Sample Problem Statements


Problem statement (as story)
Identify/Generate the principle

Here are some straightforward problem statements, in which the four parts are represented by only one or two sentences. See also:
More sample problem statements (compiled by Mike Lemaster)
Sample problem statements relating to a theme; in this case: food (compiled by Melissa White).

They could be used several ways in class; for example, Label Problem Statements, Rearranging Problem Statements, or Incomplete Problem Statements.
 
The Simpsons seems to be the story of a fractured, chaotic, sometimes violent family. However, this interpretation fails to explain why the Simpson family does so many things together: vacations, family dinners, and church. If we continue to see The Simpsons merely as a dysfunctional family, we'll never understand the show's real meaning and appeal. In fact, The Simpsons represents a very traditional approach to family values.
 
Lots of people think that being some sort of vegetarian is the only humane and moral option for animal lovers. They fail to take into account the full range of farming techniques and livestock-raising schemes available in the United States. Until they cease to be so single-minded, vegetarians will never recognize their natural political allies. Organic and free-range farming are humane and moral options for animal-lovers.
 
Stephen King writes that people naturally crave horror movies as a way of expressing their inner violent emotions. There's only one problem with this theory: many many people hate horror movies. Once we see the real attraction to scary films, we'll be able to understand American culture better. People who watch horror movies are not driven by natural instincts, but by the violence of the world around them.
 
People have said that ENWR is a pointless, unhelpful course. Nevertheless, ENWR graduates, surveyed three semesters after taking the course, overwhelmingly say that they've used principles they've learned in ENWR to write papers for other courses. As long as students think ENWR is a waste of time while they take it, it will be hard for them to learn as much as they can—and hard for their instructors to convince them to put in much effort. Students should rethink the role of ENWR in their lives; ENWR is a life-alteringly helpful class.
 
Because of the drought, the dining halls have started using disposable tableware, because they believe they are aiding the environment by conserving water. However, the environmentally friendly act of reducing water use carries with it an unnoticed problem: we reduce water, but we vastly increase the amount of trash produced. If we ignore this problem, we do a grave disservice to the environment, because we get a short-term benefit of reducing water use but create a long-term intractable problem of solid waste when there is little landfill space available. An environmentally friendly solution to the water shortage is to have not disposable tableware, but recyclable tableware: paper plates, recyclable plastic forks and spoons, and drinks from aluminum cans that can be profitably recycled.
 
For decades, the University has housed first-year men and women in separate, sex-segregated suites and floors. The University administration believes that this is best; they think it would cause too many problems if there were co-ed housing for first-years. We know, however, that only a year later, some male and female friends do choose to share apartments together off-grounds and have a terrific time. As long as we have single-sex floors and suites in UVA dorms, male and female first-years will have a much harder time getting to know one another and will think of one another as foreign. The University must rethink its housing options.
 
ABC's The Bachelor -- a reality TV show in which one single man picks from among 25 women who he may wish to marry -- presents itself as a story of true romance, wherein beautiful people scour the nation for their one true love. However, episodes rarely stress romance; instead, they show arguments, gossiping, and tears. The Bachelor has proven to be a popular show, and it has inspired many other reality TV shows; given its popularity, we need to understand why people watch it and what they get out of it. As I argue in this essay, people watch The Bachelor not in the hope of watching true love blossom, but because of what in German is called schadenfreude: the pleasure taken in the suffering of others.
 
Pure bred dogs and their owners are sometimes the object of jokes—lots of people think that small dogs like poodles are funny, and that owners who participate in dog shows are crazy for spending so much time on animals. Still, dog shows have become increasingly popular; last year's Westminster Kennel Club show drew over 4.5 million viewers a night on cable. As long as we believe that dog shows are a joke, we'll never be able to understand the mainstream American obsessions that they tap into. Dog shows—and pure bred dog ownership—are a brilliant combination of competition and affection.
 
If you ask a random group of teenagers and adults, they will most likely say that the planet is more polluted than it was 25 years ago: the oceans and rivers are dirtier, the soil contaminated by chemicals, the air less healthy. In fact, because of legal reform and increased awareness, the earth's water and soil and air are actually cleaner. By refusing to see the state of the planet for what it is, we live in a state of fear and pessimism that really isn't necessary. We have been led to believe that the environment is in danger as part of a left-wing conspiracy to fund environmental groups that thrive on an imaginary crisis.
 
Recently, some anti-environmentalists have claimed that the earth is actually in fine shape: global warming is a myth, the earth and sea are cleaner than ever, the forests are full of trees. But the EPA's data disproves this: the emissions of greenhouse gases, for example, have increased significantly even in the last fifteen years. As long as we ignore that, we are living with a false sense of security, and not taking any of the action we need to take. The earth is in trouble; any efforts to distract the public from that are made by corporate interests that earn bigger profits by polluting.