A research problem is a question that researcher wants to answer or a problem that a researcher wants to solve. Identification & formulation of a research problem is the first step of the research process. Selection of research problem depends on several factors such as researcher’s knowledge, skills, interest, expertise, motivation & creativity with respect to the subject of inquiry. It is believed that most of the good research studies need lots of time for selection of a research problem.
Identification of the problem
Identification of research problem refers to the sense of awareness of a prevalent social problem, a social phenomenon or a concept that is worth study – as it requires to be investigated to understand it. The identification of a research problem is the first & most important step in research process. It is similar to the identification of the destination before a journey. It works as the foundation for the whole research process. The researcher identifies such a research problem through his observation, knowledge, wisdom and skills.
Practical research problems
If you are doing practical research, you can identify a problem by reading reports, following up on previous research, and talking to people who work in the relevant field or organization. You might look for:
- Issues with performance or efficiency
- Processes that could be improved
- Areas of concern among practitioners in a field
- Difficulties faced by specific groups of people in society
Theoretical research problems
Theoretical research focuses on expanding knowledge and understanding rather than directly contributing to change. You can identify a research problem by reading recent research, theory and debates on the topic to find a gap in what is currently known about it. You might look for:
- A phenomenon or context that has not been closely studied
- A contradiction between two or more perspectives
- A situation or relationship that is not well understood
- A troubling question that has yet to be resolved
Steps in identification of research problem
1) Selection of the area
2) Interviewing Practitioners
3) Relevant Literature
1. Selection of the area
Knowing the field or area – It is first necessary for a researcher to choose a broad field within which he/she will conduct the study. The field selected should be one in which researcher is capable of demonstrating necessary initiative, originality and good judgement. A thorough understanding of the known facts and ideas of the field is the most important step in selecting a problem for study.
2. 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.
3. 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.
1. Pardede, P. (2018) ‘Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem’, Research in ELT, 1(October), pp. 1–13
2. Muhammad, S. and Kabir, S. (2018) ‘Problem formulation and objective determination’, (June).