Developing Good Problem Statements

Developing Good Problem Statements
Making your paper worth reading: problems, consequences,
and solutions
Effective documents do three things: (1) identify tangible
or conceptual problems that readers care about, (2)
articulate the consequences of that problem (costs and
benefits) to the reader, and (3) offer a solution to the
Tangible problems are real-life predicaments, that result
in real-life costs and benefits, and require practical
Conceptual problems are intellectual questions, that
result in intellectual costs and benefits, and require
conceptual solutions. Conceptual solutions sometimes open
up new possibilities for tangible solutions, and vice
Stating your problem in an introduction
The Prelude sets the stage for your Stable Context. Though
rare in professional documents and even rarer in scientific
and technical documents, preludes do occur occasionally in
academic texts in the humanities and in belletristic
writing such as what you find in Atlantic or The New
Yorker. A Prelude can be a quotation, an anecdote, or
illustration that introduces the ideas or characters that
will be discussed in the rest of the introduction.
Stable Context
A statement about the way things have been done or
understood previously that gave rise to the destabilizing
Destabilizing Condition
A description of the predicament (for tangible problems) or
of the question (for intellectual problems)
A statement about the costs for the reader of leaving the
problem unresolved and/or the potential rewards of
resolving it.
Usually in the last sentence of the introduction (the “hot
spot” of the paper), tell your reader the gist of the
solution or answer to the problem: this is the main claim
that you will defend in the rest of the paper. Sometimes
it’s wise to give just the promise of a solution or answer
to come in this last sentence of the introduction.
Some qualities of effective introductions:
1. The status quo is described fairly and accurately.
2. The destabilzing condition raises questions in the
readers mind about the truth of the status quo.
3. The solution expressed at the end of the intro is in
tension with the status quo.
4. The solution leaves your reader asking “Why do you think
this is true?”