Identifying a research problem

The first step of selecting a research problem is to identify the  broad area one is interested in. Such an are should be related to the proffesional interest of and goals of the researcher.

After selecting a broad area, the next step is to identify the specific problem within it that will form the basis of of the research study.

In selecting a specific problem, the reseacher should consider the key fuctors that help in identifying a reseachable problem. The problem should be an important one, it should;

  • Lead to findings that have widesprad implications in a particular area.
  • Challenge commonly held truism.
  • Review the inadequacies of existing laws, view or policies.
  • Cover a reasonable scope i.e not too narow or too general.

Factors that determine the scope of a research study;

  • The time available to carry it out.
  • The money availabe to carry it out.
  • Equipment available.
  • Availability of subjects or the units of study.

Ways of Identifying a specific research problem.

Existing theories.

A theory contain generalizations an hypothesized principals which can be scientificaly tested.

Existing literature

Textbooks and articles have a broad area and background of basic information and an insight into various issues that can be tested.

Discussions with Experts

Discussions on general topics in class or seminars are usualy a good source od ientifying a research problem.

Various research studies.

Research studies in the area of interest iften provide a good source of a research problem.


This is condacting a research that has already been done to see if results hold over time and across regions.

The media

Issues often reported to the media provide a nice source of a researchable problem.

Personal experience

Personal observations give a good source of a researchable problem.

Stating the problem

A research study ussualy starts with a brief intoductory section were the researcher introduces briefly the general area of study. The researcher then narrows down to specific problem to be studied.

Characteristics of a good problem statement.

  • Captures the interest of the reader immediately.
  • The specific problem is objectively researchable.
  • The scope the problem is identified.
  • Importance of the study in adding new knowledge is stated clearly.
  • Should give purpose of the research.

Stating the purpose

In defining the specific problem, the researcher convey the focus of the research study inone or two sentences. This is referred to as purpose of the study. The purpose crystallizes the researcher’s inquiry into a particular area of knowledge in a given field. Careful thought must be given to formulating the purpose because it is the center of the research field.

Topic phrases such as the following should not be used in stating the purpose;

  • Using incentives in primary schools.
  • Shortage of low-cost housing in kenya
  • Nutrition in children
  • The lack of creativity in college students.

These topic phrases need to be narrowed down to specific purpose statements to facilitate the reseach process.

Purpose of study creteria.

  • The purpose must be indicated clearly, unambiguouslyand in a declarative manner.
  • The purpose should indicate the concepts or variables in the study.
  • The relationships among the variables should be stated.
  • It should state the target population.
  • The variables and target population given should be consistent with the variables and target population operetionalize in the method’ section of the study.

Examples of purpose statements that might apper in a problm statement section.

  • The purpose of this study is to investigate the resource management skills of women in small-scaled bussinesses in Kenya.
  • The purpose of this study is to compare the effects of three types of cattle fed on the productivity of milk in cows.
  • The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of high school curriculm on the career choices of women in public and private universities in Kenya.

Biased and neutral words to be used in the purpose of a study.

Biased Neutral
to show to determine
to prove to compare
to confirm to investigate
to verify to differentiate
to check to explore
to demonstrate to find out
to indicate to examine
to validate to inquire
to explain to establish

Stating the objective

Research objectives are those specific isues within the scope of the stated purpose that the researcher wants to focus upon and examine in the study. Objectives help the researcher to keep to the scope of the study by defining the ae of knowledge that the researcher is focusing on.



The purpose of this study is to explore the influence of resource management skills on the performance of small scale businesses owned by women in rural areas in Kenya.


  1. To identify the social economic ststus of small-scale business women in rural areas of Kenya.
  2. To investigate the saving practices if women in rual aeas of Kenya.
  3. To investigate the financial management practices of women in rural area of Kenya.
  4. To determine the level of knowledge of managementprocess among women in rural ares in kenya.
  5. To investigate the sources of information on the management processes in rural areas in Kenya.

Some people suggest objectives should be in question form.

Formulating hypotheses

A hypotheses is a researcher’s prediction regarding the outcome of the study. Hypotheses ae derived from existing theories, previous research, personal observations or experiences.

Good hypotheses have the following characteristics;

  1. They must state clearly and briefly the expected relationship between variebles.
  2. They must be based on a sound rationale derived from theory, or previous research, or proffesional experience.
  3. They must be consistent with common sense or generally accepted truths.
  4. They must be testable.
  5. They must be related to empirical phenomena.
  6. They should be testable within a reasonable time.
  7. Must be consistent with the purpose statement, objective and the operationalized variables in the method section.
  8. Must be as simple as possible.

Examples of hypotheses;

  1. High alcohol content in the blood influence reaction time among drivers in Kenya.
  2. High mathematics anxiety influence students’ performance in statistics quizzes at Kenyatta university.
  3. There is a positive relationship between level of education and income among civil servants in Kenya.
  4. The amount of rainfall and type of fertilizer used influence the yield of wheat per acre in the Rift verlley province of Kenya.
  5. Promotion as part of sn incentive programme, increases productivity of workers in both public and private sectors.

Researchers should avoid the use of value-laden,biased or subjective hypotheses.

Types of hypotheses

Null hypotheses

Some time reffered to as statistical hypotheses. It states that no real relationship or difference exist: any relationship between two variables or differenr groups is merely due to chance or error.


There is no difference in the performance of national examinations between standard eight students from rural primary schools and standard eight students from urban schools in Kenya.

Alternative non-directional hypotheses

Also called research hypotheses. This type of hypothess states that there is a relationship or difference but the researcher does not know the nature of such a difference or relationship.


High alcohon content in the blood affects reaction time among truck drivers in Kenya.

Alternative directional hypothses

This hypotheses specifies the nature of relationship or deifference between variables. This means that a relationship may be stated as being greater that, less than, increased, decreased, higher than, lower than, etc.


Irrigation and use of cow dung manure decrease the yield of maize per acrein arid districts of Kenya.

Assumptions and limitations

An assumption is any fact that a rsearcher takes to be true without actually verifying it.