Research Guides: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: The Research Problem/Question (2023)

I. Types and Content

There are four general conceptualizations of a research problem in the social sciences:

  1. Casuist Research Problem -- this type of problem relates to the determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analyzing moral dilemmas through the application of general rules and the careful distinction of special cases.
  2. Difference Research Problem -- typically asks the question, “Is there a difference between two or more groups or treatments?” This type of problem statement is used when the researcher compares or contrasts two or more phenomena. This a common approach to defining a problem in the clinical social sciences or behavioral sciences.
  3. Descriptive Research Problem -- typically asks the question, "what is...?" with the underlying purpose to describe the significance of a situation, state, or existence of a specific phenomenon. This problem is often associated with revealing hidden or understudied issues.
  4. Relational Research Problem -- suggests a relationship of some sort between two or more variables to be investigated. The underlying purpose is to investigate specific qualities or characteristics that may be connected in some way.

A problem statement in the social sciences should contain:

(Video) My Step by Step Guide to Writing a Research Paper

  • A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the study,
  • A declaration of originality [e.g., mentioning a knowledge void or a lack of clarity about a topic that will be revealed in the literature review of prior research],
  • An indication of the central focus of the study [establishing the boundaries of analysis], and
  • An explanation of the study's significance or the benefits to be derived from investigating the research problem.

NOTE: A statement describing the research problem of your paper should not be viewed as a thesis statement that you may be familiar with from high school. Given the content listed above, a description of the research problem is usually a short paragraph in length.

II. Sources of Problems for Investigation

The identification of a problem to study can be challenging, not because there's a lack of issues that could be investigated, but due to the challenge of formulating an academically relevant and researchable problem which is unique and does not simply duplicate the work of others. To facilitate how you might select a problem from which to build a research study, consider these sources of inspiration:

Deductions from Theory
This relates to deductions made from social philosophy or generalizations embodied in life and in society that the researcher is familiar with. These deductions from human behavior are then placed within an empirical frame of reference through research. From a theory, the researcher can formulate a research problem or hypothesis stating the expected findings in certain empirical situations. The research asks the question: “What relationship between variables will be observed if theory aptly summarizes the state of affairs?” One can then design and carry out a systematic investigation to assess whether empirical data confirm or reject the hypothesis, and hence, the theory.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Identifying a problem that forms the basis for a research study can come from academic movements and scholarship originating in disciplines outside of your primary area of study. This can be an intellectually stimulating exercise. A review of pertinent literature should include examining research from related disciplines that can reveal new avenues of exploration and analysis. An interdisciplinary approach to selecting a research problem offers an opportunity to construct a more comprehensive understanding of a very complex issue that any single discipline may be able to provide.

(Video) How to Write an Effective Research Paper

Interviewing Practitioners
The identification of research problems about particular topics can arise from formal interviews or informal discussions with practitioners who provide insight into new directions for future research and how to make research findings more relevant to practice. Discussions with experts in the field, such as, teachers, social workers, health care providers, lawyers, business leaders, etc., offers the chance to identify practical, “real world” problems that may be understudied or ignored within academic circles. This approach also provides some practical knowledge which may help in the process of designing and conducting your study.

Personal Experience
Don't undervalue your everyday experiences or encounters as worthwhile problems for investigation. Think critically about your own experiences and/or frustrations with an issue facing society or related to your community, your neighborhood, your family, or your personal life. This can be derived, for example, from deliberate observations of certain relationships for which there is no clear explanation or witnessing an event that appears harmful to a person or group or that is out of the ordinary.

Relevant Literature
The selection of a research problem can be derived from a thorough review of pertinent research associated with your overall area of interest. This may reveal where gaps exist in understanding a topic or where an issue has been understudied. Research may be conducted to: 1) fill such gaps in knowledge; 2) evaluate if the methodologies employed in prior studies can be adapted to solve other problems; or, 3) determine if a similar study could be conducted in a different subject area or applied in a different context or to different study sample [i.e., different setting or different group of people]. Also, authors frequently conclude their studies by noting implications for further research; read the conclusion of pertinent studies because statements about further research can be a valuable source for identifying new problems to investigate. The fact that a researcher has identified a topic worthy of further exploration validates the fact it is worth pursuing.

III. What Makes a Good Research Statement?

A good problem statement begins by introducing the broad area in which your research is centered, gradually leading the reader to the more specific issues you are investigating. The statement need not be lengthy, but a good research problem should incorporate the following features:

(Video) HOW TO WRITE A RESEARCH PAPER |Beginners Guide to Writing Quality Essays from An Oxford Grad Student

1. Compelling Topic
The problem chosen should be one that motivates you to address it but simple curiosity is not a good enough reason to pursue a research study because this does not indicate significance. The problem that you choose to explore must be important to you, but it must also be viewed as important by your readers and to a the larger academic and/or social community that could be impacted by the results of your study.

2. Supports Multiple Perspectives
The problem must be phrased in a way that avoids dichotomies and instead supports the generation and exploration of multiple perspectives. A general rule of thumb in the social sciences is that a good research problem is one that would generate a variety of viewpoints from a composite audience made up of reasonable people.

3. Researchability
This isn't a real word but it represents an important aspect of creating a good research statement. It seems a bit obvious, but you don't want to find yourself in the midst of investigating a complex research project and realize that you don't have enough prior research to draw from for your analysis. There's nothing inherently wrong with original research, but you must choose research problems that can be supported, in some way, by the resources available to you. If you are not sure if something is researchable, don't assume that it isn't if you don't find information right away--seek

help from a librarian!

NOTE: Do not confuse a research problem with a research topic. A topic is something to read and obtain information about, whereas a problem is something to be solved or framed as a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution, or explained as a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. In short, a research topic is something to be understood; a research problem is something that needs to be investigated.

IV. Asking Analytical Questions about the Research Problem

(Video) How To Read A Paper Quickly & Effectively | Easy Research Reading Technique

Research problems in the social and behavioral sciences are often analyzed around critical questions that must be investigated. These questions can be explicitly listed in the introduction [i.e., "This study addresses three research questions about women's psychological recovery from domestic abuse in multi-generational home settings..."], or, the questions are implied in the text as specific areas of study related to the research problem. Explicitly listing your research questions at the end of your introduction can help in designing a clear roadmap of what you plan to address in your study, whereas, implicitly integrating them into the text of the introduction allows you to create a more compelling narrative around the key issues under investigation. Either approach is appropriate.

The number of questions you attempt to address should be based on the complexity of the problem you are investigating and what areas of inquiry you find most critical to study. Practical considerations, such as, the length of the paper you are writing or the availability of resources to analyze the issue can also factor in how many questions to ask. In general, however, there should be no more than four research questions underpinning a single research problem.

Given this, well-developed analytical questions can focus on any of the following:

  • Highlights a genuine dilemma, area of ambiguity, or point of confusion about a topic open to interpretation by your readers;
  • Yields an answer that is unexpected and not obvious rather than inevitable and self-evident;
  • Provokes meaningful thought or discussion;
  • Raises the visibility of the key ideas or concepts that may be understudied or hidden;
  • Suggests the need for complex analysis or argument rather than a basic description or summary; and,
  • Offers a specific path of inquiry that avoids eliciting generalizations about the problem.

NOTE: Questions of how and why concerning a research problem often require more analysis than questions about who, what, where, and when. You should still ask yourself these latter questions, however. Thinking introspectively about the who, what, where, and when of a research problem can help ensure that you have thoroughly considered all aspects of the problem under investigation and helps define the scope of the study in relation to the problem.

V. Mistakes to Avoid

(Video) How to Write a Literature Review: 3 Minute Step-by-step Guide | Scribbr 🎓

Beware of circular reasoning! Do not state the research problem as simply the absence of the thing you are suggesting. For example, if you propose the following, "The problem in this community is that there is no hospital," this only leads to a research problem where:

  • The need is for a hospital
  • The objective is to create a hospital
  • The method is to plan for building a hospital, and
  • The evaluation is to measure if there is a hospital or not.

This is an example of a research problem that fails the "So What?" test. In this example, the problem does not reveal the relevance of why you are investigating the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., perhaps there's a hospital in the community ten miles away]; it does not elucidate the significance of why one should study the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., that hospital in the community ten miles away has no emergency room]; the research problem does not offer an intellectual pathway towards adding new knowledge or clarifying prior knowledge [e.g., the county in which there is no hospital already conducted a study about the need for a hospital, but it was conducted ten years ago]; and, the problem does not offer meaningful outcomes that lead to recommendations that can be generalized for other situations or that could suggest areas for further research [e.g., the challenges of building a new hospital serves as a case study for other communities].

Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. “Generating Research Questions Through Problematization.” Academy of Management Review 36 (April 2011): 247-271; Choosing and Refining Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; D'Souza, Victor S. "Use of Induction and Deduction in Research in Social Sciences: An Illustration." Journal of the Indian Law Institute 24 (1982): 655-661; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. "Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem." Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); How to Write a Research Question. The Writing Center. George Mason University; Invention: Developing a Thesis Statement. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Procter, Margaret. Using Thesis Statements. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Walk, Kerry. Asking an Analytical Question. [Class handout or worksheet]. Princeton University; White, Patrick. Developing Research Questions: A Guide for Social Scientists. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009.


How do you organize a social science paper? ›

There are four main sections included in most formal social science research papers: introduction, method, results, and discussion. As APA formatting requires, subheadings are centered and bolded. Font size does not change for subheadings.

What are the research problem in social science? ›

In the social sciences, the research problem establishes the means by which you must answer the "So What?" question. The "So What?" question refers to a research problem surviving the relevancy test [the quality of a measurement procedure that provides repeatability and accuracy].

What part of research answers the research problem? ›

In the Results section, you include the findings of your experiments, and in the Discussion section, you analyze these findings and explain how they answer the research question that you started out with.

How do you do you go about formulating research problem how do you organize your research work? ›

Consider following these steps when aiming to define your own research problem:
  1. Identify a general area of interest. ...
  2. Learn more about the problem. ...
  3. Review the context of the information. ...
  4. Determine relationships between variables. ...
  5. Select and include important variables. ...
  6. Receive feedback and revise.
Jul 13, 2021

What is the best way to organize papers? ›

Store your papers upright.

For optimal efficiency, it's crucial to store papers in a hanging-file system. Put each category of papers in a separate folder and store them in a filing cabinet or upright in a filing box placed on a shelf. Storing them this way makes it easy for you to see how many papers you have.

What are the 5 steps of social science research? ›

These stages include (a) choosing a research topic, (b) conducting a literature review, (c) measuring variables and gathering data, (d) analyzing data, and (e) drawing a conclusion.

What are the 4 types of research problem? ›

There are four types of research problems that you need to know before we look at the sources of a research problem. These are casuist, difference, descriptive and relational research problems.

What is an example of a problem statement in research? ›

Example of a problem that isn't evidence-based: “Based on the researcher's experience, the problem is that people don't accept female leaders;” which is an opinion-based statement based on personal (anecdotal) experience.

What are the 3 parts of a research problem? ›

The components of a research problem can be : There must be an individual or a group which has some difficulty or the problem. There must be some objective(s) to be attained at. There must be alternative means for obtaining the objective(s) one wishes to attain.

What is the most important part of the research problem? ›

A research problem question is the most important aspect of the research. You must spend time to refine and assess the research questions before getting started with the research activities.

What are the 3 research questions? ›

With that in mind there are three common types of quantitative research questions:
  • Descriptive research questions.
  • Comparative research questions.
  • Relationship-based research questions.

How many steps are involved in preparing the research problem? ›

The research design involves the following steps:

Step 1: Conduct secondary data analysis. Step 2: Do qualitative research. Step 3: Determine methods of collecting quantitative data (survey, observation, and experimentation) Step 4: Determine the definition of the information needed.

What is the first step you will consider in formulating a research problem? ›

Step 1 – Identify a question or problem.

The first step in the research process is to develop a research question. This can be a problem that needs to be solved, or some piece of information that is missing about a particular topic. Answering this question will be the focus of the research study.

How do you write and organize a research paper? ›

How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide
  1. Understand the assignment.
  2. Choose a research paper topic.
  3. Conduct preliminary research.
  4. Develop a thesis statement.
  5. Create a research paper outline.
  6. Write a first draft of the research paper.
  7. Write the introduction.
  8. Write a compelling body of text.

What are the 4 ways to organize your writing? ›

Here are five ways you can organize ideas in your writing and be certain that your readers will get it:
  • Chronological Order. ...
  • Logical Order. ...
  • Climactic Order. ...
  • Random Order. ...
  • Spatial Order.

What is used to organize papers? ›

You can organize your paper without a filing cabinet by using a binder, a box with folders, drawers on your desk, or another accessible spot. Many people prefer to keep their household papers in a binder with various sections and pockets.

Which tool helps you organize ideas for papers? ›

Outlining is a common tool that researchers use to organize their thoughts and set out the different chapters of the paper. It is a sequential tool where the researcher lists the most important ideas first and then elaborate using points that are related to the main idea.

What are the 8 parts of a social science paper? ›

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.

What are the 7 stages of scientific research? ›

The scientific method
  • Make an observation.
  • Ask a question.
  • Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  • Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  • Test the prediction.
  • Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

What are the 5 characteristics of a good research problem? ›

Characteristics of a good thesis research problem

2 The problem generates research questions. 3 It is grounded in theory. 4 It relates to one or more academic fields of study. 5 It has a base in the research literature.

What is a good problem statement? ›

A good problem statement should create awareness and stimulate creative thinking. It should not identify a solution or create a bias toward a specific strategy. Taking time to work on a problem statement is a great way to short-circuit the tendency to rush to solutions.

What is research problem and question? ›

The key difference between research problem and research question is that a research problem refers to an issue, difficulty, or gap in knowledge that is being addressed in research, whereas a research question is a statement that is in the form of a question aiming to study, learn, examine, and explore more about the ...

How do you write a research statement? ›

Writing Research Statements
  1. Avoid jargon. Make sure that you describe your research in language that many people outside your specific subject area can understand. ...
  2. Write as clearly, concisely, and concretely as you can.
  3. Keep it at a summary level; give more detail in the job talk.
  4. Ask others to proofread it.

How do you identify a problem? ›

Identify the root cause of the problem by collecting information and then talking with stakeholders. Combining existing research and information from your stakeholders can offer some insight into the problem and its causes. Consider data sources that could help you more clearly define the problem.

What are the 3 important contents elements of a problem? ›

Problem statements often have three elements: the problem itself, stated clearly and with enough contextual detail to establish why it is important; the method of solving the problem, often stated as a claim or a working thesis; the purpose, statement of objective and scope of the document the writer is preparing.

What are the 4 major parts of research plan? ›

A typical research plan has these required elements: Specific Aims.
Research Strategy
  • Significance.
  • Innovation.
  • Approach.

What is the objective of research problem? ›

What is a research objective? Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish. They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research. Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper, at the end of your problem statement.

What are the six criteria of a good research problem? ›

problem, Importance and Urgency, Novelty of the Problem, Feasibility, Facilities, Usefulness and Social Relevance, Research Personnel.

What is the most important step in the research process? ›

Without doubt, defining the problem is the most important step in the research process. Defining the problem sets the foundation for the entire project, so it is critically important to take the time to do this well.

What is a simple research question? ›

A research question is the question around which you center your research. It should be: clear: it provides enough specifics that one's audience can easily understand its purpose without needing additional explanation. focused: it is narrow enough that it can be answered thoroughly in the space the writing task allows.

What is a good main research question? ›

In general, however, a good research question should be: Clear and focused. In other words, the question should clearly state what the writer needs to do. Not too broad and not too narrow.

What is research question in research example? ›

What is a Research Question? A research question is a question that a study or research project aims to answer. This question often addresses an issue or a problem, which, through analysis and interpretation of data, is answered in the study's conclusion.

What is the 4 step research process? ›

Research is a dynamic process that can be organized into four stages: Exploring, Investigating, Processing, and Creating.

What are the 8 steps of social research? ›

These are (1) selecting a topic, (2) defining the problem, (3) reviewing the literature, (4) formulating a hypothesis, (5) choosing a research method, (6) collecting the data, (7) analyzing the results, and (8) sharing the results.

What are the main steps in research? ›

Depending on your familiarity with the topic and the challenges you encounter along the way, you may need to rearrange these steps.
  • Step 1: Identify and develop your topic. ...
  • Step 2 : Do a preliminary search for information. ...
  • Step 3: Locate materials. ...
  • Step 4: Evaluate your sources. ...
  • Step 5: Make notes. ...
  • Step 6: Write your paper.

What is research process and its steps? ›

The research process starts with identifying a research problem and conducting a literature review to understand the context. The researcher sets research questions, objectives, and hypotheses based on the research problem. A research study design is formed to select a sample size and collects data from it.

Why is it important to organize your research paper? ›

Organizing your research sources lays out a map for the path of your writing, and makes it easier to deliver your message to readers in a logical, convincing manner. Many different types of structures exist today – nonetheless, the structure you follow depends on the type of writing you're doing.

What are the 6 steps to writing a research paper? ›

How to Write a Research Paper in 6 Steps
  • Start researching early. Despite its sketchy reputation, Wikipedia isn't a bad place to begin. ...
  • Outline, outline, outline. ...
  • Write your first draft. ...
  • Revise, and revise again. ...
  • Double—no, triple—check your citations. ...
  • Proofread carefully.
Oct 28, 2014

What is the structure of social science? ›

In the social sciences, social structure is the aggregate of patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergent from and determinant of the actions of individuals. Likewise, society is believed to be grouped into structurally related groups or sets of roles, with different functions, meanings, or purposes.

What is the writing style for social sciences? ›

Social science writing style is impersonal, plain, and precise. Follow these rules for social science writing and preparing social science papers. Use standard margins of one inch on the sides and at the top and bottom of a page.

What is the best tool to organize scientific papers? ›

FileMakerPro. Powerful database software for organizing your research (available for Mac and PC). Take notes, import pdfs, images, videos, and audio files, cross-reference your documents, and more. FilemakerPro comes with built in templates for research notes, but it is completely customizable as well.

What are the 6 social science ideas? ›

The most common social science subjects include Anthropology, Archaeology, Economics, Geography, History, Law, Linguistics, Politics, Psychology and Sociology. Social sciences can help uncover useful insights into society in a variety of ways – from understanding how minds work, to how societies as a whole function.

What are methods of social science? ›

The scientific method, as applied to social sciences, includes a variety of research approaches, tools, and techniques, for collecting and analyzing qualitative or quantitative data. These methods include laboratory experiments, field surveys, case research, ethnographic research, action research, and so forth.

What are the characteristics of social science research? ›

Other distinguishing characteristics of social science research include:
  • Collaboration with colleagues to gather data and publish research.
  • Reliance upon raw data such as statistics, survey results, observations, and interviews.

What are the 7 social sciences? ›

The most common social science subjects include Anthropology, Archaeology, Economics, Geography, History, Law, Linguistics, Politics, Psychology and Sociology. Social sciences can help uncover useful insights into society in a variety of ways - from understanding how minds work, to how societies as a whole function.

How do you write a social science research question? ›

All research questions should be:
  1. Focused on a single problem or issue.
  2. Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources.
  3. Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints.
  4. Specific enough to answer thoroughly.
  5. Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis.
Oct 26, 2022

How to write an introduction for a social science research paper? ›

Your introduction should state the problem you are going to address. It will likely pose the research question as well. This is sometimes referred to as identifying a gap in the disciplinary knowledge. Briefly discuss what the discipline (your audience) already knows about the subject.

Does social sciences Use MLA or APA? ›

APA is most often used in the disciplines of: Social Sciences (including Psychology, Education, Sociology, Economics, Criminal Justice, etc.)

How do you organize data in a research paper? ›

Ensure that the first row is never empty and reserve it for descriptive headers. Each column should contain data in the same format (either numerical or text). Each row should be a record of a sample type or an individual response. Spreadsheets should be saved in nonproprietary software formats such as csv or txt.

What are the 6 tools of research? ›

1.4 Identify examples of how six general research tools can play significant roles in a research project: (a) the li- brary and its resources, (b) computer technology, (c) measurement, (d) statistics, (e) language, and (f) the human mind.

What style guide is used for scientific papers? ›

The best general-purpose citation style is Chicago 16 (which is also the form used by many of the University of Chicago journals like Current Anthropology and American Naturalist). This style is the basis for the Council of Biology Editors' bibliographic style recommendation.


1. A Clever Way to Study for Exams
(Gohar Khan)
2. How to Write a Research Paper Introduction
(Wordvice Editing Service)
3. LITERATURE REVIEW: Step by step guide for writing an effective literature review
(Smart Student)
4. Identify Themes and Gaps in Literature – with REAL Examples | Scribbr 🎓
5. How to Write a Literature Review in 30 Minutes or Less
(David Taylor)
6. Full Research Proposal Example - Part 1
(Richard Makurumidze)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rubie Ullrich

Last Updated: 07/28/2023

Views: 6212

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rubie Ullrich

Birthday: 1998-02-02

Address: 743 Stoltenberg Center, Genovevaville, NJ 59925-3119

Phone: +2202978377583

Job: Administration Engineer

Hobby: Surfing, Sailing, Listening to music, Web surfing, Kitesurfing, Geocaching, Backpacking

Introduction: My name is Rubie Ullrich, I am a enthusiastic, perfect, tender, vivacious, talented, famous, delightful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.