How To Write A Problem Statement for a Thesis

Every research paper starts with an effective problem statement. It sets the stage for the rest of the work, gives context to the problem, and outlines what the paper sets out to do. In essence, it tells the reader why the paper matters!

We’ve touched on this before as part of a previous article on researching sources, but this is an important step that deserves its own post. In this article, we’ll show you how to write a strong problem statement for a thesis that’ll communicate your arguments clearly and concisely, and even provide a problem statement template you can use to write your own. 

What Is A Problem Statement for a Thesis?

Before we get into the meat, let’s take a step back: What is a problem statement for a thesis paper? 

A problem statement in a thesis provides an overview of the issue discussed in the paper, as well as its background and who it affects. It may also describe your objectives in performing your research.

Don’t confuse a problem statement with a thesis statement or research question. These three are related, but they’re not quite the same thing. They each play a different role in a paper.

All research papers will address a specific research problem, whether it’s a practical issue that you want to explore or a theoretical issue that can expand our understanding of a particular field of study. The direction your research takes will depend on your field and what you aim to accomplish in your thesis.

  • A research question aims to guide your paper’s research in a specific direction. You may have one or several research questions, but they’re all centred around your research problem.
  • A thesis statement is the answer to your research question. It’s what arises from the research and work that you’ve put into your paper, and serves as the ultimate argument you’ll make in your thesis.
  • A problem statement is your research problem put into words, including how you plan to get from your research question to your thesis statement. 

Some style guides do not distinguish between problem statement, thesis statement, and research question. For our purposes, though, we’ll use the definitions above.

Research Your Problem First

No well-developed problem statement can exist without first being backed by research

In fact, as you do your research, the specific focus of your thesis might change, or you might discover new information that changes your angle of attack. As you gather information, consider how this changes your problem statement and whether you still want to run with it. It’s almost always better to change your problem statement for your thesis, rather than continue trying to put together your argument with unsatisfactory supporting research. 

Remember, your conclusion has to proceed from the evidence; you can’t have it the other way around. If it turns out that your evidence doesn’t support the original concept you had for your thesis, it’s okay to change it and your problem statement with it. This isn’t a bad thing at all—it shows that the direction of your paper is informed by your findings, and you’re not just chasing a particular outcome with no regard for the evidence.

What Should A Problem Statement for a Thesis Look Like?

Because your problem statement is supposed to define your research problem, the best place to start is by asking questions that your problem statement answers. Here’s a quick and simple problem statement template that you can use for your thesis:

  • Sentence 1: What do we already know? Contextualise the problem. Lay out the background for your research problem.
  • Sentence 2: What is the problem? Define exactly what your paper is going to address. If anyone asks what your paper is about, this sentence alone should make it clear to them.
  • Sentence 3: Why does the problem matter? Show why the problem is relevant and needs to be solved. If your research is more on the theoretical side, talk about how it can advance or alter our existing understanding of the topic.
  • Sentence 4: How are you going to prove it? This is where you go into your methodology and how you plan to attack the problem in your thesis.

This will produce a basic four-sentence problem statement that you can use as-is or expand as you feel necessary. However, don’t feel shackled to one specific phrasing of your problem statement. This template is more of a set of guidelines that can help you along, rather than a fixed format that you should follow to the letter.

If you need to boil everything down into just one sentence, go for Sentence 2 above. That’s the heart of your research and the summary of everything that you’re aiming to achieve in your thesis. Make it short, clear, and punchy. You can use the rest of your thesis to expand on that sentence, so don’t clog it up with unnecessary verbiage. Make it nothing else but a concise statement of the problem. Example:

“The ‘Stirrup Thesis’ alone cannot explain the rise of feudalism in Medieval Europe.”

Putting It All Together

Once you have your problem statement, it’s time to write the rest of your paper. From here on out, you’ll be describing your methods, discussing the results of your research, and reporting your conclusions, all rooted in a strong problem statement that defined the aim of your thesis from the start. 

Writing a thesis takes a lot of time and effort, but with the right tools, you can simplify the process significantly. With a complete academic writing suite like Flowcite, you can get from problem statement to printed thesis paper seamlessly using tools that are purpose-built to make writing research papers easier, like:

  • A LaTeX editor, which lets you write your thesis without worrying about formatting
  • A resource search engine that connects to databases with millions of research sources
  • An intuitive citation manager that lets you save sources you want and add them as citations in your paper with a single click

These tools help reduce the amount of hours you’ll spend conducting and organising your research, allowing you to focus more on writing the best thesis paper possible.

Work smarter, not harder. Sign up for Flowcite for free today to save time and energy on your next college paper.

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