In the dynamic realm of academia, research problems serve as crucial stepping stones for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements. Research problems lay the groundwork for inquiry and exploration that happens when conducting research. They direct the path toward knowledge expansion.

In this blog post, we will discuss the different ways you can identify and formulate a research problem. We will also highlight how you can write a research problem, its significance in guiding your research journey, and how it contributes to knowledge advancement.

Understanding the Essence of a Research Problem

A research problem is defined as the focal point of any academic inquiry. It is a concise and well-defined statement that outlines the specific issue or question that the research aims to address. This research problem usually sets the tone for the entire study and provides you, the researcher, with a clear purpose and a clear direction on how to go about conducting your research.

There are two ways you can consider what the purpose of your research problem is. The first way is that the research problem helps you define the scope of your study and break down what you should focus on in the research. The essence of this is to ensure that you embark on a relevant study and also easily manage it. 

The second way is that having a research problem helps you develop a step-by-step guide in your research exploration and execution. It directs your efforts and determines the type of data you need to collect and analyze. Furthermore, a well-developed research problem is really important because it contributes to the credibility and validity of your study.

It also demonstrates the significance of your research and its potential to contribute new knowledge to the existing body of literature in the world. A compelling research problem not only captivates the attention of your peers but also lays the foundation for impactful and meaningful research outcomes.

Identifying a Research Problem

To identify a research problem, you need a systematic approach and a deep understanding of the subject area. Below are some steps to guide you in this process:

  • Conduct a Literature Review: Before you dive into your research problem, ensure you get familiar with the existing literature in your field. Analyze gaps, controversies, and unanswered questions. This will help you identify areas where your research can make a meaningful contribution.
  • Consult with Peers and Mentors: Participate in discussions with your peers and mentors to gain insights and feedback on potential research problems. Their perspectives can help you refine and validate your ideas.
  • Define Your Research Objectives: Clearly outline the objectives of your study. What do you want to achieve through your research? What specific outcomes are you aiming for?


Formulating a Research Problem

Once you have identified the general area of interest and specific research objectives, you can then formulate your research problem. Things to consider when formulating a research problem:

  • Clarity and Specificity: Your research problem should be concise, specific, and devoid of ambiguity. Avoid vague statements that could lead to confusion or misinterpretation.
  • Originality: Strive to formulate a research problem that addresses a unique and unexplored aspect of your field. Originality is key to making a meaningful contribution to the existing knowledge.
  • Feasibility: Ensure that your research problem is feasible within the constraints of time, resources, and available data. Unrealistic research problems can hinder the progress of your study.
  • Refining the Research Problem: It is common for the research problem to evolve as you delve deeper into your study. Don’t be afraid to refine and revise your research problem if necessary. Seek feedback from colleagues, mentors, and experts in your field to ensure the strength and relevance of your research problem.


How Do You Write a Research Problem?

Steps to consider in writing a Research Problem:

  • Select a Topic: The first step in writing a research problem is to select a specific topic of interest within your field of study. This topic should be relevant, and meaningful, and have the potential to contribute to existing knowledge.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: Before formulating your research problem, conduct a thorough literature review to understand the current state of research on your chosen topic. This will help you identify gaps, controversies, or areas that need further exploration.
  • Identify the Research Gap: Based on your literature review, pinpoint the specific gap or problem that your research aims to address. This gap should be something that has not been adequately studied or resolved in previous research.
  • Be Specific and Clear: The research problem should be framed in a clear and concise manner. It should be specific enough to guide your research but broad enough to allow for meaningful investigation.
  • Ensure Feasibility: Consider the resources and constraints available to you when formulating the research problem. Ensure that it is feasible to address the problem within the scope of your study.
  • Align your Research Goals: The research problem should align with the overall goals and objectives of your study. It should be directly related to the research questions you intend to answer.

Related: How to Write a Problem Statement for your Research

Research Problem vs Research Questions

Research Problem: The research problem is a broad statement that outlines the overarching issue or gap in knowledge that your research aims to address. It provides the context and motivation for your study and helps establish its significance and relevance. The research problem is typically stated in the introduction section of your research proposal or thesis.

Research Questions: Research questions are specific inquiries that you seek to answer through your research. These questions are derived from the research problem and help guide the focus of your study. They are often more detailed and narrow in scope compared to the research problem. Research questions are usually listed in the methodology section of your research proposal or thesis.

Difference Between a Research Problem and a Research Topic

Research Problem: A research problem is a specific issue, gap, or question that requires investigation and can be addressed through research. It is a clearly defined and focused problem that the researcher aims to solve or explore. The research problem provides the context and rationale for the study and guides the research process. It is usually stated as a question or a statement in the introduction section of a research proposal or thesis.

Example of a Research Problem: “What are the factors influencing consumer purchasing decisions in the online retail industry?”

Research Topic: A research topic, on the other hand, is a broader subject or area of interest within a particular field of study. It is a general idea or subject that the researcher wants to explore in their research. The research topic is more general and does not yet specify a specific problem or question to be addressed. It serves as the starting point for the research, and the researcher further refines it to formulate a specific research problem.

Example of a Research Topic: “Consumer behavior in the online retail industry.”

In summary, a research topic is a general area of interest, while a research problem is a specific issue or question within that area that the researcher aims to investigate.

Difference Between a Research Problem and Problem Statement

Research Problem: As explained earlier, a research problem is a specific issue, gap, or question that you as a researcher aim to address through your research. It is a clear and concise statement that defines the focus of the study and provides a rationale for why it is worth investigating.

Example of a Research Problem: “What is the impact of social media usage on the mental health and well-being of adolescents?”

Problem Statement: The problem statement, on the other hand, is a brief and clear description of the problem that you want to solve or investigate. It is more focused and specific than the research problem and provides a snapshot of the main issue being addressed.

Example of a Problem Statement: “The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between social media usage and the mental health outcomes of adolescents, with a focus on depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.”

In summary, a research problem is the broader issue or question guiding the study, while the problem statement is a concise description of the specific problem being addressed in the research. The problem statement is usually found in the introduction section of a research proposal or thesis.

Challenges and Considerations

Formulating a research problem involves several challenges and considerations that researchers should carefully address:

  • Feasibility: Before you finalize a research problem, it is crucial to assess its feasibility. Consider the availability of resources, time, and expertise required to conduct the research. Evaluate potential constraints and determine if the research problem can be realistically tackled within the given limitations.
  • Novelty and Contribution: A well-crafted research problem should aim to contribute to existing knowledge in the field. Ensure that your research problem addresses a gap in the literature or provides innovative insights. Review past studies to understand what has already been done and how your research can build upon or offer something new.
  • Ethical and Social Implications: Take into account the ethical and social implications of your research problem. Research involving human subjects or sensitive topics requires ethical considerations. Consider the potential impact of your research on individuals, communities, or society as a whole. 
  • Scope and Focus: Be mindful of the scope of your research problem. A problem that is too broad may be challenging to address comprehensively, while one that is too narrow might limit the significance of the findings. Strike a balance between a focused research problem that can be thoroughly investigated and one that has broader implications.
  • Clear Objectives: Ensure that your research problem aligns with specific research objectives. Clearly define what you intend to achieve through your study. Having well-defined objectives will help you stay on track and maintain clarity throughout the research process.
  • Relevance and Significance: Consider the relevance and significance of your research problem in the context of your field of study. Assess its potential implications for theory, practice, or policymaking. A research problem that addresses important questions and has practical implications is more likely to be valuable to the academic community and beyond.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: In some cases, involving relevant stakeholders early in the process of formulating a research problem can be beneficial. This could include experts in the field, practitioners, or individuals who may be impacted by the research. Their input can provide valuable insights that can help you enhance the quality of the research problem.



In conclusion, understanding how to formulate a research problem is fundamental for you to have meaningful research and intellectual growth. Remember that a well-crafted research problem serves as the foundation for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in various fields. It not only enhances the credibility and relevance of your study but also contributes to the expansion of knowledge and the betterment of society.

Therefore, put more effort into the process of identifying and formulating research problems with enthusiasm and curiosity. Engage in comprehensive literature reviews, observe your surroundings, and reflect on the gaps in existing knowledge. Lastly, don’t forget to be mindful of the challenges and considerations, and ensure your research problem aligns with clear objectives and ethical principles.


  • Olayemi Jemimah Aransiola
  • on 9 min read


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