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Problem Statement

Define your problem in a clear and concise written statement.

What is the problem?  The REAL problem!!!!

Define your problem in a clear and concise written statement:

Review your initial problem statement to make sure it avoids these pitfalls:

Four Common Pitfalls:

  1. The problem statement lacks focus:  The definition is too vague. The statement doesn’t really identify a problem.
  2. The focus is misdirected:  What is your real problem? You need to solve the problem that really exists. Not the symptoms of the problem. Not the problem you already have a solution for. Not the problem someone else thinks you have. Keep in mind that the formulation of your problem statement will determine the range of solutions available to you.
  3. The problem statement has predispositions:  Having a predisposition in your problem statement will cause it to be too narrowly defined. If the predisposition is invalid, then the focus of the analysis will be misdirected. Remove all predispositions and subjective thoughts from your problem statement. (For help see:  Intentions, Expectations, Assumptions, Intuitions, Opinions, Conclusions, Judgments, Beliefs, Hopes, and Gut Feelings).
  4. The problem statement is solution-driven:  The initial problem statement often reflects a bias towards a preconceived solution. Avoid self-fulfilling prophecies.

Helpful Hint:

It's important to understand the strengths and weakness of your problem statement. Don't expect your first draft to be perfect. Make notes about where (and why) your problem statement needs to be developed further. It's OK to be a little self-critical here.

For more help, see our Problem Redefinition, Relational Words, and Paraphrase Keywords tools.

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Publications icon


Structured Analytic Techniques For Intelligence Analysis, by Richards J. Heuer Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.

The Thinker's Toolkit, by Morgan D. Jones, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995.