A research problem is typically a statement laying out the opportunity you’re addressing, usually about public health. It’s your job to identify and resolve such problems — that is, create terms of success for your work and then ensure that those goals are met.
How do you identify problems? What sorts of issues should you be on the lookout for? Look for opportunities to improve public health, especially those that are under-served or overlooked. What unmet needs do you see? What identified problems aren’t being addressed adequately by others? Then ask what you can offer that will meaningfully address these issues.
Consider also how an issue could be framed as a problem statement (for example, “child obesity” might be broken down to “increasing childhood obesity rates”).
Questions Related to Resolving Problems
How do you resolve research problems? What does success look like, or what are the metrics of achievement? How will you know when your work is successful?
What should your audience know about your project that makes it important and meaningful? What outcomes should be achieved that will indicate success? Outlining these metrics of success is key, and should be done in conjunction with your partner(s) or sponsor(s) — after all, you want to ensure that they’re aware of what’s expected.
Are there any problems more pressing than others? What are the important goals that must be met? Which goals are more important than others?
Collaborating with your partners throughout the research process is key to success. Talk with stakeholders and sponsors about what they want to achieve, and help them understand how this outcome will be assessed. What data (and which data) need to be collected? How will it be analyzed? When presented, what outcomes should be achieved, and what does it mean if they are not?
How do you know when the problem has been resolved? What data will be collected to assess your findings? How should this data be analyzed?
You’ll need to have a clear plan for how you’ll go about answering your research questions. Your approach must include clear, quantifiable metrics that will allow your partners to assess success or failure. Is the number of people who answer a poll one metric by which you’ll assess success? Are there other ways in which you can measure success?
How do you resolve the problem so that it’s no longer an issue for public health? How should this be achieved?
Market Research Report
If you want to develop market research reports that deliver meaningful information and actionable insight, you need to identify and resolve your problems. This article is one of the primary resources for doing so.
Check out our other articles on how to write an executive summary or a problem statement, as well as those on how to say no without feeling guilty.
A problem is something you want to resolve and maybe defined simply as “a difference between things as they ought to be and things as they are” (Henry B. Adams, Education). This means that every research project will begin with an observable gap between the current state of affairs and an ideal state.
If you want to identify and resolve problems, you first need to clarify what they are by asking yourself some key questions:
- What is the issue?
- Who or what has this issue imposed on (or created for)?
The first question you’ll need to ask yourself is “what is the issue?” It will help if you’re as specific as possible — for example, instead of simply identifying a problem as “problems with customer service,” you might identify the actual root of the issue: “customer service quality is low.”
Or you might ask yourself what specifically needs to change. For example, if your company’s revenue is down, you’ll need to identify the specific element(s) contributing to this result.
The second question you’ll need to ask yourself is “who or what has this problem imposed on (or created for)?” This may be an individual, group of people, or even a company or organization — perhaps it’s your company that has the issue. Or maybe the root of the problem lies with your competitor, which is hurting your business.
Affected by Problems
The point here is to understand who has been affected by the problem, and how they have or will be affected. For example, if you want to identify problems with customer service, you’ll need to think about what’s causing these problems (is it a lack of staffing, training, distribution channels?). This will help you to plan your approach and prioritize your efforts.
Finally, ask yourself what specifically needs to change: “how can we improve customer service?” Taking a moment to define the change you’re looking for — in terms of how it should be different, rather than how it is now — will help you assess how large a problem you’re dealing with.
To start this process, try using the following three-step guide;
This will help you to identify and work toward resolving specific problems. If you need additional help then check out our article on how to write a problem statement, or read about writing an executive summary. To keep up-to-date with our articles, you can also sign up for the MarketingProfs daily or weekly newsletters.
Taking a moment to define the change you’re looking for — in terms of how it should look when you’ve finished your project — can help focus your efforts and help hold everyone accountable for the results.
“I want us to be able to answer 90 percent of incoming queries within five minutes.” This sounds great, but it’s pretty general. So let’s take a look at the factors that could affect customer service wait times, and then determine a more specific goal.
Factors in customer service wait times: Four main factors affect the time it takes to handle an inquiry over the phone: The number of people answering calls The average speed at which they answer each call The average time each caller spends on hold before speaking with someone How long each caller’s issue takes to resolve.
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With that in mind, let’s take another stab at setting a specific goal.
“Our company will answer 90 percent of incoming phone calls within five minutes.” Now it’s time to get even more specific. Let’s think about where your team might face challenges in meeting this goal — and come up with ways to overcome them.
Opportunities for Improvement
Incoming volume might lead to longer wait times. To avoid this, we’ll need to hire more staff and train them properly so they can handle a higher call volume. The time spent on hold depends on the number of people answering calls, average call speed, and the length of each caller’s issue. To decrease this time, we can increase the number of people taking calls in each department. The length of each caller’s issue depends on the nature of their query — which might be difficult to predict or control. We can focus instead on ensuring that our agents are well educated on all products and services, so they’re prepared to provide good information in a short amount of time.
The answer for this company lies in steps 2 and 3 — hiring more staff and training them properly to handle a higher call volume, and focusing on educating team members about products and services so they can resolve issues promptly. So we’ll need to keep checking in with our agents to ensure that they’re consistently meeting our time goals.
Identifying Research Problems
As you can see, it’s necessary to clarify exactly what change you want to implement before deciding how to go about making that change.
For any additional questions or comments please leave them in the comment section below.
Got a research-related question, but don’t know where to start? Check out our article on how to write a problem statement for help!
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By following the three-step guide–identifying the problems, determining what needs to change, and clarifying ways of achieving that change –you’ll be well on your way toward more effective decision making and problem-solving.
The first step is identifying the problems. For instance, if you set a goal to decrease customer service wait times then the factors that could affect them would be;
The number of people answering calls; the average speed at which they answer each call; average time each caller spends on hold before speaking with someone; and how long each caller’s issue takes to resolve.
The second step is determining what needs to change. For instance, if we want our company to answer 90 percent of incoming phone calls within five minutes then the opportunities for improvement would be: Incoming volume might lead to longer wait times so we need to hire more staff and train them properly so they can handle a higher call volume; the time spent on hold depends on the number of people answering calls, average call speed, and the length of each caller’s issue so we need to increase the number of people taking calls in each department; and that also depends on the nature of their query which might be difficult to predict or control so we can instead just focus on ensuring that our agents are well educated on products and services so they can resolve issues promptly.
The third step is clarifying ways of achieving the change. For instance, the answer for this company lies in hiring more staff and training them properly to handle a higher call volume, increasing the number of people taking calls in each department, and focusing on educating team members about products and services so they can resolve issues on time. So we’ll need to keep checking in with our agents and ensure that they’re consistently meeting our time goals. Although this article focuses primarily on changes inside businesses, the same three-step process can be used to tackle personal problems. For example, if your goal is to become healthier then the factors that could affect it would be Your diet; whether or not you exercise regularly; how much time you spend in front of the TV; and how often you go out with friends on weeknights.
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The answer for this individual lies in becoming more active by exercising regularly and trying to go out with friends less often so they don’t interfere with your dieting efforts. So we’ll need to keep checking in with ourselves and ensure that we’re consistently meeting our time goals.
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