How to write problem statements

A problem statement is an indispensable tool in any decision-making process. From setting the stage in scientific research to defining the goals of a business project, a well-articulated problem statement can serve as the guiding light that directs your thoughts and actions towards a specific end goal.

Below, we will delve into what a problem statement is, how to write a problem statement, and how to use problem statements effectively, with examples for clarity.

A problem statement is a concise description of an issue we need to address or a condition we can improve upon. It pinpoints the gap between the current state (what is happening) and the desired state (what should be happening), providing context and direction for any team or individual attempting to address the problem.

For instance, a problem statement for a tech company experiencing a decrease in user engagement might be:

“Over the past six months, there has been a 20% decrease in user engagement on our mobile app, as reflected in lower daily active users, session duration, and interaction with in-app features. This decline has significantly affected our revenue stream and customer retention rates. We need to identify and address the root causes to boost user engagement and regain our market position.”

This problem statement describes the issue (decrease in user engagement), specifies its impact (lower revenue and customer retention), and indicates a need for a solution.

Writing an effective problem statement requires a good understanding of the problem and a structured approach. Here are the steps you can follow:

Identify the problem: Understand and articulate the problem in your current scenario. State it in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Avoid jargon unless necessary.

Elaborate on the problem’s impact: Demonstrate why the problem matters. State the adverse effects and implications if the problem remains unsolved.

Specify your goals: Describe what a practical solution would look like, clarifying the desired state of affairs once you resolved the problem.

Here’s a problem statement for a non-profit organisation seeking to raise awareness about climate change:

“The local community exhibits a limited understanding of the effects and severity of climate change, as evidenced by low participation rates in environmental initiatives.”

“This lack of awareness hinders efforts to implement sustainable practices, threatening our local environment and exacerbating global warming.”

“We need a comprehensive awareness program that effectively educates the community on climate change, resulting in increased participation in sustainable practices.”

Once you have crafted a comprehensive problem statement, you can use it to guide your project or research. Here’s how:

Guide research or project planning: The problem statement is a reference point for your research or project. It clarifies the problem your project aims to solve, helping you stay focused and on track.

Stakeholder communication: Problem statements can be shared with stakeholders to ensure everyone understands the problem and the need for its resolution. Sharing promotes alignment and consensus.

Measure success: You can use the problem statement to define success metrics for your project. If your actions address the issue as defined in the problem statement, your project is a success.

For example, consider a university seeking to reduce student dropout rates. A practical problem statement might be:

“Despite various support systems, our university’s student dropout rate has climbed to 15% in the past academic year, primarily during the first year of study. This trend undermines our commitment to student success and lowers our overall reputation. We need a proactive approach to identify at-risk students and provide them with timely assistance to improve student retention.”

Using this problem statement, the university can shape a project to investigate the root causes, devise interventions, and measure the success of its initiatives against the reduction in dropout rates.

A problem statement is a critical tool that helps frame an issue, guide research or a project, and measure success. By understanding a problem statement, knowing how to write one effectively, and learning how to use it, you can significantly enhance your problem-solving and decision-making abilities.

Updated on: 13 May 2021

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