Problem and Purpose Statements

Dissertation Problem Statements

Problem Statement

Problem statements for prospectus writing and for chapter 1 should be two paragraphs long.  You are establishing two justifications in these paragraphs: (a) that your study is needed by identifying a social-educational problem and reporting the findings of three or more current research studies on that problem and (b) that three to five (3–5) experts agree this is a question or issue that is relevant to your field (EDPD 8910).

First Paragraph of a Problem Statement

1st Paragraph in Problem Statement

The first paragraph of a problem statement is a description of the problem funneled down to a gap in understanding related to the problem.

From Prospectus Document: In this paragraph provide a logical argument for the need to address an identified gap in the research literature that has current relevance to your discipline and area of practice. Keep in mind that a gap in the research is not, in and of itself, a reason to conduct research. Make sure to clarify the problem that led you to the gap (p. 3).

Imagine this paragraph as a funnel. You start by establishing the problem, building ideas logically, starting with a broad problem in your discipline and further narrowing it to your specific specialization and then even more narrow to a single problem statement.

This paragraph should be heavily cited. You will need to cite a minimum of three current research studies to frame and narrow the problem. Some of these sentences might be densely cited with evidence to provide a landscape view of how the problem has been studied in the literature. For help writing these types of sentences, see my blog post titled Tips for Strong Evidence Writing.   In one of our college of education colloquial sessions at residency, we use the analogy of a baseball stadium as a way to think about your dissertation topic. If the baseball field is the problem you plan to study, you’ve got to situate your reader to where in the stands you’re sitting. You’re saying, people sitting in section A approach the problem this way, people in section B approach it slightly different. Then you can narrow a bit and share how some in the section in which you’re sitting approach the problem. You’ll narrow to the point where you can transition to a statement, that may say, “Although some have studied it [THIS WAY], and [THAT WAY], what is still not understood is [THIS].” Then you’ve primed your reader for the last sentence in this paragraph which will explain the view of the problem/field from your specific seat in the stadium.

Write a Single Sentence Problem Statement at the end of the first paragraph in the problem statement section. From

Single Sentence Problem Statement

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Tips for Strong Evidence Writing

In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the MEAL plan, and the importance of using evidence (the e from MEAL) from empirical research; However, in literature reviews there are specific skills related to presenting that evidence that you need to add to your writing tool belt. These include writing sentences that show rather than tell, and writing densely cited sentences to show the larger landscape of a topic.

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Show Versus Tell

In courses, you likely cited studies very generally to help you make a point. However, when you write about studies in the background section of your prospectus or within the literature review, you should avoid generalized references that tell about studies and instead show the evidence by sharing details about the study and specific results. Therefore, the following phrases should not be used in a literature review.

  • Researchers have found….
  • Research states….

In a previous post I shared this formula:

In this (methodology) study + data collection methods/participants = results.

Here are some ways this formula can be used.

Telling: Researchers found that boys were more likely to fail geometry than were girls (Smith & Wesson, 2015).

Allow Data to Show (Better): In a quantitative study of urban high school sophomores, Smith and Wesson (2015) found that girls (n = 135) were nearly twice as likely as boys (n = 110) to fail geometry (p < .05). Continue reading