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How to Write a Problem-Solution Essay: Step-by-Step Instructions

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Problem-solution essays: How-to

Problem-solution essays: How-to

Choosing a Problem-Solution Topic

Start by thinking about things that bother you or problems that you find irritating. If you've thought, "I know how this could be done better!" you have a great idea for your paper.

Step 1: Think about groups that you belong to and the problems that those groups have. Make a list of groups you belong to like:

  • School
  • Hometown community
  • Clubs
  • Sports teams
  • Hobby groups
  • People groups (teenagers, high school students, college students, family, males, females, race, culture, or language group)

Step 2: Make a list of problems you have encountered in some of these groups. Sometimes, there is a plan for a solution but it isn't working, or maybe the plan isn't being enforced. The problem doesn't have to be a big one, but it has to be something you can convince other people that they should care about it and that it can be solved, or at least made better.

Step 3: Still stuck? You might want to check out my list of 100 Problem-Solution Essay topics to find an idea (hint: this article also includes sample essays).

Step 4: Once you have your topic, you might want to go through the exercises in my problem-solution guide to get ready to write.

Finding a Solution

Great solutions are:

  • Implemented easily
  • Effective at solving the problem
  • Cost-effective
  • Feasible

Use the table below to get ideas for what types of solutions might already have been tried and which ones might work better to solve your problem.

12 Ways to Solve Problems

Solution How It WorksAssumes Cause of Problem isExample

Add something

Give more money, people, equipment, or stuff

Lack of resources

More teachers in schools, more money for fire department

Take something away

Remove source of problem

One thing or person causing problem

Fire bad teachers, get rid of poor textbooks


Give information about the problem and solution

People don't know what to do

Say No to Drugs campaign

Make laws or rules

Create a new law or rule, or reform existing rules

Current rules don't solve problem

School dress code revised to require uniforms

Enforce laws or rules

Provide a way to enforce or else provide more resources (like more police or money for regulators) to enforce existing rules or laws

Current rules are adequate but aren't enforced

School calls parents if students don't adhere to dress code

Change method or procedure

Change the way something is done or organized

Something isn't being done the right way

Change meeting time from Tuesday morning to Saturday to get more people to come


Use advertising or emotional appeals to get people to do or not do something

People know what they should do, but don't do it

Anti-smoking ads

Build something new

Give new facilities or organization

More buildings or a new organization is needed because nothing currently existing will solve problem

Build a new football stadium to encourage fan support

Work out a compromise

Get opposing sides together to work out a mutual agreement

Problem is mostly lack of agreement

Trade agreement talks between countries

Adapt a solution that works

Take a solution that worked somewhere else and apply it to this problem

Current solution does not fit problem

Adding taxes on cigarettes decreases smoking, so put a tax on unhealthy snack foods

Change leadership

Get rid of current leadership and put someone new in charge

Leader is the problem

Fire college football coach

Change attitudes

Present information or incentives to change the way people feel about situation

Attitudes are causing problem

Parents give children money to do chores

Writing Your Essay

To write a persuasive solution essay, you need to organize carefully. Your main goals are:

  1. Interest your reader in the problem
  2. Convince your reader that the problem is important and needs to be solved
  3. Explain your solution clearly
  4. Convince the reader that your solution is cost-effective and feasible
  5. Convince your reader that your solution is better than other solutions


In the introduction, you need to describe the problem and explain why it needs to be solved and then give your thesis solution. Remember:

  • If it is an unknown problem, you will need to explain it in detail.
  • If it is a familiar problem, then you need to paint a vivid picture.
  • In both situations, you will need to convince the reader that it is an important problem.

Creative Introduction Ideas

  1. Tell a true-life story about the problem.
  2. Give a personal experience story.
  3. Use a scenario or imagined story illustrating why this needs to be solved.
  4. Give statistics and facts about the problem which makes it vivid for the reader.
  5. Do a detailed explanation of the problem with facts that show why it needs to be dealt with.
  6. Give the history of the situation and explain how this problem developed.
  7. Use a frame story that gives an example of the problem in the introduction and then a return to the problem being solved in the conclusion.
  8. Use a vivid description with sensory details that make the reader see the situation.
  9. Use a movie, book, T.V. story, or news story to show the problem and why it is important.


At the end of your introduction, you can ask your thesis question and then give your solution idea as the thesis statement. Here are some tips:

  1. State your solution clearly in one sentence.
  2. Usually, your thesis sentence will come after you describe the problem.
  3. Sometimes, you may not want to state this thesis until after you have shown that the present solutions aren't working, especially if your thesis is something simple.

Body of Paper

The body of your paper will be three or more paragraphs and must:

  1. Explain your solution clearly.
  2. Give details about how this solution will solve the problem.
  3. Explain who will be in charge and how it will be funded.
  4. Give evidence that your solution will work (expert opinion, examples of when it has worked before, statistics, studies, or logical argument).

The body of your paper will also seek to argue that your solution:

  1. Will solve the problem.
  2. Is cost-effective.
  3. Is feasible to implement.
  4. Is a reasonable solution to the problem.
  5. Can stand up to possible objections.
  6. Is better than other solutions.

In order to make a convincing argument, you will need to consider objections to your plan carefully and refute them logically with argument and/or evidence.

Writing the Conclusion

Your conclusion will be one or more paragraphs. For an excellent ending, you want to clinch your argument and convince your reader that your solution is the best. Here are some effective ideas:

  1. Tell the reader what should happen.
  2. Describe how the situation will change if your plan is adopted.
  3. Use the end of the frame story to show how the solution is needed or how it will work.
  4. Give a real-life example or scenario showing the adoption of your plan and how it works.
  5. Cite convincing facts, statistics, or expert testimony on the solution or the problem.

Effective Writing Tips

Tone: Tone is important in this sort of paper. You want to have a tone that is reasonable, convincing, appealing, and logical.

Point of View: Because you are trying to convince the reader, this is one paper where the second person point of view (“you” or “we”) might be used effectively. However, first person or third is also appropriate.

Audience: Considering the reaction of your reader is very important in writing this paper. You need to address a reader who can implement your proposal. You need to think about how you can convince the reader who has the power to act on your suggestions, not just someone who already agrees with you but can’t do anything about the situation.

How to Convince Your Audience

To build an effective argument or proposal, you need to find common ground with your audience. While there is some value in arguments that “preach to the choir” and “rally the troops” to support something they already strongly believe, most arguments are more effective if you seek to persuade an audience that is undecided or not strongly in favor of your position.

Here are some questions that can help you define your audience for your position paper and also find out what common ground you have with them:

  1. Who is your audience? What do they believe about your issue?
  2. What do you want them to believe or do after reading your paper?
  3. What are the warrants (values or strong beliefs) your audience holds about this type of subject?
  4. How are your warrants (values or strong beliefs) different or the same as those of your audience?
  5. Where do you and your audience have common ground? What basic needs, values, and beliefs do you share? Examples of needs and values that motivate most audiences are basic needs, health, financial well-being, affection and friendship, respect and esteem of others, self-esteem, new experience, self-actualization, and convenience.
  6. Which of these needs and values could be effective for you to appeal to in your paper?

Problem-Solution vs. Argument Papers

Argument essays often lead to position or problem-solution papers, since once someone agrees with your argument, they often want to know, "What should we do about it?" As I explain in my article How to Write an Argument Essay, argument, or position essays, might talk about a solution, but they won't give a detailed plan. Both argument and problem-solution essays:

  • Vividly describe a problem or situation
  • Have a viewpoint they want to convince the reader to understand
  • Want the reader to believe, do, or think something
  • May want the reader to take action

Problem-Solution Essays Give a Detailed Plan

What makes a problem-solution paper different is that it gives a detailed plan for how the problem needs to be solved and argues for a specific action. The body argues for your solution and explains:

  • What needs to be done
  • How it needs to be done
  • Why it will work
  • Why it is feasible and reasonable as a solution
  • Why it is cost-effective
  • Why this solution is better than other solutions

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the best way to start the solution paragraph in an essay?

Answer: After describing the problem, it usually helps to talk about what has already been done to try to solve that problem and why that has not worked. Then you can begin your suggestion by using a transition phrase. Examples:

A better way to solve this problem would be...

Since the previous solutions have been ineffective, a more comprehensive approach needs to be taken...

Question: How should I start the first paragraph of a problem solution essay?

Answer: Start by giving a vivid description of the problem. You can tell a story about the problem or give a scenario, or tell your real-life experience with the problem. Then end the paragraph with the question about how to solve that problem.

Question: How do you start a problem solution paper?

Answer: You start with a vivid description of the problem. That can be by telling a conversation about the problem, describing the history of the problem, telling a story about the problem or just using vivid examples.

Question: How can I find a solution to the problem?

Answer: The first thing to do is to do some thinking on your own. I call this brainstorming. Take out a sheet of paper or use your computer and start by listing everything you can think of that might cause this problem. After you've made a list, take a look at it and circle or bold print the causes and divide them into some groups. Here are some ideas of how you can categorize them:

1. Most important causes (the ones which, if solved, would make the biggest dent in solving the problem).

2. Easiest to solve.

3. Hardest (or impossible) to solve.

4. Least important to solve.

Then, starting with the easiest to solve and most important to solve, think of some ways that it can be solved. Look at my list of how people can solve problems to get some idea.

After you've really thought this out as much as you can yourself, it is time to do some research and see what other people have already done, as well as to get some ideas. Here is how to research:

1. Google or use the library to see what other causes of the problem people have suggested.

2. Look for what has already been done to try to solve the problem. If it hasn't worked, you need to find out why.

3. Sometimes, you can find a solution to the problem that has worked in another location. That can be a great starting place for your solution.

4. Ask friends and family to give their ideas.

Question: What things can I say before using a quotation from an article?

Answer: An easy way to use a quotation is to start with "According to.." and then tell the authors name and the title of the article. Here are some examples of different ways to do this:

According to Jamie Jones in his article "Cats are Crazy Creatures," the reason more people like dogs is "quote goes here" (page number).

Jamie Jones, in his article "Cats are Crazy Creatures" points out that "quote goes here" (page number MLA style).

"quote goes here" argues Jamie Jones in his article "Cats are Crazy Creatures" (page number MLA style).

Question: How should I start my essay on the problem in my community? I'm a college student.

Answer: The best way to start a problem solution essay is to give a vivid description of the problem, explaining who it hurts and why.

Question: What is the best way to begin a problem solution essay?

Answer: You need to make the reader understand the problem clearly by describing it vividly. An interesting and, if appropriate, dramatic description will also make your reader want to solve the problem and think it is an important one that is worth the effort to try to solve. Giving one main example or a series of examples is a great way to start. You can also describe a recent news event dealing with the problem, or refer to a movie or other situation the reader already knows about. If people have already tried to solve the problem but failed, you could explain what has been done that hasn't worked. All of these things should lead up to the body of the paper, which is your solution idea. The bottom line, start with a story or a detailed description of the problem. Then end that introduction with your question about how to solve the problem.

Question: What kinds of problem solution essay topics could you do about people who live in the countryside?

Answer: Think about the problems that they might have that are different from people in the city. Perhaps you can focus on getting jobs, family relationships, education, or access to health care.

Question: I have to write a "problem solution essay", and I am conflicted on what the topic should be. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: The hardest part of writing a problem solution essay is finding a solution. Often, my students start with one solution idea. Then as they begin to write and collaborate on ideas with others, they will change their topics accordingly. In reality, problem solution essays are a way of writing out what we are always doing in our lives and work: trying to find a better way to do something. Because these essays are harder to write, it helps if you really care about the topic. That is why I have my students start by listing things that really annoy them or problems they feel need a solution. Generally, I suggest they stick to something they personally experience. I tell them to think about all of the groups they belong to at school, home, and in their communities and then write a list of all the problems they notice in those groups. Generally, once they have written that list, they start to see something they are most interested in solving. The best topic to choose is one that has these characteristics:

1. You care about this issue.

2. It is a problem that can be solved with resources or groups you know about and can identify.

3. You have an idea for a solution or can at least think of some possible ideas.

Still stumped? Look at my article of topic ideas for problem solution essays.

Question: I am a high school student, and I chose to write an essay about insecurities. However, now I feel the topic is too broad. Should I stick with it?

Answer: You are very astute to realize that your topic isn't narrow enough. That problem happens a lot to students. Instead of changing topics, you probably will do better to take the subject you started with and narrow it to a particular group of people or a situation. Here are some ideas of problem solution topics on insecurities:

How can schools help high school students overcome insecurities about learning?

How can a high school student overcome insecurities in social situations with the opposite sex?

How can high school students help a friend whose insecurities are limiting their life?

Question: I’m trying to help my 11-year old do an expository idea web diagram. How do you do one?

Answer: I'm so glad you are helping your child as they learn to write. Teachers have different ways of helping children develop a topic. Drawing a web and drawing a diagram are two different ways. These are also sometimes called "storyboards." Basically, the idea is that you want to brainstorm some ideas before they sit down to write so that you don't just sit and look at the page. You may have learned to outline or jot down notes, which are similar ways to do this. I'd always suggest that you read the teacher's instructions and ask your child what they remember about the directions first. However, if you still aren't sure, here is how I would interpret that instruction:

1. Write the topic idea in the middle of a piece of paper. I usually tell my students to frame this as a question. By the way, expository is usually an argument essay and one kind of argument essay is a problem solution. For example: How can we solve the problem of students being absent too often from school?

2. Draw a circle around that question and then draw lines out from the circle (looking like you are starting a spider web). Each of the lines should be an answer to the question. Example: make them go into detention, call the parents, give them incentives for having good attendance, give them a chance to not take the finals if they have good attendance, etc.

3. Then draw a circle around each of those answers and draw lines off again. This time, you will give examples, reasons or objections that relate to that answer.

By doing this, your child will have some information that they can use to write their paper.

Question: For a problem solution essay, should the problem be in one paragraph and the solution in a different paragraph?

Answer: My students generally write essays that have at least five paragraphs, often more. I would suggest that you do something like this:

Explain and describe the problem and why this should be solved. End with a question which is asking how the problem can be solved. Example: How can we solve the problem of school shootings?

Then in the next paragraph, you would give your solution idea. If your idea is easy to explain, then you would spend the rest of your paper refuting objections and explaining why your idea would work and be cost-effective, feasible, and effective.

On the other hand, if your idea is complicated to explain, you will need to spend a longer part of your paper making sure the reader understands it. In both cases, you will need to refute any objections and help the reader to see how important it is to do this solution.

Question: What if we had a topic that someone chose for us and we don't know anything about the topic, but we can't change it?

Answer: If you need to find a solution to a problem someone else has chosen, you will need to research the problem and all of the solutions that other people have thought about or tried. After you have looked up the ideas that other people have considered, you can choose the one that you think would work the best, or maybe you will come up with your own idea.

Question: What do you think of, "How can we prevent the bad consequences of online dating?" for a problem solution essay?

Answer: 1. How can a person safely use online dating to find a good marriage partner?

2. What are the steps of safe online dating?

3. How can we prevent people from having bad experiences in online dating?

Question: How do I write an essay showing personal interest in solving a problem concerning selling expired drugs to the poor and less knowledgeable?

Answer: Start with a description of the problem and then describe your reaction to that problem as you give your solution. Finish with an impassioned plea to the reader to follow your advise and give them reasons for that using emotional appeals.

Question: I need an idea for an essay providing solutions. How can I do it?

Answer: A "Solution" essay is just another name for this sort of paper assignment. Before you start to explain the solution, you will need to describe the problem in a paragraph or two, giving examples. Then you need to explain how you would solve that problem, step-by-step. Finally, you will need to argue against any objections and explain why your idea is feasible, cost-effective and a better solution than other ideas. To find ideas for solutions, you can research other people's ideas, ask friends or family for their ideas, or just think about how it could be done better.

Question: How do I solve the problem in a problem solution essay?

Answer: Finding a solution is always the hardest part of this sort of essay. I suggest that you follow a three-pronged approach:

1. Ask as many people as you can who know about the problem what their ideas are for a solution.

2. Research the problem and solutions that others have tried. One trick my students taught me is that you often can find a solution that has been tried in a different location and adapt that to your situation. For example, when we had problems with people biking on campus and causing accidents, my students researched a nearby campus and found a solution that had been done there.

3. Look at my "Ways to Solve Problems Chart" on the "How to write a problem solution essay." The chart includes all of the different ideas my students have come up with over the past ten years about how to solve problems. Think about each type of solution and how that could create a solution for your problem. For example, what could you add to the situation? What could you take away? Would changing leadership help? Could money solve the problem, and if so, how could you get the funds?

Finally, when you have some solution ideas, check to see if they are feasible (can you do them?), cost-effective (does the cost seem reasonable and do you have a way to pay for it?), and will this actually solve the problem without creating any new problems?

Question: How can I fix this thesis to my problem solution essay? My thesis: Inner-city schools have less educational value than suburban schools, causing students in impoverished areas to have a less successful academic career due to a lack of proper educational resources.

Answer: Students in impoverished inner-city schools have fewer educational resources than students in wealthier suburban schools; therefore, students at inner-city schools have less success in academic endeavors.

Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a problem solution essay?

Answer: A problem solution essay is a type of argument essay. In fact, solving a problem is the last step in thinking about any issue and is often the most important and complicated step. The advantage of choosing this sort of essay is that you get a chance to explain in detail how you think a problem can be solved. In an essay that argues for a cause, you can talk about what created the problem and then discuss some possible solutions at the end of the essay, but in a Problem Solution essay, you get to spend a lot of time talking about the details of the solution and arguing for why that solution is the best, most efficient, and most feasible. On the other hand, the disadvantage of a Problem Solution essay is that the reader may have a lot of objections to your solution and you need to think about how you are going to refute those objections.

Question: How should I write the introduction for an essay about child pornography?

Answer: Start with some real-life stories about children who have been abused in this way and then give some statistics.


Eliza on April 20, 2020:

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Erin Jang on December 18, 2019:

This is a very helpful, well-organized post. Thanks so much!

Olivia on December 10, 2019:

I needed this for school it helped very much! Thank you.

Bra Emma on May 10, 2019:

Thank you very much... It's a good piece

quentinisha on May 06, 2019:

this was the best

Hazratbek on March 11, 2019:

Thank you for your helped me a lot

uktam on October 15, 2018:

thank you for your help with this material on the net

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 06, 2018:

Hi Ron--Whether or not you need to provide solutions depends on the type of argumentative essay you are writing. This article is about a problem solution essay, where the main point is to give a solution. A cause essay is probably what you are writing. In a cause essay, your main point is to explain the cause behind something (and sometimes the effects). Of course, if what you are explaining is a problem and you pinpoint the cause, you might want in your conclusion to suggest a possible solution or a direction that leads towards finding a solution. However, you wouldn't have to give a detailed plan. Likewise, in a problem solution essay, you would probably need to begin the essay talking about what different people think the cause of the problem is because you need to explain why you think a particular cause is the most important.

Ron on May 06, 2018:

Do you need to provide solutions for an argumentative essay? I was trying to focus on the why mainly?

Leonie M from Belgium. on February 04, 2018:

Thanks a lot for your tips. It helps a lot.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 22, 2018:

Hi Arianna, I don't exactly know what a "field trip essay" is. If you could tell me more about the assignment, then maybe I could write an article. However, I think what you may be talking about is a Personal Experience paper and I do have an article about how to write one of those, so you might want to check that out.

Arianna on January 21, 2018:

Is helped me a lot! Thank you Virginia! Can you do an article on field trip essays!?

dawnshannon on January 16, 2018:

Thumbs up!

King Arman on December 04, 2017:

Thanks a lot for the insght! It helps!

gavin on November 13, 2017:

thats hot

Jaloladdin Sadullaev on October 18, 2017:

it was really helpful for me, but it would be good if at the end write total plan, then it will be easier to understand

Lucia on April 28, 2017:

Wow! This has really helped me to complete my project. Thanks!

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 17, 2017:

Hi Sarah--I would only underline if the instructor asked you to do so.

Sarah on April 17, 2017:

I saw someone underline their thesis statement in the introduction. Is this recommended in an MLA problem-solution essay? I'm confused and still learning these writing styles any help would be appreciated.

kani on February 24, 2017:

this articles and notes are really helpful for me to attend the english exam

derp on January 26, 2017:

I'm using this as a resource for a project

Hamadeh on January 10, 2017:

This is so helpful solved all my homework with it

Lizz on September 20, 2016:

This is really help full. its going help me with my with my essay.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 24, 2016:

So glad to hear this helped you gambi!

gambi on April 24, 2016:

it really helped me pass the test. I by hearted the whole article. and u know my result:) 10 out of 50

Martin on April 16, 2016:

Thanks ❤️

Kamaraju Pulugurtha from Khammam, India. on December 19, 2015:

For an introduction, I find here possible solutions in my quest for publication in the web pages and I have developed a little bit of confidence in my abilities as a writer. I think I can go ahead and find a problem and solutions that I throw open. Good beginning. I congratulate myself.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 03, 2015:

Joe--so glad I could help you. I hope that you will check out all of my other "how to" essay help. Many English instructors in colleges are graduate students who are new to this job. I like to be able to provide them and their students the information I've gathered over many years of working as an English instructor. Most of what I've written has come from my experiences with students, not a teacher's manual or textbook. If it is helpful, you are welcome to show these to your teacher and invite them to share my articles with students online (not copying out hard copies--that is a violation of copyright).

Joe Shankywanka on February 01, 2015:

Thank you! My english teacher is terrible and i have a problem solution paper due tomorrow. Thank you sooo much for making it so that i wont absolutely fail! :)

mia colmenares on December 16, 2014:

this would help me do my essay for my school

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on November 22, 2014:

Wonderful detail on how to write a problem solving Essay. I found the charts and 1.2.3. thoughts and questions very helpful. The challenge is on to find the solutions. Great topic!

Sai Chaitanya from INDIA on November 15, 2014:

A great article to read. And the description given with the help of a table is simply superb. And suggestions for solving a problem, is quite interesting.

sa on November 14, 2014:


Samuel Wright from Bakersfield, Ca. on November 14, 2014:

Thanks for this. I shared it with my Niece, who is in Honors writing classes in high school and still has problems with her essays. She thanks you as well. :-)

Noor on June 02, 2014:

Great ideas.

Shari Hicks from Dayton, Ohio on April 02, 2014:

This is great. This is helpful for writing Argumentitive Essays too!