In research, stating the problem may take only a few sentences or it may take hundreds of words. A detailed definition may result in a better understanding of the problem. There are three criteria of a good problem and problem statement.http://www.kenpro.org/1.3 Research Objectives and Research Questions/
i) The problem should be concerned with a relation between two or more variables. However there are exceptions to this rule particularly in descriptive and quantitative studies.
ii) It should be stated clearly and unambiguously in either an objective or a question form. For example “what are the teacher-parental factors that affect the academic performance of students in private secondary schools Eastern County?”
iii) The problem should should be amenable to empirical review and testing.
The common experience in research teaches us that we can state the problem either in question or declarative form. For clarity, a detailed statement of the problem is preferred. A brief background that leads to the statement of the problem is given before finishing with the conclusive words such as therefore…, as such…, thus…
Why do students find it hard to state research problem. The simple answer is that when students of research are asked to submit research topics, they do it ‘diligently’. They think of a research topic rather than a research problem. There is what we refer to as a perceived research problem and not a ‘felt’ research problem. The former is thought while the latter is based on the real problem.
Well, one might ask, what are the sources of research problem? How do I identify research area? The following are the major sources of research problem:
i) Your own experience or the experience of others may be a source of problem supply.
ii) Scientific literature: you may read about certain findings and notice that a certain field was not covered or there is knowledge gap that you need to fill in. This could lead to a research problem.
iii) Theories could be another source. Shortcomings in theories could be researched.
The sources of research problem can thus give you the direction of stating the research problem.
Components of statement of research problem. Statement of research problem has been subject to much debate among scholars and practitioners. Some of them are of view that there should be no in-text citation in the statement of the problem; others argue that a good statement of the problem should be personalized, based on social need. From a practitioner’s view point, the following components are key and should be considered when one is stating a problem:
Statement of the problem based on social need. This is about what pinches you as a researcher to conduct the study. It is about what is happening on the ground, the social concerns about the problem under scrutiny. The problem may be based on personal experience, observation etc. The problem might have been highlighted in the news media or print media. This approach puts the statement of the problem in the context.
Statement of problem based on Knowledge Gap. This sprouts from in-depth review of literature on the related area. The aim of review is to identify the gaps in the existing body of literature. In-text citation of some of the reviewed studies is thus essential.
Statement of intention. This is one or two lines of thesis where one states the problem. This comes after advancing some argument based on social need or knowledge gap or both. The magical opening word of the statement is ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘as such.’
The statement of the research problem should be developed in such a way that the need to carry out the study is clearly brought out. It becomes easier to state the problem if a rich background to the study precedes. We should however note that it is not easy to bring out the problem especially if the research problem is perceived and not felt! Students of research often think of a research topic and not a research problem! This marks the beginning of a ‘long’ and ‘tedious’ research journey of trying to state the problem without really stating it. It becomes a ‘forced’ research problem. There is no need to carry out such a study for it has no basis or contribution to global knowledge.
Specifically, identifying an area of interest should be:
i) Of interest to you as a researcher (could be in the field of your specialization),
ii) Researchable – measurable and sample is accessible,
iii) Manageable in size (given your time and resources),
iv) Within your range of competencies and skills,
v) make a contribution to knowledge,
vi) based on a theoretical or conceptual framework.
Save your energy by trying to identify an area of need that can contribute towards policies, laws or action plan.