How to Define a Research Problem for Your Dissertation or Thesis

What you aim to address in your dissertation relates to a research problem. It is primarily a unique issue, challenge, paradox, or breach in the current literature. It would be best if you searched for practical problems and targeted addressing them to expand the actual knowledge.

18.09.2022

How to Define a Research Problem for Your Dissertation or Thesis

Defining the research problem

What you aim to address in your dissertation relates to a research problem. It is primarily a unique issue, challenge, paradox, or breach in the current literature. It would be best if you searched for practical problems and targeted addressing them to expand the actual knowledge. It would help if you remembered that some research would support the extant literature. At the same time, some might include breakthrough novel investigations. What is critical is your areas of interest, determining the kind of research you wish to conduct. This article aims to specify and improve a research problem. Please do not forget that when penning your research proposal or introduction, you must devise it as a problem statement or research question.

How crucial is the research problem? 

You may have an exciting dissertation or thesis topic. However, it may not constitute a solid foundation for academic research. Suppose you have not specified your research problem. In that case, you may culminate with an out-of-focus and impossible project. 

You might be reiterating what has already been covered in your area of expertise. Put differently, you might be saying too much or conducting research lacking apparent objectives and confirmation. Therefore, you need a unique research problem that contributes to existing research and provides novel insights. It matters little whether you plan your dissertation, begin a research article, or pen a research proposal. You must specify your research problem clearly, stating what you plan to do and why.

Phase 1: Specify a broad problem area

After reading about your dissertation topic, you should search for the areas needing further research. Choosing an area where much discussion and controversy occur is helpful. Please note that your objective is discovering a research gap so that you can fill it with your research.

a. Down-to-earth research problems

Assume you are conducting practical research. Then, you can specify a problem by perusing reports, pursuing previous research, and communicating with people who have studied in the related area or institution. Particularly relevant is to look for subjects on the performance and efficiency of the organization, what steps can be taken to improve the institution’s efficiency, areas concerning the people in the field, and challenges faced by some groups in society. 

Suppose your research is related to practical training. You must find a research problem, mainly concentrating on how companies look at trainees and how trainees can benefit from the company for their professional development.

Samples of down-to-earth research problems

  • COVID-19 is more deadly in developing countries than the developed ones.

  • Small and medium-sized companies wish to accommodate practical trainees, while corporates are reluctant to do so.

  • Non-profit organizations in developing countries face the issue of a lack of democracy. In contrast, those in developed nations enjoy democracy and freedom of speech.

b. Hypothetical research problems

Hypothetical research concentrates on growing actual knowledge and comprehending instead of explicitly changing its direction. Specify a research problem by perusing recent research, theory, and discussion on your subject to determine what is missing and already acknowledged. Therefore, the following issues are directly relevant:

  • The research should not be a closely studied area.

  • It should contain two or more perspectives contradicting or negating each.

  • It should not be a thoroughly researched relationship.

  • It should comprise a controversial issue needing further debate.

Even though these problems are theoretical, they frequently have practical ramifications. Nevertheless, their target is beyond addressing an imminent issue. Keep in mind that some research may involve a case study.

Samples of hypothetical research problems

  • Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory is hard to prove by any measures.

  • The impacts of feeding regimens on beef tenderness are inconclusive.

  • The hiring of male managers more than female ones is beyond understandable.

Phase 2: Investigate more about the problem

What follows is to discover the existing knowledge about the problem and suggest precisely what perspective you will take to address it. You should specify who will be affected by the problem, how long the subject has been a hot topic, what has been conducted so far, and whether any proposed solutions exist. Other critical questions include the people's place, time, and identity to concentrate on and what issues cannot be covered. On top of that, what ramifications would result if the issue could not be solved, and who would benefit the most if the problem were relevant?

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Research problem for a dissertation and thesis

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