As a researcher, you must have often read that defining a problem is the first step in a research process. But, have you ever wondered what is meant by defining a problem. Well, it simply means that the researcher has to lay down certain boundaries within which he/she has to study the problem with a pre-defined objective in mind.
Defining a problem is a herculean task, and this must be done intelligently to avoid confusions that arise in the research operation. Try to follow the below steps systematically to best define a problem:
i. State the problem in a general way:
First state the problem in general terms with respect to some practical, scientific or intellectual interest. For this, the researcher may himself read the concerned subject matter thoroughly or take the help of the subject expert. Often, the guide states the problem in general terms; it depends on the researcher if he/she wants to narrow it down to operational terms. The problem stated should also be checked for ambiguity and feasibility.
ii. Understand the nature of the problem:
The next step is to understand the nature and origin of the problem. The researcher needs to discuss the problem with those related to the subject matter in order to clearly understand the origin of the problem, its nature, objectives, and the environment in which the problem is to be studied.
iii. Survey the available literature:
All available literature including relevant theories, reports, records, and other relevant literature on the problem needs to be reviewed and examined. This would help the researcher to identify the data available, the techniques that might be used, types of difficulties that may be encountered during the study, possible analytical shortcomings, and even new methods of approach to the present problem.
iv. Go for discussions for developing ideas:
The researcher may discuss the problem with his/her colleagues and others related to the concerned subject. This helps the researcher to generate new ideas, identify different aspects on the problem, gain suggestions and advices from others, and sharpen his focus on certain aspects within the field. However, discussions should not be limited to the problem only, but should also be related to the general approach to the problem, techniques that might be used, possible solutions, etc.
v. Rephrase the research problem into a working proposition:
Finally, the researcher must rephrase the problem into a working proposition. Rephrasing the problem means putting the problem in specific terms that is feasible and may help inÂ the development of working hypotheses. Once the researcher has gone through the above steps systematically, it is easy to rephrase the problem into analytical and operational terms.