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Problem statement and hypothesis

A problem statement may need to be re-worked throughout the process 

The academic problem that you are investigating in your assignment can either take the form of a problem statement, i.e. a question that you want to answer, or it can be a hypothesis that you wish to reject or confirm. How you formulate the problem influences the task you are embarking on. Problem statements as well as hypotheses must be relevant to your area of study, and you must be able to carry out the investigation using the resources and methods available to you.  

Note that a problem statement or a hypothesis often changes during the writing process. Sometimes you have to change the focus of the problem statement/hypothesis, and sometimes you only have to change a single word. The amount of changes required depends on your study programme and the assignment at hand. Therefore, you should always ask your teacher or supervisor for advice.  

Problem statement

A problem statement usually consists of one question to be addressed in your assignment and to be answered in your conclusion. It can include 2-5 sub-questions. A problem statement can take different forms, but generally: 

  • It uses accurate wording, for example technical terms 

  • It relates specifically to your project, describing what you want to study (object) and how you want to study it (theories and methods)  

  • It not only introduces a description of the problem (what is the problem?) but also encourages explanation, reflection and discussion of the problem (how and why does the problem exist?) 

The problem statement as a guiding tool

The problem statement can be a useful tool to guide you through your work process. Whether you are collecting empirical data, searching for literature or reading, always keep your problem statement in mind. This will help you narrow down your searches and your reading, and help you focus on what is relevant in order to answer the question in your problem statement. 

You should also be prepared to revise your problem statement as you go along. For example if you discover a more relevant or interesting question when you start working on the investigation. Always discuss with your teacher or supervisor if you want to make radical changes to your problem statement, and thereby to your assignment.  

Working on your problem statement

The problem statement sets the framework for your assignment 

Your problem statement asks the question that will be answered in the conclusion. The actual assignment - between the problem statement and the conclusion - addresses your main question. There must be a clear link between the problem statement and the conclusion. 

A problem statement must comply with certain specific requirements 

Your problem statement has to meet a number of formal requirements, but there are other elements that you need to consider as well. For example: Is your language clear and unambiguous, and is your topic relevant and interesting? 

Checklist for the problem statement

Checklist for the problem statement 

Use the points in the checklist below to assure the quality of your problem statement. Tick off each of the points that your problem statement complies with. Continue to work on your problem statement until it complies with most or all of the items on the list. This will help you make sure that your problem statement is satisfactory. 


The checklist has been prepared by the editorial team in collaboration with Susanne Højlund, associate professor at the School of Culture and Society - Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University. 

Hypotheses

A hypothesis is a theoretical, hypothetical explanation that can be tested. It usually takes the form of a causal relationship or a causal explanation. You can also consider the hypothesis as a preliminary response to a research question or a problem statement. A hypothesis can be expressed in different ways, but generally, the following applies: 

  • The hypothesis is theoretical and builds on existing knowledge and general principles. 

  • The hypothesis can be tested through a study or an experiment. 

  • The hypothesis can either be confirmed or rejected. 

Testing a hypothesis

Your hypothesis can include a prediction of the results of your study based on a logical explanation. Your study will then show whether your hypothesis and your prediction appear to be correct or not. In other words, a good hypothesis is a hypothesis that you can test through a study or an experiment. 

A good hypothesis is theoretical and is based on existing knowledge, general principles and previous research within a similar academic problem area. It can also be a good idea to consider proposing several hypotheses. 

In science, it is generally believed that a hypothesis can turn out to be wrong, but that it can never be conclusively proven to be true. Consequently, your study or experiment should be designed so that it attempts to reject or falsify your hypothesis. If you fail to reject the hypothesis, it is more likely to be "correct". 


See also

Inspiration from assignments by other students

Get a list of thesis titles from your field of study, and draw inspiration from other students’ problem statements.