Module 2: How to formulate a good search query?

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1.2 Formulate the problem definition

After having explored and defined your subject, your subject can be translated into a specific and clearly defined problem definition.

A solid problem definition usually answers the questions who?, what, where? and when?

Let's assume you have to write a paper on the role energy plays in animal behavior. Based on the exploratory phase and a few simple questions, you could easily come to a clearly defined problem definition:

  • Who? Birds
  • What? The energy costs of courtship display in birds 
  • Where? Worldwide
  • When? During breeding or courtship season
  • What is the objective of the paper? Query behavioral ecology

Problem definition: what are the costs of courtship display in birds during breeding season in terms of their energy management?

For your info: in view of the specific problem definition, following questions are also important to get a clear view on your assignment.

  • Timing?
    How much time did you get for the assignment? For looking up references and reading documents takes some time and you need to plan realistically.
  • Size?
    How extensive does your paper need to be? In some cases you may limit yourself to recent literature; in others you are required to set up an exhaustive reference list and, as such, work with older literature as well.
  • Assignment?
    What is the exact assignment? In some cases you may limit yourself to collecting the literary works, in others you must compare them critically with each other as well.