Writing Dissertation Problem Statements

Everything starts here.

You will want to identify a real problem in society that leads you to want to conduct your dissertation research. There are many possible categories of problems, but the simplest way to look at problems is: does the problem cause pain and suffering? Or is the problem related to monetary issues such as loss or excess expenditures. Many students claim that the problem is that there is not enough research on their topic. This can be claimed about almost any topic. Yes, we could use additional research on some aspect of society.

Who will care about the problem?

When your problem statement is vague or unrealistic, it is very difficult to get your chairperson and committee members interested enough to care about our dissertation research. You will conduct legitimate research as you work to complete your dissertation. Everyone involved wants to feel that what you are doing is meaningful and it is. Therefore, you want to look at society for difficulties, concerns, select groups of people, and situations that are not going quite right. You have your own interests and causes you believe in. If possible you can identify a problem surrounding those things you care about. If you care deeply about your research problem, it will be easier handle the setbacks and challenges all dissertation students face along the road to completion.

You may want to consider opening this section with these words, “This study addresses the problem of…” You want the Problem Statement to be in your own words without citations. After claiming what the problem is, you are expected to later validate and prove that the problem exists from other studies, literature, and/or data from various sources such as governmental agencies.

Two examples of problem statements from dissertations:

“This study addresses the problem of: Mexican-American students attaining their doctoral degrees in alarmingly low numbers.” Emilio Rendon, Ph.D. (1999). Main factors that influence the attainment of the doctoral degree by Mexican-Americans. Texas A & M University.


“The study addressed the problem of high relapse rates among adult alcoholics.” William V. Plath, Ph.D. (2001). The rational integration approach for reducing adult alcoholics’ alcohol relapse. Walden University.





A problem statement is a brief overview of the issues or problems existing in the concerned area selected for the research. It is an explanation of the issues prevalent in a particular sector which drives the researcher to take interest in that sector for in-depth study and analysis, so as to understand and solve them (Saunders et al. 2009).

Purpose behind writing problem statement in any research study is to:

Problem Statement

Components of problem statement

The word count of problem statement for a thesis or dissertation should be in range of 150-300 words. The problem statement in any research therefore includes four important segments i.e.

  1. Background of the Problem: Here you can reflect on facts related to the problem to make the reader understand about the gravity of the problem.
  2. Anchor: How one needs to resolve this problem in the  research paper.
  3. General problem: How is impacts a larger population.
  4. Specific problem: How it impacts your sample population.

Example 1 (Quantitative Study)

  1. Background of the problem: The high attrition rate in manufacturing organization is creating anxiety and fear among the employees and thus affecting the productivity of the organization as a whole.
    Here you need to refer to previous research done in the past in the manufacturing sector to determine the key reasons for high attrition rate. It should stimulate the reader to read further.
  2. Anchor: This must include a statistical value to magnify and elucidates the problem.
    Here you can present the attrition percentage within the manufacturing industry and compare it with the case company.
  3. General Problem: The general business problem is to determine the financial lost to the organisation.
    The general business problem needs to just outline the problem.
  4. Specific Problem: Since high attrition rate is affecting the overall productivity of the employees it is in turn affecting the performance of the organization. In order to do so one needs to determine the relationship between employee productivity and organisational performance.
    This is narrower in scope than the general business problem and focused around need of the study which allows easy transition to Need of the Study.

Example 2 (Qualitative Study)

  1. Background of the problem: There has been increase in workplace deaths of miners from 2010 to 2011 (Cite here).
  2. Anchor: Study conducted by XYZ (Year) indicates that 7 out of 10 deaths in mining industry are due to abc reasons (Cite here).
  3. General Problem: The cost of workplace deaths negatively influences profitability to the business workers.
  4. Specific Problem: There is little information on what measures can be undertaken to reduce the workplace death toll.

General problems with problem statement

Quite often students are not able to frame their problem statement properly as they miss out on one or the other component or get confused on what to include or not. Most common problems which are observed have been highlighted below which will improve your ability to write problem statement:

  1. Unable to clearly identify the research problem.
  2. Often confused with research questions of the study.
  3. The problem is not encouraging enough for the researcher to read further.
  4. Not data driven i.e. NO citations.
  5. More than 300 words.
  6. Not focused with the research subject.

Problem statement checklist

To summarise, I have developed this checklist which needs to be kept in mind when writing your problem statement. It includes a list of all the things which should be included in your problem statement

150-300 words
Background of the Problem  
Enticing and Stimulating
Citation (no older than 5 years)
Statistical reference to define the problem
Citation (No older than 5 years)
General Business Problem
Specific Business Problem

Further Reading

  • Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009) Research methods for business students, 5th ed., Harlow, Pearson Education.
  • Bryman, A. (2008) Social research methods, 4th edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2009) Business Research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, 3rd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.


Senior Analyst at Project Guru

Sudeshna likes to observe and pen down the goings-on in her surrounding, socially and politically. Having a Master's degree in International Relations, her interests lies in analyzing the occurrences of various countries. Previously worked as a teacher, she now holds the position of a Research Analyst in Project Guru and writes down her thoughts through various articles in the Knowledge Tank section.

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