Research Guides: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The Research Problem/Question (2023)

I. Types and Content

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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. This a common approach to defining a problem in the clinical social sciences or behavioral sciences.
  3. 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 revealing hidden or understudied issues.
  4. Relational Research Problem -- suggests a relationship of some sort between two or more variables to be investigated. The underlying purpose is to investigate specific qualities or characteristics that may be connected in some way.

A problem statement in the social sciences should contain:

(Video) Organizing Your Research

  • A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the study,
  • A declaration of originality [e.g., mentioning a knowledge void or a lack of clarity about a topic that will be revealed in the literature review of prior research],
  • An indication of the central focus of the study [establishing the boundaries of analysis], and
  • An explanation of the study's significance or the benefits to be derived from investigating the research problem.

NOTE: A statement describing the research problem of your paper should not be viewed as a thesis statement that you may be familiar with from high school. Given the content listed above, a description of the research problem is usually a short paragraph in length.

II. Sources of Problems for Investigation

The identification of a problem to study 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 study, 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 frame 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 between 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 study can come from academic movements and scholarship originating in disciplines outside of your primary area of study. This can be an intellectually stimulating exercise. A review of pertinent literature should include examining research from related disciplines that can reveal new avenues of exploration and analysis. An interdisciplinary approach to selecting a research problem offers an opportunity to construct a more comprehensive understanding of a very complex issue that any single discipline may be able to provide.

(Video) Research Topics, Problems, Purpose, and Questions

Interviewing Practitioners
The identification of research problems about particular topics can arise from formal interviews or informal discussions with practitioners who provide insight into new 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 ignored within academic circles. This approach also provides some practical knowledge which may help in the process of designing and conducting your study.

Personal Experience
Don't undervalue your everyday experiences or encounters as worthwhile problems for investigation. Think critically about your own experiences and/or frustrations with an issue facing society or related to your community, your neighborhood, your family, or your personal 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 appears 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 reveal where gaps exist in understanding a topic or where an issue has been understudied. Research may be conducted to: 1) fill such gaps in knowledge; 2) evaluate if the methodologies employed in prior studies can be adapted to solve other problems; or, 3) determine if a similar study could be conducted in a different subject area or applied in a different context or to different study 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 new 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 begins by introducing the broad area in which your research is centered, gradually 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:

(Video) Organizing Your Research

1. Compelling Topic
The problem chosen should be one that motivates you to address it but simple curiosity is not a good enough reason to pursue a research study because this does not indicate significance. The problem that you choose to explore must be important to you, but it must also be viewed as important by your readers and to a the larger academic and/or social community that could be impacted by the results of your study.

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

3. Researchability
This isn't a real word but it represents an important aspect of creating a good research statement. It seems a bit obvious, but you don't want to find yourself in the midst of investigating a complex 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--seek

help 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. In short, a research topic is something to be understood; a research problem is something that needs to be investigated.

IV. Asking Analytical Questions about the Research Problem

(Video) Sociology Research Methods: Crash Course Sociology #4

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 study addresses three research questions about women's psychological recovery from domestic abuse in multi-generational home settings..."], or, the questions are implied in the text as specific areas of study 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 study, whereas, implicitly integrating them into the text of the introduction allows you to create a more compelling narrative around the key issues under investigation. Either approach is appropriate.

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 study. 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 focus 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 answer that is unexpected and not obvious rather than inevitable 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 complex 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 concerning 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 thoroughly considered all aspects of the problem under investigation and helps define the scope of the study in relation to the problem.

V. Mistakes to Avoid

(Video) How to support Research with Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks

Beware of circular reasoning! Do not state 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 reveal the relevance of why you are investigating the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., perhaps there's a hospital in the community ten miles away]; it does not elucidate the significance of why one should study 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 offer an intellectual pathway towards adding new knowledge or clarifying prior knowledge [e.g., the county in which there is no hospital already conducted a study about the need for a hospital, but it was conducted ten years ago]; and, the problem does not offer 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 new hospital serves as a case study 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; D'Souza, Victor S. "Use of Induction and Deduction in Research in Social Sciences: An Illustration." Journal of the Indian Law Institute 24 (1982): 655-661; 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 Knowledge 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 Social Scientists. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009.


What are the research problem in social science? ›

In the social sciences, the research problem establishes the means by which you must answer 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].

What is research problem and research question? ›

The key difference between research problem and research question is that a research problem refers to an issue, difficulty, or gap in knowledge that is being addressed in research, whereas a research question is a statement that is in the form of a question aiming to study, learn, examine and explore more about the ...

How do you write a guide question for a research paper? ›

Developing research questions
  1. Clear and focused. In other words, the question should clearly state what the writer needs to do.
  2. Not too broad and not too narrow. The question should have an appropriate scope. ...
  3. Not too easy to answer. ...
  4. Not too difficult to answer. ...
  5. Researchable. ...
  6. Analytical rather than descriptive.

How do you write a social science research question? ›

Steps to developing a research question:
  1. Choose an interesting general topic. Most professional researchers focus on topics they are genuinely interested in studying. ...
  2. Do some preliminary research on your general topic. ...
  3. Consider your audience. ...
  4. Start asking questions. ...
  5. Evaluate your question.
8 Aug 2018

What are the problems that students face in research? ›

Coping With the Challenges Faced by Research Students
  • Inefficient Time Management. ...
  • Difficulty in Starting your Research. ...
  • Lack of Communication with Advisor. ...
  • Absence of Advisor. ...
  • Micromanaging Advisor. ...
  • Difficulty in Keeping Up with the Teaching Job. ...
  • Colleague Friction.
11 Jun 2021

What are the 3 research questions? ›

There are three basic types of questions that research projects can address:
  • Descriptive. When a study is designed primarily to describe what is going on or what exists. ...
  • Relational. When a study is designed to look at the relationships between two or more variables. ...
  • Causal.

What are the 3 types of research problems? ›

There are three types of research problem
  • Theoretical research problem.
  • Applied research problem.
  • Action research problem.

What are the examples of guide questions? ›

Building Guiding Questions
  • "What invention had the biggest effect in the Civil War?"
  • "What kind of weapons did soldiers use in the Civil War?"
  • "How did non-military technology shape the Civil War?"
  • "What medical practices were used in the Civil War?"
  • "How did medicine improve during the Civil War?"

What questions should I ask about my research paper? ›

What has been the most interesting aspect of the material you've gathered so far? After reviewing your data or sources, what do you see as the latest problems in the field of your topic? What do you think are the important facts of the matter? What new insight can you contribute?

What questions do you ask in a research paper? ›

Here are some important questions to ask when reading a scientific study:
  • What are the researchers' hypotheses? ...
  • What are the independent and dependent variables? ...
  • What is the unit of analysis? ...
  • How well does the study design address causation? ...
  • What are the study's results? ...
  • How generalizable are the results?
15 Feb 2021

What is an example of a problem statement in research? ›

Example of a problem that isn't evidence-based: “Based on the researcher's experience, the problem is that people don't accept female leaders;” which is an opinion-based statement based on personal (anecdotal) experience.

What is research question in social research? ›

A research question is a question that a study or research project aims to answer. This question often addresses an issue or a problem, which, through analysis and interpretation of data, is answered in the study's conclusion.

What is a good research question for social media? ›

If you have to write a research paper on social media, you may choose one of the following topics. How do Social Networks Make a Person Addicted to Social Media and Can a Person Treat That Addiction? Is Personal Data Protected on Social Media Platforms? Is It Possible to Avoid Government's Monitoring?

What is the best problem in research? ›

A good research problem should have the following characteristics: It should address a gap in knowledge. It should be significant enough to contribute to the existing body of research. It should lead to further research.

What are the 7 characteristics of a good problem? ›

Fundamentals of Educational Research
  • The Problem Can Be Stated Clearly and Concisely. ...
  • The Problem Generates Research Questions. ...
  • It Is Grounded in Theory. ...
  • It Relates to One or More Academic Fields of Study. ...
  • It Has a Base in the Research Literature. ...
  • It Has Potential Significance/importance.
10 Feb 2017

What is the common problem encountered by senior high school students in writing research? ›

Problem Organization Learners have the problem of structuring the paragraph, topic development of a paragraph, structuring the whole discourse and a theme in a discourse, differentiating a topic and supporting ideas or generalizations and specific details.

What are the common problems of university students give 5 examples and explain? ›

Common Issues
  • Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, or panic attacks.
  • Family expectations or problems.
  • Depression, lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, homesickness, loneliness.
  • Relationship difficulties (emotional and physical aspects of intimate relationships)

How can you identify a research problem in the teaching and learning process? ›

You can identify a research problem by reading recent research, theory and debates on your topic to find a gap in what is currently known about it. You might look for: A phenomenon or context that has not been closely studied. A contradiction between two or more perspectives.

What are the basic questions in market research name at least 3 of the 7 questions? ›

Here are 7 market research survey questions every marketer should ask:
  • Who is currently purchasing your products or services? ...
  • What audience will be interested in purchasing the product in future? ...
  • What are the main reasons for not buying the product? ...
  • Where would individuals purchase your products or services from?

What are the 8 types of research questions? ›

Qualitative Research Question Types
  • Exploratory Questions. Questions that are designed to understand more about a topic are exploratory questions. ...
  • Predictive Questions. ...
  • Interpretive Questions. ...
  • Descriptive Questions. ...
  • Comparative Questions. ...
  • Relationship-Based Questions.

How do you write a 3 research question? ›

How to write research questions
  1. Select a general topic. The first step to writing a research question is to choose a broad topic for your question. ...
  2. Conduct preliminary research. ...
  3. Consider your audience. ...
  4. Generate potential questions. ...
  5. Review your brainstormed questions. ...
  6. Construct your research question.

What are 5 examples of quantitative research? ›

There are five main types of quantitative research designs and they are:
  • Descriptive Research Design.
  • Survey Research.
  • Correlational Research Design.
  • Quasi-experimental Research Design.
  • Experimental Research Design.
15 Jul 2021

What are some example questions of qualitative research? ›

Examples of qualitative research questions: What is it like growing up in a single-parent family in a rural environment? What are the experiences of people working night shifts in health care? How would overweight people describe their meal times while dieting?

What is the most common source of research problem? ›

Conflicting views about a subject are sources of research problems. In the study of various phenomena, conflicting findings necessitate further investigation. Usually, this situation arises from methodology issues or a simple inability to implement rigorous examination of the problems at hand.

Which of the following parts of the research paper answers the research questions of the study? ›

The results section provides the answers to the research questions. In the discussion section, authors interpret the findings in relation to other similar studies and explore the implications of the research, practice, or policy. Limitations of the study should be described by the authors.

How do you guide students to ask questions? ›

7 Tips for Teaching and Encouraging Students to Ask Questions
  1. Make your Classroom Environment a Safe Place for Questions. ...
  2. Praise Students for Asking Questions. ...
  3. Teach your Students About Open-Ended and Closed Questions. ...
  4. Slow Down to Leave Room for Questions. ...
  5. Provide Opportunities to Practice Asking Questions.
28 Jun 2021

How do you ask a research question right? ›

In the spirit of asking good questions, here are five pivotal ones you should consider when developing your main research question.
  1. Why are you doing research? ...
  2. Can you make your research question more specific? ...
  3. How will you find your answer? ...
  4. What will you do with the answer? ...
  5. Does your plan need revising?
22 Aug 2018

What are the 7 question you should ask yourself before embarking on a research project? ›

7 questions you should ask yourself before starting any data science project
  • What is the question you are trying to answer?
  • Do you know exactly what you are trying to measure?
  • Do you have the right data to answer your question?
  • Do you know enough about how your data was collected?
  • Are there any ethical considerations?
6 Jun 2020

What is a example of problem? ›

Example Sentences

Noun Racism and sexism are major social problems. The company is having financial problems. He has chronic health problems.

What is an example of problem and solution? ›

Problem-Solution Examples

Solution 1: Change the laws to make it more difficult for couples to divorce. Solution 2: Impose a mandatory waiting period on couples before they can get married. Environmental Problem: What should we do to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

What is an example of a problem sentence? ›

I have a real problem with people who use their mobile phones on the train.

What are the problems of social science research? ›

Difficulty in the Use of Experimental Method: In case of social science research, its product being a human being cannot be put to laboratory test. Even if it is done, their responses wouldn't be natural but subject to the awareness of the artificial condition. Thus the social scientist has to watch them in wide world.

What is an example of a social scientific question? ›

1. How can we induce people to look after their health?

What types of questions are asked in social science? ›

Why do people act the way they do? How have they been shaped by their past and present cultural and physical contexts? What motivates their behaviour and ways of thinking? How do their interactions influence their own identities and the societies in which they live?

What are the 5 biggest problems with social media? ›

Cons: Why is social media bad?
  • Online vs Reality. Social media itself is not the problem. ...
  • Increased usage. The more time spent on social media can lead to cyberbullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate.
  • Social Media is addicting. ...
  • Fear of Missing Out. ...
  • Self-image issues.

What are some questions to ask about youth and social media privacy? ›

Social Media and Tweens or Teens: Your Questions Answered
  • What Are the Negative Effects of Social Media?
  • At What Age Should Kids Be Able to Use Social Media?
  • How Much Should They Use Social Media?
  • Does Social Media Have Any Benefits?
  • What Happens if They Spend Too Much Time on Social Media?
12 May 2019

What are 6 social problems? ›

Poverty, unemployment, unequal opportunity, racism, and malnutrition are examples of social problems. So are substandard housing, employment discrimination, and child abuse and neglect. Crime and substance abuse are also examples of social problems.

What are 20 social problems? ›

  • 20.1 CASTE SYSTEM. As you have already learnt in the previous lesson, there are four castes. ...
  • 20.2.1 Gender Discrimination. ...
  • 20.2.2 Dowry System. ...
  • 20.4 COMMUNALISM. ...

What are the 8 social problems? ›

The term “social problem” is usually taken to refer to social conditions that disrupt or damage society—crime, racism, and the like. “Social Problems” is the title of an undergraduate course taught at many colleges; a typical course discusses what is known about a series of conditions considered social problems.

What are some examples of research questions? ›

10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project
  • What effect does social media have on your mind?
  • What effect does daily use of Twitter have on the attention span of 12-16 year-olds?
30 Oct 2022

What are the 10 ways of solving social problems? ›

Ways of Solving Social Problems in the Society
  • Guidance and Counseling: ...
  • Good Governance: ...
  • Creation of jobs and other Social Infrastructure: ...
  • Enforcement of Film Censorship and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) Rules: ...
  • Adequate Punishment for Defaulters:

How can we prevent social problems? ›

1. Mass meeting and publicity awareness programmes should be organized. 2. The public people should be made literate and they should be able to control such problem in their area.

What are the biggest problems issues facing the world today list at least 10 problems or issues and give your probable solution to these? ›

Top 10 Current Global Issues
  • Climate Change. The global temperatures are rising, and are estimated to increase from 2.6 degrees Celsius to 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. ...
  • Pollution. ...
  • Violence. ...
  • Security and Well Being. ...
  • Lack of Education. ...
  • Unemployment. ...
  • Government Corruption. ...
  • Malnourishment & Hunger.
18 Jan 2018

What are the top 5 biggest problems in the world? ›

The climate crisis
  • Biodiversity loss and species extinction.
  • Marine ecosystem deterioration.
  • The hunger crisis and COVID-19.
  • The hunger crisis and the war in Ukraine.
  • Water scarcity.
  • Children's health and education.
6 Jun 2022

How do social problems affect society? ›

Social Problems: A high number of social problems in a society leads to social instability both politically and economically. 2. Tarnishes Family and Nation's Image: An individual that continuously takes part in criminal activities will eventually discredit and tarnish their name and also their family's name.

What is social problem Explain few with example? ›

A condition or a situation which a bunch of people in the community consider as being undesirable is called social problem. These problems can be traffic deaths, murders, crime and more. They can be the general factors which influence and damage the society.


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