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A problem statement is a short, succinct explanation of a problem a business is facing and a

proposed solution to the problem. Problem statements can be effective ways to define an issue
and communicate a solution within a short span of time. Before you write your problem
statement, think about the problem and your proposed solution, and be prepared to back it up
with facts
The first thing you should do in a problem statement is to describe the ideal solution using
words like "should." Then, introduce the problem by using words like "Unfortunately" or
"However," followed by a clear 1-2 sentence description of what's wrong. In order to emphasize
why this problem is important, explain the financial cost the business will suffer if the problem
goes unsolved, and back your statement up with data.

Writing Your Own Problem Statement


1. Describe the "ideal" state of affairs. There are lots of different ways to write a
problem statement — some sources will recommend jumping right to the problem itself, while
others recommend providing background context first so that problem (and its solution) are
easier to understand for the reader. If you're ever unsure of how to begin, opt for the latter
option. While conciseness is something every piece of practical writing should aim for, it's even
more important to be well-understood. Start by describing how things should work. Before you
even mention your problem, explain in a few sentences how things would be if the problem
didn't exist.

 For instance, let's say that we work at a major airline and that we've noticed that
the way passengers board our planes is an inefficient use of time and resources. In this
case, we might begin our problem statement by describing an ideal situation where the
boarding system isn't inefficient that the company should shoot for, like this: "The
boarding protocols used by ABC Airlines should aim to get each flight's passengers
aboard the plane quickly and efficiently so that the plane can take off as soon as
possible . The process of boarding should be optimized for time-efficiency but also
should be straightforward enough that it can be easily understood by all passengers."

2. Explain your problem. In the words of the inventor Charles Kettering, "A
problem well-stated is a problem half-solved."[1] One of the most important goals (if
not themost important goal) of any problem statement is to articulate the problem being
addressed to the reader in a way that's clear, straightforward, and easy to understand.
Succinctly summarize the problem you intend to solve — this cuts to the heart of the
issue immediately and positions the most important information in the problem
statement near the top, where it's most visible. If you've just stated an "ideal" state of
affairs as suggested above, you may want to start your sentence with phrasing like
"However, ..." or "Unfortunately, ..." to show that the problem you've identified is what is
preventing the ideal vision from being a reality.

 Let's say that we think we've developed a quicker, more efficient system for getting
passengers aboard our planes than the typical "back to front" seating system. In this
case, we might continue with a few sentences like, "However, ABC Airline's current
passenger boarding system is an inefficient use of the company's time and resources.
By wasting employee man hours, the current boarding protocols make the company
less competitive, and by contributing to a slow boarding process, they create an
unfavorable brand image."

3. Explain your problem's financial costs. Soon after you state your problem, you'll
want to explain why it's a big deal — after all, no one has the time or resources to try to
solve every single minor problem. In the business world, money is almost always the
bottom line, so you'll want to try to highlight the financial impact of your problem on the
company or organization you're writing for. For instance, is the problem you're
discussing keeping your business from making more money? Is it actively costing your
business money? Is it damaging your brand image and thus indirectly costing your
business money? Be as exact and specific about the financial burden of your problem
— try to specify an exact dollar amount (or a well-supported estimate) for your
problem's cost.

 For our airline example, we might proceed to explain the problem's financial cost like
this: "The inefficiency of the current boarding system represents a significant financial
burden for the company. On average, the current boarding system wastes roughly four
minutes per boarding session, resulting in a total of 20 wasted man-hours per day
across all ABC flights. This represents a waste of roughly $400 per day, or $146,000
per year."

4. Back up your assertions. No matter how much money you claim your problem is
costing your company, if you can't back up your claims with reasonable evidence, you
may not be taken seriously. As soon as you start making specific claims about how
serious your problem is, you'll need to start supporting your statements with evidence.
In some cases, this may be from your own research, from data from a related study or
project, or even from reputable third-party sources.

 In some corporate and academic situations, you may need to explicitly reference your
evidence in the text of your problem statement, while in other situations, it may be
enough to simply use a footnote or another form of shorthand for your citations. If you're
unsure, ask your boss or teacher for advice.
 Let's reexamine the sentences we used in the previous step. They describe the cost of
the problem, but don't explain how this cost was found. A more thorough explanation
might include this: "...Based on internal performance tracking data,[1]on average, the
current boarding system wastes roughly four minutes per boarding session, resulting in
a total of 20 wasted man-hours per day across all ABC flights. Terminal personal are
paid an average of $20 per hour, so this represents a waste of roughly $400 per day, or
$146,000 per year." Note the footnote — in an actual problem statement, this would
correspond to a reference or appendix containing the data mentioned.

5. Propose a solution. When you've explained what the problem is and why it's so
important, proceed to explain how you propose to deal with it. As with the initial
statement of your problem, your explanation of your solution should be written to be as
clear and concise as possible. Stick to big, important, concrete concepts and leave any
minor details for later — you'll have plenty of opportunities to get into every minor
aspect of your proposed solution in the body of your proposal.

 In our airline example, our solution to the problem of inefficient boarding practices is this
new system we've discovered, so we should briefly explain the broad strokes of this
new system without getting into the minor details. We might say something like, "Using
a modified boarding system proposed by Dr. Edward Right of the Kowlard Business
Efficiency Institute which has passengers board the plane from the sides in rather than
from the back to the front, ABC Airlines can eliminate these four minutes of waste." We
might then go on to explain the basic gist of the new system, but we wouldn't use more
than a sentence or two to do this, as the "meat" of our analysis will be in the body of the
proposal.

6. Explain the benefits of the solution. Again, now that you've told your
readers whatshould be done about the problem, it's a very good idea to explain why this
solution is a good idea. Since businesses are always trying to increase their efficiency
and earn more money, you'll want to focus primarily on the financial impact of your
solution — which expenses it will reduce, which new forms of revenue it will generate,
and so on. You can also explain non-tangible benefits, like improved customer
satisfaction, but your total explanation shouldn't be too much longer than a few
sentences to a paragraph.
 In our example, we might briefly describe how our company could conceivably benefit
from the money saved with our solution. A few sentences along these lines might work:
"ABC Airlines stands to benefit substantially from the adoption of this new boarding
program. For instance, the $146,000 in estimated yearly savings can be re-directed to
new sources of revenue, such as expanding its selection of flights to high-demand
markets. In addition, by being the first American airline to adopt this solution, ABC
stands to gain considerable recognition as an industry trend-setter in the areas of value
and convenience."

7. Conclude by summarizing the problem and solution. After you've


presented the ideal vision for your company, identified the problem keeping your from
achieving this ideal, and suggested a solution, you're almost done. All that's left to do is
to conclude with a summary of your main arguments that allows you transition easily
into the main body of your proposal. There's no need to make this conclusion any longer
than it needs to be — try to state, in just a few sentences, the basic gist of what you've
described in your problem statement and the approach you intend to take in the body of
the article.
 In our airline example, we might conclude like this: "Optimization of current boarding
protocols or adoption of new, more-effective protocols is crucial for the continued
competitiveness of the company. In this proposal, the alternative boarding protocols
developed by Dr. Right are analyzed for their feasibility and steps for effective
implementation are suggested." This sums up the main point of the problem statement
— that the current boarding procedure isn't very good and that this new one is better —
and tells the audience what to expect if they continue reading.

8. For academic work, don't forget a thesis statement. When you have to
write a problem statement for school, rather than for work, the process will be largely
the same, but there may be extra items you'll need to take into account to assure a
good grade. For instance, many composition classes will require you to include a thesis
statement in your problem statement. The thesis statement (sometimes just called the
"thesis") is a single sentence that summarizes your entire argument, boiling it down to
its bare essentials. A good thesis statement identifies both the problem and the solution
as succinctly and clearly as possible.
 For instance, let's say we're writing a paper on the problem of academic essay mills —
companies that sell pre-written and/or custom works for students to purchase and turn
in as their own work. As our thesis statement, we might use this sentence, which
acknowledges the problem and the solution we're about to propose: "The practice of
buying academic essays, which undermines the learning process and gives an
advantage to rich students, can be combated buy providing professors with stronger
digital analysis tools."

9. Follow the same process for conceptual problems. Not all problem
statements are going to be for documents dealing with practical, tangible problems.
Some, especially in academics (and especially in the humanities), are going to deal with
conceptual problems — problems that have to do with the way we think about abstract
ideas. In these cases, you can still use the same basic problem statement framework to
present the problem at hand (while obviously shifting away from a business focus). In
other words, you'll want to identify the problem (often, for conceptual problems, this will
be that some idea is not well-understood), explain why the problem matters, explain
how you plan to solve it, and sum up all of this in a conclusion.

 For instance, let's say that we're asked to write a problem statement for a report on the
importance of religious symbolism in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
In this case, our problem statement should identify some poorly-understood aspect of
the religious symbolism in the novel, explain why this matters (for instance, we might
say that by better understanding the religious symbolism in the novel, it's possible to
draw new insights from the book), and lay out how we plan to support our argument.

Polishing Your Problem Statement


Be concise. If there's one thing to keep in mind when writing problem statements, it's
this. Problem statements shouldn't be any longer than they need to be to accomplish
their task of laying out the problem and its solution for the reader. No sentence should
be wasted. Any sentence that doesn't directly contribute to the problem statement's
goals should be removed. Use clear, direct language. Don't get bogged down in minor
details — problem statements should deal only with the essentials of your problem and
solution. In general, keep your problem statement as short as possible without
sacrificing its informativeness.
 A problem statement is no place to add your own personal commentary or "flavor", as
this makes the problem statement longer for no practical purpose. You may or may not
have the opportunity to be more long-winded in the body of your document, depending
on the seriousness of your topic and audience.

Write for your audience. When making a problem statement, it's important to
remember that you're writing for someone else, not for yourself. Different audiences will
have different sets of knowledge, different reasons for reading, and different attitudes
toward your problem, so try to keep your intended audience in mind as you write. You
want your problem statement to be as clear and easy for your audience to understand
as possible, which means you may need to change your tone, style, and diction from
one audience to another. As you write, try to ask yourself questions like:
 "Who, specifically, am I writing for?"
 "Why am I addressing this audience?"
 "Does this audience know all of the same terms and concepts as I do?"
 "Does this audience share the same attitude as I do towards this problem?"
 "Why should my audience care about this problem?"

Don't use jargon without defining it. As noted above, your problem statement should
be written so that it's as easy for your audience to understand as possible. This means
that, unless you're writing for a technical audience that is likely to be knowledgeable in
the terminology of the field you're writing about, you'll want to avoid using technical
jargon too heavily and to make sure that you define any pieces of jargon that
you do use. Never make the assumption that your audience automatically has all of the
technical knowledge that you do or you risk alienating them and losing readers as soon
as they encounter terms and information they're not familiar with.
 For instance, if we're writing for a board of highly-educated physicians, it may be OK to
assume that they'll know what the term "metacarpal" means. However, if we're writing to
an audience made up of both physicians and wealthy hospital investors who may or
may not be medically trained, it's a good idea to introduce the word "metacarpal" with its
definition — the bone between the first two joints of the finger.

Stick to a narrow, defined problem. The best problem statements aren't sprawling,
rambling pieces of writing. Instead, they're focused on a single, easily-identified problem
and its solution. Generally, narrow, defined topics are easier to write convincingly about
than large, vague ones, so whenever possible, you'll want to keep the scope of your
problem statement (and thus the body of your document) well-focused. If this makes
your problem statement (or the body of your document) short, this is usually a good
thing (except in academic situations where you have minimum page limits for your
assignment).
 A good rule of thumb is to only address problems that you can definitively solve beyond
a shadow of a doubt. If you're not sure of a definitive solution that can solve your entire
problem, you may want to narrow the scope of your project and change your problem
statement to reflect this new focus.

Remember the "five Ws". Problem statements should be as informative as possible in


as few words as possible, but shouldn't delve into minute details. If you're ever in doubt
of what to include in your problem statement, a smart idea is to try to answer the five
Ws (who, what, where, when, and why), plus how. Addressing the five Ws gives your
reader a good baseline level of knowledge to understand the problem and solution
without treading into unnecessary levels of detail.
 For instance, if you're writing a problem statement to propose a new building
development to your local city council, you might address the five Ws by
explaining who the development would benefit, what the development would
require, wherethe development should be, when construction should begin, and why the
development is ultimately a smart idea for the city.

Use a formal voice. Problem statements are almost always used for serious proposals
and projects. Because of this, you'll want to use a formal, dignified writing style (the
same as the style hopefully used for the body of the document) in the problem
statement. Keep your writing clear, plain, and direct. Don't attempt to win your reader
over by taking a friendly or casual tone in your problem statement. Don't use humor or
jokes. Don't include pointless asides or anecdotes. Don't use slang or colloquialisms.
Good problem statements know that they have a job to accomplish and don't waste any
time or ink on unnecessary content.
 The closest you can usually get to including purely "entertaining" content in academic
writing in the humanities. Here, occasionally, it's possible to encounter problem
statements that begin with a quote or epigraph. Even in these cases, however, the
quote has some bearing on the problem being discussed and the rest of the problem
statement is written in a formal voice.

Always proofread for errors. This is a must for all forms of serious writing — no first
draft has ever existed that couldn't have benefited from the careful eye of a good
proofreader. When you finish your problem statement, give it a quick read. Does it seem
to "flow" properly? Does it present its ideas coherently? Does it seem to be logically
organized? If not, make these changes now. When you're finally satisfied with the
structure of your problem statement, double-check it for spelling, grammar, and
formatting errors.
 You'll never regret re-reading your problem statement before you turn it in. Since, by its
very nature, the problem statement is usually the first part of a proposal or report that
someone will read, any errors here will be especially embarrassing for you and can
even reflect negatively on your entire document.