The research problem or the research questions should be formulated in a sequential manner. This will reduce the chances of ambiguities to a minimum. There is no hard and fast rule for formulating the research problem. One can adopt a logical manner to reach the desired research problem, objectives and research questions.
Before deciding about the research area or the research problem in specific the researcher should ask two questions for him/herself: does he have the desired knowledge in the particular research area or not and does he have interest in conducting research on that particular area. Knowledge is necessary in order to deal with the research justly and clearly. On the other hand interest enables the researcher to give proper concern, time and energy in the accomplishment of the research.
Distinguish the subject area of interest:
The first step in the formulation of the research problem is to decide on a broad subject area on which you have thorough knowledge. Your knowledge in that particular subject area will enable you to decide about the research problem. It will also help you to carry out the overall research. The subject area can be selected with the help of your adviser if you are a student. When you are doing an independent research you can consult some senior researchers in your particular field. Distinguishing or selecting the subject area is the first step in the research problem formulation.
For example you have to select the research problem for your university thesis. You should first consider your major and the subject areas that you are studying in your university. You can select one subject area among all of them and that will be of your interest. Your major is a Nutrition and you want to select childhood nutrition as the particular subject area for your thesis.
Dissect the subject area into sub-areas:
The subject area of your interest will be broad and you need to dissect it into small areas. In this way you will be able to select one of your interest and convenience. You can get help of an experienced person in this regard.
Childhood nutrition is still a broad subject area and you need to dissect it more. You can dissect it into childhood development series, malnutrition in children, child immunization, childhood diseases, childhood mortality and childhood vaccines. There can be many other categories and you can select a category or sub area among all of them. The research problem will revolve around that subject area. For example you have selected malnutrition in children as your sub-area of the research problem. This process will help you in becoming more directional. It will lead you to the formulation of the research problem.
Decide about an area:
Select an area among all the sub-areas, one that interests you most. This will help you in creating the research problems among which you have to choose one. During all these steps you need to constantly look at the possibilities of further narrowing down the subject area in order to become more specific.
You have already selected childhood malnutrition as your sub-area to formulate the research problem.
Generate research questions:
Generate as many research questions as possible, from these questions you have to choose those questions that you want to answer through your research. You should take as much time as possible to generate many questions so that you have plenty of choices. Research questions should be such that can be answered using scientific techniques and research procedures. Suppose does God exists is a question that you want to be answered but this question cannot be answered using current scientific techniques therefore such questions should be avoided.
The research questions or the research problems can be generated easily as you have your subject area selected. Suppose you have generated the following research questions. What factors influence childhood malnutrition? Is there a correlation between childhood mortality and malnutrition? What is the prevalence of childhood malnutrition around the world? Why childhood malnutrition is increasing worldwide? Now you can select those questions that you can answer from your research. There can be several factors that affect your selection of questions: availability of time, money and other resources, knowledge, skills and your abilities. You can select more than one question but your research will become longer. You can even select more than one related question.
Decide about the objectives:
Objectives are the possible answers to the research question or the research problem that you have formulated. They should be formulated in a clear manner. Objectives make you specific, as you conduct your study around the objectives that you have decided. The objectives need to be specific in nature but you can also generate general objectives. General objectives and specific objectives both will have their own importance in the research.
In the last step you need to analyze your research questions and objectives again so as to minimize any confusion. Take as much time as you have to create the research problem and objectives, you should become fully satisfied before starting your research. You can get assistance from someone who has experience in conducting research. You can also get help from a statistician to know whether the research problem and hypothesis is one that can be statistically analyzed or not.