How to Write the Statement of the Problem in a Qualitative Dissertation?

dissertation problem statement

Writing the problem statement of the dissertation is a responsible task for every beginning researcher, since this section is usually under the close gaze of the dissertation committee, and it is the strongest evidence of your study’s value and importance. In plain terms, if the problem is realistic and you manage to prove that it exists, your research project has many more chances to be accepted and your dissertation will be finally approved as a study with an original research contribution.

Why is it so important for the dissertation overall? Here are some thoughts:

  • In its essence, the problem statement is an expression of the dilemma or a disturbing issue that requires a scholarly investigation. It identifies the nature of the issue, its context, and significance.
  • It is a short and concise expression of an assumed relationship between two or more variables or concepts
  • It implies possibilities for empirical testing of one or several alternative sources of action for the problem’s resolution
  • A well-formulated problem statement paves the way to generating workable hypotheses, allowing the dissertation study to progress.

Statement of the Problem in Dissertation: Vital Components

Every problem statement for dissertation should contain a set of elements that may it effective and comprehensive. Always check your chapter for these elements, since they are the gist at which your dissertation committee is sure to look when assessing your draft and giving you the go-ahead with your further work:

  1. The researcher’s objectives. Objectives of research may range from largely general issues to specific, narrow concepts that you as a decision-maker formulate for your study.
  2. The environment and context of the studied problem. Contextualization of the problem adds focus to it and narrows the scope of your attention, thus giving the committee a better idea of the area in which you are planning to hold your study.
  3. The nature of the suggested problem. This aspect sheds light on the ways of attaining the desired research results and methods of collecting data, conducting the research process, etc.
  4. A set of alternative courses of action. While you are only suggesting the study and not holding actual research, you should give credit to existing approaches to the problem before suggesting your own way.
  5. Enumeration of consequences relating to courses of action and events beyond the scope of researcher’s control. Any phenomenon is studied inseparably from the surrounding environment (unless you are planning a strictly controlled experimental trial), so you should give a proper account to these external variables as potential influencers on the problem.
  6. Indication of uncertainty about the best course of action in the described scenario. If you were certain about the course of action, you would not need a study, right? Hence, at the start of the research, you should share assumptions and expectations instead of firm statements about what your solution will bring.
  7. Suggestion of the research path by following which the best course of action or solution to the described situation may be found. This is your actual offer to find out whether the suggested solution fits for the discussed problem. Delineate the direction for research and test it in further chapters of your study.

Keep in mind that research experts agree on the ability of a good statement to pinpoint the outcomes you are aiming at as a result of your research completion. In a nutshell, any statement of such a kind answers the questions “what, where, when, and how much.”

Qualitative v. Quantitative Problem Statements

Writing a qualitative dissertation is essentially different from making quantitative research; however, this does not play such a decisive role in the problem statement section overall. The only difference is that you have to formulate your problem in qualitative terms, which means it is not recommended to rely on statistics or other quantifiable data. A much better qualitative presentation is in conceptual terms of models, relationships, experiences, etc. Some recommendations for a qualitative dissertation problem statement include:

  • The researcher articulates the nature of the problem and give a justification for the new study
  • A statement for a grounded theory study should refer to some theory or claim for the need to generate a theory relating to specific social processes
  • A phenomenological justification may effectively underline the need to learn more about people’s experiences and meanings they attribute to those experiences, pointing out the existing gap in empirical research
  • Ethnography problem statements may be focused on the need to describe the impact of cultural factors on people’s behavior.

No matter in which theoretical domain your dissertation will be placed, make sure to substantiate it with preliminary literature research and include it early in the dissertation to provide a sufficient context for documentation of research gaps.

Where to Place the Problem Statement?

It is mostly recommended to include the statement of a problem dissertation at the beginning of the research report. Hence, it usually follows the background of the problem in dissertation, the starting section of the introduction chapter. The study’s background usually serves to provide a summary of results obtained in previous empirical studies on your topic (or closely related topics) and determines the need for further analysis. Overall, it explains the history and present state of the problem, as well as the research focus addressed. It may also be helpful to delineate the existing gap based on the summary of current literature, and to discuss how this gap is planned to be addressed.

After such a thorough background description, the place for your problem statement is ideal. After summarizing what has been done on your topic thus far, you may freely discuss the issue itself, the population affected by that problem, and the contribution that your planned study may make to solving that problem. After this section is complete, you already have a good basis for the formulation of research questions and hypotheses, and may proceed to an in-depth discussion of the study’s significance.

Significance of the problem in a qualitative dissertation is also a highly important component; it usually follows the problem statement and research purpose/hypotheses/questions, and serves to restate and reinforce the overall perceived significance of the proposed study. It should contain the description of implications of the potential results based on the generated research questions, problem statement, and hypotheses. This section should also describe how your entire research fits within the overall area of study and in which way it will contribute to the current literature on the topic.

Additional Tips: How to Write a Compelling Problem Statement for Dissertation

Envisioning the statement of the problem as a dissertation’s key point urges all beginning researchers to dedicate much time and effort to making your problem statement ideal. Nevertheless, some unresolved matters persist, and it is still quite ambiguous for many students. To name just a few steps to make a great problem statement:

  • Ensure that the problem you are formulating is not only topical for you personally, but it is a truly existing and urgent issue in your field of study
  • Try to include the scope and time frame of the problem for the committee to evaluate its urgency and be convinced about the need to research it
  • Quantify the problem to a certain extent (even a qualitative one) to show how many people are affected adversely by this gap in research or practice, and how people’s lives or an industry practice may be improved if the problem is resolved
  • Write the problem statement in concise, clear sentences, avoiding too much complexity
  • Substantiate every claim in the problem statement with recent research evidence.
  • Make sure you focus only on one problem
  • Do not offer a ready solution – just pinpoint possible avenues for solutions that may be tested with the help of your research.

Don’t underestimate this starting point of your dissertation, since it commonly agreed that once a research problem is formulated effectively, the remaining steps of the research process flow much easier.