Components of a Good Problem Statement

Eduardo R. Zayas-Quiñones

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A few hours of online research on the topic of "good problem statements" yielded a plethora of definitions, concepts and guidance about the topic. Here is what I discovered as I read through the many definitions available:

First, the defined properties or characteristics of a good problem statement varied from one source read to the next depending on the subject addressed. For example, one document related to computer science defined four properties of a good problem statement as complete, precise, consistent and general. Another document dealing with scientific research described a good problem statement as one that expresses a relationship between two or more variables is stated clearly and unambiguously as a question and that implies possibilities of empirical testing. Taking all these characteristics and summing what remained constant from one definition to the next I conclude that a good problem statement is simply one that clearly and concisely conveys the issues and concerns addressed.


Second, it became clear that coming up with a good problem statement is not as easy as most would think. Bridget N. O'Connor tells us in Information Technology, Learning and Performance Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2, Fall 2000 that a good problem statement is far from effortless." She defines it instead as a "complex activity related to preparing a logical argument".

I concluded based on the characteristics discussed above that in order for a problem statement to convey all issues and concerns in a clear and concise fashion it must have the following components:

The given constants and variables - this consists of all the information necessary to fully describe the situation.

The end goal - this is the desired end state of the problem.

Obstacles - assertions or steps through which the necessary information or other resources will be obtained or performed to achieve the desired end state of the problem.

References:

O'Connor, B. N. (2000) Information Technology, Learning and Performance journal, Vol. 18, No. 2.

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