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SURF Workshop Resources: Problem Statements

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Problem Statements: A Brief Introduction

A problem statement is a move that a document makes to help the reader realize why the document is important. Problem statements can be either formal--like a thesis statement--or they can be informal--usually a sentence that explains how what you are saying will impact the reader. A carefully crafted problem statement will help you to connect with your audience and will help your audience to see why your document is important.

In order to write a strong problem statement, you should consider the following questions:

  1. What does my reader already know about my topic?
  2. What will I need to explicitly explain to my reader for them to understand the significance of my topic?

In order to answer these questions, you will need to consider: the kind of terminology that your audience will be comfortable with; what beliefs, or mindsets, are shared between you and your intended audience; and, what canonical works your audience will be familiar with.

In regards to terminology, you should carefully choose what discipline specific terms to use and how to define them. This decision should be based on who your audience is. For example, if you are writing to a lay audience about first and second language users, you would not want to use the terms "L1" and "L2" without first defining them.

When considering the beliefs and mindsets of your audience, you should keep in mind that the audiences' beliefs/mindset may change the way that they interpret or understand the statements that you make in your document.

Finally, canonical research refers to texts and/or theories that the majority of experts in a given field find foundational to their work. When you're writing your problem statement, you want to be careful not to assume that everyone knows of all of the major works that you're referencing.

This serves as a very brief introduction to writing effective problem statements. Protracted examples of each of these can be found in the SURF Workshop: Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation.

Resources Available

The materials for the workshop include a PowerPoint slide presentation that details how audience considerations affect the construction of problem statements, as well as handouts that provide students with opportunities to share, summarize, and recontextualize their research for different audiences.