The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your research proposal

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The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your research proposal
Key takeaways:
  • A statement of the problem is used in research work as a claim that outlines the problem addressed by a study.
  • A good research problem should address an existing gap in knowledge in the field and lead to further research.
  • To write a persuasive problem statement, you need to describe (a) the ideal, (b), the reality, and (c) the consequences.

Research is a systematic investigative process employed to increase or revise current knowledge by discovering new facts. It can be divided into two general categories: (1) Basic research, which is inquiry aimed at increasing scientific knowledge, and (2) Applied research, which is effort aimed at using basic research for solving problems or developing new processes, products, or techniques.

The first and most important step in any research is to identify and delineate the research problem: that is, what the researcher wants to solve and what questions he/she wishes to answer. A research problem may be defined as an area of concern, a gap in the existing knowledge, or a deviation in the norm or standard that points to the need for further understanding and investigation. Although many problems turn out to have several solutions (the means to close the gap or correct the deviation), difficulties arise where such means are either not obvious or are not immediately available. This then necessitates some research to reach a viable solution.

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A statement of the problem is used in research work as a claim that outlines the problem addressed by a study. The statement of the problem briefly addresses the question: What is the problem that the research will address?

What are the goals of a statement of the problem?

The ultimate goal of a statement of the problem is to transform a generalized problem (something that bothers you; a perceived lack) into a targeted, well-defined problem; one that can be resolved through focused research and careful decision-making.

Writing a statement of the problem should help you clearly identify the purpose of the research project you will propose. Often, the statement of the problem will also serve as the basis for the introductory section of your final proposal, directing your reader’s attention quickly to the issues that your proposed project will address and providing the reader with a concise statement of the proposed project itself.

A statement of problem need not be long and elaborate: one page is more than enough for a good statement of problem.

What are the key characteristics of a statement of the problem?

A good research problem should have the following characteristics:

  1. It should address a gap in knowledge.
  2. It should be significant enough to contribute to the existing body of research
  3. It should lead to further research
  4. The problem should render itself to investigation through collection of data
  5. It should be of interest to the researcher and suit his/her skills, time, and resources
  6. The approach towards solving the problem should be ethical

What is the format for writing a statement of the problem?

A persuasive statement of problem is usually written in three parts:

Part A (The ideal): Describes a desired goal or ideal situation; explains how things should be.

Part B (The reality): Describes a condition that prevents the goal, state, or value in Part A from being achieved or realized at this time; explains how the current situation falls short of the goal or ideal.

Part C (The consequences): Identifies the way you propose to improve the current situation and move it closer to the goal or ideal.

Here is an example:

Statement 1

The Ministry of Youth is dedicated to allocating enterprise development funds to both the youth and women. These funds are made available in order to start entrepreneurial ventures that create and expand employment. (Provide relevant statistics and quote)

Statement 2

One of the main focuses of the ministry is consistency. Unfortunately, consistency in allocating funds to the next generation of recipients requires prior knowledge of previous allocations and established practices. The current continuous disbursement method does not allow for adequate analysis of previous disbursements before a current disbursement is done.

Statement 3

Continuing with this current disbursement method prevents consistency and causes decisions to become grossly political, which in turn inhibits the achievement of the goals of the funds. Developing a more informed disbursement system could help better implement the consistency focus of the ministry and at the same time help the ministry better monitor and evaluate its funds.

This proposed research aspires to explore options for a new funds disbursement system that would focus on consistency. To do this, the researcher will carry out a full stakeholder analysis and use it to propose appropriate policy interventions.

The basics of writing a statement of the problem for your research proposal

Sample statement of a problem

An established trend in the small business start-up financing in Kenya is to establish funds. Some of these funds include the youth fund and women fund. These funds have helped improve the rate of start-ups in the country. However, after the start-up stage, the ventures start developing problems. First, they face problems in management which lead to a marketing problem and eventually to stagnation and early exit.

A study by the Institute of Development Studies (RoK, 2004) revealed that only 38% of the businesses are expanding while 58% have not added workers. According to the survey, more enterprises are likely to close in their first three years of operation. Four years later the same institute conducted another study in Central Kenya. This study revealed that 57% of small businesses are in stagnation with only 33% of them showing some level of growth.

In our current project, we propose to examine factors that have an impact on small business sustainability. We will employ both qualitative and quantitative approaches to gather both primary and secondary data and information with the objective of determining success factors for the growth of small business in Kenya.

Specifically, we shall employ the product life cycle (PLC) model to identify the needs of a small business at the various stages of the PLC.

Now that you’ve learnt the basics, hone your skills and write an ideal statement of the problem with this advanced course by our expert Prof. Henry Bwisa.


1. RoK, (2008). Economic Survey. Nairobi, Kenya. Government Printer.

2. Nyaga C.N. (2009). Non-financial constraints hindering growth of SMEs in Kenya: The case of plastic manufacturing companies in industrial area in Nairobi county.  (A masters  research thesis, University of Nairobi).

3. Nyagah C.N. (2013). Non-financial constraints hindering growth of SME’S in Kenya: the case of plastic manufacturing companies in industrial area in Nairobi County (Doctoral dissertation).

This post is a modified version of the article Is it problem statement or statement of the problem? published on the website of Mukmik consultants. This post has been modified and republished with the permission of the author.

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Published on: May 15, 2018

Current chairman of the African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN) and Kenya’s permanent representative of the World Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (WASME).
See more from Henry Bwisa


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