

    By the end of this module, readers should be able to: (1) Differentiate a research area of interest from a research topic and research problem; (2) Identify one's own area of interest; (3) Determining the most suitable topic to study; (4) Explain the importance of a research problem in a study; (3) Distinguish between a research problem and ...

  12. Q: How do I identify a research problem and properly state it?

    Answer: I understand that you need help with either or both of the following: Identifying the research problem. Stating the research problem, that is, writing the problem statement. In case of the former, you will be able to identify a research problem based on a thorough examination of the research area. A good starting point for this is doing ...

  13. Writing Strong Research Questions

    A good research question is essential to guide your research paper, dissertation, or thesis. All research questions should be: Focused on a single problem or issue. Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources. Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints. Specific enough to answer thoroughly.

  14. (PDF) Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem

    By the end of this module, readers should be able to: (1) Differentiate a research area of interest from a research topic and research problem; (2) Identify one's own area of interest; (3 ...

  15. How to Define a Research Problem

    The type of research problem you choose depends on your broad topic of interest and the type of research you think will fit best. This article helps you identify and refine a research problem. When writing your research proposal or introduction, formulate it as a problem statement and/or research questions.

  16. How To Define a Research Problem in 6 Steps (With Types)

    1. Identify a general area of interest. As you determine an area of study, consider areas that haven't been explored thoroughly or present challenges within a particular field. Assess how you might address the area of concern and whether you can develop a research problem related to this issue.

  17. How To Formulate A Research Problem

    A compelling research problem not only captivates the attention of your peers but also lays the foundation for impactful and meaningful research outcomes. Identifying a Research Problem. To identify a research problem, you need a systematic approach and a deep understanding of the subject area. Below are some steps to guide you in this process:

  18. Identifying the Research Problem

    The first step of conducting research is identifying a researchable problem. This chapter explains the procedures to identify the research problem. The procedure of research involves systematically investigating a subject matter to reveal facts or reach new conclusions. Research can be theory driven or problem driven.

  19. PDF Identifying a Research Topic or post,

    Chapter 2 • IdentIfyIng a researCh topIC 27 about their students and their teaching practice. Determining what will be the focus of your action research project is the first step in developing the action research plan. The potential benefits of the action research process hinge on a carefully selected topic and well-designed research questions.

  20. Overview

    Select a topic. Choosing an interesting research topic is your first challenge. Here are some tips: Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic. Narrow your topic to something manageable. If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus.

  21. Narrowing a Topic Idea

    A lack of sufficient parameters that clearly define the research problem makes it difficult to identify and apply the proper methods needed to analyze it. ... Strategies for Narrowing the Research Topic. A common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is determining how and in what ways to narrow down your topic. Even if your ...

  22. Defining the Research Problem: Criteria for Selecting a Topic

    Identify important factors to be considered in selecting a research topic; 2. State the research problem underlying the selected research topic; 3. Formulate measurable general and specific objectives; and 4. Justify the significance of the research topic and objectives selected. 1.

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    This article takes you through the first steps of the research process, helping you narrow down your ideas and build up a strong foundation for your research project. Table of contents. Step 1: Choose your topic. Step 2: Identify a problem. Step 3: Formulate research questions. Step 4: Create a research design. Step 5: Write a research proposal.

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  25. Agile Culture Clash: Unveiling Challenges in Cultivating an Agile

    Objective: We identify challenges that arise from the interplay between agile culture and organizational culture. In doing so, we tackle this field and come up with important contributions for further research regarding a problem that practitioners face today. Method: This is done with a mixed-method research approach.