What is Research Problem?
A research problem refers to an area or issue that requires investigation, analysis, and resolution through a systematic and scientific approach. It is a specific question, gap, or challenge within a particular field of study that researchers aim to address through their research endeavors.
Table of Content
Concept of a Research Problem
The first step in any research project is to identify the problem. When we specifically talk about research related to a business organisation, the first step is to identify the problem that is being faced by the concerned organisation. The researchers need to develop a concrete, unambiguous and easily comprehensible definition of the problem that requires research.
If the research problem is not well-defined, the research project may be affected. You may also consider defining research problem and carrying out literature review as the foundation on which the entire research process is based.
In general, a research problem refers to a problem that a researcher has witnessed or experienced in a theoretical or real-life situation and wants to develop a solution for the same. The research problem is only a problem statement and it does not describe how to do something. It must be remembered that a research problem is always related to some kind of management dilemma
Need to Define a Research Problem
The researchers must clearly define or formulate the research problem in order to represent a clear picture of what they wish to achieve through their research. When a researcher starts off his research with a well-formulated research problem, it becomes easier to carry out the research.
Some of the major reasons for which a research problem must be defined are:
- Select useful information for research
- Segregate useful information from irrelevant information
- Monitor the research progress
- Ensure research is centred around a problem
- Find answers to questions of interest such as:
- What data should be collected?
- What data attributes are relevant and need to be analysed?
- What relationships should be investigated?
- Determine the structure of the study
- Ensure that the research is centred around the research problem only
Defining a research problem well helps the decision makers in getting good research results if right questions are asked. On the contrary, correct answer to a wrong question will lead to bad research results.
Conditions and Components of a Research Problem
Conditions necessary for the existence of a research problem are:
- Existence of a problem whose solution is not known currently
- Existence of an individual, group or organisation to which the given problem can be attributed
- Existence of at least two alternative courses of action that can be pursued by a researcher
- At least two feasible outcomes of the course of action and out of two outcomes, one outcome should be more preferable to the other
A research problem consists of certain specific components as follows:
- Manager/Decision-maker (individual/group/institution) and his/ her objectives
The individual, group or an institution is the one who is facing the problem. At times, the different individuals or groups related to a problem do not agree with the problem statement as their objectives differ from one another. The decision makers must agree on a concrete and clearly worded problem statemen.
- Environment or context of the problem
- Nature of the problem
- Alternative courses of problem
- A set of consequences related to courses of action and the occurrence of events that are not under the control of the manager/decision maker
- A state of uncertainty for which a course of action is best
Identifying a Research Problem
Identifying a research problem is an important and time-consuming activity. Research problem identification involves understanding the given social problem that needs to be investigated in order to solve it. In most cases, the researchers usually identify a research problem by using their observation, knowledge, wisdom and skills. Identifying a research problem can be as simple as recognising the difficulties and problems in your workplace.
Certain other factors that are considered while identifying a research problem include:
- Potential research problems raised at the end of journal articles
- Large-scale reports and data records in the field may disclose the findings or facts based on data that require further investigation
- Personal interest of the researcher
- Knowledge and competence of the researcher
- Availability of resources such as large-scale data collection, time and finance
- Relative importance of different problems
- Practical utility of finding answers to a problem
- Data availability for a problem
Formulating a Research Problem
Formulating a research problem is usually done under the first step of research process, i.e., defining the research problem. Identification, clarification and formulation of a research problem is done using different steps as:
- Discover the Management Dilemma
- Define the Management Question
- Define the Research Question
- Refine the Research Question(s)
You have already studied why it is important to clarify a research question. The next step is to discover the management dilemma. The entire research process starts with a management dilemma. For instance, an organisation facing increasing number of customer complaints may want to carry out research.
At most times, the researchers state the management dilemma followed by developing questions which are then broken down into specific set of questions. Management dilemma, in most cases, is a symptom of the actual problem being faced by an organisation.
A few examples of management dilemma are low turnover, high attrition, high product defect rate, low quality, increasing costs, decreasing profits, low employee morale, high absenteeism, flexibility and remote work issues, use of technology, increasing market share of a competitor, decline in plant/production capacity, distribution of profit between dividends and retained earnings, etc.
If an organisation tracks its performance indicators on a regular basis, it is quite easy to identify the management dilemma. Now, the difficult task for a researcher to choose a particular management dilemma among the given set of management dilemmas.