Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Problem Solving Essays
1.Describe the problem and tell why it is important to solve.
2. Explain your solution and why it will work.
3. Refute objections.
Problems are easy to see, but finding solutions is not as easy. To write an effective paper, you need to spend some time preparing your ideas. This step-by-step guide leads you through the process of getting your ideas ready to write. By the time you are finished with these exercises, you will be able to easily write your paper much more quickly.
5 Easy Steps to Choose the Best Problem to Solve
The biggest difficulty my students have in problem-solution essays is choosing the right topic. Often, the first problem they think of is either too small of a problem for a whole essay or too big of a problem for them to solve in a short paper. Following the five steps below will guide you to choose a topic problem that:
- Is something that is important to you.
- Is a problem you know a lot about.
- Is a problem you can create a reasonable solution for.
1: Brainstorm Groups You Belong To
The easiest problems to write about are ones you have experienced. If there is something that bugs you, or if you've ever thought, "I have a better idea of how to do that!" you have a good start. To find your topic, start by making a list of different groups or organizations you belong to. Think about:
- Where you live.
- Activities, clubs, and hobbies you participate in.
- School groups.
- Sports groups.
- Places you've worked.
- Groups of people you may identify with, such as male/female, oldest/youngest child in a family, ethnic background, tall/short, etc.
- Stereotypes: consider what group others might place you into and the stereotypes of that group.
2. Think About Problems
Now take your list of groups and brainstorm different problems you see in these groups. The problems might be caused by:
- The organization of the group
- The leadership
- Rules or procedures
- Stereotypes about the group
- Ideas in the group
- People in the group
- What the group wants to do vs. what they can do
Need more help? You can look through my topic list below. Remember that if you choose something which is a persuasive topic, you will need to develop a solution to that problem.
3. Make a Question
- From your list of possible problems, pick three or four that you are interested in writing on.
- Turn each of your topic ideas into a question. Try to narrow your question.
For example, if you are interested in solving the problem of cheating, possible questions could be:
- How can we solve cheating among college students?
- How can we solve cheating in High School?
- How can we solve cheating on standardized tests?
- How can we solve cheating on homework?
- How can we solve businesses cheating on their taxes?
4. Think of Solutions
For a full list of types of solutions, you can see the chart below. However, I've often found that students already have an idea for a solution. If you do, you might want to jot it down as a place to start. At this point, often it really helps to talk with a friend, a classmate or a family member about your problem idea, and if you have one, your solution. They can often give you good feedback and ideas.
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In fact, the more people you talk to about your paper, the better. I encourage my students to talk to lots of people about their idea, especially other people who would also know about the problem. The best part? As you do that, you might even gather a group of people who might help you implement your solution in real life!
|Groups you belong to||Potential problem areas||Solution ideas|
rules and procedures
stereotypes about group
new laws or procedures
ideas in group
behavior of people
take away something
lack of money
enforce existing rules
lack of ability or talent
role in family
Do you have several topic ideas? Great. The best way to choose which one to use is to talk with other people who might know about that problem. Ask your classmates, friends, or family members which of your ideas they like best. Find out if they know anything about your subject, or even if they have any solution ideas. Don't worry if you end up changing your mind about your essay as you talk with other people. Making sure you find a topic you really want to write about is important.
What Kind of Claim?
Write down everything you've learned from talking with other people. Next, get ready to do research by answering the following questions:
- Does the topic involve different claims of definition? Would different members of the audience define the problem in different ways? Identify any possible differences of definition.
- Does a clear cause and effect relationship exist in the problem? What are the main causes and effects of the problem?
- Does the problem involve value judgments? If so, what values are involved?
- Does the possible solution involve getting the audience to adopt a change of behavior and/or a change of value?
- Where can you get information to help you write your paper? What sources will you use?
Identify the Cause
You may need to do some research at this point to find out what other people think about this problem, the causes, and the solutions that have already been suggested and tried. Answer the following questions to help you think through causes and effects.
- What problem will your essay address? Why did you choose to focus on this particular problem?
- What audience is affected by the problem and how are they affected?
- Other than those most directly affected, who is most likely to be aware of the problem? How will they know about it? What is their interest in it?
- Which of the effects of the problem are the most common? Which ones are the most serious?
- What are the possible causes of the problem? Which are the immediate causes and which are the remote ones? Are any of the causes unchangeable?
- What solutions have been proposed or tried in the past? If they were unsuccessful, why? If they were successful, why?
- What are the most important reasons for solving this problem?
Addressing the right audience is important. Remember, if you want your solution to work, you need to choose an audience that has the power to create a solution, not just a group of people irritated by the situation. Your audience should be able to solve the problem.
Secondly, choose an audience that has authority. For example, students might not like the food in the cafeteria at school, but writing a paper to the students isn't going to solve the problem. You need to address the administration or cafeteria workers or some other authority who can actually make changes in the menu
Thirdly, use reasoning that would convince that audience. The students might notice the food is not tasty, but authorities might be more interested in the idea that the food is not healthy, or that parents will be happier if the food is better. Your paper will be more persuasive if you argue with evidence and reasons that are important to your audience.
Questions About Audience
- What is the situation or context for the problem?
- What audiences are interested in the problem? Who would be directly affected by your solution?
- What are the different points of view an audience might have on the problem?
- Which audience or group has the power to work on a solution to the problem?
- What sorts of reasons would make that audience believe the problem needs to be solved?
- How will this audience respond to your proposal? What sort of evidence would convince this sort of audience? Would they respond best to logic? pathos and emotion? authority? character?
- Who might object to your solution and what would their objections be? How will you respond to these objections?
How to Find the Best Solution
Many problems have multiple causes. You may need to focus on solving the most important cause. Answer the following questions to help you find your solution idea. Do any research needed to develop your plan.
- What is the most important cause of the problem?
- What do you think needs to happen for this problem to be solved?
- Explain your proposed solution. Include the steps needed to implement the proposal.
- What reasons can you give to show that this solution will work? How can you demonstrate the logical connections between parts of the problem and your solution?
- What specific effects would your proposal have on the problem? Explain the cause-to-effect relationship.
- How does this solution differ from previous solutions that have been tried?
Different Ways to Solve Problems
|Solution||General Example||College Example|
Change laws or rules
Add traffic law
New rules about registration
Change traffic flow pattern in school drop-off and pick up area
Different organization of dorm move-in
Vote in a new leader
Change leadership in a club or change jobs of leadership
Add something (time, people or money)
Get more money for project, add more officers in police department
Add more upperclassemen to college dorms as community leaders
A bridge, new highway or jail
New classrooms, dorms or parking garage
Enforce rules or laws
More traffic tickets given, or more drug arrests
Penalties for not attending class or club meetings, or parking fines increased
Reduce dollar amount of tickets
2 warnings before getting parking ticket
Advertising to get out and vote
Incentives for attending sporting events
Information about smoking, explaining about signs of stroke
Healthy eating information, how to get an internship seminars
Get 2 sides together
Schedule meetings between citizens and police
Roommates should have weekly meeting to resolve disagreements
Rearrange use of resources
Have junior high and high school tennis teams schedule practices at different times so they don't need to build a new court
Schedule classes at night or Saturdays so working people can attend
Introduction: Make the problem clear to the reader and make them interested in it.
- Description: Describe the problem so the reader can see it.
- Make Important: Make the reader feel it is an important problem to solve.
- Cause/Effect: Explain what causes the problem (maybe talk about what people think causes the problem vs. what really causes the problem)
- Thesis: Question and then answer (How do we solve the problem of…?)
Body: Explain the solution and argue it will work.
1. Solution: Explain your solution clearly and make the reader see how it will be done.
- Give clear steps that need to be taken.
- You may have more than one part to the solution or have different steps (the best solution would be XXX, but until that is adopted, we can do XXX).
- You may have different parts of the solution for different audiences (officials should change laws, but until that happens the individual can do XXX).
2. Argue for Solution: Explain how your solution will:
- Will solve the problem.
- Is reasonable.
- Is feasible (you can do it).
- Is cost-effective (either won’t cost much, will cost much but is worth it, or suggest how it can be paid for).
3. Answer Objections: Tell the objections (some people might say . . . ) then respond. Types of objections:
- The problem is not important enough to solve.
- There are other more important causes of the problem.
- Your solution won’t work.
- Your solution is not cost-effective.
Conclusion: Make sure this is a call to action.
- Tell what the reader should do, think, or believe.
- Urge the reader to act.
- Explain why they should do so or paint a picture of what will happen if the solution is adopted.
How to Think About Problems
Sample Student Essay: How to Solve the Freshman 15
This is an essay written by one of my students.
Introduction: Story about worrying about gaining weight in college.
- The importance of Problem: Give facts about obesity and the problems it causes.
- Causes: Why it happens that college students gain.
- Effects: How college students feel when they gain weight, and how this can lead to eating disorders.
- Thesis: How can students avoid gaining weight in college? Students need to eat healthy meals, plan for snacks, and exercise.
Solution (including arguments to support each one inside the paragraphs):
- Healthy Eating: Concentrate on eating healthy foods and spend time finding healthy choices.
- Snacks: Plan for healthy snacks rather than taking what is most easily available.
- Exercise: Plan for this, or take advantage of the natural exercise in walking to class.
Conclusion: Why this is important to learn a healthy lifestyle for your life. Give facts and statistics about good health and how this affects you. Use a reverse scenario of a person after having put this plan in place or a real story of how you changed your habits to stop gaining weight.
Sample Student Essay: How to Help a Roommate
This is another sample outline from a student who wanted to solve the problem of having a roommate who had gotten involved in self-destructive behaviors while in college.
- Describe Problem: Roommate who has gotten involved with partying and become difficult to live with as well as having abandoned the values she seemed to have before. What should I do as her roommate?
- Discuss Causes: Being too sheltered before college? Wanting to be popular? The desire for new experiences? Not understanding the long-term consequences.
- Discuss Effects: Grades suffer. Unwanted sex, which could lead to a pregnancy or STD, embarrassing photos, videos, text messages, or calls, blood alcohol poisoning, severe hangovers, or even just developing an extremely poor reputation are a few of many possibilities.
- Identify Audience/Thesis: The audience I wish to focus on is us. You and I, as the friends, roommates, or classmates of these students, can make the biggest impact.
- First and most important, is to protect them.
- Remind them what they should do
- Be ready to help when they fail
- Remind them who they really are
- Don’t be afraid to contact authorities if the person really needs more help.
Objections/Answer: Why should I help? What if they don’t respond?
Conclusion: What to expect. Don’t take personal responsibility for someone else. Continue to hope
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I write an introduction to a problem-solving essay?
Answer: You start by describing the problem and making sure your audience knows how important that problem is to solve. That usually involves telling a story about the problem or describing the history of the problem. Sometimes it can be good to use statistics that show how big the problem is or to use quotes from someone who has dealt with that problem. If you have a personal experience with the issue, you can tell that story too.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 13, 2019:
Hi Aquib, most of the time it is better to pick one problem to talk about in an essay because most of a problem solution essay is about solving the problem and you don't want to pick a problem too hard to solve.
Aqib mehdi on May 11, 2019:
Can we use more discuss more than 1 problem in our essay like problem in hobby groups, sports group, school.
Diego on October 28, 2018:
hi virginia my classmate learn a lot of your web site I am from Honduras
Kira Headley on January 23, 2017:
This has helped so much with writing my essay! Thank you so much!
Daria Johnson on January 17, 2017:
Sorry for commenting so late! I found the website and I can tell that I will be needing it a lot this semester.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 10, 2014:
Thanks so much Sara for letting me know this was helpful to you!
Sara alkharsan on January 09, 2014:
I found this website very useful and it helped me a lot organizing my ideas as well as to become able to deal with any topic that I might have been asked .