Formulating a Research Problem

What It Is and Is Not

Statements of Research Purpose

Components of a Problem Statement

Problem Statement Examples

Problem Statement (activity to test your understanding)

ASSIGNMENT: Develop a first draft of a problem statement

Significance of Study (activity applied to your problem statement)

Consider Various Ways to Focus Your Study

First click on mapping a construct to help you identify a problem and purpose that you are interested in exploring.

What is a research problem? (Based on M & S definitions in chapter 3):

Conventional sense: a problem is a set of conditions needing discussion, a solution, and information.

Technical meaning: implies the possibility of empirical investigation, that is, of data collection and analysis

It is not: (1) how to do something; (2) a vague or too broad a proposition; or (3) a value question.

But by asking these types of questions a researchable problem may emerge.

Preliminary work determines what type of logic would best serve the investigation. Is deductive or inductive reasoning needed?

Quantitative research is phrased as questions or hypotheses. Hypotheses imply deductive reasoning.

Qualitative research is phrased as research statements or questions, but never hypotheses. It implies inductive reasoning to understand a particular situation or historical period. It uses terms like how, what, why. Historical inquiry is phrased in past tense (when & how were ...)

Statements of Research Purpose

The purpose of this study is to . . . (it should imply the question, define the variables for the purpose of the study, and define the population of the study)

To clarify the focus and logic of the problem decide on:

major construct



& then the logic to use for the problem

 Deductive Logic:

1. Select an abstract construct

2. Select the variables - Are the variables logically deduced from the construct?

3. Select observations - How will you study/observe the variables?


Quantitative - a priori categories to collect data in the form of numbers. Used in experimental, descriptive, & correlational designs.

 Inductive Logic:

1. Select a site, population, or an event and then develop constructs from data analysis


Qualitative - the goal is to capture the richness and complexity of behavior that occurs in natural settings. The data is analyzed inductively to generate findings.


Three general types of qualitative analysis include: concept analysis (meaning and use of), historical analysis (examines causes, trends & often relates past to current events), or legal analysis (law and court decisions to better understand the "law" and legal issues).

Problem Statements

The problem statement is more specific than a topic and it limits the scope of the research problem.

It communicates:

(1)the focus & importance of the problem;

(2)the context & scope; &

(3) the framework for reporting the results.

Parts of a Qualitative
Problem Statement:

The purpose of this [type of study] study is to understand [what] of [who or what] involving [what or who] from [when] to [purpose].

A Problem Statement:


1. Introduces the reader to the importance of the problem. The reader is oriented to the significance of the study and the research questions or hypotheses to follow.

2. Places the problem in a context

3. Provides the framework for reporting the results. Indicate what is probably necessary to conduct the study and explain how the findings will present this information.

You could relate the findings to prior research,

or it could be presented as a comparison,

or you could draw implications from the findings to generalize to other related conditions.

ASSIGNMENT: Develop a first draft of a problem statement

The most difficult aspect of research is formulating a clear, concise, & manageable research problem.

Initial problem statements are reworked and reworded many times.

Read in ANGEL what peers in the class have written and help each other by identifying in their statement:

* the type & purpose of study
* who or what
* limits of when (time period)
* major constructs (identified as observable variables)
* theoretical framework (this supports how the construct is defined and defines the lens used to analyze & interpret the data)

Can the research be conducted from the problem statement (i.e., does the logic fit the approach)?


A Problem Statement by Michelle Kraft © 2000
Through a historical/legal analysis of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) clause of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendments of 1997 (PL 105-17), and its intersection with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), I will compare the intent of the mandate to its actual practice in a five-month case study of a junior high art class. A theoretical frame consisting of values of equality, liberty, and efficiency guide data collection, analyses, and interpretation of the relationships and disparities that exist between the legal statute's intent and its actual practice.

A Problem Statement by Tiffanie Davis © 2000
The purpose of this project is to create four different WebQuests which employ constructive active learning pedagogy, teach higher order thinking skills, and that introduce feminist issues to 6th ­8th grade art students. I will pilot the WebQuests over a period of 3 months and document student written responses, my observations of their process, and student WebQuest products in order to evaluate student learning and interest in the feminist technological art curriculum.

Problem Statement (activity to test your understanding)

Which of the following statements is phrased as a research problem?

The purpose of the study is to determine:

a. whether the suspension policy should be changed.

b. the truth of the proposition that American education has encouraged an elite class in the United States.

c. how students can overcome test anxiety.

d. if there is a difference in the mean gain scores in reading achievement between students taught word attack skills and those taught comprehensive skills.

Which of the following statements is NOT phrased as a research problem?

The purpose of the study is to investigate:

a. if there is a positive relationship between the number of books a child owns and reading readiness scores.

b. how State College schools can involve parents in their educational program.

c. how Ms. Hembree, an elementary school principal, encourages faculty to assume instructional leadership roles during an academic year.

d. the legal principles applied in educational cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court under the Chief Justice who recently retired.

e. what it means to teach a handicapped child mainstreamed into Mr. Stout's seventh-grade class.

Which of the following statements is NOT a research problem as stated?

a. The purpose of this study is to describe and analyze the effect of new admission standards on grade point averages during the first year of study of the 2002 in-coming class of art education doctoral students at Penn State University.

b. This study investigates if there is a relationship between teacher questioning style and retention of learning.

c. This study investigates faculty morale.

d. This study tests the hypothesis that retention of learning is higher among students who discover generalizations than students who learn by rote memory.

 Significance of the Study

Significance refers to the rationale for the study & its relationship to theory, knowledge or practice.

It should have one or more of the following criteria (M & S, pp. 107-111):

1. provides knowledge about an enduring common practice

2. tests a theory

3. is generalizable

4. extends our understanding of a broader phenonmenon

5. advances methodology

6. is related to a current issue

7. evaluates a specific practice at a given site

8. is an exploratory study

ACTIVITY: By your problem statement list which numbers relate to the significance of your study.

Consider Various Ways to Focus Your Study

 Instruction - Choose only one focus!


What kind is used [when, where, for whom]?


What were the antecedents?


What is the instructional process?


What is the consequence of the instruction?


Example of one focus:

Among comparable [state grade] students, is there a difference between girls and boys in retention of [a type of information] when presented graphically on computers ?

Limit research problem to a particular context to gain understanding of a broader phenomenon.


The purpose of this ethnographic study is to understand the training of sculptors in _____ County from 1950 to 1996 to provide insights into apprenticeship as a contemporary art education teaching model.


Start with foreshadowed problems: what, how, why

 Print collection policies - Choose only one focus!


What choices were made?


Who decided or created the policies?


Why were the choices made?


What were the antecedents to policies?


What was the process of policy making?


What are/were the consequences of the policies? (effects on whom?)


What factors influenced the boards to formulate specific policies?


What are/were the intent of the policies?


How are the policies implemented?


How often in the past ___ years has the ____ policy in print studios led to ________?