How to Prepare a Problem Statement

by Phyllis Gilbert; Updated September 26, 2017
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A good problem statement will set you on the way to successfully solving your problem. Used in a variety of academic and business contexts, the problem statement delineates what the problem is and why it is worth solving. It defines the problem in terms that are clear and relevant but does not suggest a solution. It is broad enough to foster innovative thinking, yet specific enough to help the problem solver(s) stay focused and achieve meaningful progress. Creating a problem statement may be a team activity, and a completed statement may serve as a springboard for brainstorming a solution.

Step 1

Describe the current reality: what happens, when and where it happens and how. Write down everything you know that pertains to any of these questions. Include variables that are assumed to be "givens" or unalterable conditions. That sets the stage for questioning assumptions, an important part of the problem-solving process.

Step 2

Describe the outcome or effects of the current reality. Specify who is affected and how.

Step 3

Describe the desired outcome or effects (as opposed to the current reality). Address how things would be different and for whom if the problem were solved.

Step 4

Discuss why it is worthwhile to solve the problem, including costs that could be reduced or eliminated and other direct and indirect benefits that could accrue. Be specific.

Step 5

Review your draft and boil it down to its essence, in most cases a few sentences. Make it as clear and concise as possible. If it will become part of an academic paper, then your final product may contain much of the information that was in your original draft; nevertheless, distilling the statement is an important step in your process. If you are working in a business context, brevity is always crucial.

Step 6

Describe your proposed approach to solving the problem. Depending on the situation, this might consist of handing the problem statement off to a problem-solving team; outlining your design for academic research; or applying a particular methodology relevant to your field or profession.

Tips

  • Even in your first draft, use complete sentences to help you capture complete thoughts. This is especially useful when building a problem statement with a team.

    As you develop your statement, let your thinking alternate between the "big picture" perspective and the close-up view. Each is important.

Warnings

  • Beware the temptation to tackle more than one problem at a time. Effective problem-solving depends on clearly delineating the boundaries of the problem.

    Avoid taking on a problem that is too broad or ambitious.

About the Author

Phyllis Gilbert began publishing articles in 2002. Her articles have appeared in local newsletters and in various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lawrence University, with a major in anthropology; she has completed miscellaneous coursework in anthropology, law, and Yup'ik grammar at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University.

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