EDUR 7130
Educational Research On-Line

Problem and Problem Statements

Purpose Statement (PS)

When reading research literature, once often finds a PS. The PS is used to introduce the reader to the purpose of the study; it outlines the intent of the author -- his or her central idea of research report; the thesis statement.

Often the PS is presented early in the research report, usually within the first two or three paragraphs. Commonly authors provide brief background information about the issue to be studied. This background information is used simply to familiarize the reader with the issue, and to make the importance of the issue apparent. The background sets the frame of the study--the focus of the study. Once the background information is provided, the author then presents the purpose statement which makes clear what will be presented in the research report.

Purpose Statement Characteristics

A good PS, combined with the background information, will provide the following:

  1. Significance - either theoretical or practical importance of the issue will be clear to the reader
  2. Researchable - the issue to be addressed in the report should be researchable; this means that the issue can be studied or addressed by collecting and analyzing data
  3. Variables - the important variables to be studied should be present in the PS
  4. Relationships - the relationships among the variables studied should be clear--that is, one should be able to identify which are the independent and dependent variables

Examples of Purpose Statements

PS may be stated in two forms: question and implicit question. The implicit question is more common. Some examples of each are listed below.

Stated as an implicit question

  1. The purpose of this study was to compare differences between high and low achievers in the ninth grade on measures of originality and divergent thinking.
  2. In this study we investigated whether the ability to discriminate among parts of speech increased with chronological age and educational level.
  3. The purpose of the present research was to investigate the separate and combined effects of the principal components of mastery learning and team learning on student mathematics achievement.
  4. The purpose is to examine the relationship between rote learning ability and socioeconomic status.
  5. The main purpose of this study is to compare the effectiveness of two reading methods, sight and phonics, in increasing verbal comprehension.

Stated in question form

  1. What is the relation between intelligence and achievement?
  2. Do students learn more from a directive teacher or a non-directive teacher?
  3. Do students who are described unfavorably by their teacher tend to describe themselves more unfavorably than those students described favorably by their teacher?
  4. Does the repetitious use of prompting in a learning program impair the effectiveness of programmed materials?
  5. Are students aged 55 and older more likely to drop out of college than students of ages between 30 and 40?
  6. Is the relationship between age and dropping-out behavior affected by the student’s perception of the utility of the program to his or her future needs?
  7. How do three counseling techniques differ in their effectiveness in decreasing test anxiety in high school juniors?
  8. What is the relationship among leadership skills, intelligence, and achievement motivation of high school seniors?

Examples of Purpose Statements within Opening Sections of a Research Report

In the following examples, the PS is underlined.

Example 1

Speculation among educators and educational researchers holds that increases in academic standards may have detrimental effects on students, especially academically at-risk students (Johnson, 1994; Jones, 1993). With state mandates requiring increased standards, such as the adoption of minimum competency tests, educational researchers have argued that high school dropout rates will increase substantially once students begin experiencing difficulty passing competency tests (Adam, 1983). The purpose of this study is to investigate whether increased standards, in the form of minimum competency tests, influence students' decisions to leave school before graduation. If increased academic standards do, in fact, influence students' decisions to drop out of school, then policy makers need to reconsider both the goals for, and implementation of, such standards.

(Note. The IV in this PS is increased standards [use of minimum competency tests] and the DV is withdrawing from school.)

Example 2

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are two eating disorders that affect females in the United States and Europe every year, and both are recognized as major medical and psychiatric problems. Anorexia is a disorder that most commonly affects females in their teenage and young adult years. Leichner and Gertler (1988) estimate that as much as 20% of women on college campuses demonstrate anorectic behaviors. Despite improved therapeutic approaches, the mortality rate of this disorder is between 5% and 20% (Zerbe, 1993). Bulimia, the other eating disorder, also affects adolescent females, and the prognosis for individuals with bulimia is often worse than those with anorexia. Because of the prevalence and severity of eating disorders, psychological researchers desire to learn of the symptoms that precede such eating disorders, how those symptoms develop, and the additional problems that accompany such symptoms.

Clinicians, in an attempt to document symptoms that precede eating disorders, are often confounded by the fact that females are usually secretive in regard to their eating disorders. Adding further to the problem is the fact that many teenagers diet, and eating disorders can sometimes be confused with dieting. Thus, as noted by Zerbe (1993), early signs of eating disorders, such as weight loss, frequently go unnoticed by family members and are ignored by physicians. Since physical and other observable warning signs are often disregarded, and since eating disorders are related to, and perhaps caused by, underlying personality characteristics, emotions, and conflicts, it seems that a method of assessment that would project these underlying tendencies would be helpful in the early diagnosis of eating disorders.

Usually eating disorders are connected to emotional conflicts, personality characteristics, and other psychological problems. Researchers have long used human figure drawings (HFD) for the assessment similar psychological problems in children and adults (Dileo, 1983; Koppitz, 1968), and, according to Klepsch and Logie (1982), such drawings can capture symbolically on paper some of an individual's thoughts, feelings, and present state of mind or attitude. Note that such states or attitudes may be governed by developmental and social-emotional conditions at any given moment (Mortensen, 1984).

Since HFDs may capture various social-emotional conditions on paper, perhaps HFDs may be used as a diagnostic tool in an attempt to differentiate among individuals with and without eating disorders. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation will be to determine whether HFDs, viewed as a diagnostic tool, can adequately identify individuals with eating disorders.

(Note. The IV is HFDs and the DV is identification of eating disorders.)

Example 3

Hebb (1955) theorized, based on an extensive analysis of all the then currently available data relating performance to arousal, that a curvi-linear relationship existed between arousal and performance. Typically, Hebb postulated, behavioral efficiency, i.e. performance, increases with increasing levels of arousal, but at a certain arousal point performance will begin decreasing even as arousal-levels continue to increase. This relationship holds broad implications, especially when one considers the possible impact upon diagnostic assessments of performance. Since school psychologists frequently administer diagnostic tests to students, and since there is an established non-linear relationship between arousal and performance, controllable factors that may influence children's arousal- or anxiety-levels when administered such tests would prove invaluable to school psychologists in obtaining more accurate and valid diagnostic scores.

Given that excessive levels of arousal or anxiety interact in a negative fashion with performance, it is important to know whether mundane factors, such as school psychologists’ attire or sex, influence students’ arousal-levels. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the dress and/or sex of school psychologists influences children’s levels of arousal during the administration of a diagnostic test. Should the data indicate that attire or sex influences arousal-levels, then further research will be needed to learn methods for best controlling the impact of these factors. Because children with learning disabilities constitute the largest population of special education students, and because the majority of children with learning disabilities are referred for services in the third grade (Kirk, Gallagher, & Anastasiow, 1993), third-graders referred for possible learning disabilities will be targeted in this investigation.

(Note. The IVs are dress and sex and the DV is level of arousal.)

Problem Statements

It is less common to see Problem Statements in today's research. A problem statement identifies for readers the problem the researcher wishes to address through the purpose of the study. Using Example 1 from above, the problem statement could be worded like this:

"High school dropout rates are high, and there is speculation that use of minimum competency tests may be contributing the high rate of school dropout."

A more common approach to identifying problems that will be addressed in a study is to problem a brief introduction to the problem like shown in the examples above. For each example, the introductory material is several sentences or a paragraph (or two) describing the problem in some detail and why it is important to study. Once the problem is identified and explained, one then typically presents the study purpose and this is often followed by study research questions or hypotheses.