Writing a Problem Statement: 10 Effective Tips

A problem statement is basically a statement that illustrates a clear vision and the overall method that will be used to solve the problem at hand. Usually used when doing research, a problem statement discusses any foreseeable tangible or intangible problems that the researcher may face throughout the course of the project. These tips will help take the mystery out of how to write a problem statement.

10 Tips on Writing a Problem Statement 10 Tips on Writing a Problem Statement
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1. Clarify the Vision

Before you can decide how to solve a problem, you must first know what you are trying to accomplish. That's why it's important to write out your vision statement. This statement represents what you hope to accomplish by solving the problem. By writing out the vision, you'll be able to verify if the steps you are taking will help you make progress toward the vision and tell if your problem-solving efforts were successful. Be sure to include the benefit of solving the problem. Take the time to write a clear and concise vision statement specific to the problem you are seeking to solve. You may want to review some examples of strong vision statements.

2. Define the Problem

Writing a vision statement is important, but it is more focused on what happens after the problem is solved than the problem itself. That's why it's also important to clearly define the problem itself by writing an issue statement. This should be a succinct statement that (a) describes the problem and (b) specifies why solving the problem is important. After all, you can't solve a problem if you're not sure what it really is. This brief statement simply describes the problems that you are encountering and specific issues related to the problem. It should only be a few sentences long.

3. Determine the Context

Consider and clearly define contextual concerns regarding the problem. For a business-related problem, consider if it impacts multiple divisions or functions within the organization or only certain product lines. For personal issues, does the problem impact day-to-day life, or does it only occasionally present a challenge? Also consider if there are special circumstances under which the problem seems to worsen or lessen, as well as what previous attempts have been made to resolve the problem. This information will all play a role in deciding how to move forward.

4. Identify the Impact

Consider how widespread or significant the problem is. Is the problem keeping you or the company from generating revenue or competing effectively? Such problems likely have the potential to cause greater impact than problems that don't directly impact income. But, money is not the only consideration. The scope of impact is also important. Will only a few customers or employees be impacted, or will the problem impact that affects multiple stakeholder groups. The broader the impact, the more important it is to swiftly solve the problem.

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5. Make a Business Case

Every problem statement should be written in a persuasive manner, such that it would convince decision-makers (even if you're the sole decision-maker!) of the need to address the problem. Pulling together information about the context and impact of the problem will allow you to build a rationale for taking action. This is often referred to as making a business case for action. Depending on the topic, it may need to include facts, statistics, emotional appeals, or other rhetorical tools. You'll want to focus on why action needs to be taken, as well as the likely result of failing to take action.

6. Identify the Gap

Once you have a clearly defined the problem and vision and have made a business case for why it's important to address the problem, it's time to move forward. The next step in crafting a problem statement is to identify the gap between the current situation (the problem) and the future that you seek (the vision). The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to close this gap. When you know exactly what needs to be rectified in order to move from where you are now to the desired vision, then you'll be ready to come up with meaningful strategies that can make a difference.

7. Explain the Causes

Once you know what the gap is, you'll need to do some research to explain the causes for the gap. This will provide insights into what factors need to be addressed in order to close the gap. Are employees absent from work too much? You'll need to figure out what is causing excessive absenteeism before you can propose a solution designed to help solve employee absenteeism. At this stage, you may be speculating on causes, so you may want to include a list of potential causes that need to be explored before deciding how to move forward with solving the problem.

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8. Select a Problem Solving Method

Writing out the method that you plan to use to solve the problem is a crucial part of writing out your problem statement. It is through your method that you convey the steps that you will take in solving the problem. This is very important, as the decision-makers will want to see that you're just as concerned with solving the problem as you are with pointing out what's wrong and how to fix it. So, a thorough problem statement includes some details on exactly how you propose to solve the problem.

9. Describe Next Steps

At this point, all of the information has been pulled together, so the next step is to describe how you plan to move forward toward solving the problem. Explain what comes next. Will extensive primary or secondary research be required? Do you need to pull together a committee to brainstorm for potential solutions? What resources will you need? Detail if you'll need money, a location to work, software applications, personnel, or any other resources. Include a timetable that includes when it would be feasible to begin and how long it might take to active problem resolution.

10. Review the 5 Ws (and an H)

Next, review and verify your work. Think back to grade school and you will recall how your English teacher probably taught you about the five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why). These are questions that need to be answered when writing a problem statement. Before finalizing your problem statement, be sure you have incorporated the five Ws in your work. Then, make sure you've also included an important "h" as well (how). The problem statement should appropriately address each of the following items.

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • What would the outcome be if the problem was not solved?
  • Where is the problem taking place?
  • When does the problem need to be fixed?
  • Why is it important for the problem to be fixed?
  • How many people are affected by this problem?

Once you verify that the problem statement addresses these questions, you should have a pretty well-rounded problem statement. Make a few drafts until the problem statement is as polished as possible, being sure to proofread your work very carefully.

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Key Benefits of Writing a Problem Statement

Writing a statement of the problem can help you focus your research and create a more cohesive and guided project. Knowing how to write a problem statement can help you remain focused on the specific issue under consideration. This can help you ultimately achieve better results and prevent you from wasting time pursuing unnecessary avenues or taking a detour from your main goal. Applying these tips for writing a problem statement can help you not just with the statement itself, but with the project as a whole. Take the time to review these effective problem statement examples for inspiration. Then, you should be ready to begin.