Formulating Problem Statements:


Using Audience Awareness to Contextualize Your Research Goals


A persuasive problem statement consists of three parts: 1) the ideal, 2) the reality, and 3) the consequences for the reader of the feasibility report. Well constructed problem statements will convince your audience that the problem is real and worth  having you investigate. Your strategy is one of contrast: by situating the the ideal scenario next to the situation as it exists, you can not only persuade the reader that a problem exists, but then go on to emphasize the consequences of ignoring or addressing the problem.


Remember, your problem statement is the backbone of the proposal and the feasibility report.  By giving careful consideration to how you construct it now (for the proposal), you can use it when doing your research and writing for the proposal as well as the progress and the feasibility report.



Describe the goals, desired state, or the values that your audience considers important and that are relevant to the problem.



Connect statements 1 and 2 using a term such as "but," "however,"

"Unfortunately," or "in spite of";



Describe a condition that prevents the goal, state, or value discussed in statement

1 from being achieved or realized at the present time.



Using specific details, show how the situation in statement 2 contains little promise of improvement unless something is done.  Then emphasize the benefits of research by projecting the consequences of possible solutions as well.



Describe the areas of inquiry you will use that could lead to solutions to the problem--- how will you research the problem? What sources of information, types of research (primary or secondary),or tools will you use to help you find solutions and make recommendations to resolve the clash?




Example #1



In order to provide excellent patient care at a minimal cost, Middletown Hospital needs diagnostic procedures that are safe, efficient, and accurate. In addition, the procedures should not be overly painful for the patient.


Right now, Middletown Hospital's main diagnostic tools are CAT scans and myelograms (spinal taps). The CAT scan fails to make clear diagnoses 60% of the time. When the CAT scan fails, doctors must resort to the myelogram. While the myelograms are accurate, this procedure is very painful and sometimes dangerous for the patient. 


If Middletown Hospital continues to do the two procedures, they will not only be wasting time and money, which jeopardizes their overall efficiency and earning potential. Also, undue suffering could lead patients to choose another hospital with more advanced facilities.



A new diagnostic technique, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) may surpass the CAT scan in accuracy and reduce the need to resort to the myelogram.  I propose to research the feasibility of establishing an NMR lab at Middletown hospital. I will investigate the accuracy, efficiency, and safety of NMR as well as implementation issues.


Example #2



  This proposal is directed to Alfred Academy’s headmaster, Dr. Smith Nyman. Alfred Academy is a private high school with approximately 200 students in attendance. Dr. Nyman is the primary liaison between the administration, the students and their parents. Nyman works with private educational funds and the alumni in order to raise money for student programs, e.g., a lecture series. Nyman then creates a task force of parents and students who execute the program for him.



  In order to continue the fifty-year tradition of pacifist values, Alfred Academy's administration needs a multifaceted mediation program that includes the administration, the faculty, the students and the students' parents. This mediation program needs to (1) serve as a preventative measure, (2) encourage peaceful interactions, and (3) adapt to the changing needs of the school.



Currently, Alfred has three mediation, i.e., problem solving, resources: (1) an unofficial peer mediation group, (2) an unofficial student court, and (3) a lecture program entitled Peaces. Unfortunately, at the present time, only one of those three methods are being utilized: lectures.  These lectures are not mandatory as a result, the majority of students do not attend. Furthermore, neither the peer mediation group nor the student court are legally certified and are, therefore, not credible resources and remain unused.



Without an effective mediation program to help Alfred Academy achieve its educational goals, violence will continue to escalate.  A new, interactive approach to non-violent problem solving is needed. A long-term mediation-training program may help the administration to (1) reinstate the school’s pacifist values, (2) prevent aggressive behavior from escalating, and (3) promote peaceful interactions in the school. Current mediation programs are both abundant and diverse in nature.



I propose to examine the advantages and disadvantages of the various current mediation-training programs to determine which adequately suits Alfred’s present and future needs.

Example #3



I am writing to Mrs. Kelly.  She is the RAINBOWS director at Hills High School, in P****, New Jersey.  RAINBOWS is an international organization that is run through schools, churches, and other organizations.  It helps youth deal with a significant loss in their life, mainly death or divorce. The program in PHHS is a pilot program that has been in effect for about 4 years. 



 In order to help individuals learn to deal with grief after a major loss has occurred in their life, the Spectrum division of the RAINBOWS program in Hills High School aims to provide each student in the program an environment in which they feel safe, comfortable, and normal.  The goal of RAINBOWS is to help students learn, understand, deal with, and move on from their loss.



However, often, students don't know other students in the optional weekly group meeting very well, which causes them to be uncomfortable and hesitant about  speaking.  In the presence of their peers, a student does not feel safe about speaking or expressing their feelings in fear that they may be judged.  Also, optional weekly meetings send the message that it is optional to deal with the loss, when in fact the students must learn about their loss and how to live with it. 



By not feeling comfortable or safe in the program, students are not able to fully learn, understand, deal with, or move on from their loss.



I would like to investigate different strategies such as family involvement, individual meetings, more awareness of the program, and mandatory involvement and see if they maybe might help a student to recover from their loss.  I would also like to look into the probability of the implementation of these strategies.


Example #4



Ideally, the mission of the University Park Allocation Committee is dedicated to allocating both University General Funds money as well as a portion of the Student Activity Fee income.  These funds are made available in order to enhance student life and the out-of-class experience or improve the educational climate at University Park.



One of the main focuses of the committee is consistency. Unfortunately, consistency in allocating funds to student organizations requires prior knowledge of previous allocations and established practices.  The current internal rotation system allows committee members the ability to experience all four sub-committees, but in an extremely quick and arbitrary manner. 



Continuing with this current rotation system prevents consistency and causes decisions to become grossly political, which in turn inhibits the committee of fully enhancing the out-of-class experience of the students at University Park. Developing a more informed rotation system could allow the committee to still fulfill the mission statement of the committee.



I would like to explore options for a new internal rotation system that would focus on consistency. To do this, I will consult with representatives from two other big-ten universities to look at how students are involved in the allocations decisions. I will also survey existing members of PSU’s committee to find out preferences as well as how long it would take for each member to familiarize themselves with student organizations. 


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Handout Courtesy of Gayle Decker