There’s more to writing a research paper for college or university than just knowing the structure of the assignment. You first have to find a research problem, come up with a research question, investigate the problem by doing further research, and then write the paper.
As you can see, a research problem is the foundation of a research study that drives the experimental designs and real life experiments. Without a good research problem, it becomes difficult to define your specific area of study and challenging to develop a hypothesis.
So what exactly is a research problem? What makes a good research problem for scientific study and how do you come up with it?
In this guide, you’ll learn what a research problem is, the characteristics of a research problem, and the right way to find a research problem for your study.
What’s a Research Problem?
A research problem is a theoretical or practical difficulty, issue, gap in knowledge, or contradiction that an individual or a group of people experience and to which they want to find an appropriate solution.
The problem can exist in scholarly literature, in practice, or in theory, and it often demands understanding and deliberate investigation.
A research problem must be specific in kind and good enough to contribute to change or expand existing knowledge. Note that a research problem neither states how to do something nor pose a value question. Rather, it presents a broad or vague proposition.
Why is a Research Problem Important?
Identifying an interesting research paper topic isn’t an enough basis for academic research. You need to find a problem within your topic of choice so that you can end up with a focused project.
By identifying a good research problem, you won’t fall into the problem of repeating what others have already said on an issue. Also, you will be able to conduct your research with a very clear purpose and find new insights to solve the problem or fill the knowledge gap found in already existing research studies.
What are the Elements of a Good Research Problem?
A problem must feature the following elements to qualify as an issue for a research study:
1. Your Research Problem Should be Clear and Concise
If you can’t state a problem clearly and concisely, then it’s either a poor problem to investigate or not a problem at all.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to determine if a clear statement can translate into a research problem unless you evaluate the statement with the help of others.
If other potential researchers think that you’ve struggled to state the issue in a clear paragraph, it may not make a suitable problem.
Remember that it’s not often easy to use simple terms to express complex issues. So it might take a while and a number of drafts before you can come up with a satisfactory statement that critics can understand and consider as research problems.
3. The Problem Should Relate to One or More Fields of Study
You need to avoid research problems that don’t have a relationship with one or more fields of study. Not being able to relate a research problem to one or more fields means it’s impossible to determine where the problem lies.
Consider a research problem that relates to at least one field of study although more would be better. Also, make sure that the relational fields have adherents and boundaries.
3. The Research Problem Should Be Feasible
A good research problem is one that you can study within a given timeframe and budget. Therefore, you should a problem that isn’t feasible to research.
4. A Good Problem is Grounded in Theory
A problem that lacks a conceptual or theoretical framework for its analysis is not good enough for a research study.
That means you need to make sure the problem you’re considering relates to what you wish to investigate and to the background of the theory that interpret the results in the respective field of study.
5. Good Research Problems Have Base in Literature
Another element of a good research problem is that it should relate to a research literature.
The literature should have been written by a group of researcher and published in journals. You may experience difficulties in establishing the connection between existing literature and some research problems.
However, a little bit of patience and more research should help you find a base.
6. A Good Research Problem Has a Significance
A good research problem should account for the “so what” question.
Don’t just focus on the significance the problem has to you as a researcher.
If the research question developed from the issue looks into who cares after you’ve solved the problem, you have a good research question that has a significance to others.
7. The Problem Should Generate Research Questions
A good research problem is the one that allows you to generate one or more specific research questions. You should be able to read the statement problem and convert it into a question format that represents an aspect of the problem you wish to investigate.
The research question that you generate from the problem statement will not only provide a comprehensive framework for your research but also make the problem easier to address.
Keep in mind that developing research questions can be somewhat challenging, especially if you’re dealing with a complex issue. Should that be the case, make sure you spend enough time evaluating the general statement.
8. A Good Problem Has Sufficient Research Data
It’s best to avoid a research problem that doesn’t have sufficient data (or written information) for investigation.
So before you consider a problem for your research study, look at the data banks developed over the years to see if there’s sufficient information that you can explore.
The above elements enable you to analyze an issue and see the extent to which it can measure up within your area of study.
To be clear, a research problem may not have all these elements, but a good problem should have a number of these elements at least.