Developing a Problem Statement

9 September 2016

Often the first step in the research design process is to identify a real world problem or management dilemma and provide a very brief description of the nature of the issue, the undesirable symptoms, and our inability or lack of knowledge to solve the problem. All the other components are designed to produce a contribution to knowledge that will help solve this problem. While there are some fields that do pure research, there are plenty of real world management problems and opportunities for improvement that management researchers don’t need to “dream up” things to research.

If you have not yet identified a research topic then work on identifying an appropriate research topic then return to this section. Read more on identifying a topic. The problem statement is the foundation for and the rationale for the significance of the study. According to Cooper and Schindler (2002) “this section needs to convince the sponsor [or dissertation committee] to continue reading the proposal” (p. 101).

Developing a Problem Statement Essay Example

Regardless whether you plan on having a sponsor, a practical reason to conduct the study will help increase your motivation (and tenacity), your participant’s motivation thus increasing participation and response rate, and the impact on the real world. Cooper and Schindler propose that ideally a problem statement includes four components: a management dilemma, the background, consequences, and the management questions (p. 101). The management dilemma and the management question are the first two levels of the management-research question hierarchy.

Creswell (2003) proposes that the problem statement should come early in the introduction to motivate the reader to read further or as Creswell proposes “pique their interest” (p. 79). So, develop a compelling problem statement now and let it guide the design of your research project. It can be an acid test for your methodology decisions – each time that you face a decision ask yourself – does it help to answer the management question and resolve the management dilemma?

Knowledge Gap – In addition to the undesirable “symptoms” related to the problem or opportunity, is the second required component of the problem statement which is a gap in our existing knowledge/theories preventing us from solving the problem. There has to be a gap in our existing theories, empirical knowledge, etc. to justify a research project. If we already have the knowledge to solve the problem, then we can simply apply that knowledge or theory and solve the problem.

It is not uncommon for organizations to experience many problems that we already know how to solve. The organization may not know how to solve the problem or be familiar with the current literature so the first step is to find out what we know about this problem. If there is a knowledge gap then the problem is a candidate for a research project. Note: A problem isn’t always a “problem,” it might also be an opportunity for improvement.

In other words, organization performance is seldom all that we would like it to be. The gap between the current performance or situation and the desired level of performance is an opportunity for improvement or a problem. One way to “back into” a problem statement is to ask if we only knew ________ then we could improve ________. Caution: Possibly the biggest danger with developing a problem statement is creating a problem that is vague and so broad that a single study can’t possibly answer the problem.

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