Problem Definition

A problem is an exercise that students complete in Professional Writing, an undergraduate course on Workplace Writing.

  1. what is the problem? need? opportunity?
  2. what is the goal?
  3. what are the desirable features of the solution
  4. what are the make or break conditions that have to be in place for the to be viable.
  • an issue (e.g., Global Warming; COVID 19)
  • a point of pain or contention for someone
  • a process that could be improved
  • an application (e.g., software, a new tool, a new technology) that could be developed
  • a business opportunity not being addressed

demonstrate where the problem is, who experiences it as a problem, what will the world look like

A Problem Definition is

  • a heuristic, an invention strategy
  • an effort on the part of the investigator to define a problem for a reader.

How the investigator crafts a problem description is determined by the investigator’s aims, the genre of communication, and the medium of communication.


Problem State


Note: This is the first exercise in a Consultancy Simulation, the second project in Professional Writing. This exercise is graded complete/incomplete.
  • Entrepreneurs frame problems as opportunities. They pitch problems to investors as marketing opportunities. They explain the value proposition behind their business thesis by doing customer research. They seek to identify pain points for stakeholders. Then they assess whether it’s an addressable market, if the consumers would want to buy the application.
  • Lawyers frame disputes between people as legal problems. Legal analysis involves assuming the perspective of legal precedent. When lawyers define problems in their legal briefs they are careful to clarify the match the problem definitions of earlier plaintiffs’ cases.
  • Geologists use statistical measures and models to describe groundwater contamination.
  • People suddenly struck in a traffic accident might describe the behavior of the driver, the traffic conditions, and what they were doing just before the accident.

The Problem Definition may be a small part of a larger document or a document in and of itself.


  1. Brevity, Clutter, Concision
    1. Writing Concisely and Avoiding Redundancy
  2. Clarity, Simplicity
  3. Flow, Coherence, Unity
  4. Styles of Writing
    1. Reader-Based Style
    1. Concrete & Sensory Language
    2. You-Centered Business Style
    3. What to Think about When Writing for a Particular Audience
  5. Substantive Prose Style
  6. Technical Writing Prose Style*