5 Ways to Formulate the Research Problem
Before you get started with any form of market research it’s important that you understand what a marketing research problem is and how to formulate one. Once you understand the problem you are researching you can start creating research surveys for free with Qualtrics.
Definition: What is a research problem?
A research problem is a definite or clear expression [statement] about an area of concern, a condition to be improved upon, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling question that exists in scholarly literature, in theory, or within existing practice that points to a need for meaningful understanding and deliberate investigation. A research problem does not state how to do something, offer a vague or broad proposition, or present a value question.
– Alan Byrman
Follow These 5 Steps To Formulate Your Research Problem
Step 1. Specify the Research Objectives
A clear statement defining your objectives will help you develop effective research.
It will help the decision makers evaluate the research questions your project should answer as well as the research methods your project will use to answer those questions. It’s critical that you have manageable objectives. (Two or three clear goals will help to keep your research project focused and relevant.)
Step 2. Review the Environment or Context of the Research Problem
As a marketing researcher, you must work closely with your team of researchers in defining and testing environmental variables. This will help you determine whether the findings of your project will produce enough information to be worth the cost.
In order to do this, you have to identify the environmental variables that will affect the research project and begin formulating different methods to control these variables.
Step 3. Explore the Nature of the Problem
Research problems range from simple to complex, depending on the number of variables and the nature of their relationship. Sometimes the relationship between two variables is directly related to a problem or questions, and other times the relationship is entirely unimportant.
If you understand the nature of the research problem as a researcher, you will be able to better develop a solution to the problem.
To help you understand all dimensions, you might want to consider focus groups of consumers, salespeople, managers, or professionals to provide what is sometimes much-needed insight into a particular set of questions or problems.
Step 4. Define the Variable Relationships
Marketing plans often focus on creating a sequence of behaviors that occur over time, as in the adoption of a new package design, or the introduction of a new product.
Such programs create a commitment to follow some behavioral pattern or method in the future.
Studying such a process involves:
- Determining which variables affect the solution to the research problem.
- Determining the degree to which each variable can be controlled and used for the purposes of the company.
- Determining the functional relationships between the variables and which variables are critical to the solution of the research problem.
During the problem formulation stage, you will want to generate and consider as many courses of action and variable relationships as possible.
Step 5. The Consequences of Alternative Courses of Action
There are always consequences to any course of action used in one or more projects. Anticipating and communicating the possible outcomes of various courses of action is a primary responsibility in the research process.
5 Ways to Improve the Impact of Research
 Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 10 (2007): 5-20.
This post was originally published in May 2018 and was updated and re-published in July 2019.