Problem Solution

RESEARCH ESSAY: Problem-Solution Format

Must be at least 1900+ words with at least FOUR (4)  academic/scholarly/peer-reviewed sources (and no more than 8 total sources). A list of banned topics for this essay are here.

We’ll work through this essay step-by-step, and it’s important to complete each step. Not only will your final essay be much stronger, but it’s easy to fall behind if you miss a step.

Reading all of the directions fully is not only important, it’s essential. Over and over the students who struggle with this assignment didn’t pick the prompt apart with a fine tooth comb, which should be step one for everyone.

Pick ONE of the following prompts, conduct research, and write a problem-solution format research essay.

Prompt One

Identify a cultural challenge or problem that can be addressed in public schools—meaning schools that are free to attend because of government funding—and research a solution. Write a research essay in which you identify the challenge/ problem you’re addressing, and argue, through credible support and logical reasoning, how to solve it.


You can approach this task from the opposite direction as well, which would mean you choose a skill, experience, enhancement, or content area you think should be incorporated into public schools, and identify what cultural problem or deficiency this change will address. Your topic must be future and people positive, meaning your ultimate goal is to argue how we can help students thrive as citizens, and ultimately contribute to a strong democracy and global community. Your topic should not be reductive, shaming, or negative as you’re trying to solve a problem to make the world better.

Prompt Two

Identify a local cultural challenge or problem that can be addressed by individual, community and community group, and/or local/state government action, and research a solution. Write a research essay in which you both identify the challenge/problem you’re addressing, and argue, through credible support and logical reasoning, how to solve it. Your topic must be future and people positive, meaning your ultimate goal is to argue how we can help citizens and communities thrive.

The formula for both of these options is:

Decide the problem you want to solve/enhancement you want to make.


Research some solutions. Your solution(s) should answer this question:


 WHO is doing WHAT to WHOM for WHAT intended outcome?

Choosing a Topic

  • Pick something you’re very interested in, because you’ll be spending time on it. If you pick a topic because of your personal experience with that topic, keep in mind that personal experience does not (usually) belong in a research essay. The rule of thumb for research essays is that the writer is more distanced from the essay than they are in other genres. (There are exceptions to this, though, as we’ll discuss.)
  • Pick something there is actually academic research on. Many hot cultural debates are opinion-based, and there isn’t going to be much scholarly research in the databases. Some topics are relatively recent in the culture (like online social media) and maybe what you want to do about social media isn’t yet being researched. You can still write about it, but you have to recon with the data as do we all.
  • Go deep and narrow. Your instinct may be to pick as many points as you possibly can to get to the word count, but, the best way to word count is to get narrow and go deep. There is so much more to say when you have a clearly defined and contained argument.
  • Be careful not to focus so much on the problem that you neglect the solutions. Solutions are what the bulk of your essay and the bulk of your research should be about. A very common problem students run into is getting lost in how bad the problems are.
  • Here is a link to a list of Possible Research Topics. These are just a collection of random ideas you could use as starting places; none of these is going to be a research essay on it’s own, and most of them are popular sources, which play a very small role in your essay.

Resources Necessary for Your Success

The Process

  1. Select your own topic for the paper. Cherri needs to approve these. I promise, you want my help with this. I can often head off some serious roadblocks by helping you pick a topic.
  2. Once you select a topic we’ll begin to collect and synthesize academic & credible sources. We will go through the entire research process step-by-step in class, we’ll learn about the library’s many resources, and you will workshop your sources and works cited page in small groups during class time. Start sooner than later and use the librarians.
  3. After you collect your sources, you will outline, write, and revise your essay and works cited, using MLA citation style to cite your sources. The structure of the overall essay will vary per topic, but about 2/5 of essay should establish the problem being addressed and 3/5 of the essay should show how what your proposed curriculum addresses it. We’ll talk about how to structure this in class and there is a visual in the module.
  4. Share your essay and participate in peer workshops to improve the quality.
  5. After working through all of the steps per the course calendar, first final drafts of these essays will be saved as pdf files and uploaded to the Research Essay assignment in Canvas by the due date. Essays that do not meet the basic assignment criteria do not pass.

Developing a Thesis


Your topic might be general at first, but your research paper needs a focused topic and  argument. For instance, your topic might begin generally as sex education, but your working thesis statement for your essay might evolve into something more specific.


General premise: It is a basic human right to understand the biology and physiology of one’s own body. Sex education is important.


Specific thesis statement: It is the task of public schools to offer comprehensive and scientifically factual sex education to all children age 10 and above, as it’s their responsibility to remove morality, judgment, and shame from this curriculum.


Not only is this thesis specific and arguable, which is what you want in a research essay, but it lends itself to be supported by the kinds of data one will find when looking in the online research databases—but that’s not stuff you’ll know until you dig into the data.


Consider, as you write your thesis, the action your essay is arguing for. Who is doing what to whom? Who is teaching what to whom for what effect? There is a subject, and action, and an object in these thesis statements.

Additional Considerations

  1. Your ideas might evolve as you move through the research, so keep an open mind as you explore various sources. I don’t recommend changing your topic in the middle of the process, but you can certainly change your stance or argument on your topic.
  2. Check your topic with Cherri early in the process to make sure you’re on a productive path. This is key for your success. It’s always okay to email her your thesis statement and query questions. Let her help you at the beginning of the process to save you hours of researching in the wrong direction. (That being said, the research process is often hours of going in all sorts of directions.)
  3. Your research should be scholarly/peer-reviewed and credible. Make time go to the library. I can’t stress this enough! I highly recommend you meet with one of the research librarians or ask questions of them via email. Students almost always report positive experiences when they consult the librarians in person, and it will make a big difference to the quality of your data.
  4. The main reasons students fail this essay are: too much summary; no clear or consistent argument; no scholarly/peer-reviewed research; plagiarized sources. If your topic doesn’t have academic research, find a new topic.
  5. The essay should reference at least four distinct sources by four different authors and these must be scholarly articles from academic, peer reviewed journals; and the bulk of your argument should be based on those academic sources. You will access these in the library databases (even if you first learned of them on google scholar). If you do not have at least FOUR scholarly articles, your essay is not passing. However, you do not need more than that for this essay. Four is plenty for what we’re writing.

Any additional sources you use can be from: scholarly articles, online articles and websites w/ depth and credibility, books, movies, interviews, etc. Sites like ehow and and, and wikis etc. do not count as sources for our purposes here, nor do sites like Livestrong and WebMD, or sites with a clear bias towards non-science like Focus on the Family, or sites that are fake news, and so on and so forth, etc.

  1. Google scholar is a great starting place, but since you are likely not a subscriber to the journals publishing the articles you find on google scholar, you can’t access the article through it, and will thus get stuck at a paywall. Take the citation you get from google scholar and use it to locate that article in the library databases.
  2. How do you know if a source is credible? Evaluate it. Remember, the burden to prove something true or false on the internet is always on you, whether you are the reader or the writer; you can fact check and verify any information you find. Learn more about credibility and source evaluation in the resources I linked to on an earlier page.
  3. Essays must contain a clear, arguable thesis, and well-documented, organized support. Draft, peer workshop, and revise essays multiple times for the best product.
  4. You must provide accurate citations in MLA 8 to pass this assignment. MLA formatting, MLA in-text citations, and an MLA works cited page required. Don’t use Easybib to do your works cited because it almost always contains errors. If you use an online citation machine, you must double check the final results before completing your essay. The Self-Paced Study on MLA 8 is required reading for this essay. Use it.


  1. Please avoid abstractions like “less hate” or “more love,” “be nice,” etc. These might make a positive change in the future or be good things to learn about in school, but they are not specific and quantifiable. Keep this essay focused on a topic that you actually can support with science and research published in credible sources. There are a number of banned topics. This list has grown for avariety of reasons, mostly because I’ve never seen a student successfully navigate the complex nature of the topic or the sources. Banned topics include bullying, abortion, anything to do with weed, anything that blames poor people for this-that-the-other, obesity, guns and gun violence, and the gender/sex of restrooms. There are certainly more topics that really won’t work for this assignment, and this is why you should run your topic by Cherri.
  2. All of the links on the course documents page ARE YOUR TEXTBOOK. If you are confused or frustrated about what to do during this process it is likely you’re not doing the background reading required of you. This essay will take time and patience.


Last Updated on June 20, 2021

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