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What is Research Problem ? | Components, Formulation & Redefining Research Problem

Research Problem

What is Research Problem ?

Among all research activities, defining the research problem is considered as the most crucial and important step for conducting a research. A common statement which defines the issue, upon which a research is to be conducted, is known as a research problem. It proposes the line of investigation which is taken by the researcher for conducting a research. A research problem usually includes areas of researcher's concern, any modification or improvement that the researcher wants to create, any problem or difficulty that has to be resolved by researcher, answer, of any unanswered question, handling an undesirable organisational situation, hurdle against management of the organisation, etc. Thus, in simple terms, a research problem is the set of unanswered questions that the researcher wants to answer, explore and study. This set of questions can be theoretical or practical in nature, depending upon the research and the type of problem. For example, if a researcher wants to study the impact of telecommunication industries on a particular region, then be will answer questions such as consumer perception about telecommunication technology, their preferences among. different modes of communication, benefits and problems received from telecommunications, etc.

The research problem should always be defined in a comprehensive and precise form. When a research problem is correctly defined, half of it is resolved therein. The right direction of conducting a research is established through a well-defined research problem. Along with properly prioritizing the available resources, researcher can also accurately plan the information requirements through a research problem. For example, an exploratory research will be conducted, if a researcher wants to find and Explore the causes of declining sales of a firm.

Components of Research Problem

The three main components of research problem are as follows : 

1) Individual, Institution or Community : 
A research problem can be centered towards an individual, institution or community. For example, if a researcher is finding new techniques of financial management, then the research is limited to the finance department of the company.

2) Objectives for Pursuing the Problem : 
A research problem has some certain objectives or reasons due to which the research is carried out. These objectives make a research purposeful, enthusiastic and attractive.

3) Lines of Action : 
For overcoming the research problem, the researcher needs to pursue at least two lines of action.

Formulation of Research Problem

Formulation of research problem is a major and crucial step in the process of research, which defines a research problem. For undertaking this step, a researcher should have the basic knowledge, of research concepts and its components, for ensuring accurate decision-making. A research problem is completely defined when it specifies the time and spice constraints, analysis units, under study features, particular environment conditions, etc. A researcher can easily observe the deficiencies of other researchers and possibilities of new studies by formulating the research problem. For this purpose, the research problems should neither be too vague nor too simple. Also, a researcher should ensure that the research brings out significant information, which can be used in related educational fields.

Problem Formulation Process

Research problem formulation process has different significant steps. For performing these steps, the researcher should have basic knowledge and understanding of the research topic. Obtaining this knowledge is very essential for completely analyzing the research problem. A researcher can obtain this knowledge through literature review. The important steps under problem formulation process are as follows :

Problem Formulation Process

Step 1: Identify a Field or Area of Interest : 
Identification of area or field of interest is the first step in the problem formulation process. In this step. the researcher evaluates himself and recognizes his fundamental field of interest, upon which the research problem is based. This certainly helps in finding a potential research topic. For example, a researcher whose field of interest is politics, will be interested in research topics like, youth involvement in politics, changing political structures, cross cultural political environment, etc. Similarly, if marketing is the area of researcher's interest, then topics like green marketing, internet advertising. consumer behavior, will gain his main focus.

Step 2: Divide the Broad Area Into Smaller Sub Areas: 
A researcher can recognize the broad areas of research only by identifying his fields of interest. However, such fields of interest will have diversified aspects that cannot be studied or explored under single research study. Hence, small parts of broad areas are identified within which the research has to be done. For this purpose, a rather can seek advice from subject experts that held commands on particular field of knowledge. When a list of sub areas is created, then the researcher can select the best research topic.

Step 3: Select the Most Interesting Topic : 
A researcher cannot study all the sub-ass identified from a broad field of interest. Therefore, he selects the most appropriate research topics among various sub areas chat gain his supreme interest. For this purpose. the researcher eliminates the least concerned sub-areas by thoroughly analyzing the generated Est of sub areas. When few topics are left to be eliminated, it becomes hard for the researcher to select among the remaining ones. In such cases, the researcher must choose the best topic by considering his budget, time and availability of other resources.

Step 4: Raise Research Questions : 
After selecting the most appropriate research topic, the researcher selects the main problem or issue which needs to be investigated. For this purpose, the researcher raises research questions against the chosen topic and lists them. If the number of research questions becomes difficult to study or unmanageable, then the elimination process can be repeated again for bringing down the research questions up to a controllable limit.

Step 5: Formulate the Objectives : 
Under this step, the researcher formulates his research objectives. These goals and objectives will originate from research questions, listed in the previous step. These objectives are tailored with terms such as "to estimate", "to determine", "find-out", etc., which convert the behavioral aspects of questions into an action-oriented aspect. However, many researchers first frame their research objectives and then raise their research questions. Also, some of them do t not frame their research objectives and conduct their research through research questions only. Therefore, it is the sole way of researcher, how he wants to conduct the research in order to explore and study what he intends to.

Step 6: Evaluate the Objectives : 
In this step, the researcher evaluates his research objectives, as soon as they are framed. While evaluating the objectives, the researcher gives his consideration towards many aspects and constraints, such as time, budget. required skills (both technical and non-technical), available resources, etc.

Step 7: Re-Evaluate : 
In the last step, a researcher re-evaluates every step involved in the formulation of research problem. This re-evaluation is necessary to gain a determination for conducting the research study. The researcher asks himself about his chosen field of interest, his raised questions, research objectives, and re-analyses his resources and expertise for successfully conducting the research.

Precautions in Research Problem

Formulation The precautions that should be taken while formulating the research problem are as follows : 
  1. Words that are used for defining the research problem should provide a definite meaning. 
  2. Problem statement should be clear and precise. 
  3. A hypothesis should be identified for conducting the research study. 
  4. The chosen search problem should have some practical importance in different educational areas.
  5. Problem statement should have a particular rationale.

Necessity of Problem Formulation

Along with discovering the fundamental issues, a proper formulation of research problem also facilitates the researcher to arrive at a certain operational statement. The necessity of problem formulation can be explained by the following points :
  1. It provides a proper direction of conducting the research study to the researcher.
  2. It discloses the procedure and methodology for conducting the research study. 
  3. It helps the researcher in controlling biasness or aspects of subjectivity.
  4. It makes the research study practicable and realistic in nature.
  5. It provides a clear understanding of relationships between variables and also determines the researcher's position. 
  6. It relates the researcher's field of interest with other fundamental issues by recognizing hidden insights and prospects. 
  7. It helps the researcher in finding the source of information and also facilitates in their understanding. 
  8. It arranges the researcher's actions according to their priority levels.
  9. It helps the researcher in recognizing the information related the topic.
  10. it locates the information gaps that may require formal research.

Redefining Research Problem 

Redefining research problem means to outline the research problem by using various innovative methods of discussions including literature review, brainstorming, etc. When researcher redefines the research problem, be realizes that related problems and issues (which are similar to some extent) have already been focused by another researchers and there is nothing 'new' in the problem. Therefore, for recognizing all such related research work, reviewing literature is significant. By performing literature review, a researcher can also direct the research study towards right direction by controlling it through theoretical and conceptual contexts. Following are the guidelines for performing literature review : 
  1. The researcher should find similar research topics in reliable information sources such as internet.
  2. The researcher should use multimedia for answering his raised questions. 
  3. The researcher should consider and include every important constructs or variables that are relevant with the research study. 
  4. The researcher should select right research design, sampling method, measurement instruments, questionnaire format, etc. 
  5. The researcher should anticipate the basic problems that earlier researchers would have faced while conducting their research studies. The researcher should also build and adopt appropriate strategies for counteracting such problems.
In many cases, redefining the research problem has either created new problems or has modified the original one. Therefore, a research should carefully. refine the research problem in a way that agrees and coincide with the research topic and objectives. A research needs to diagnose the research problem at several levels of research hierarchy with a wider viewpoint.

For example, the problem faced by a firm of decline in sales, can be redefined by the researcher as the factors contributing to decrease in sales or reasons for sales decline, etc. This certainly extends the scope of research study and can also discover new methods for increasing the sales of the firm.

There are several questions or problems that need to be resolved at various managerial levels, when a research is conducted in an organisation. The researcher must consider the following questions or problems while redefining the research problem :

Redefining Research Problem

Management Question

As management questions transform management dilemmas in question formats, thus it can be said that management questions are derived from management dilemmas. For example, declining of sales in a firm can be the management dilemma and the following can be the management questions :
  • What steps should be taken to increase footfall in the retail outlet?
  • Why employees are losing their morale? 
  • What are the reasons behind declining profits?
  • What measures should be taken to increase customer satisfaction?
  • What steps can be taken to improve sales? 
  • What are the possible factors that will contribute towards greater sales? 
Such management questions are of general nature, which are usually tapered towards specific sub objectives. Like, in the above question "What steps can be taken to improve sales?" can be further divided into two questions :
  • How to improve sales in order to increase profits? 
  • How to enhance efficiencies in order to decrease costs?

Research Question

When researcher clearly understands the management questions, he translates them into research questions. Most of the solutions and alternatives to the research problem are identified through management questions. However, necessary that every solution or alternative is related with the considered research problem. Hence, researcher systematically evaluates such answers for choosing the most appropriate one. For this purpose, the researcher should have the basic understanding of management, so that the chosen answer can be utilized for further analysis. Research questions are derived from management questions and are more focused and specific towards research study. The research question for management question. "How to increase efficiency by decreasing costs" can be the following :
  • How can the cost of firm's infrastructure reduced?
  • Without affecting the output, how can the employee cost be decreased?
  • Without affecting the functions of retail outlet, how can the logistic cost be decreased?

Investigative Question

Investigative questions are the next level of hierarchy of questions. These questions are comparatively more specific than research questions and are responsible for revealing specific useful data required for answering the research questions. However, investigative questions should be reasonably answered in order to reach at specific conclusions. Investigative questions are considered as the building blocks of hypothesis development and are derived from research questions. For a research question "Without affecting the output, how can the employee cost be decreased?", the investigative questions can be :
  • Which is the best compensation policy that can be implemented? 
  • Without paying overtime/bonus, etc., how will the output of the employees improve?
  • In order to improve the overall efficiency level, how to have appropriate balance of permanent and temporary employees?

Measurement Question

Measurement questions are the questions that enable a researcher to gather specific data, essential for conducting the research. These questions are considered as the building blocks of questionnaires. At least one measurement question is asked from every investigative question. The research question "Without affecting the output, how can the employee cost be decreased?" can be divided into following measurement questions : 
  • How can we measure employees' efficiency? 
  • How can we measure employees' output?
  • How can we measure overall productivity? 

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