My advisor recently clued me in to a very short editorial (Hernon & Schwartz, 2007) about how to construct an effective research problem statement.

You may have noticed me writing on here previously about some research I’ve been planning on computer assisted appraisal. Unfortunately, I think these efforts have suffered from being a bit too cluttered. I’d like to be able to state the core of my research problem in a lot less space, with a lot less words.

Hernon and Schwartz’s advice is welcome because they encourage a very concise series of statements–almost like an elevator pitch for your research–that address three interlocking things:

  1. The Lead In: What context is needed to understand the problem space?
  2. Statement of Originality: What is a gap in our knowledge of this area?
  3. Justification: What is a tangible benefit of filling this gap?

As you can see the three statements operate almost like the three legs of a stool that allow a research project to stand.

So here’s my attempt at boiling my previous work down into these three statements:

  1. The World Wide Web is an inconceivably large and constantly changing information space. Even at the organizational level, it can be a challenge to identify what portions of the Web are in need of preservation, and when to collect them.

  2. Significant work has gone into shaping collection development policies that articulate the mission, scope, intellectual property and access policies of Web archives. However, very little is known about how these policies translate into the actual appraisal of Web content. How are specific Web resources discovered and evaluated for addition to an archive?

  3. An improved understanding of how and why Web content is selected for archiving will help inform the design of systems and processes to assist archivists in their work.

Ideally each of these would be one sentence. If you have suggestions for distilling them further please let me know. And of course, if you have any thoughts about the research problem itself please get in touch. Comments and annotations here should work, or you can send me a tweet or an email.


Hernon, P., & Schwartz, C. (2007). What is a problem statement? Library & Information Science Research, 29(3), 307–309. Retrieved from