Developing a Statement of the Problem Part I

In the last post, there was a look at developing research problems. The research problem is actually a part of a larger section in a research article called the statement of the problem. The statement of the problem is written at the beginning of a research article and has five parts to it.

  1. The topic (discussed previously)
  2. The research problem (discussed previously)
  3. Explanation of the importance of the study
  4. The gap in knowledge the study tries to fill
  5. The audience that will benefit from the study

In this post, we will look at the first two parts of the statement of the problem.


The topic is the broadest level at which an article can begin. This serves the purpose of gradually introducing the issue of the research article to a reader. By starting broadly, it allows the reader to grasp where the writer is coming from. For example, if we are doing a study about the differences between lecture and discussion teaching one appropriate topic would be the general idea of teaching. From there we can discuss specifically lecture teaching and discussion teaching.

The topic is often found in the first sentence of a statement of the problem and it needs to pull the audience into the paper. There are several ways to do this and they are below with examples from our teaching methods idea.

  • The pull as a question “How do teaching methods impact academic performance?”
  • The pull as a need for research “Teaching methods are under intense scrutiny in the 21st century.”
  • The pull as statistical data “80% of university professors rely on a lecture approach to teaching.”

These are not the only way to do this but they do provide some indication on how to develop a topic for a statement of the problem.

Research Problem

After addressing the topic, the next step is to provide the research problem. The research problem is the issue that you as a researcher are going to investigate. There are several ways to indicate a research problem. Two ways are a practical research problem and the other is the gap based research problem.

A practical research problem is a problem coming from a particular environment or setting. In education, the setting might be a school, student homes, or even teacher working conditions. Below is an example of a practical research problem. The example begins with a topic and moves to the research problem. Both the topic and research problem are identified.

Teaching methods are under intense scrutiny in the 21st century ( the topic is teaching methods). At the university level, there has traditionally been an emphasis on lecturing. However, many tertiary schools are beginning to promote discussion as a viable alternative to lecture (shift to practical research problem). This leads to the dilemma of deciding whether lecture or discussion teaching is most beneficial to students in terms of their academic performance (practical based research problem).

The practical problem is deciding which teaching method is most beneficial to students.

A gap based research problem is a problem that calls for further research in an existing area because prior research has missed something, there is conflicting evidence, and or there is a need to extend the research into new fields. Below is an example.

Teaching methods are under intense scrutiny in the 21st century ( the topic is teaching methods). At the secondary level, there has been a tremendous amount of research into various teaching approaches. In particular, both lecture-based and discussion based teaching have been examined. These two methods have been compared in terms of their influence on the academic performance of secondary students. However, there is little data on the impact of lecture and discussion teaching at the tertiary level in relation to their influence on student achievement (potential gap). As such, there is a need to examine how lecture and discussion teaching impact the student achievement of tertiary students and to see if there is any difference between the results of tertiary students and secondary students (gap based research problem). 

In the example above, the problem is indicating that there is a gap in our knowledge about how lecture and discussion impact tertiary student achievement. The example indicates how there are lots of studies at the secondary level but few at the tertiary level. This lack of data at the tertiary level indicates a gap in the existing knowledge and thus a need for further study.


The statement of the problem sets the stage for the entire study. Therefore, it needs to be clearly explained and developed in order to successfully complete a study. If the beginning is poor the end will be a disaster. As such, the hardest part of a research study is the beginning.

As you can see from the examples employed in this post, the same problem can be practical or gap based. What makes the difference is the context, your personal background, and perhaps even where you want to publish. Different journals lean in different directions and a practical based problem may need to be reworded as a gap based problem and vice versa. All this comes out of your own experience which will affect how you see a problem. However, you frame a problem everyone expects to see certain components in a statement of the problem

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