Developing a Problem Statement

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Often the first step in the research design process is to identify a real world problem or management dilemma and provide a very brief description of the nature of the issue, the undesirable symptoms, and our inability or lack of knowledge to solve the problem. All the other components are designed to produce a contribution to knowledge that will help solve this problem. While there are some fields that do pure research, there are plenty of real world management problems and opportunities for improvement that management researchers don't need to "dream up" things to research. If you have not yet identified a research topic then work on identifying an appropriate research topic then return to this section. Read more on identifying a topic.

The problem statement is the foundation for and the rationale for the significance of the study. According to Cooper and Schindler (2002) “this section needs to convince the sponsor [or dissertation committee] to continue reading the proposal” (p. 101). Regardless whether you plan on having a sponsor, a practical reason to conduct the study will help increase your motivation (and tenacity), your participant’s motivation thus increasing participation and response rate, and the impact on the real world. Cooper and Schindler propose that ideally a problem statement includes four components: a management dilemma, the background, consequences, and the management questions (p. 101). The management dilemma and the management question are the first two levels of the management-research question hierarchy.

Creswell (2003) proposes that the problem statement should come early in the introduction to motivate the reader to read further or as Creswell proposes “pique their interest” (p. 79). So, develop a compelling problem statement now and let it guide the design of your research project. It can be an acid test for your methodology decisions – each time that you face a decision ask yourself – does it help to answer the management...
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