Tips on preparing your Problem and Purpose Statement
For many years, I have been struggling on how to organise my table of contents because I took a wrong start from the beginning, and following my French-speaking logic thinking. My savior was Dr. Guy, Founder of the Dissertation Mentor.com website (see below) whose clear instructions put me on another logic. I owe him an immense gratitude for this.
My take-away after listening to the series of video which contains tips on : How do I write a problem statement for my dissertation? How do I write a problem statement? How do I write a dissertation well? How do I write my dissertation fast? How do I write a great dissertation? How do I choose a dissertation methodology? etc. did help to motivate me to start re-engineering again my thesis structure that led to me finalise my thesis. So, I would like to give him credit for this achievement. Find out more about his methodology under this link: https://www.thedissertationmentor.com/blog/how-to-write-a-problem-statement
Another article by Shona McCombes lists out some salient points for you to remember after you have identified a research problem. According to this document, an effective problem statement is concise and concrete. It should:
- Put the problem in context (what do we already know?)
- Describe the precise issue that the research will address (what do we need to know?)
- Show the relevance of the problem (why do we need to know it?)
- Set the objectives of the research (what will you do to find out?)
The take-away I got from this article is that for general research, you should focus on the concrete details such as where and when the problem arises, who does the problem affect, and what attempts have been made to solve the problem. On the other hand, you need to think about the scientific, social, geographical and/historical background for the purpose of theoretical research. Consider:
- What is already known about the problem?
- Is the problem limited to a certain time period or geographical area?
- How has the problem been defined and debated in the scholarly literature?
In my opinion, we tend to think about the aspect of the problem that affects us most on the emotionally level at the first stage, to move on to a more general level after a certain period of researching about it, and seing that it is of relevance to the discipline that we study.
Example: I thought that the lack of interest of foreign investors towards Vietnam as a destination was a “problem”, while the mistrust was only a consequence of the lack of confidence in Vietnam’s privatisation framework that showed no clear mechanisms on investors’ protection. Indeed, the real problem is the poor corporate governance of state-owned enterprises that are being privatised. Consequently my problem statement should focus the “poor performance of the privatisation process of state-owned enteprises in Vietnam” as choice #1, rather than “Vietnam’s competitiveness as a FDI destination” as choice #2, which is the consequence of the real problem.
Hence, the problem statement should address the relevance of the research: why is it important that the problem is solved? It is important that the problem is researchable, feasible, and clearly addresses a relevant issue in my field, in this case: “corporate governance” which offers the theoretical framework to address issues concerning the identified problem. The focus on choice #1 would allow me to list out the scholarly literature related to the discipline on corporate governance, whereas choice #2 would have led me to treat the problem under the discipline on economics, or international business.
Next, scholarly literature (or literature review) is the next step needed to allow an inventory ofwhat is known about the problem and what has been debated among scholars on this topic.. Therefore, a clear problem statement sets the tone to what methodology of research I would adopt to do my research. Practically speaking, my research will focus on the specific problem of corporate governance that affects state-owned organisations who undergo the privatisation process.
Tips: Questions that you should ask yourself in the beginning:
- What will happen if the problem is not solved?
- Who will feel the consequences?
- Does the problem have wider relevance (e.g. are similar issues found in other contexts)?
With hindsight, my journey would have been easier, had I known all these steps, or had taken time to work on my problem and purpose statement before I started writing. But this was not the case. I only found out after trying to solve the problem (choice #1) by addressing the consequences of this problem which I identified as choice #2, and read all the literature relevant to this. In the end, both information was relevant and compensated each other. But the lesson to be learnt here is that it is important to keep in mind a theoretical framework that keeps you on track to achieve your aims and objectives. These are:
- How will resolving the problem advance understanding of the topic?
- What benefits will it have for future research?
- Does the problem have direct or indirect consequences for society?
The aim is the overall purpose of your research. It is generally written in the infinitive form:
- The aim of this study is to determine…
- This project aims to explore…
- I aim to investigate…
The objectives are the concrete steps you will take to achieve the aim:
- Qualitative methods will be used to identify…
- I will use surveys to collect…
- Using statistical analysis, the research will measure…
Finally, the problem statement should frame how you intend to address the problem. Your goal should not be to find a conclusive solution, but to seek out the reasons behind the problem and propose more effective approaches to tackling or understanding it.
Well, I hope that this small introduction helps those of you who are still struggling to complete your problem and purpose statement.
My next posts will deal more with issues on “literature review”, “research methodology” and other stuff worth exploring.
Talk to you soon,