How to Develop a Research Problem/Question

The goal of this guide is to recommend an approach to developing a research problem and help writers to avoid common mistakes.

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A good research question or problem is a vital part of the research process. It directs the project and helps the writer to build a solid argument. A well-developed research question helps an individual to develop a practical thesis. Thus, it is crucial to understand its purpose and features.

Purpose of a Research Problem/Question

Academic writers should center their research on a research question. This means that the research question should be clear, narrow, concise, and arguable as well as require analysis and evaluation before being answered. The purpose of a problem statement is to show the reader that the topic is significant and demands study, presents the research questions and discusses the goals of the paper, and defines the context of the topic. It is also necessary to ensure that the selected problem answers the question “so what?”. In other words, an individual is expected to show proof of having conveyed the central idea of the paper, proven its significance, and presented the implications of the research. Thus, a writer should ensure that the topic is identified clearly, the main concepts and terms are outlined, and the justification for the study is presented.

Structure and Writing Style

Types of Research Problems

Several types of research problems are available to assist individuals in narrowing their topic of investigation:

  • A descriptive research problem aims to present the analysis of a phenomenon and may be used for an understudied topic.
  • A relational research problem underlines that the research will identify a potential link between multiple variables.
  • A difference research problem is used when the study compares various phenomena and is appropriate for behavioral and clinical social sciences.
  • A casuist research problem aims to identify right and wrong statements or beliefs in questions that apply general rules to moral dilemmas.

A problem statement should be authentically motivated by a gap in the existing knowledge on the topic, indicate the focus of the research, and ensure that a study is worth the reader’s attention.

Selecting a Problem

Selecting a unique, researchable, and academically relevant problem may be challenging. To do so, individuals may formulate a question from an existing theory, review the literature on the topic and note issues that have not been analyzed in detail, use personal experience, or interview experts in the field. For example, a writer may collect social workers’ opinions on the limitations of the social support system and review the literature to analyze whether the reported issues have already been addressed.

Features of a Research Statement

The writer should incorporate three main features in the research problem:

  1. A compelling topic followed by a convincing argument is vital; the chosen problem should be significant to both the writer and intended readers. Moreover, the study should contribute to existing knowledge and offer benefit to academic and social communities.
  2. A research problem should be researchable, which means that it is necessary to choose an issue that is supported by other sources. Thus, an individual should conduct a thorough prior investigation before developing a research statement.
  3. It is essential for the study to present various viewpoints and avoid ambivalence.

Asking Critical Questions

Research should be based on the critical questions to be analyzed. It may be feasible to list these questions at the end of the introductory paragraph to create a clear plan for the study. The number of questions depends on the aims and complexity of the research. Well-developed critical questions can:

  • present a dilemma or a topic for interpretation
  • provoke thought
  • reveal the need for analysis
  • increase the readers’ awareness of the concept or an idea
  • provide an unexpected answer or solution to an issue

Avoiding Mistakes

The primary error that individuals should avoid while developing a research question is circular reasoning. The research problem should show the relevance of the investigation, present its significance, clarify existing knowledge, and suggest implications or recommendations for future studies. For example, “The research problem can be determined by the lack of relevant studies” is a weak research problem because it does not answer the “so what?” question or offer meaningful findings. It is necessary to develop a complex problem that will address the issues related to the topic, provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue, and, if possible, offer practical knowledge that readers can use.


This guide shows that the development of a research question is a crucial step for a study. An individual should aim to make a strong argument, prove that the problem is significant, and provide a detailed analysis of the topic. It is vital to consider the complexity and specificity of a research question to ensure the study presents reliable and important data that contributes to the existing knowledge on the issue.

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