Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The Research Problem/Question

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The Research Problem/Question

Importance of.

The purpose of a problem statement is to:

  1. Introduce the reader to the importance of the topic being studied. The reader is oriented to the significance of the probe and the research questions, hypotheses, or assumptions to go after.
  2. Place the topic into a particular context that defines the parameters of what is to be investigated.
  3. Provide the framework for reporting the results and indicates what is very likely necessary to conduct the examine and explain how the findings will present this information.

In the social sciences, the research problem establishes the means by which you must response the “So What” question. The “So What” question refers to a research problem surviving the relevancy test [the quality of a measurement procedure that provides repeatability and accuracy]. Note that answering the “So What” question requires a commitment on your part to not only demonstrate that you have researched the material, but that you have meticulously considered its significance.

To sustain the “So What” question, problem statements should wield the following attributes:

  • Clarity and precision [a well-written statement does not make sweeping generalizations and irresponsible pronouncements],
  • Demonstrate a researchable topic or issue [i.e. feasibility of conducting the probe 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 petite set of questions accompanied by key factors or variables,
  • Identification of key concepts and terms,
  • Articulation of the explore's boundaries or parameters or limitations,
  • Some generalizability in regards to applicability and bringing results into general use,
  • Conveyance of the explore's importance, benefits, and justification [i.e. regardless of the type of research, it is significant to demonstrate that the research is not trivial],
  • Does not have unnecessary jargon or overly elaborate sentence constructions; and,
  • Conveyance of more than the mere gathering of descriptive data providing only a snapshot of the issue or phenomenon under investigation.

Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology Ten (2007): 5-20; Castellanos, Susie. Critical Writing and Thinking. The Writing Center. Dean of the College. Brown University; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem. Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Structure and Writing Style

There are four general conceptualizations of a research problem in the social sciences:

  • 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 inbetween two or more groups or treatments?” This type of problem statement is used when the researcher compares or contrasts two or more phenomena. This a common treatment to defining a problem in the clinical social sciences or behavioral sciences.
  • Descriptive Research Problem — typically asks the question, “what is. ” with the underlying purpose to describe the significance of a situation, state, or existence of a specific phenomenon. This problem is often associated with exposing hidden or understudied issues.
  • Relational Research Problem — suggests a relationship of some sort inbetween 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 social sciences should contain :

  • A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the probe,
  • A declaration of originality [e.g. mentioning a skill void, that will be exposed by the literature review],
  • An indication of the central concentrate of the probe [establishing the boundaries of analysis], and
  • An explanation of the probe's significance or the benefits to be derived from investigating the research problem.
  • II. Sources of Problems for Investigation

    The identification of a problem to investigate can be challenging, not because there's a lack of issues that could be investigated, but due to the challenge of formulating an academically relevant and researchable problem which is unique and does not simply duplicate the work of others. To facilitate how you might select a problem from which to build a research examine, consider these sources of inspiration:

    Deductions from Theory
    This relates to deductions made from social philosophy or generalizations embodied in life and in society that the researcher is familiar with. These deductions from human behavior are then placed within an empirical framework of reference through research. From a theory, the researcher can formulate a research problem or hypothesis stating the expected findings in certain empirical situations. The research asks the question: “What relationship inbetween variables will be observed if theory aptly summarizes the state of affairs?” One can then design and carry out a systematic investigation to assess whether empirical data confirm or reject the hypothesis, and hence, the theory.

    Interdisciplinary Perspectives
    Identifying a problem that forms the basis for a research explore can come from academic movements and scholarship originating in disciplines outside of your primary area of explore. This can be an intellectually stimulating exercise. A review of pertinent literature should include examining research from related disciplines that can expose fresh avenues of exploration and analysis. An interdisciplinary treatment to selecting a research problem offers an chance to construct a more comprehensive understanding of a very elaborate issue that any single discipline may be able to provide.

    Interviewing Practitioners
    The identification of research problems about particular topics can arise from formal interviews or informal discussions with practitioners who provide insight into fresh directions for future research and how to make research findings more relevant to practice. Discussions with experts in the field, such as, teachers, social workers, health care providers, lawyers, business leaders, etc. offers the chance to identify practical, “real world” problems that may be understudied or overlooked within academic circles. This treatment also provides some practical skill which may help in the process of designing and conducting your examine.

    Private Practice
    Don't undervalue your everyday practices or encounters as worthwhile problems for investigation. Think critically about your own practices and/or frustrations with an issue facing society, your community, your neighborhood, your family, or your individual life. This can be derived, for example, from deliberate observations of certain relationships for which there is no clear explanation or witnessing an event that emerges harmful to a person or group or that is out of the ordinary.

    Relevant Literature
    The selection of a research problem can be derived from a thorough review of pertinent research associated with your overall area of interest. This may expose where gaps exist in understanding a topic or where an issue has been understudied. Research may be conducted to: 1) pack such gaps in skill; Two) evaluate if the methodologies employed in prior studies can be adapted to solve other problems; or, Trio) determine if a similar probe could be conducted in a different subject area or applied in a different context or to different probe sample [i.e. different setting or different group of people].Also, authors frequently conclude their studies by noting implications for further research; read the conclusion of pertinent studies because statements about further research can be a valuable source for identifying fresh problems to investigate. The fact that a researcher has identified a topic worthy of further exploration validates the fact it is worth pursuing.

    III. What Makes a Good Research Statement?

    A good problem statement embarks by introducing the broad area in which your research is centered, little by little leading the reader to the more specific issues you are investigating. The statement need not be lengthy, but a good research problem should incorporate the following features:

    1. Compelling Topic
    Elementary curiosity is not a good enough reason to pursue a research examine because it does not indicate significance. The problem that you choose to explore must be significant to you, your readers, and to a the larger academic and/or social community that could be impacted by the results of your investigate. The problem chosen must be one that motivates you to address it.

    Two. Supports Numerous Perspectives
    The problem must be phrased in a way that avoids dichotomies and instead supports the generation and exploration of numerous perspectives. A general rule of thumb in the social sciences is that a good research problem is one that would generate a multitude of viewpoints from a composite audience made up of reasonable people.

    Trio. Researchability
    This isn't a real word but it represents an significant aspect of creating a good research statement. It seems a bit evident, but you don't want to find yourself in the midst of investigating a sophisticated research project and realize that you don't have enough prior research to draw from for your analysis. There's nothing inherently wrong with original research, but you must choose research problems that can be supported, in some way, by the resources available to you. If you are not sure if something is researchable, don't assume that it isn't if you don't find information right away–seekhelp from a librarian !

    NOTE: Do not confuse a research problem with a research topic. A topic is something to read and obtain information about, whereas a problem is something to be solved or framed as a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution. or explained as a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation .

    IV. Asking Analytical Questions about the Research Problem

    Research problems in the social and behavioral sciences are often analyzed around critical questions that must be investigated. These questions can be explicitly listed in the introduction [i.e. “This explore addresses three research questions about women's psychological recovery from domestic manhandle in multi-generational home settings. “], or, the questions are implied in the text as specific areas of explore related to the research problem. Explicitly listing your research questions at the end of your introduction can help in designing a clear roadmap of what you plan to address in your probe, whereas, implicitly integrating them into the text of the introduction permits you to create a more compelling narrative around the key issues under investigation. Either treatment is adequate.

    The number of questions you attempt to address should be based on the complexity of the problem you are investigating and what areas of inquiry you find most critical to probe. Practical considerations, such as, the length of the paper you are writing or the availability of resources to analyze the issue can also factor in how many questions to ask. In general, however, there should be no more than four research questions underpinning a single research problem.

    Given this, well-developed analytical questions can concentrate on any of the following:

  • Highlights a genuine dilemma, area of ambiguity, or point of confusion about a topic open to interpretation by your readers;
  • Yields an reaction that is unexpected and not visible rather than unpreventable and self-evident;
  • Provokes meaningful thought or discussion;
  • Raises the visibility of the key ideas or concepts that may be understudied or hidden;
  • Suggests the need for complicated analysis or argument rather than a basic description or summary; and,
  • Offers a specific path of inquiry that avoids eliciting generalizations about the problem.
  • NOTE: Questions of how and why about a research problem often require more analysis than questions about who, what, where, and when. You should still ask yourself these latter questions, however. Thinking introspectively about the who, what, where, and when of a research problem can help ensure that you have scrupulously considered all aspects of the problem under investigation.

    V. Mistakes to Avoid

    Beware of circular reasoning! Do not state that the research problem as simply the absence of the thing you are suggesting. For example, if you propose the following: “The problem in this community is that there is no hospital.”

    This only leads to a research problem where:

  • The need is for a hospital
  • The objective is to create a hospital
  • The method is to plan for building a hospital, and
  • The evaluation is to measure if there is a hospital or not.
  • This is an example of a research problem that fails the “So What?” test. In this example, the problem does not expose therelevance of why you are investigating the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g. there's a hospital in the community ten miles away]; it does not elucidate thesignificance of why one should probe the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g. that hospital in the community ten miles away has no emergency room]; the research problem does not suggest an intellectual pathway towards adding fresh skill or clarifying prior skill [e.g. the county in which there is no hospital already conducted a examine about the need for a hospital]; and, the problem does not suggest meaningful outcomes that lead to recommendations that can be generalized for other situations or that could suggest areas for further research [e.g. the challenges of building a fresh hospital serves as a case explore for other communities].

    Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. “Generating Research Questions Through Problematization.” Academy of Management Review 36 (April 2011): 247-271 ; Choosing and Refining Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. “Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem.” Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); How to Write a Research Question. The Writing Center. George Mason University; Invention: Developing a Thesis Statement. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Procter, Margaret. Using Thesis Statements. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Skill Base. 2006; Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Walk, Kerry. Asking an Analytical Question. [Class handout or worksheet]. Princeton University; White, Patrick. Developing Research Questions: A Guide for SocialScientists. Fresh York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009.

    Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The Research Problem/Question

    Importance of.

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