Discussion: critical thinking about problem statements

For this activity, you will think critically about problem statements and learn to recognize ones that are clear and well structured. As you develop skills in critiquing problem statements, you build your ability to create a problem statement to guide your Applied Doctoral Project. Writing a solid problem statement will be critical to your success as you navigate the steps to completing your ADP. The problem statement establishes the focus and sets the tone of your ADP. You will be exploring examples to help you in the creation of your own. The assigned reading should be applied to your existing knowledge and understanding of writing in the context of doctoral level work.

Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:

  • Critique problem statements supported by relevant academic research.

Background Information

This activity is NOT where you write your problem statement. You are, however, getting a preview of the resources provided to you in your ADP experience to develop your problem statement when the time comes. At this stage in your learning, this activity has been designed to help you understand the criteria of a well-developed problem statement.

Have you ever used a GPS to get somewhere and realized you don’t know how you got there? You relied on the instructions, but never really thought about what you were doing to get there. Well, you can do the same with your problem statement. You can follow the steps and end up with a problem statement and easily bypass the critical thinking that yields the most important driver for your ADP.

So, use this activity and the 8.2 activity to develop your skills in developing criteria that will help you think critically. There are many “right” answers and you should expect to learn from the ideas of your classmates.


  1. Review the rubric to make sure that you understand the criteria for earning your grade.
  2. Read Problem Definition(new tab) in Writing Commons.
  3. Download and read the article Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem(PDF document) by Ellis and Levy (2008). 
  4. Access one dissertation from the OCLS ProQuest database related to a research topic or industry of interest to you that includes a problem statement.
    1. Identify the problem statement in the dissertation.
  5. Access one scholarly (peer-reviewed) article from any OCLS database related to your DBA specialization.
    1. Identify the problem being addressed in the article. (Note that the scholarly article may or may not use the heading: Problem Statement so you may need to read closely.) 
  6. Answer the following prompts in the discussion post formatted in three paragraphs:
    1. Compare and contrast the dissertation problem statement and the scholarly article problem statement.
    2. Based on your reading of the Ellis and Levy (2008) article and using Figure 4: Problem Statement Template in particular:
      1. Assessment of the dissertation problem statement, identifying what could be changed and why. Be specific.
      2. Assessment of the scholarly (peer-reviewed) article problem statement, identifying what could be changed and why. Be specific.
  7. Also include in the initial post, the location of the problem statements in both the dissertation and the scholarly article (i.e., the page number and paragraph number).
  8. Be sure to cite and reference all the resources used to complete the initial discussion post.
  9. Submit your initial post in the discussion forum by Day 5.
  10. Read and respond to at least one of your classmates’ postings, as well as any follow-up instructor questions directed at you, by the end of the workshop.
  11. Your postings are interactions with your classmates and instructor that should facilitate engaging dialogue and provide evidence of critical thinking. Focus on the following in this discussion:
    1. Extension: Expand the discussion.
    2. Exploratory: Probe facts and basic knowledge.
    3. Challenge: Interrogate assumptions, conclusions or interpretations.
    4. Relational: Make comparisons or contrasts of themes, ideas, or issues.
    5. Diagnostic: Probe motives or causes.
    6. Action: Identify application or an action in personal or work life.
    7. Hypothetical: Pose a change in the facts or issues.
    8. Priority: Seek to identify the most important issues.


Writing CommonsGenreProblem Definition

Problem Definition

A Problem Definition is

  • a genre of discourse that aims to describe a problem, including an analysis of its historical roots, causes and effects, stakeholders and disruptors.
    • The Problem Definition may constitute an entire text or may be a smaller part of a larger text, such as a paragraph or even a whole section of a text.

Key Terms: Problem Space, Solution Space; Rhetorical Stance

“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
Albert Einstein

Defining problems is a genre of discourse, a reoccuring rhetorical situation. People write about problems in order to understand their constituent parts, causes, and effects.

In our daily lives, and certainly as part of our professional careers, we engage in defining problems. This is often perceived as the first step in problem solving. You cannot solve a problem if you don’t understand it.

People in a variety of professional roles compose texts that can be categorized as Problem Definitions.

  • Lawyer’s statement of the facts is a description of a problem space. For instance, in a slip and fall situation in front of the large grocery store, a lawyer would describe the rain, the texture of the road, the plaintiff’s past claims, and legal precedent. That’s all a problem definition.
  • Entrepreneurs, product managers, and developers engage in venture design (aka lean startup), which is a method for exploring the customer’s pain in a problem space. They evaluate how pain is experienced by particular types of customers, stakeholders, and strategic customers. After listening to customers, they work on prototypes –. And then they work on models, wireframes, prototypes to conceptualize applications and services. (In this way, product development is the equivalent of writing processes. Entrepreneurs constantly reiterating just as writers do.)
  • Psychologists listen to their patients, hoping to better understand their problems,The goal there is not to avoid the pain but to dig into it, to name and face it, and to question why it’s going on, what caused it, who enable or exacerbate the problem, and then to test and retest possible ways to overcome it (e.g., behavior cognitive therapy, meditation . . . ).
  • Developers listen to clients to understand their needs and desires when endeavoring to complete a given task (e.g., file taxes, upload a video, translate a file). To further substantiate the problem space, they may draw pictures of workflows. They may use wire framing to illustrate web pages or app pages. Then they may reiterate these applications and services by asking customers

Writers use a variety of media/medium to compose problem definitions. And, because the rhetorical situations for problems are so varied, there is no one way to write a Problem Definition.

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