The Problem-and-Solution Essay
by Owen Fourie
To write a problem-solution essay that is not a story, you have a wealth of material to draw from all around you and even within you. Each day and each place has some problem that needs a solution: from the garage door that will not close properly to the dilemma of homeless people on the streets, from your struggle with algebra to the crippling debt facing many nations. There is a whole range of problems from small to great from which you may choose the one for which you can offer a solution.
Whatever you may choose, be sure that the problem meets the following criteria:
- It is something that you know by experience, or by observation, or by your reading and understanding.
- If you do not have much knowledge of the problem, you have enough interest in it to spur you on to research it thoroughly.
- It is a problem that you have thought about sufficiently and for which you are convinced you have a reasonable solution.
It is important to keep within your field of expertise. Offer a solution for a problem that you are interested in because that is your particular bent. This is where you are gifted. It will demand some good, deep thinking on your part while you are in the pre-writing phase of this assignment. It is often at this point that teachers observe the ingenuity and industry of some students and the laziness and lack of application amongst others.
We live in a problem-solution world
You can apply yourself effectively to this task because there is a world out there full of interesting things and a multitude of problems waiting for solutions, and you have thoughts, gifts, talents, and a remarkable brain to use in your particular area of interest whether it be in computers, the Internet, cloud computing, electric cars, green technology, rain-forest preservation, organic food, marketing, increasing traffic to your website, pure water for people in impoverished countries, self-help, personal development, neuroscience, meditation, video art, and so forth.
There is simply no excuse to sit there and say, as I have heard so many students say, “I don’t know what to write about.” Stop right there and think. What are your interests? List them and begin to note potential problem areas and solutions. If you have a scientific and practical turn of mind, you can even perform experiments to prove the value of your solution.
Consider too that virtually everything that is a convenience to you and that you enjoy probably came into being as a solution to a problem or an inconvenience that existed. That is the way the world works. We are given situations that contain problems that are meant to sharpen our wits to find solutions that will benefit us.
The problem-solution essay assignment is intended to awaken you and to show you that you are not here for a passive ride on this planet, but you are here to be an active and useful participant in its struggles and needs. Be a player, not a mere spectator.
Once you have found the problem that you will address, explain it clearly in the first paragraph (or first few paragraphs) after your introduction. Be sure to describe the problem in such a way that any reader who is totally unfamiliar with the subject will be able to understand
- exactly what the problem is;
- how anyone or everyone is affected by it;
- the necessity of a solution being found.
In the later paragraphs of the body of your essay before the conclusion, explain clearly the solution you are offering. Be sure that even your least-informed reader will be absolutely clear about
- the precise nature of the solution and its application;
- how anyone or everyone will benefit by it;
- the urgency of its implementation.
Bring your essay to a challenging conclusion to gain support for your solution. Look again at your introduction to see if it needs improvement where it has briefly referred to the problem and hinted at the solution. Edit and proofread your writing to eliminate as many of the errors as you possibly can before submission. If you have followed and done all the above, you should have a good problem-solution essay and the sense of having become a problem solver in the real world.
You might not be a genius, but …
In the mid-1870s, a young man, who was studying at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, was examining a direct-current machine that had arrived there from Paris. The machine gave off sparks as it was being operated, and the young man suggested to his professor that getting rid of its commutator and changing to alternating current would make a huge difference to its performance. His German professor scoffed at the idea and said that such a thing would be impossible.
A few years later, while he was walking with a friend in a city park in Budapest, the young man suddenly had a brainwave in which he clearly visualized his alternating-current motor. Without Nikola Tesla’s solution, the world might have been stuck with direct current that could not be transmitted more than a mile. The problem of limited electric power would give way to Tesla’s solution and a revolution of unmatched progress in the century that followed.
Such genius is not an everyday occurrence, but none of us is without ideas and solutions for existing problems. Your solution could bring benefits far beyond your present time and place.
What is your experience with problem-solution essays? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? If any solution you have given to a problem has ever had a positive impact beyond your writing, tell us about it. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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