A typical dissertation introductory chapter contains both a “background of the problem” section and a “problem statement” section.
However, many students struggle to
understand the difference between these two sections.
The result is a poorly organized introduction that is difficult for a reader to follow. Here’s a quick and easy guide to telling these two sections apart.
What is the Background of the Problem?
The “background of the problem” section provides the background information your reader needs in order to understand the problem.
Let’s imagine your study is on the efficacy of lowering the legal drinking age. Before your reader can understand your study, they need some basic information, such as the current drinking age, the legislative history of underaged drinking, and the effects of alcohol on young people’s health.
This information sets the stage for your study. However, it’s big-picture stuff – you won’t be tackling all of it in your study, with your data.
What is the Problem Statement?
The problem statement outlines the specific problem you hope to solve with your study.
For example, in our hypothetical drinking age study, we might be trying to solve the problem of underaged college binge drinking at parties. To establish that this really is a problem, we need present readers with information like the number of hospitalizations, arrests, expulsions, and so on, of drunk underaged college students.
As you can see, this information is much more specific to the problem than the information about the general context.
Writing About the Dissertation Problem
How can you get this right when writing your dissertation chapter 1? The key is to outline.
First, brainstorm the problem and create outline sections based on the elements of the problem you identify. These are the “problem statement” section.
Then, zoom out—what do you need to know to understand those elements? Brainstorm again—these ideas become the sections of your “background of the problem” section.
Still not sure? Ask yourself a) is this a problem, and b) will my data directly help solve this problem? If the answer is yes to both questions, the item belongs in your problem statement. If the answer is no to either question, then it’s probably part of the background to the problem.