Humanities: Research Problem

Here are things to consider when thinking about your research problem in Humanities:

Question - What is the question you seek to answer?

Hypothesis - What is the tentative answer that your study will test?

Evidence - What source material will you use to test your hypothesis?

Conclusions - What are the broader implications of your research for further study?

NOTE:  The research problem is not the same thing as a thesis topic.

What do we mean by “research problem”?

  • The thesis asks and answers a specific question or questions. A research problem must involve original research
  • The project must show independent thinking and original thought
  • A research problem involves not simply a tightly focused question and original research, but an answer to that question based on original thinking
  • The statement of the research problem:
    • Should be precise
    • Unless the problem includes specific sub-problems, this section will not normally exceed two to four pages
    • The first paragraph of this section should briefly introduce or set in context the subject of your research
    • Then, simply state the problem or question the research will explore. The question must be focused, so that it can be answered within the scope of a master’s thesis
    • The statement of the research problem must include a clear question, a suggested hypothesis, supporting evidence (i.e. types of sources with which to test and/or validate the hypothesis), and the conclusions and broader implications of your research
    • The statement cannot simply present a description, like a book report - you do not have to present all of the evidence here, though one paragraph (or even two) is far too short
    • You should indicate what kind of evidence you intend to rely on and present an example or two to illustrate exactly how you expect the evidence to corroborate your hypothesis
    • The brief statement of the research problem should be like a road map, showing both where you intend to go and how you intend to get there
    • To write this statement, you will have to have done significant research to substantiate your hypothesis

Some helpful hints:

  • It can be useful to look for evidence that opposes as well as supports your hypothesis and to deal with this information directly
  • Think of yourself not so much as a lawyer arguing a case, but as a judge evaluating the evidence on both sides of an issue in a trial - through this kind of impartial exploration of a question, you are more likely to persuade the reader of your conclusions