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A social problem involves an issue that affects a specific population/discipline. It is the issue that students see “on the ground” so to speak. The social problem is often what prompts students to think about a topic of interest drives their dissertation topic. Usually such a topic is one that students identify with, sometimes having personally experienced some aspect of the problem as it exists in the world. All too often, students want to solve a specific social, organizational, clinical, or practical problem rather than explore a research problem.
A research problem is a focused topic of concern, a condition to be improved upon, or troubling question that is supported in scholarly literature or theory that you study to understand in more detail, and that can lead to recommendations for resolutions. It is the research problem that drives the rest of the dissertation: the purpose, the research questions, and the methodology. It is the research problem that is identified in the Problem Section of the Prospectus Form.
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). American Psychological Association.
- Chapter 1, “Scholarly Writing and Publishing Principles” (pp. 3-26)
- Dissertation Prospectus Guide
Note: As you access this site, Psychology students are required to use the PhD Prospectus Form toward the bottom of the page.
- Dissertation Guidebook
- The Prospectus Checklist
Boote, D. N., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3–15.
Postand explain your topic in terms of how you translated the social problem into a research problem.
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