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Defining a Research Problem

A research problem in your academic paper can be theoretical or practical. A theoretical problem aims to add more knowledge to the existing one considering the gaps, contradictions, or difficulties faced in the previous work. A practical problem always involves contributing to changes in some performance that are required by the time or additional needs.

Commonly, any research can involve both theoretical and practical aspects but in different parts. It should state a clear focus and deal with a specific issue to be solved. Choosing a research problem also depends on your broader interest and the types of research you would prefer to conduct.

In this article, we are going to provide you with some tips and recommendations on how to identify the research problem correctly and how to customize it to the concrete requirements. You will have to make up research questions or problem statements based on your research problem to write an introduction to your paper correctly and submit your research proposal for your paper to be approved.

Importance and Value of the Research Problem

Even if you feel that the topic you have chosen is interesting and you can discuss it in-depth, this reason is not enough for the start of research. First of all, you need to formulate a research problem to make your project manageable and consistent.

If you just repeat in other words everything that other people have already said or do your research without any specific purpose, your paper will not be relevant and valuable for the field. Your project should contribute something new to the theme.

Therefore, a research problem is a keystone of any research paper, dissertation or even during the creation of a research proposal. With the help of it, you will show that you know what you are going to do and why you will do it.

Defining a Broader Problem Area

Any research project has its unique purpose, filling the field's gap. That is why you should try to detect controversial matters, under-explored aspects of the problem, or something that evokes concern. You will notice them when you start reading literature on the topic.

Research problems can be theoretical and practical, as already mentioned.

Theoretical Research Problems

Such problems are used for a deeper understanding of a subject matter or expansion of the available knowledge. They usually do not contribute to a change. Their purpose is to fill the gap in recent theories or resolve a debate that started in relation to it. That is why your research should be focused on:

  • ✔️ two or more contradictory views and finding a balance there;
  • ✔️ an object or phenomenon that has not received much attention in the previous research;
  • ✔️ a problematic question that has not got an answer yet;
  • ✔️ a relationship between two objects, situations, or contexts that are rather unclear.


The main characteristic of a theoretical problem is that it cannot solve a certain issue immediately. It just provides a basis for such a resolution that will have practical outcomes in the future. For example:

  • The millennial-powered economy needs a thorough look at the connections of inequalities based on gender, income, or ethnicity.
  • It is essential to understand the negative impact of Vitamin D deficiency on the cardiovascular system from a long perspective.

Practical Research Problems

Such problems need more fieldwork connected with reading reports, analyzing statistical data, and surveying people who work in the field of your interest. You can also find some important information in the previous studies. So, try to pay attention to:

  • certain problems in the institution that should be solved;
  • a number of difficulties that people of a specific group may experience;
  • problematic ways of performance and their effectiveness for a certain organization;
  • areas that are disputable or concerning for most practitioners who operate in a certain field.


Such research can be closely connected to your job or internship. It may even be useful for the development of this organization.

  • Company X is experiencing a high personnel turnover that affects its performance in the market.
  • Organization A has sufficiently cut its operational expenses that negatively impact the productivity of its staff.

Finding More In-Depth Information About the Problem

You should learn more about everything related to the problem to decide what aspect of your research you can address. You may focus on the following things:

1. Background and Current Context

Find out how the problem influences certain people, groups, or communities. You also need to know whether the issue has recently appeared, or it has been experienced for a long time. The research that has already been done on the problem is also important to consider. Do not forget about the solutions that have been put forward. Examine the current debate on the problem and define whether something is missing in it.

2. Relevance and Uniqueness

This cluster of questions involves:

  • specific people, time, and place for your paper’s focus;
  • benefits from resolving the problem for the organization;
  • forthcoming research that parts of the issue you will not be able to cover in your paper;
  • the outcomes that can be if the issue is not resolved.


Organization A has been focused on increasing assets and entities. However, it has not paid too much attention to operational expenses. It led to employees’ dissatisfaction caused by the decrease in their salary and bonuses and the increase of staff turnover. The result is a slowdown in productivity. To gain back its position in the market, the company needs new strategies for balancing all the parts of expenses and incomes and retaining the personnel. Deep research to find such strategies is required here.

When you have managed to make a research problem more specific, you can create a problem statement, hypotheses, and research questions to continue your work.

Final Thoughts

You know how to formulate a research problem for your future paper now. You should learn the literature on the topic, find out the gaps in the previous research work, contradictory points, debate, and perspectives for further research. After that, you can make up a broader version of a research problem, either a theoretical or practical one and make it more focused and specific.

You must understand why the correct definition of a research problem will influence the quality of your further research and its results. If you consider all the recommendations provided in this article, you will be successful with your work.

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