What Are Some Characteristics of a Research Problem Statement?

Written by brenda scottsdale
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What Are Some Characteristics of a Research Problem Statement?
Successful research studies start with good problem statements. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

You are interested in studying how parents influence their children's self-esteem. You can formulate a research problem statement and conduct a research study. A research problem statement outlines a specific problem phrased in the form of a hypothesis and framed to lead the research to a specific conclusion. Start with a broad area, narrow to an area of interest, then define the scope of what you want to study. Make sure your research problem statement adheres to characteristics that describe all successful problem statements.


All research problem statements begin by introducing the idea you are interested in studying. If you are studying the effect of parenting style on children's self-esteem, you might read everything you can about parenting styles and what is already known about the effects different styles have on self-esteem. Explain why the idea is important -- explain that children's self-esteem is important for the formation of pro-social society and that parenting style is a crucial factor in building self-esteem, for example. Your problem statement might look like this: "The purpose of this study is to assess which of four parenting styles is associated with positive self-esteem in children."


There are two types of research problem statements: replications and original works. A good research problem statement will state if the study is a replication of what has been done before in an effort to get the same result. The purpose of this study is to provide further evidence that what the first research found is really a true finding. If you were replicating a parenting study, for example, you might state, "The purpose of this study is to replicate the original work of Erickson and Malinta, which established that an authoritative parenting style was associated with more positive self-esteem in children." If your study is an original work, you do not need to state that it is; this will follow from your literature review, which precedes the problem statement.


A research problem statement should be used to define the scope of the study. One of the common problems with research studies is "scope creep," in which more and more questions are added and the work never gets done -- or is done ineffectively. In the example parenting research problem statement, the scope is clear: the independent variable or the variable you are not manipulating is one of four parenting styles already used by the parents. You are not studying parents who use a mixture of styles, the effect of relatives' parenting styles or the influence of teachers. The outcome variable, self-esteem, is also clearly defined. It is clear from this problem statement that you will not be studying self-confidence, academic achievement or social skills, even though these variables may all be related to self-esteem.


The framework of the study is introduced by the problem statement. In the example, the framework would include a measure of parenting style that clearly defines one of four styles. Every parent in the study would need to be rated using this measure. There would also be a measure of self-esteem; every child would be rated according to this measure. The problem statement sets the basis for the framework of the statistical analysis as well. The analysis must involve one of the statistical measures of correlation. For example, you are not saying parenting style causes a child's self-esteem; you are only saying that it is associated with it.

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