Research Paper Problem Formulation Tools

Lesson 2: Problem formulation

“The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.”
– Albert Einstein

What is a problem formulation?
The problem formulation consists of just one sentence and should make it clear to everyone what research problem, you aim to address and to whom and where it is relevant. In other words, the problem formulation is the heart (or core) of your thesis to which you should always return if you lose track during your further research and writing process.

Listen to a student’s thoughts on problem formulation:

The problem formulation is based on the rationale you reached through your explorative search and may be the first thing you write related to your thesis. The aim of a problem formulation is also to set a framework for your research and a good problem formulation is essential for completing a good study.

Example of a problem formulation:
“Is the level of knowledge on recommended nutritional practices related to the nutritional status of pregnant women attending antenatal care in Northern Uganda?”

What is the problem addressed: Gap in evidence whether nutritional knowledge gained during antenatal care influences the nutritional status of pregnant women.

To whom and/or where is the problem relevant: Pregnant women attending antenatal care in Northern Uganda.

The process
It is an iterative process to write a problem formulation. You might switch many times between checking the literature to see if your idea is relevant and refining the problem formulation, back to searching the literature with new ideas, etc. It takes a long time to develop a precise and specific problem formulation but as Albert Einstein wrote it is necessary to define your problem before any work can be launched.

In practise, writing of the final project formulation is done in interaction with your supervisor. This process is described in the lesson: “Meeting the supervisor”.

When your problem formulation has taken its final form, you are ready to develop an overall research objective and a number of specific objectives stating exactly what actions will be taken in order to address your stated problem.

A proper problem formulation and associated objectives will make your work more coherent

Do you now know how to write a problem formulation? Test your knowledge in the following.

1. Specify the Research Objectives

A clear statement defining your objectives will help you develop effective research.

It will help the decision makers evaluate the research questions your project should answer as well as the research methods your project will use to answer those questions. It’s critical that you have manageable objectives. (Two or three clear goals will help to keep your research project focused and relevant.)

2. Review the Environment or Context of the Research Problem

As a marketing researcher, you must work closely with your team of researchers in defining and testing environmental variables. This will help you determine whether the findings of your project will produce enough information to be worth the cost.

In order to do this, you have to identify the environmental variables that will affect the research project and begin formulating different methods to control these variables.

3. Explore the Nature of the Problem

Research problems range from simple to complex, depending on the number of variables and the nature of their relationship. Sometimes the relationship between two variables is directly related to a problem or questions, and other times the relationship is entirely unimportant.

If you understand the nature of the research problem as a researcher, you will be able to better develop a solution for the problem.

To help you understand all dimensions, you might want to consider focus groups of consumers, sales people, managers, or professionals to provide what is sometimes much needed insight into a particular set of questions or problems.

4. Define the Variable Relationships

Marketing plans often focus on creating a sequence of behaviors that occur over time, as in the adoption of a new package design, or the introduction of a new product.

Such programs create a commitment to follow some behavioral pattern or method in the future.

Studying such a process involves:

  • Determining which variables affect the solution to the research problem.
  • Determining the degree to which each variable can be controlled and used for the purposes of the company.
  • Determining the functional relationships between the variables and which variables are critical to the solution of the research problem.

During the problem formulation stage, you will want to generate and consider as many courses of action and variable relationships as possible.

5. The Consequences of Alternative Courses of Action

There are always consequences to any course of action used in one or more projects. Anticipating and communicating the possible outcomes of various courses of action is a primary responsibility in the research process.

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