A research problem is a definite or clear expression [statement] about an area of concern, a condition to be improved upon, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling question that exists in scholarly literature, in theory, or within existing practice that points to a need for meaningful understanding and deliberate investigation. A research problem does not state how to do something, offer a vague or broad proposition, or present a value question.
The purpose of a problem statement is to:
- Introduce the reader to the importance of the topic being studied. The reader is oriented to the significance of the study.
- Anchors the research questions, hypotheses, or assumptions to follow. It offers a concise statement about the purpose of your paper.
- Place the topic into a particular contextthat defines the parameters of what is to be investigated.
- Provide the framework for reporting the resultsand indicates what is probably necessary to conduct the study and explain how the findings will present this information.
Types and Content
There are four general conceptualizations of a research problem in the BRM:
- Casuist Research Problem: This type of problem relates to the determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analyzing moral dilemmas through the application of general rules and the careful distinction of special cases.
- Difference Research Problem: Typically asks the question, “Is there a difference between two or more groups or treatments?” This type of problem statement is used when the researcher compares or contrasts two or more phenomena.
- Descriptive Research Problem: Typically asks the question, “what is…?” with the underlying purpose to describe a situation, state, or existence of a specific phenomenon.
- Relational Research Problem: Suggests a relationship of some sort between two or more variables to be investigated. The underlying purpose is to investigate qualities/characteristics that are connected in some way.
A problem statement in the BRM should contain:
- A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the study
- A declaration of originality [e.g., mentioning a knowledge void, which would be supported by the literature review]
- An indication of the central focus of the study, and
- An explanation of the study’s significance or the benefits to be derived from an investigating the problem.
To survive the “So What” question, problem statements should possess the following attributes:
- Clarity and precision [a well-written statement does not make sweeping generalizations and irresponsible pronouncements; it also does include unspecific determinates like “very” or “giant”],
- Demonstrate a researchable topic or issue [i.e., feasibility of conducting the study is based upon access to information that can be effectively acquired, gathered, interpreted, synthesized, and understood],
- Identification of what would be studied, while avoiding the use of value-laden words and terms,
- Identification of an overarching question or small set of questions accompanied by key factors or variables,
- Identification of key concepts and terms,
- Articulation of the study’s boundaries or parameters or limitations,
- Some generalizability in regards to applicability and bringing results into general use,
- Conveyance of the study’s importance, benefits, and justification [i.e., regardless of the type of research, it is important to demonstrate that the research is not trivial],
- Does not have unnecessary jargon or overly complex sentence constructions; and,
- Conveyance of more than the mere gathering of descriptive data providing only a snapshot of the issue or phenomenon under investigation.
Follow These 5 Steps to Formulate Your Research Problem
1. Specify the Research Objectives
A clear statement defining your objectives will help you develop effective research.
It will help the decision makers evaluate the research questions your project should answer as well as the research methods your project will use to answer those questions. It’s critical that you have manageable objectives. (Two or three clear goals will help to keep your research project focused and relevant.)
2. Review the Environment or Context of The Research Problem
As a marketing researcher, you must work closely with your team of researchers in defining and testing environmental variables. This will help you determine whether the findings of your project will produce enough information to be worth the cost.
In order to do this, you have to identify the environmental variables that will affect the research project and begin formulating different methods to control these variables.
3. Explore the Nature of the Problem
Research problems range from simple to complex, depending on the number of variables and the nature of their relationship. Sometimes the relationship between two variables is directly related to a problem or questions, and other times the relationship is entirely unimportant.
If you understand the nature of the research problem as a researcher, you will be able to better develop a solution to the problem.
To help you understand all dimensions, you might want to consider focus groups of consumers, salespeople, managers, or professionals to provide what is sometimes much-needed insight into a particular set of questions or problems.
4. Define the Variable Relationships
Marketing plans often focus on creating a sequence of behaviors that occur over time, as in the adoption of a new package design, or the introduction of a new product.
Such programs create a commitment to follow some behavioral pattern or method in the future.
Studying such a process involves:
- Determining which variables affect the solution to the research problem.
- Determining the degree to which each variable can be controlled and used for the purposes of the company.
- Determining the functional relationships between the variables and which variables are critical to the solution of the research problem.
During the problem formulation stage, you will want to generate and consider as many courses of action and variable relationships as possible.
5. The Consequences of Alternative Courses of Action
There are always consequences to any course of action used in one or more projects. Anticipating and communicating the possible outcomes of various courses of action is a primary responsibility in the research process.