The Tool: Problem Statement -- consists of four elements, each generally one sentence in length; see below.
Element #1: Status Quo Claim -- "a debatable and supportable argument about how a specific audience should think, act, or respond to a given text or context (the argument to which you will object)"
Element #2: Destabilizing Condition -- what is "missing, wrong, or problematic in relation to the status quo claim"
Element #3: Costs -- "why people in the status quo (or people who might find the status quo convincing) should see the destabilizing condition as significant, and/or what will happen if these people don't pay attention to the problem identified"
Element #4: Global Claim -- "a debatable, supportable, and significant (to the intended audience) argument that proposes a solution or alternative to the status quo argument, logically related to the destabilizing condition and costs"
If you need to write an academic, thesis-driven paper, the idea is that you can use this initial statement to frame the paper and then continue using it to drive the remaining development of the paper, too. If you're just wanting to engage in an intellectual speaking debate, the problem statement is a good place to start because it shows 1) that you've identified a problem, 2) that you've considered potential objections and costs associated with the problem, and 3) that you've thought of a potential solution to the problem.
Below is a Problem Statement I wrote for Dr. Lundblad's course I'm in this semester. (The course focuses on cancer literature and explores how cancer is depicted in texts and thus how it is shaped in larger social discourses.)
Though I've been writing academic papers for many years now, up until I'd received this tool, I'd never been introduced to such a clean, simple, sensible approach to writing an argument. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited, in a nerdy, intellectual way. I definitely was. And I still am because I feel more powerful, more confident knowing that when I use this tool, I'll be setting myself up in a stronger position, from a thinking, writing, and/or speaking standpoint, to more effectively assert myself AND to more thoughtfully approach any objections I might run into while making my argument.
Again, thanks to Dr. Michael Lundblad for this Problem Statement tool.
Example Problem Statement: written by me (Stephanie A. Griffin) on September 26, 2010 for E370
The Value of the Negative on www.letsFCancer.com
[STATUS QUO CLAIM] Some visitors to www.letsFCancer.com might argue that its content is too negative, and therefore, contradicts what they have been culturally taught about the need to maintain a positive attitude during the fight against cancer. [DESTABILIZING CONDITION] What these visitors fail to recognize, however, is that underneath the veil of the positive attitude is the very human need for a safe writing outlet for people affected by cancer to temporarily break away from their positivity by expressing their true negative feelings about how cancer has impacted them. [COSTS] If people affected by cancer are not able to express their true negative emotions on www.letsFCancer.com or a similar site, they may be forced to repress these emotions entirely, especially if the people they are physically surrounded by expect nothing but a consistently positive attitude from them. Given the physical and emotional damage cancer inherently causes, denying people an outlet such as www.letsFCancer.com to release their true emotions will cause them further damage. [GLOBAL CLAIM] Even if people affected by cancer are expected to maintain a positive attitude about it, they must still have the opportunity to safely express their negative emotions about cancer on www.letsFCancer.com or a similar site. Just as it is necessary to have Internet sites encouraging positive attitudes about cancer, it is also necessary that people affected by cancer have www.letsFCancer.com or a similar site to express their negative emotions about the illness.