The Research Problem

The first step in research is formulating the research problem. Stefan Nowak defined a research problem as “a certain question or set of questions to which the research is to provide an answer”.

Problem Identification

Identifying a research problem is the first and foremost step in any research process. A researcher has to devote considerable time and attention for this. A research problem refers to some deprivation or shortcoming or a gap in knowledge that a researcher experiences in a theoretical or practical situation and wants to find a solution for the same. Research really begins when the above referred situation demanding a solution is perceived by the researcher within the realm of general topic selected by hum. The general area of interest here refers to the range of the subject matter within which he has to see and pose a specific problem for research. So, the formulation of the topic into a research problem is really, the first step in a scientific enquiry.

Defining a Research Problem

The general area of study may be suggested either by some practical concern or some scientific or intellectual curiosity, which in turn may be a general subject of which little is known or a particular phenomenon which may be probed more deeply. In fields which have a highly developed theoretical base, the researcher may want to put specific predictions and expectations to test against the much established theory.

The selection of a topic for research is only half a step forward. Generalization of a topic is of no relevance to the researcher in as much as it does not help him perceive, secure and organize his data. Hence the need to formulate a very specific research problem. A research problem defines the goal of the researcher in clear terms. It is said that, “if you start from nowhere, you will generally reach there”. Without a goal, i.e., without a specific problem posed before him, the researcher will be searching for a needle in a haystack. A well defined goal for a researcher is like a well-lit road before a traveler in the pitch darkness of night. The more pin-pointed the topic, the more it comes into focus before the researcher. Thus, it is clear that the topic should be so formulated that its scope could be progressively narrowed and then specific challenging questions, emerge in simple terms. This is essentially the first step in a scientific enquiry.

Conditions to a Research Problem

Usually a research problem selection depends on the following conditions on the practical side.

  1. There should be a pressing need for a factual evaluation of a programme, information pertinent to policy making or marketing planning or necessity for evolving a suitable solution to a dire problem the company faces.
  2. It is worth selecting a research problem which tends to touch upon or has a bearing on organisational values. Market conditions, financial viability of the researcher and the time at disposal play an important and subtle role in determining the researcher’s preference in the selection of a topic, for inquiry.
  3. There must be an individual, group or an organisation to whom the problem can be attributed. They in turn belong to an environment which is defined by values of the uncontrolled variables.
  4. There must at least be two courses of action to be pursued. A course of action is defined by one or more values of the controlled variables.
  5. There must be at least two possible outcomes of the course of action, of which one should be preferable than the other for it is that which the researcher is looking for his objective in doing research.
  6. The course of action must provide some chances for attaining the objective, with unequal efficiencies for the desired outcome.
  7. Further, the individual or organisation also can be said to have a problem if it does not know what course of action is best of the available alternatives.

The formulation of the research problem also aims in making various components of the problem explicit. A problem well framed is half solved. It would seem easy to pose a problem for research, but in reality it is not so. Even Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species has testified to this by saying “Looking back, I think it was more difficult to see what the problems were than to solve them”. There is another point to remember here. Although every problem involves a question or a series of questions, not every question qualifies as a scientific problem.

Basic Concepts in Problem Identification

Guidance in identifying a problem of research is afforded when we go through R.L.Ackoffs, ‘The Design of Social Research’ wherein he visualized the five components of a research problem. In other words, research problems may be identified on the basis of these five concepts, which are in fact touchstones for a researcher. They are:

  1. There must be an individual or a group which has some difficulty or a problem.
  2. There must be some objectives to be attained at the end. There can be no problem when there is no want,
  3. There can also be no problem, if there is no choice. So, alternative means or courses of action or instruments to meet or pursue the objectives must be available.
  4. The researcher must provide answer for the relative efficiency of the alternative means that are available to pursue the objective.
  5. Another component of research is that there must be some environments to which the difficulty or problem pertains.

Sources of Research Problem

Research problems may be selected from the following sources:

  1. Theory of one’s own interest: The research may select a problem for investigation from a given theory in which he has considerable interest. In such situations the researcher must have thorough knowledge of that theory and should be sufficiently inquisitive to explore some unexplained aspects or assumptions of that theory.
  2. Daily problems: Research problem can also be selected on the basis of daily experience of a researcher. Every day problems constantly present something new and worthy of investigation and it depends on the sharpness of the researcher’s intellect to tend his daily experiences into a research problem.
  3. Technological developments: Technological developments in a fast changing society are constantly bringing forth new problems and new opportunities for research. What is the impact of a changed information technology on the existing socio-economic set up? What is the impact of bio-technology in our economy?
  4. Discussions with expert authorities including the supervisor or research advisor: A good starting point either for selecting or for learning about-a topic is some one who is well acquainted with the topic, perhaps some one who has been involved in research in the topic.
  5. Unexplored areas

Types of Research Problem

Social science research problems may be of three distinct varieties differing in form, content, and mode of verification’s. These are:

  1. Empirical Problems : When social researchers answer questions or problems on the basis of what they come to know through their sensory organs, these are expressed as empirical problems. Social researchers base their conclusions and findings on what they perceive or observe or sense in order to verify, approve or reject hypothesis.
  2. Analytical Problems : Analytical problems dissect into the factors causing a problem, the influence of these factors, the factors that offer a solution, the efficacy of these factors and so on.
  3. Normative problems : Normative problems are questions whose answers depend primarily on value judgments. Value judgments are statements of what is desirable, preferred, moral, imperative or obligatory. These may take either an evaluative or prescriptive form.

Research Problem Formulation

Problem formulation is structuring the problem such that it is focused, pointed and absolutely clear. Problem formulation has certain stages, definition of problem, and delimitation of the problem and justification of the problem.

Research Problem Definition

Problem definition gives a concise and clear statement of the problem in terms objectives of the study, research questions of the study and the hypothesis of the study.

It is important to define and elucidate the research problem as a whole and further define all the technical and unusual terms employed in the statement. By this the research worker removes the chance of misinterpretation of any of these crucial terms. The definition helps to establish the frame of reference with which the researcher approaches the problem.

Delimitation of the Research Problem

Delimitation involves earmarking the scope of the investigation. determines the boundaries of the research problem. This delimitation mentions the functional and geographical limits of the study i.e., whether the study will be covering a certain town, a district, a region, a state on a country. Again it is important to mention as to what subjects will constitute the sample of the study and how they will be distributed over the institutions, geographical areas or time intervals.

Justification of a Research Problem

Before the proposed research problem can be considered appropriate, several searching questions should be raised. Only, when those questions are answered in the affirmative can be problem be considered a good one.

  1. Is this type of problem can be effectively solved through the process of research? Can relevant data be gathered to test the theory or find the answer to the problem under consideration?
  2. Is the problem significant? Is an important principle involved? Would the solution make any difference as far as theory or practice is concerned?
  3. Is the problem a new one? Is no answer already available? Ignorance of prior studies may lead a researcher to spend time needlessly on a problem already investigated by some other researcher.
  4. Is research on the problem feasible? After a research work has been evaluated, there remains the problem of suitability for a particular researcher.

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