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Problem Statements

By Patti Poblete and Tristan Abbott

Presentation Overview
Types of problem statements
- Formal
- Informal

Kinds of knowledge
- Terminology
- Shared beliefs and mindsets
- Canonical works

Example problem statements

What is a Problem Statement?


A problem statement is a move that a document makes to help the
reader realize why that document is important.
Problem statements can be:
formal (e.g., thesis statements)
informal (e.g., a sentence that tells readers how a new
development or discovery will effect them)

Formal Problem Statements


An example of a formal problem statement would be the thesis
statement that should appear in the introduction of your document.

For example:
One of the problems faced by college admissions offices is
whether to give precedence to applicants with strong test score or
to applicants with a variety of extracurricular activities.

Formal Problem Statements


When using formal problem statements be sure that they are
specific. Be sure to state only what you:

Will discuss in text


Can support with evidence

Helping the Audience


Understand
Your Work
To write strong problem statements, you need to know:

What your readers already know about the topic of the


document.
How you will highlight the significance of your document.

Kinds of Knowledge
You need to analyze your audience and gauge their knowledge of
the following areas:

terminology
shared beliefs/mindsets
canonical works

Terminology
Specialized terminology refers to words or phrases that might not
be easily understood by readers from different backgrounds.

For example:
When the applied linguist uses terms L1 and L2 to refer to a
persons first or second language.
The next slide provides examples of how specialized terminology
can be deployed in problem statements.

Terminology
Written with special terminology only:
Schools ESL instructors need to be especially mindful of the
overlap between a students L1 and L2.

Written with special terminology defined:


Instructors who teach students learning English as a Second
Language (ESL) should pay attention to the overlap between a
students first language (L1) and English, the target language (L2).

Shared Beliefs and Mindsets


The idea of shared beliefs and mindsets relates to the values an
audience holds and how these can change the way that they
interpret or understand the statements you make. Shared beliefs
and mindsets often appear in the assumptions that underlie a text.

Shared Beliefs and Mindsets


The next slide provides examples of how assumptions about
beliefs and mindsets can affect how a person might read a text.

The first quote assumes that the readers understand the terms
related to autism and the needs of autistic patients. The second
quote conveys the same information, but spells out those
assumptions for an audience unfamiliar with discussions about
autism.

Shared Beliefs and Mindsets


Underlying assumptions about shared beliefs:
We believe this research could lead to a development of more
specialized techniques for treating the autism spectrum.

States the underlying assumptions in specific terms:


and such techniques are important because the autism
spectrum encompasses a number of disorders, and right now
there is not enough specialized treatment for each specific
disorder.

Canonical Research
Canonical research refers to texts or theories that the majority of
experts in a field accept as significant.
For example:
Einstein's theory of general relativity in physics
Ferris and Trustcotts competing views on error correction in
second language writing
The Pythagorean Theorem in geometry.

Canonical Research
Assumes knowledge of a discipline specific canonical work:
"Apply the Pythagorean theorem in order to calculate the
distance between home plate and second base."
Does not assume knowledge of a discipline specific
canonical work:
"Use the Pythagorean theorem (A2 + B2 = C2, with C
equaling the triangle's longest side and A and B equaling
the other sides) to calculate the distance between home
plate and second base. Remember, there are 90 feet
between each base."

Examples of Problem Statements for


a Variety of Audience
The following slides provide two example problem statements. The
first example, by Bao and Li, appeared in a materials sciences
professional journal. The second example, by Danigelis, appeared
through a popular media outlet (MSNBC).
These examples will be used to show how problem statements
differ depending on the context that they appear in.

Toward Textile Energy Storage from


Cotton T-Shirts
Written by Bao and Li (2012)
Published in a professional journal, Advanced Materials.
The journal is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at an audience
familiar with current developments in materials science, which
includes the chemistry and physics of functional materials.
Their problem statement is found in the first paragraph of the
article.

Toward Textile Energy Storage from


Cotton T-Shirts: Problem Statement
The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area characteristic of
such textiles facilitates the access of electrolytes, enabling high
electrochemical performance of textile super-capacitors.However,
the employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT ink is not
environmentally benign. The other drawback is that the use of
CNTs increases the cost of the device, which more or less deters
their technological applications (Bao & Li, 2012).

Toward Textile Energy Storage from


Cotton T-Shirts: Field Specific
Terminology
The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area characteristic of
such textiles facilitates the access of electrolytes, enabling high
electrochemical performance of textile super-capacitors.However,
the employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT ink is not
environmentally benign. The other drawback is that the use of
CNTs increases the cost of the device, which more or less deters
their technological applications (Bao & Li, 2012).

Toward Textile Energy Storage from Cotton


T-Shirts: Assuming Shared Beliefs/Mindsets
The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area characteristic of
such textiles facilitates the access of electrolytes, enabling high
electrochemical performance of textile super-capacitors.However,
the employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT ink is not
environmentally benign. The other drawback is that the use of
CNTs increases the cost of the device, which more or less deters
their technological applications (Bao & Li, 2012).

Toward Textile Energy Storage from


Cotton T-Shirts: References to Canonical
Research
The three-dimensional (3D) high-surface-area characteristic of
such textiles facilitates the access of electrolytes, enabling high
electrochemical performance of textile super-capacitors.However,
the employment of organic surfactant for preparing CNT ink is
not environmentally benign. The other drawback is that the use of
CNTs increases the cost of the device, which more or less deters
their technological applications (Bao & Li, 2012).

Your cotton T-shirt could soon


charge your phone
Written by Danigelis (2012)
Published on a commercial tech blog, MSNBCs Future of Tech
This blog is maintained by MSNBC Tech contributors and
commercial partners.
Her problem statement is implicit and distributed across the first
and fourth paragraphs of the blog entry.

Your cotton T-shirt could soon


charge your phone
In the Danigelis article, the problem statement is implicit rather
than explicit, like in Bao & Li (2012):
One day, donning a T-shirt could mean youre also sporting a
smart device charger. (Danigelis, 2012).
The engineers had to make the cotton highly conductive so they
tried several recipes, Li said. (Danigelis, 2012).

Recap: Problem Statements


Problem statements can be either:
formal, like a thesis statement
Informal, like a explanatory sentence
Their primary functions are to help the reader:
see why your document is important
help create raise awareness of an issue
To write strong problem statements you should keep in mind:
terminology
shared beliefs and mindsets
canonical works

Where to Go for More Help


Visit the Purdue University Writing Lab in
Heavilon Hall 226.
Check out the Purdue
Online Writing Lab: http://owl.english.purdue.edu
Email brief questions to our OWL Mail tutors:
owlmail@purdue.edu

References
Bao, L. & Li X. (2012). Toward textile energy storage from cotton
T-shirts. Advanced Materials 24(24), 3246-3252. doi: 10.1002/
adma. 201200246.
Danigelis, A. (2012, May 26). Your cotton T-shirt could
soon charge your phone. [Future of Tech Blog Post].
Retrieved from:
http://www.futureoftech.msnbc.msn.com/technology/futur
eoftech/your-cotton-t-shirt-could-soon-charge-your-phone795391.

The End