The Problem Statement in the Research Paper

The First Substantial Step
The problem provides the context for the research study and typically generates questions which the research hopes to answer. In considering whether or not to move forward with a research project, you will generally spend some time considering the problem. In your paper, the statement of the problem is the first part of the paper to be read [we are ignoring the title and the abstract]. The problem statement should "hook" the reader and establish a persuasive context for what follows. You need to be able to clearly answer the question: "what is the problem"? and "why is this problem worth my attention"? At the same time, the problem statement limits scope by focusing on some variables and not others. It also provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate why these variables are important.

Problem Importance
The importance of the problem should receive considerable and persuasive attention [note that importance is inevitably subjective and will vary from person to person and agency to agency]. Clearly indicate why your problem is an important one by answering questions such as these:
         

Is the problem of current interest? Is it topical? Is the problem likely to continue into the future? Will more information about the problem have practical application? Will more information about the problem have theoretical importance? How large is the population affected by the problem? How important, influential, or popular is this population? Would this study substantially revise or extend existing knowledge? Would this study create or improve an instrument of some utility? Would research findings lead to some useful change in best practice? Is there evidence or authoritative opinion from others to support the need for this research?

The problem statement should persuasively indicate that major variables can be measured in some meaningful way. If you can identify likely objections to the study, identify and respond to them here.

Problem Statement Question
The problem statement should close with a question. Typically, the question contains two variables, a measurable relationship, and some indication of population. The purpose of the literature search that follows is to answer the research problem question. If the literature cannot answer the question, the research is needed to do so. An example question might be: "What is the

an understanding of methodology will facilitate our understanding of basic statistics. Validity A key concept relevant to a discussion of research methodology is that of validity. A bad example might be: "What is the best way to teach bibliographic instruction"? This is insufficient because: 1. "Is this study valid?". Statistical Conclusion Validity: Unfortunately. "statistical . of threats to each validity will be provided. 3. one needs to know a little bit about experimental design or how a researcher conducts investigations. but not an exhaustive discussion. the numbers (data) are generated out of research.relationship between the grade point average of UTK juniors and their use of the library"? The information needed is (1) grade point average and (2) some measure of library use. without a background in basic statistics. they are questioning the validity of at least one aspect of the study. Rather. As such. 4. in the good example above. the answer to the question asked above might be that the study is valid in relation to one type of validity but invalid in relation to another type of validity. Statistics are merely a tool to help us answer research questions. According to Cook and Campbell (1979). the title of this research project would be something like this: "Library Circulation Use by University of Tennessee Juniors and Their Grade Point Average" Research Methods To understand the use of statistics. statistics are not numbers that just appear out of nowhere. one must be specific as to which type of validity is under discussion. Be aware that this represents a cursory discussion of the concept of validity. There are four types of validity that can be discussed in relation to research and statistics. In other words. For a comprehensive discussion of the four types of validity. 2. For example. A little knowledge about methodology will provide us with a place to hang our statistics. this type of validity is difficult to understand. and additional validity issues see Cook and Campbell (1979). when discussing the validity of a study. Thus. Each of the four types of validity will be briefly defined and described below. the threats associated with each type of validity. When an individual asks. Examples. Each type of validity has many threats which can pose a problem in a research study. Therefore. What are the variables? What will be measured? What relationships will be examined? What is the population? The title and the problem statement question are often nearly identical.

then the external validity of my study is threatened. hypothesis guessing on the part of subjects. For example. For example. There are many potential threats to internal validity. ethnographic studies. one needs to ask the following questions to determine if a threat to the external validity exists: "Would I find these same results with a difference sample?". the next issue to be determined is one of causality. and bias introduced in a study by expectencies on the part of the experimenter. The . history is a threat to internal validity.conclusion validity refers to inferences about whether it is reasonable to presume covariation given a specified alpha level and the obtained variances (p. than my study will be lacking construct validity. Construct Validity: One is examining the issue of construct validity when one is asking the questions "Am I really measuring the construct that I want to study?" or "Is my study confounded (Am I confusing constructs)?". These include observational research. an experimental treatment. can these results be generalized to women? Therefore. etc. Internal Validity: Once it has been determined that the two variables (A & B) are related. I will need at least one measure of depression. ethological studies. Each of these will be discussed further below. If a difference is found between the pretest and posttest. the study would be descriptive but not causal. a historical event. Thus. one can not make cause and effect statements based on the research. Observational research: There are many types of studies which could be defined as observational research including case studies. good construct validity means the we will be relatively sure that Construct A is related to Construct B and that this is possibly a causal relationship. and "Would I get these same results if I had conducted this study in the past or if I redo this study in the future?" If I can not answer "yes" to each of these questions. a change in weather."Are the variables under study related?" or "Is variable A correlated (does it covary) with Variable B?".this increases statistical error) and small sample size (more difficult to find meaningful relationships with a small number of subjects)." Essentially. Examples of other threats to construct validity include subjects apprehension about being evaluated. If that measure does not truly reflect depression levels but rather anxiety levels (Confounding Variable X). if you conduct a study looking at heart disease in men. correlational research. "Would I get these same results if I conducted my study in a different setting?". if I want to know a particular drug (Variable A) will be effective for treating depression (Variable B) . Does A cause B? If a study is lacking internal validity. External Validity: External validity addresses the issue of being able to generalize the results of your study to other times. Examples of issues or problems that would threaten statistical conclusion validity would be random heterogeneity of the research subjects (the subjects represent a diverse group . and quasi-experiments. For example. 41). and persons. the question that is being asked is . etc. if a study has a pretest. we should be relatively certain that the answer to these questions is "yes".). Types of Research Studies There are four major classifications of research designs. true experiments. If a study has good statistical conclusion validity. and a follow-up posttest. places. it might be due to the experimental treatment but it might also be due to any other event that subjects experienced between the two times of testing (for example.

smoking and lung disease were found to covary together. It is important to not that correlational research is not causal research. it is unclear whether a depletion in serotonin/norepinephrine cause depression or whether depression causes a depletion is neurotransmitter levels. low levels of these two neurotransmitters have been found to be associated with increased levels of clinical depression. Correlational research: In general. a psychological case study would entail extensive notes based on observations of and interviews with the client. This demonstrates the first problem with correlational research. For example. one can not make a simple cause and effect statement concerning neurotransmitter levels and depression based on correlational research. Often times. . the studies are qualitative in nature. In other words. These studies may also be qualitative in nature or include qualitative components in the research. 1967. we don¹t know the direction of the cause. This measure of time would be qualitative. a third variable may be involved of which we are not aware. First. The researcher only collected the data on the two variables. the neurotransmitters serotonin and/or norepinephrine have been found to be depleted (Coppen. we can not make statements concerning cause and effect on the basis of this type of research. A detailed report with analysis would be written and reported constituting the study of this individual case. while we know that the two variables covary . & Mandell. the early research on cigarette smoking examine the covariation of cigarette smoking and a variety of lung diseases. Kuczenski. In major clinical depressions. Staqarz. & Sulser. An example may help clarify these points. However.we do not know if a causal relationship exists. correlational research examines the covariation of two or more variables. correlational research is considered type of observational research as nothing is manipulated by the experimenter or individual conducting the research. 1967). Ventulani. Often times. an ethological study of primate behavior in the wild may include measures of behavior durations ie. The number of receptors on the postsynaptic neuron has been found to be increased in depression (Segal. Dingell. In other words. For example. These two variable. Thus. Correlational research can be accomplished by a variety of techniques which include the collection of empirical data. it is inappropriate in correlational research to make statements concerning cause and effect. To reiterate. For example.a relationship exists . it is possible that the increased number of receptors on the postsynaptic neuron is actually responsible for the relationship between neurotransmitter levels and depression. Nothing was controlled by the researchers. 1976). Second. the early studies on cigarette smoking did not manipulate how many cigarettes were smoked. For example. the amount of time an animal engaged in a specified behavior.primary characteristic of each of these types of studies is that phenomena are being observed and recorded. Second. a third variable has been uncovered which may be affecting both of the variables under study. There are two major reasons why we can not make cause and effect statements. Surveys are often classified as a type of observational research. 1974. we don't know the direction of the cause. As you can see from the discussion above. Thus. Schildkraut & Kety.

6. the control group will provide us with a baseline for comparison. true experiments have often been erroneously identified as laboratory studies. The . As stated previously.Correlational research is often conducted as exploratory or beginning research.the variable that is measured in a study. Double blind . Control group . Eighty children were selected to participate in the study. It can be any aspect of the environment that is empirically investigated for the purpose of examining its influence on the dependent variable. ease of fluid intake. 5. Now that we have these terms defined. Thus. we must first define a few terms: 1. manipulation. The treatment of interest is deliberately withheld or manipulated to provide a baseline performance with which to compare the experimental or treatment group's performance. 8. this is not always the case.this is the variable that the experimenter manipulates in a study. Children were randomly assigned to either the treatment or the control condition. All subjects should be randomly assigned to groups. First. Experimental or treatment group . be tested a simultaneously as possible. Each group will receive a level of the independent variable. The hypothesis was that such preparation would reduce the amount of psychological upset and increase the amount of cooperation among thee young patients. Dependent variable . experiments are conductable.this is the group that receives the experimental treatment. However. The dependent variable will be measured to determine if the independent variable has an effect. and self-report anxiety measures. we can examine further the structure of the true experiment. Perhaps an example will help clarify these points. and the experiment should be conducted double blind. every experiment must have at least two groups: an experimental and a control group. Independent variable . True Experiments: The true experiment is often thought of as a laboratory study. Care was take such that kids in the treatment and the control groups were not roomed together. or is different from the control group on the variable under study. To understand the nature of the experiment. each subject has an equal probability of being selected for either the treatment or control group. 4.this group is used to produce comparisons. It is often easier to impose this sort of control in a laboratory a study. 2. During their hospitalization the treatment group received the special program and the control group did not. A true experiment is defined as an experiment conducted where an effort is made to impose control over all other variables except the one under study. Wolfer and Visintainer (1975) examined the effects of systematic preparation and support on children who were scheduled for inpatient minor surgery. 7. The experimenter does not control this variable. Measures that were taken included heart rates before and after blood tests. 3. Random assignment .neither the subject nor the experimenter knows whether the subject is in the treatment of the control condition. Once variables have been identified and defined.

Therefore. Quasi-Experiments: Quasi-experiments are very similar to true experiments but use naturally formed or pre-existing groups. this can not be a true experiment. If the individuals who were responsible for the dependent measures were also unaware of whether the child was in the treatment or control group. we would find that the older group had less lung capacity as compared to the younger group. The scores on these measures were influenced by and depended on whether the child was in the treatment or control group. When one has naturally formed groups. demonstrated that the systematic preparation and support reduced the difficulties of being in the hospital for these kids. A special case of the true experiment is the clinical trial. the children were unaware that they were participants in an experiment (the parents had agreed to their children's participation in research and the program). The independent variable in the clinical trial is the level of the therapeutic agent. we would have no way of knowing whether the reduced anxiety was due to the treatment or the weather. A clinical trial is defined as a carefully designed experiment that seeks to determine the clinical efficacy of a new treatment or drug. The two groups were also tested at about the same time. First.age) as opposed to an independent variable. there are two groups: a treatment group (the group that receives the therapeutic agent) and a control group (the group that receives the placebo). If the "friendly" children had been placed in the treatment group we would have no way of knowing whether they were less anxious and more cooperative because of the treatment or because they were "friendly". In other words. If we had had only the treatment group. Once again. then the experiment would have been double blind. and anxiety measures. thus making the study single blind. The control group provides us with the basis to make comparisons The independent variable in this study was the presence or absence of the systematic preparation program. subjects are randomly assigned to groups. it also limits the conclusions we can draw from such an research study. In other words. 10. By testing the two groups as simultaneously as possible. if we wanted to compare young and old subjects on lung capacity. The children were randomly assigned to either group. they are tested simultaneously. 11. Let us examine now the features of the experiment described above. In theory. 9. The design of a clinical trial is very similar to that of a true experiment. It might be that repeated . fluid intake. If we were to conduct the quasi-experiment. the random assignment should balance the number of "friendly" children between the two groups. The control group is often called the placebo group. For example. the variable under study is a subject variable (in this case . We might conclude that old age thus results in less lung capacity. there was a treatment and control group. and the experiment should be conducted double blind. it is impossible to randomly assign subjects to either the young or old group (naturally formed groups). one group was not measured during the summer and the other during the winter. As such. etc. Once again. new hospital food. The dependent variable consisted of the heart rates. But other variables might also account for this result. neither the patient or the person administering the drug should know whether the patient is receiving the drug or the placebo. we can rule out any bias due to time.

there may be other differences between those groups than just the presence or absence of a wellness program. the variable that is manipulated between the two groups is an independent variable (With the exception of no random assignment. they might decide to implement their program at one site and use a comporable site (no wellness program) as a control. 13. To summarize. more attractive building. A statistic can be defined as any subset of the population. the study has pre-existing groups. 12. Before we go further into the reasons why. quasi-experiments may result from either studying naturally formed groups or use of pre-existing groups. let us first discuss what differentiates between a population and a sample.exposure to pollutants as opposed to age has caused the difference in lung capacity. all individuals who reside in the United States make up a population. As the study has pre-existing groups. 14. As the employees are not shuffled and randomly assigned to work at each site. Quasi-experiments may result from studying the differences between naturally formed groups (ie. A population can be defined as any set of persons/subjects having a common observable characteristic. For example. . There are at least four major reasons to sample. The researcher is forced to divide groups according to some pre-existing criteria. all pregnant women make up a population. Either way. men & women). one must often use a sample of the population as opposed to using the entire population. the researchers could then see if the wellness site had less absenteeism and lower health costs than the non-wellness site. we must be careful concerning making statement of causality with quasi-experimental designs. As no random assignment exists in a quasi-experiment. However. 17. Thus. the wellness program may be in a significantly newer. the study looks similar in form to a true experiment). For example. or the manager from hell may work at the nonwellness program site. After a few months of study. 16. young & old. It could also be a generational factor. The characteristics of a population are called a parameter. The results are again restricted due to the quasi-correlational nature of the study. For example. it a difference is found between the two sites it may or may not be due to the presence/absence of the wellness program. Populations and Samples 15. the variable under study is a subject variable. This brings us to the question of why sample. there are also instances when a researcher designs a study as a traditional experiment only to discover that random assignment to groups is restricted by outside factors. Why Sample? 18. When the study includes naturally formed groups. When a study uses pre-existing groups that are not naturally formed. Why should we not use the population as the focus of study. Also. The point is that there are many differences between the groups that we can not control that could account for differences in our dependent measures. no causal statements can be made based on the results of the study. Perhaps more of the older group smoked in their early years as compared to the younger group due to increased awareness of the hazards of cigarettes. if a corporation wanted to test the effectiveness of a new wellness program. When conducting research. The characteristics of a sample are called a statistic.

If many raters are used. government may have that kind of money. Perhaps an example will help clarify this point.S. let us say that we wanted to test the 5-HIAA (a serotonergic metabolite) levels in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of depressed individuals. Volunteers. 20. Say researchers wanted to examine the effectiveness of a new drug on Alzheimer's disease. It makes no sense to lesion the lateral hypothalamus of all rats to determine if it has an effect on food intake. It is also by far the most biases sampling procedure as it is not random (not everyone in the population has an equal chance of being selected to participate in the study). Rather. The second reason to sample is that it may be impossible to test the entire population. In this method. The first sampling procedure is convenience. members of a class. all subject or elements have an equal probability of being selected. 23. let alone to test their CSF. it would be problematic to study an entire population. this introduces a source of error. it is usually too costly to test the entire population. Thus. There are two major ways of conducting a random sample. and the second is to have the computer select a random sample. The final reason to sample is that testing may be destructive. First. there will be some measure of consistency from one patient to the next. For example. as in this example. Also. 26. These raters may all use a slightly different criteria for judging Activities of Daily Living. Another form of sampling is the simple random sample. 25. Thus. This is particularly useful if your list of the population is long. In other words. The United States government spends millions of dollars to conduct the U. 22. 27. you probably would not want to buy a car that had the door slammed five hundred thousand time or had been crash tested. There are far too many individuals who do not make it into the mental health system to even be identified as depressed. Types of Sampling Procedures 24. sampling may be more accurate. Census every ten years. it would make sense to have as few of people rating the patients as possible. While the U.S. if . it is a measure of functioning o a day to day basis.19. A theoretical list (an actual list may not exist) of individuals or elements who make up a population is called a sampling frame. The first is to consult a random number table. There are five major sampling procedures. individuals who volunteer to participate in an exersise study may be different that individuals who do not volunteer. In this experiment. We can get that information from operating on a small sample of rats. A systematic sample is conducted by randomly selecting a first case on a list of the population and then proceeding every Nth case until your sample is selected. 21. If one individual rates the entire sample. This is by far the most often used sample procedure. a sample consists of a subset of the population. most researchers do not. As stated above. you probably would want to purchase the car that did not make it into either of those samples. One dependent variable that could be used is an Activities of Daily Living Checklist. The third reason to sample is that testing the entire population often produces error. Any member of the defined population can be included in a sample. individuals in the hospital with the specific diagnosis being studied are examples of often used convenience samples. For example. Thus.

Louis Public School System. If our strata were gender. Duplicates represent the third sampling problem. 28. if my population consists of all individuals living in a particular city and I use the phone directory as my sampling frame or list. I will miss individuals with unlisted numbers or who can not afford a phone.your list was the phone book. we would randomly select perhaps 20 schools and then test all of the students within those schools. Stratified sampling makes up the fourth sampling strategy. a sampling procedure is also developed including the potential sampling frame. If our strata were religious affiliation.individuals who should be on your list but for some reason are not on the list. First. Foreign elements make up my second sampling problem. In this case. it would be easiest to start at perhaps the 17th person. stratified sampling would ensure sampling from every religious block or grouping. There are several potential sampling problems. 33. In cluster sampling we take a random sample of strata and then survey every member of the group. . they should not complete it again. These are elements who appear more than once on the sampling frame. I need to make sure that patients are aware that if they have completed the questionnaire previously. When designing a study. For example. If they complete it more that once. For example if our strata were states we would make sure and sample from each of the fifty states. For example. renters would be missing elements. Elements which should not be included in my population and sample appear on my sampling list. we would sample both men and women. If the patients are completing a patient satisfaction questionnaire. 32. I may potentially include the same patient more than once in my study. and then select every 50th person from that point on. we sample either proportionately or equally to represent various strata or subpopulations. Several problems may exist within the sampling frame. Cluster sampling makes up the final sampling procedure. there may be missing elements . In a stratified sample. For example. if I am a researcher studying patient satisfaction with emergency room care. if I were to use property records to create my list of individuals living within a particular city. Thus. 30. if our strata were individuals schools in the St. 29. landlords who live elsewhere would be foreign elements. Sampling Problems 31. their second set of data respresents a duplicate.

. A well-structured literature review is characterized by a logical flow of ideas. Its ultimate goal is to bring the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and forms the basis for another goal. current and relevant references with consistent. such as a thesis. a literature review usually precedes a research proposal and results section. such as future research that may be needed in the area. and as such. Literature reviews are secondary sources. Most often associated with academic-oriented literature. do not report any new or original experimental work. and an unbiased and comprehensive view of the previous research on the topic. proper use of terminology.A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. appropriate referencing style.

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