Problem statements, research questions and scoping

Topic Progress:

Problem statements, research questions and scoping are all closely related. When we decide to enrol in a research degree we usually have some idea of the area we want to research. However, this is generally not specific enough to generate effectively focused research questions, so we need to narrow down the area. This is often the first step, after which we develop some research questions (although in some discipline areas, rather than research questions, a specific problem or problems are identified).

While setting questions early can help to narrow and focus our attention, higher education scholars Booth, Colomb and Williams (2008) argue that it can constrain our thinking at a time when we should be exploring all options. They argue that getting down a good problem statement before we develop our final questions is more effective, since most research starts with a problem.

Ultimately, however, research questions underpin the research proposal, guide your choice of research design, and drive the research for your thesis. Now is the time to:

  • scope your research
  • write a problem statement
  • develop robust research questions.

This resource shows how to do each of these. Work through each section and complete the activities. On the Discussion Forum, tell us how you found the activities. Were they useful? Do you have any questions about them?

(Note: This resource is a Prezi. If you would like to watch it on your mobile device you can download a free app  here  *iPhone, iPad or Android).