Problem Statement, Research Objectives, and Research Questions

How to Draft the Problem Statement, Research Objectives, and Research Questions

In this tutorial we will learn how to Draft a Research Problem Statement, Research Objectives, and Research Questions. The tutorial will look into detail how research objectives and research questions are drawn from a problem statement.

From Literature Review to Research Problem

Identifying Gaps in the Knowledge

  1. Before you define your research problem, you need to have a broad and deep understanding of your research field.
  2. When you have read broadly and deeply in your field and related fields, you will start to see the open opportunities.
  3. Granted, very often you will not be left entirely on your own when you are developing your research question.
  4. Your supervisor probably already has an idea of a topic he/she wants you to work on
  5. Discussions with your supervisor and colleagues in your research group are important to see the broader context of the work in your research group, and to see how your work fits in the work of your research group.
  6. Don’t make the mistake of isolating yourself with only the literature – the interaction with your peers and supervisor is important.
  7. Your research question is not something you write one morning after a dream. It’s the result of reading, thinking about what you read, and discussing these thoughts with your peers and supervisor.
  8. It’s a highly iterative procedure, and often your research question gets molded and shaped along your research journey.

Gaps in Existing Literature

While reading the literature, there are a number of different empty spots you can identify. Here are a few examples to get your started:

  1. Variables/Relationships that have not been assessed.
  2. Applying the model from the field X in field Y (for example: Assessing the role of Servant Leadership in Higher Education).
  3. Application of new methods like fsQCA or Multi-level Modeling.

If you think you have an idea for your research problem, prepare a short document outlining the gaps you found in the literature, or the open options to explore that you identified from your literature review.

Briefly discuss the key references, and how you see your first idea of a research problem framed inside the literature.

Have something on paper to discuss with your supervisor, and to show him/her the main references on which you plan to base your work. It is always better to sketch the background to your idea.

Technical Requirements of a Research Problem

There are a number of technical requirements your research problem needs to fulfill, for it to actually be a research problem. Dr. Helen Kara, an independent researcher and writer, summarizes these technical requirements as follows:

Your research problem should be specific.

Avoid general problem statements like “To ascertain the factors that affect organizational performance?” and phrase a research problem that is specific. If you have done your homework for the literature review, making sure the question is specific and follows from situating your intended work in the body of knowledge that you looked at.

Your research problem should have its limits.

Keep in mind that you will need to solve your research problem. If you’ve come across, or are participating in solving a large problem, know that you cannot answer all the problem in a single study. Make sure that you tackle a realistic and delimited topic.

Your research problem should not show bias or an opinion.

Be prepared to look at your research problem from various angles, and to step away from the thoughts you initially developed about the possible outcomes of your research.

Self-Assessing the Research Problem

Once you have crafted a first attempt at your research problem, and have outlined in a short document how your research problem fits in the general body of knowledge, it is time to self-assess your first attempt. Self-evaluating your research question will improve your research problem and document. When self-assessing your research problem, use the following criteria:


At the end of your dissertation, you need to show which original contributions to your field you have made. You have to develop work that has not been done before. This does not mean you have to reinvent the wheel, but it means that you need to find your little corner of interest and knowledge in your field, and make a novel contribution inside that little corner.


Do you have an idea of the method(s) that you want to use to investigate your research question? Are these methods possible from a practical point of view? Do you have all the data/tools available?


Can you finish it within the required time? Will you need specific training before you can apply a certain analysis technique?


Narrow Down the Problem Statement

  1. After reading into the literature, the researcher now can narrow down the problem from the original broad. The question( problem) does not necessarily mean that something is seriously wrong.
  2. The problem (question) could indicate an interest in an issue, where finding the right answers might help to improve an existing situation. Thus, the problem statement is a clear, precise, and brief statement of the question to be investigated with the goal of findings an answer or solution.
  3. Scientific research starts with a definite aim or purpose. To find solutions for identified problems, a problem statement that includes the general objective and research questions of the research should be developed.
  4. Gathering initial information about the factors that are possibly related to the problem will help us to narrow the broad problem area and to define the problem statement.

Anatomy of a Problem Statement

  • Determine the extent to which career satisfaction mediates the relationship between servant leadership and life satisfaction in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
  • To identify the key terms in your problem statement, look for the subjects (Servant Leadership, Career Satisfaction, and Life Satisfaction), verbs (Impact and Mediating), and objects (Higher Education Institutions) in your statement.
  • Definitions of key terms must be precise in order to identify the subject of the research and to gain access to relevant academic literature. Precise definitions will allow you to explore the literature. The literature review will help you to refine your research objective(s) and research questions and thus to develop a feasible topic for research.

Sample Research Problem Statement, Research Objectives, and Research Questions

Problem Statement

Determine the extent to which career satisfaction mediates the relationship between servant leadership and life satisfaction

Research Objectives

The objectives of the study are:

  1. To identify the impact of servant leadership on life satisfaction
  2. To investigate the effect of servant leadership on career satisfaction
  3. To ascertain the impact of career satisfaction on life satisfaction.
  4. To assess the mediating role of career satisfaction on the linkage between servant leadership and life satisfaction.
Research Questions

The Research Questions of the study are

  1. Does servant leadership affect life satisfaction?
  2. Is there an impact of servant leadership on career satisfaction?
  3. Does career satisfaction influence life satisfaction?
  4. Whether career satisfaction mediate the relationship between servant leadership and life satisfaction?

Video Tutorials to Explain Research Problem, Research Objectives, and Research Questions