How to Write a Problem and Purpose Statement in Nursing Research

A good research proposal contains a strong problem and purpose statement.

The most important components of a research paper are the problem and purpose statements. They communicate the reason for the research, what will be researched, what will be accomplished and how the study will proceed. Communicating the problem and purpose statements clearly and concisely will help reviewers develop a clear understanding for what you’re doing, while persuading them as to its merits as a worthy contribution to the nursing community.

1 The Problem Statement

2 State the general problem

Clearly and concisely state the general problem to be addressed through the research. Describe in detail the need for the study. Be clear and use all past-tense language without first-person references. For example, if the problem states that there is a shortage of volunteers in the HIV unit, describe why these volunteers are needed by the hospital, unit or staff.

3 Include in the problem statement

Include in the problem statement a description of the method and research design. Detail briefly how the design is appropriate to the problem. Use introductory language such as, “This study will examine…” and “This study will compare…” State the research design clearly, and make sure it contains enough detail to demonstrate and communicate that the design is appropriate for the study.

4 Include clear identification

Include clear identification of the general population and geographic location of the study in the problem statement. For example, if the general population is children under the age of five from households with an annual income of less than $30,000, state it clearly. The entire problem statement should not be more than one paragraph or three to four statements altogether.

5 The Purpose Statement

6 Begin the next paragraph

Begin the next paragraph with a purpose statement that identifies the type of study to be conducted: qualitative, quantitative or a mixed method. Define the specific area of research, for example science, pharmacy or the social sciences. Keep the purpose statement and study details brief enough to revisit and expand upon later on in the paper. For example, “This quantitative study will analyze the effects of Rx on…”

7 Use a single statement

Use a single statement to explain what the study intends to accomplish. Structure it as a goals statement for example, “The purpose of this study is to examine…” or “The purpose of this qualitative study is to compare the treatment effects of…”

8 Offer a hint

Offer a hint, but only a hint, at the hypothesis and significance or importance of the study in the purpose statement. Keep this brief so that it too can be expanded upon later. For example, if the hypothesis is that Group A will respond more favorably to a certain treatment and Group B will not respond at all, establish this in the purpose statement generally, for example “Groups A and Group B will be tested for a reaction” and leave the details to expand upon later in the paper.

9 Identify and state the research variables

Identify and state what the research variables are: independent, dependent, relationships, comparisons. Variables are the causes and effects of the study; they are the actions and the reactions under study, where one variable operates independently, and the other operates dependently in reaction. Be very clear about the distinction between the independent and dependent variables by identifying each variable as it is - either dependent or independent.

  • Be careful not to get too detailed about the problem statement, otherwise the readers will lose focus of the problem.
  • A good problem statement will answer the question: "Why does this research need to be conducted?"

Susan Ruckdeschel began writing in 1989 as a guest columnist for the "Rochester Democrat and Chronicle." Her work continues to blossom, with the recent publication of a handbook for teachers and numerous other books soon to be released. Ruckdeschel has a Master of Science in education from Nazareth College and is completing her Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership.