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Problem statement and hypothesis

A problem statement can require ongoing processing

The professional problem, which you investigate in your assignment can take the form of a thesis statement, meaning a question you will answer or a hypothesis you will confirm or refute. Whether the problem is one or the other is important to the type of task you are embarking on. Both thesis statements and hypotheses needs to be relevant for your academic area and must be able to be examined within the means and methods at your disposal.

Be aware that a problem statement or hypothesis often can change during the writing process. It can be necessary to change the focus of the problem statement/hypothesis or just a single word. How much you need to change on an ongoing basis varies from field of study to field of study and from type of assignment to type of assignment.

Problem statement

A problem statement is usually a question you examine in your assignment and finally answers in your conclusion - possibly with 2-5 sub-questions. A problem statement can come in different variations, generally it is:

  • Precisely formulated – e.g. using technical terms
  • Specific for your project – it contains what you want to examine (object) and how you want to examine it (theories and methods)
  • Proposes not only describing the problem (what is the problem?) but encourages explanation, reflection and discussion of the problem (how and why is the problem?)

Problem statement as a tool for guidance

In your process you can use the problem statement as a compass. When you collect empirical data, search for literature and read, keep your problem statement in mind. This will help you to not search and read too broadly, but you should focus on what is relevant in order to be able to answer your problem statement.

Simultaneously, you should also be prepared to revise your problem statement along the way if, for example, it turns out that you are able to ask an even more relevant or interesting question. Remember to discuss it with your lecturer or supervisor if you change your problem statement, and thus your assignment, significantly.

Work with your problem statement

The problem statement sets the framework for your assignment

Your problem statement must ask the question that your conclusion should answer. The assignment itself, which comes between your problem statement and your conclusion, is the consideration of your main question. One must therefore be able to read the problem statement and conclusion in a coherent manner.

A problem statement must live up to certain specific requirements

Your problem statement must comply with some formal requirements, but you must also consider other elements of your problem statement. For example, whether the language is sufficiently precise, or whether it is a relevant or interesting topic.

Checklist for the problem formulation

You can use the points in the checklist below to assure the quality of your problem statement. Tick off each of the points your problem statement meets. Continue to work on your problem statement so that it finally meets most or all the items on the list. In this way, you can ensure that your problem statement is adequate.

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The checklist was made by the editorial staff in collaboration with Susanne Højlund, associate professor at School of Culture and Society - Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University.

Hypotheses

A hypothesis is a theoretical, hypothetical explanation that can be tested, and it typically takes the form of a causal link or a causal explanation. You can also see the hypothesis as a preliminary response to a research question or an issue. A hypothesis can be drawn up in several ways, but generally speaking, 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 be either confirmed or rebutted.

Examining a hypothesis

Your hypothesis may contain a prediction of the results of your study based on a logical explanation. Your study will then show whether your hypothesis and your prediction seem to be right or not. In other words, a good hypothesis is one you can try out through a study or experiment.

The good hypothesis is then theoretical and is based on existing knowledge, general principles and previous research within similar academic problem areas. In addition, it may be an advantage to think about whether you can present more possible hypotheses.

Scientifically, it is generally believed that a hypothesis may turn out to be wrong, but never can be ascertained to be definitively true. Therefore, you should design your study or experiment in such a way that you try to refute or falsify a hypothesis. If you fail to refute the hypothesis, then there is a greater probability that it is "right".


See also

Inspiration from others' assignments

Get an overview of Master's thesis titles from your subject, and be inspired by other people's problem statement.