How to Come up with a Research Problem / Question


How to Come up with a Research Problem / Question

An essential early step in the process of research is to find a research problem. What precisely a research problem is, and how to find one, that's what we are going to write about and explain in this article.

The Research Problem is an area of conflict, concern, or controversy (a gap between what is wanted and what is observed). In order to carry out research for your dissertation, you need to start by identifying a question which demands an answer, or a need which requires a resolution, or a riddle which seeks a solution, which can be developed into a research problem: the heart of the project. The nature of your question will, in its turn, define and influence the form of your paper.

Why the Research Problem Is Important

  • It establishes the importance of the topic.
  • It creates reader interest.
  • It focuses the reader’s attention on how the study will add to the field of science.

Students starting their research degree course, and practitioners in almost any university wishing to become involved in the process itself, tend to come from widely different backgrounds, and are equipped with varied amounts of scientific knowledge and degrees of experience in their chosen field of study. While most are fairly sure of the subject and the hypothesis which they want to investigate, many are uncertain of the exact problem they wish to address and write about.

It is not easy to decide on and define a research problem, and you will not be expected to do so immediately. The important thing, at this stage, is to know what you are looking for, and to explore your subject for suitable possibilities.

One of the first tasks, therefore, on the way to deciding on the detailed topic of research is to find a question, an unresolved controversy or a thesis, a gap in scientific knowledge or an unrequited need within the chosen subject. This search requires an awareness of current issues in the subject and an inquisitive and questioning mind. Although you will find that the world is teeming with questions and unresolved issues, not every one of these is a suitable subject to write a study about. So what features should you look for which could lead you to a suitable research problem? Here is a list of the most important:

  1. It should be of great interest to you. You will have to spend many months investigating the problem. A lively interest in the subject will be an invaluable incentive to persevere.
  2. The problem you write about should be significant. It is not worth time and effort investigating a trivial issue or repeating work which has already been done elsewhere.
  3. It should be delineated. Consider the time you have to complete the work, and the depth to which the problem will be addressed. You can cover a wide field only superficially, and the more you restrict the field, the more detailed the study can be. You should also consider the cost of necessary travel and other expenses.
  4. You should be able to obtain the information required. You cannot carry out research if you fail to collect the relevant information needed to tackle your problem, either because you lack access to documents or other sources, and/or because you have not obtained the co-operation of individuals or scientific organizations essential to your study. Include the most relevant references that supports the claim.
  5. You should be able to draw conclusions related to the problem. The point of asking a question is to find an answer. The issue should be one to which the research can offer some solution, or at least the elimination of some false "solutions".
  6. You should be able to formulate statement of the issue clearly and concisely. A precise, well thought out and fully articulated sentence, understandable by anyone, should normally clearly be able to explain just what the issue is.

The problem can be generated either by an initiating idea, or by a perceived issue area. We are surrounded by problems connected with society, the built environment, education etc., many of which can readily be perceived. Take for example social ones such as poverty, crime, unsuitable housing and uncomfortable workplaces, technical issues such as design deficiencies, organizational - such as business failures and bureaucratic bungles, and many subjects where there may be a lack of knowledge which prevents improvements being made.

The Main Steps to Formulate Your Research Problem

1. Identify an area of the research problem

First of all, you need to define a broad area for future research papers. Here your main goal is to find under-explored areas to create a research project that can be useful to fill a gap. 

Practical research problems

When you're going to do research, it's possible to define a problem for your future work by viewing previous research, reading various reports, and asking those people who work in relevant spheres. Here is the list of things you may look for to use in the research:

  • Things that can be used to increase performance and efficiency in an institution
  • Any processes to improve an organization
  • Any concern areas for practitioners
  • Any difficulties and problems met by particular groups of people

For example, if your future research paper is connected to an internship or a job, you have to search for a research problem that has any practical meaning for the institution.

Examples of practical research problems:

  • Prices in district X have been increased, in contrast to the rest of the town.
  • Team A of Company B has a low turnover rate that increases productivity and teamwork.
  • Organization N faces a financial crisis that means most of its programs will be cut.

Theoretical research problems

This type of research is focused on understanding the problem and expanding knowledge rather than changing something directly. The research problem can be found by reading debates on the chosen subject and viewing theory and research on what people currently know about it. You can search for the next things:

  • A thing that hasn't been studied thoroughly
  • A collision between various points of view
  • A fact or relationship that isn't understood well by people
  • A question that must be resolved

Most theoretical problems may have some practical results but they're not solving an issue in a specific place (though you can make a case study approach to your research).

Examples of practical research problems:

  • The effects of antibiotics on the human immune system isn't well studied.
  • The relationship between race, gender, place of birth, and income hasn't been well studied from the position of the worldwide economy. 
  • Philosophers disagree about the role of Kant's studies in the development of people's self-knowledge and identity.

2. Research Problem Statement

  • State the problem in the opening paragraph (i.e., something that needs a solution).
  • Identify an issue:
    – Investigation-based research problems,
    – Practical ones.
  • Reference the problem using the literature.
  • Common pitfall: defining the problem based on the solution.

3. How the Problem Differs from Other Parts of Research

  • A research problem is an educational issue in the study.
  • A syudy topic is the broad subject matter being addressed in a study.
  • A purpose is the major intent or objective of the study.
  • Research questions are those that the researcher would like answered or addressed in the study.

4. Justifying the Importance of the Research Problem

  • Justification based on what other researchers have found.
  • Justification based on personal or workplace experiences.
  • Justification based on the experiences that others have had in the workplace.

5. Locating the Research Problem

Read the opening paragraphs of existing studies for one or more of the following:

  • What is the issue or problem?
  • What controversy leads to the need for a study?
  • What concern is being addressed behind the study?
  • Is there a sentence such as, “The problem being addressed in this study is…”?

6. Determining Whether a Problem Should Be Researched

  • Can you study the problem?
    – Do you have access to the research site?
    – Do you have the time, resources, and skills to carry out the process as it is?
  • Should you study one?
    – Does it advance knowledge?
    – Does it contribute to practice?
  • Will your investigation fill a gap or void in the existing literature?
  • Will your investigation replicate a past study but examine different participants and different research sites?
  • Will your investigation extend past research or examine the topic more thoroughly?
  • Will it give voice to people not heard, silenced, or rejected in society?
  • Will it inform practice?

Obviously, it is not difficult to find problem areas. The difficulty lies in choosing an area which contains possible specific research problems suitable for the subject of a research project or degree.

Examples of Research Questions

Needless to say, the research question is a significant part of your academic paper. You have to spend enough time to assess and refine the research question before you start writing the paper.
The form of your research question depends on the project's length, your research type, it's topic and the research problem. Remember that all the questions must be well-focused, concrete, complex enough, and relevant to scholarly or social problems.
After reading a guide on how to define your research problem, use the samples below to see if your research question is valid and strong:
 
Research Question Notes

X What effect does TV make on people?

V What effect do daily TV programs for adults only  make on children under 16?

The first question isn't specific. It's not clear: what type of TV? What kind of effect? What people? In the second question, it's more understandable. It's possible to do this kind of research making qualitative and quantitative data collection.

X Why is there a crisis in the world now?

What impact a COVID-19 have on the world economy in 2020?

If the question starts with "why", it means that it's not focused enough. By separating only one aspect and using more specific words, the second question is quite researchable.

Does the USA or the UK have a better insurance system?

How do the UK and the USA compare with insurance outcomes and people satisfaction among medium-income citizens?

The first problem is very broad and has no criteria for research. It's not possible to make clear research using just the word "better". The second question is researchable because it has particular terms and narrows the research to a specific group of people.

Has there been a decrease in homelessness in Florida in the past five years?

How has politics, economy, and social things affected homelessness in Florida over the past five years?

It's possible to answer the first question just with the word "no" or "yes". The second problem is more detailed and requires a deep investigation and clear statistics to do research on this subject properly.