Problem Statements
PATTI POBLETE AND TRISTAN ABBOTT
Brought to you in cooperation with the Purdue Online Writing Lab
Presentation Overview
Types of problem statements:
• Formal
• Informal
Kinds of knowledge:
• Terminology
• Shared beliefs and mindsets
• Canonical works
Example problem statements
What is a Problem
Statement?
A problem statement is a move that a document makes
to help the reader realize why that document is important.
Problem statements can be:
• formal (e.g., thesis statements), or
• informal (e.g., a sentence that tells readers how a
new development or discovery will effect them)
Formal Problem
Statements
An example of a formal problem statement
would be the thesis statement that should appear
at the outset of your document.
For Example:
One of the problems faced by college admissions offices
is whether to give precedence to applicants with strong
test scores or to applicants with a variety of extracurricular
activities.
Formal Problem
Statements
When using formal problem statements be sure to
keep them specific, state only what you:
• Will be discussing in text of the document, and
• Can support with evidence.
Helping the Audience
Understand Your Work
To write strong problem statements,
you need to know:
•
What your readers already
know about the topic of the
document, and
•
How you will highlight the
significance of your document.
Kinds of Knowledge
You need to analyze your audience and gauge
their knowledge of the following areas:
•
•
•
Terminology
Shared beliefs/mindsets
Canonical works
Terminology
Specialized terminology: words or phrases that
might not be easily understood by readers from
different backgrounds.
For Example:
When an applied linguist uses the terms L1 and L2 to
refer to a person’s first and second languages.
The next slide provides examples of how specialized
terminology can be deployed in problem statements.
Terminology
A Problem Statement written with special
terminology only:
School’s ESL instructors need to be especially mindful of the
overlap between a student’s L1 and L2.
A Problem Statement written with special
terminology that is also defined:
Instructors who teach students learning English as a
Second Language (ESL) should pay attention to the overlap
between a student’s first language (L1) and English, the
target language (L2).
Shared Beliefs and
Mindsets
The idea of shared beliefs and
mindsets relates to the values an
audience holds and how these can
change the way that they interpret
or understand the statements you
make. Shared beliefs and mindsets
often appear in the assumptions
that underlie a text.
Shared Beliefs and
Mindsets
The next slide provides examples of how
assumptions about beliefs and mindsets can affect
how a person might read a text.
• The first quote assumes that the readers understand
the terms related to autism and the needs of autistic
patients.
• The second quote conveys the same information, but
spells out those assumptions for an audience
unfamiliar with such conversations.
Shared Beliefs and
Mindsets - Examples
1. Contains underlying assumptions about shared
beliefs:
“We believe this research could lead to a development of
more specialized techniques for treating the autism
spectrum.”
2. States the underlying assumptions in specific terms:
“…and such techniques are important because the autism
spectrum encompasses a number of disorders, and right
now there is not enough specialized treatment for each
specific disorder.”
Canonical Research
Canonical research refers to texts or theories
that the majority of experts in a field accept as
significant.
For Example:
• Einstein's theory of general relativity in physics
• Ferris’ and Trustcott’s competing views on error
correction in second language writing
• The Pythagorean Theorem in geometry
Canonical Research Examples
1. Assumes knowledge of a discipline specific canonical
work:
"Apply the Pythagorean theorem in order to calculate the distance
between home plate and second base."
2. Does not assume knowledge of a discipline specific
canonical work:
"Use the Pythagorean theorem (A2 + B2 = C2, with C equaling the
triangle's longest side and A and B equaling the other sides) to
calculate the distance between home plate and second base.
Remember, there are 90 feet between each base."
Problem Statements for
a Variety of Audiences
Statements written for different audiences:
The following slides provide two examples of problem
statements.
• The first example, by Bao and Li, appeared in a
materials sciences professional journal.
• The second example, by Danigelis, appeared
through a popular media outlet (MSNBC).
These examples show how problem statements differ
depending on the context in which they appear.
“Toward Textile Energy Storage
from Cotton T-Shirts”
• Written by Bao and Li (2012)
• Published in a professional journal: Advanced
Materials.
• The journal is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at an
audience familiar with current developments in
materials science, which includes “the chemistry
and physics of functional materials.”
• Their problem statement is found in the first
paragraph of the article.
“Toward Textile Energy Storage
from Cotton T-Shirts”
Bao & Li Problem Statement:
“The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area
characteristic of such textiles facilitates the access of
electrolytes, enabling high electrochemical
performance of textile super-capacitors. However, the
employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT
‘ink’ is not environmentally benign. The other
drawback is that the use of CNTs increases the cost of
the device, which more or less deters their
technological applications” (Bao & Li, 2012).
“Toward Textile Energy Storage
from Cotton T-Shirts”
Field Specific Terminology:
“The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area
characteristic of such textiles facilitates the access of
electrolytes, enabling high electrochemical
performance of textile super-capacitors. However, the
employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT
‘ink’ is not environmentally benign. The other drawback
is that the use of CNTs increases the cost of the device,
which more or less deters their technological
applications” (Bao & Li, 2012).
“Toward Textile Energy Storage
from Cotton T-Shirts”
Assuming Shared Beliefs/Mindsets:
“The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area
characteristic of such textiles facilitates the access of
electrolytes, enabling high electrochemical
performance of textile super-capacitors. However, the
employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT
‘ink’ is not environmentally benign. The other
drawback is that the use of CNTs increases the cost of
the device, which more or less deters their
technological applications” (Bao & Li, 2012).
“Toward Textile Energy Storage
from Cotton T-Shirts”
References to Canonical Research:
“The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area
characteristic of such textiles facilitates the
access of electrolytes, enabling high electrochemical
performance of textile super-capacitors. However,
the employment of organic surfactant for preparing
CNT ‘ink’ is not environmentally benign. The other
drawback is that the use of CNTs increases the
cost of the device, which more or less deters their
technological applications” (Bao & Li, 2012).
“Your cotton T-shirt could
soon charge your phone”
• Written by Danigelis (2012)
• Published on a commercial tech blog, MSNBC’s
Future of Tech
• This blog is maintained by MSNBC Tech
contributors and commercial partners.
• Her problem statement is implicit and
distributed across the first and fourth paragraphs
of the blog entry.
“Your cotton T-shirt could
soon charge your phone”
In the Danigelis article, the problem statement is
implicit rather than explicit, like in Bao & Li (2012):
•“One day, donning a T-shirt could mean you’re also
sporting a smart device charger.” (Danigelis, 2012).
•“The engineers had to make the cotton highly
conductive so they tried several ‘recipes,’ Li said.”
(Danigelis, 2012).
Recap: Problem
Statements
Problem statements can be either:
• Formal, like a thesis statement
• Informal, like a explanatory sentence
Their primary functions are to help the reader:
• See why your document is important
• Help create raised awareness of an issue
Strong problem statements consider:
• Terminology
• Shared beliefs and mindsets
• Canonical works
References
Bao, L. & Li X. (2012). “Toward textile energy storage
from cotton T-shirts.” Advanced Materials 24(24),
3246-3252. doi: 10.1002/adma.201200246.
Danigelis, A. (2012, May 26). “Your cotton T-shirt could
soon charge your phone.” [Future of Tech Blog Post].
Retrieved from:
http://www.futureoftech.msnbc.msn.com/technology/futur
eoftech/your-cotton-t-shirt-could-soon-charge-yourphone-795391
Where to Go to Get
More Help
Purdue University Writing Lab
Heavilon 226
Web: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
Phone: (765) 494-3723
Email: [email protected]
The End
PROBLEM STATEMENTS
By Patti Poblete and Tristan Abbott
Brought to you in cooperation with the Purdue Online Writing Lab
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