Skip to Content

How to Write a Problem Statement for a Thesis — Master Guide

How to Write a Problem Statement for a Thesis — Master Guide

Sharing is caring!

Every college graduate has been through the joys and perils of thesis writing, and most, if not all of them, understand that it is a necessary evil.

Writing a research paper entails thinking and writing a problem statement that is crucial in setting the tone and guiding the study along the way.

But, how do we write a strong problem statement for a thesis paper? Are there easy-to-follow strategies that we could use in making this task less tasking?

For contextualization, you might as well treat all the statements I’ve written above as the problem statement for today’s post.

Well, I know that this explanation is a bit too broad and hazy. So, instead, let’s have a more in-depth discussion and cover every nook and cranny of our inquiry. 


How can we write a problem statement for a thesis?

To write a problem statement for a thesis, we must provide the context of the research, followed by the purpose of the study, then the general research procedure that includes the setting and target population, and lastly, the specific research questions that used to address the general problem.


General steps on writing a problem statement for a thesis

Research statistics show that four-year institutions in the USA have a sixty percent (60%) graduation rate which is a pretty decent achievement, generally speaking.

Graduating from college entails being able to undergo technical research, thereby suggesting that roughly more than half of the US college population succeeds in writing their thesis paper.

This also means that being able to successfully write a decent problem statement for a thesis is something that many people can just get over with.

It’s probably a lot easier to talk about thesis writing if and when you have already gone through all the painstaking processes behind it, get a passing mark, and receive a diploma.

Apparently, writing a thesis paper is not the most pleasant task on earth, let alone starting it. In particular, coming up with a problem statement is especially tricky when it is only your first time doing it.

However, you must not easily give up on this task because research work can be counted as professional work experience that you can put in your resume once you start applying for a job.

Also, many people have already gone through the challenges of thesis writing, and more than half of the population continues to do so. So, there’s really no reason for you not to get this down pat.

For a clearer understanding, we’ll start with a few general steps to guide you so you can come up with a reasonable problem statement for your thesis.


Determine your research topic

You can’t start writing a problem statement if you do not have a thesis topic. Hence, the thesis topic is a precursory requirement for writing a problem statement.

A research topic is a broad idea of what, you, as a researcher, are interested in exploring or investigating in, and the research topics may vary depending on your field of discipline.

If you are in the field of behavioral sciences, your research topic can be something related to the effects of online classes among students, or even teachers if you want to.

If you study civil engineering, maybe you can focus on investigating something related to the health hazards brought by structural demolition.

Just make sure that the topic you come up with is not too idealistic that you have to change it along the way if you find out that some things do not work the way you want them to.

In a nutshell, you have to pick a topic that is not only within your scope of interest but also within your intellectual, physical, and financial capacity.

And when you come up with one, make sure to consult with your thesis adviser so you would know how feasible and applicable your research is.


Read a lot of existing, published studies

Once you already have an approved research topic, start reading related studies right away and make sure to look for the most recently published ones.

Reading published studies strengthens the credibility of your research and gives you a good headstart of what to include in your paper.

Of course, it is also worthy to note that there are tons of really good findings from unpublished studies and that you can always include some of them, as long as they are relevant, as your research progresses.

But as of this point, it is advisable that you filter your reading materials to only published ones so as to prevent any unprecedented issues.

Upon reading recently published periodicals, try to list down the most common gaps that you can fill in later on in your own research.


Narrow down your topic

Once you have read tons of related studies, it will be a lot easier to narrow down your topic. You will start feeling this once you have understood the gaps in your research interest.

In narrowing down your topic, you can list down the specific problems that other researchers tried to address, as well as the findings and target population.

From there, you can already start thinking of some specific research problems that you want to focus on, as well as the possible frameworks that you would like to use for analysis.

Do not worry if you have several items on your list at this point because you are still in the phase of gathering relevant information.

This means that you will just be able to eliminate irrelevant data and inquiries as you move further with your study.

Narrowed-down topics include, for instance, the negative effects of online learning on the mental health of high school students in your area.

Another example of a narrowed-down topic is the cost-effective waste management on structural demolition of commercial buildings if you are also a civil engineering student.


Specific steps on writing a problem statement for a thesis

Now that you have a narrowed-down topic, you can already proceed with the specific steps of writing a problem statement for a thesis.

Institutions may require different formatting on how to write a problem statement for a thesis paper, but here are some of the general components that you can use in coming up with your own:


Provide a general context of the research

The introductory statement needs to provide a contextualized overview of the issue that you are trying to address in your research.

Contextualization is important because it enables engages your target readers to acclimatize with the problem that you are trying to explain.

Moreover, contextualization is also important because of the assumption that language is inherently ambiguous, and ambiguous language use does not really bode well in writing academic papers.

When you write your introductory statement, try to view the event in such a way that you are one of your target readers; thus, you have to pre-answer whatever ambiguity your research might entail.

Although you are writing a general statement, you have you be really specific with your lexical use, as well as your sentence structure.

Never, ever, write in casual language, and never write using the first-person point of view. Instead, you have to use third-person subjects and objects in your writing.

For example, you might write the following statement to contextualize your research on the negative effects of online learning on the mental health of high school students:

Example 1:

Mental health issues among students have been an increasing concern and hence a crucial matter to investigate.

Example 2:

Hazards in demolishing load-bearing structures are a widespread concern that needs to be addressed.


Provide the purpose of the research

After contextualizing the problem, you may now proceed with a statement that clearly explains the purpose of the research.

This sentence needs to include the specific matter that you are trying to address.

Hence, this sentence should clearly and directly tell the audience the meat or juice of your study.

You may start with introductory statements like “this study aims to…” or “the purpose of this research is…,” followed by the specific issue or gap that you are attempting to fill.

Make sure that the most necessary details, particularly the research variables, are clearly included in your purpose statement.

Here are two examples of how these statements might be phrased:

Example 1:

This study aims to investigate the relationship between the amount of exposure to online learning platforms and the anxiety levels of high school students.

Example 2:

The purpose of this research is to evaluate the health and safety protocols implemented by construction companies among their employees.


Provide the general procedure, research environment, and target population,  of the study

Afterward, you may already proceed with providing details regarding the general procedure of your research, as well as the general research environment and target population.

This part must include verbs like “to measure,” “to compare,” “to contrast,” “to analyze,” “to identify,” “to assess,” and so on, depending on the method you are planning to implement.

Also, this part should reiterate the variables or concepts being investigated together with the target population and the research environment.

If you are planning to analyze the relationship of demographic components like gender and age, you have to include such details in your problem statement. Otherwise, leave them out.

Here are some examples for your reference:

Example 1: 

In particular, this study will measure the amount of time spent on online classes and find out whether it correlates with the anxiety levels of high school students in Tucson, Arizona. 

Example 2:

In particular, this study will compare and contrast health and safety protocols between start-up and well-established construction companies in Baltimore, Maryland.


Provide the specific research sub-problems

Lastly, you need to write down the specific research problems that your research must answer in relation to the general problem you are presenting. 

Make sure each sub-problem can be answered using specific research methodologies and techniques that have been tested and proven in the past.

You can have at least two to four sub-problems to answer, although this would be dependent on the nature and scope of your research, as well as your school’s guidelines.

Having only one sub-problem may weaken your research, and having too many sub-problems may also make your study more time-consuming, costly, and taxing.

Always consult with your research adviser as to how accurate and workable your sub-problems are.

By this time, you had better start thinking of and looking for strong frameworks that would back up your research.

And by the way, it is always safer to start with having more sub-problems and then eliminate some, as you wish, once you get more in-depth with your research.

In a nutshell, each of your sub-problem is a critical part that enables you to address the holistic issue or main problem that you are presenting in your research paper.

Here are some examples of research sub-problems based on the topics previously introduced:

Example 1:

Sub-problem 1: What is the average amount of time spent by high school students on online classes?


Sub-problem 2: What is the average anxiety level of high school students who take online classes?


Sub-problem 3: What is the correlation between the amount of time spent by high school students on online classes and their anxiety levels?


Example 2:

Sub-problem 1: What are the specific themes of the health and safety protocols in start-up construction companies?


Sub-problem 2: What are the specific themes of the health and safety protocols in well-established construction companies?


Sub-problem 3: What are thematic similarities among the health and safety protocols in start-up and well-established construction companies?


Sub-problem 4: What are the thematic differences between health and safety protocols in start-up and well-established construction companies?


What to expect after writing the problem statement

Now that you’ve got all the elements of writing the problem statement covered, you also need to know the succeeding steps of the research.

As you may figure, these succeeding steps are mainly dependent on how well-written your problem statement is. 

And, as you can see, this is what makes the statement of the problem section the most crucial step in writing a thesis paper.

After getting your problem statement approved, the next vital step is the research methodology, which is the part that panelists ask the most mind-bending questions during the defense.

Hence, you must not waste time after your adviser approves your problem statement, and you have to start religiously reviewing how other relevant research methodologies are done.

As a student researcher, it is always advisable to compare local and international research papers to be able to see the gap from a bird’s eye view.

So, you really have to expect to be reading more and more scholarly articles from now onwards. That said, patience and time management are key in surviving thesis writing.

By the end of your research, you’ll be surprised how much you would improve both as a student and as an individual because thesis writing teaches practical skills that you can use for life.

Also, do not hesitate to attempt to publish your paper by starting with local publications so that your findings won’t just sleep on the shelves.


Frequently Asked Questions on “Writing a Problem Statement for a Thesis”


What is a problem statement?

The problem statement is the very first element you need to write especially when writing a thesis paper. In general, the problem statement is simply a brief explanation of the issue being addressed by the writer.


What are some of the key elements of a problem statement?

The key elements of a problem statement include the introductory general statement, the objective or purpose of the research, the general research method along with the target population and research environment, and the specific sub-problems.


What does a good problem statement look like?

A well-written problem statement needs to be able to concisely cover the whole issue being addressed by the writer or researcher. Upon seeing the problem statement, the reader should immediately be able to understand the gap the research is trying to fill.



Edward Hodnett once said that a good problem statement must include what is known, unknown, and what is being sought by the researcher or writer.

Bearing this in mind, we can infer that precisely identifying the problem is the most critical step in finding the solution, whatever it is.