University of Houston-Victoria

Curriculum and Student Achievement

Problem Solution Paragraphs

Drafting Body Paragraphs: Purpose-Based Organization Strategies Problem-Solution

There are several different organizational strategies designed for specific types of body paragraphs, including cause-effect, problem-solution, comparison-contrast and chronological. You must identify the purpose of the paragraph before you begin writing and then seek out the appropriate organizational strategy for writing a paragraph with that specific purpose. This handout discusses the problem-solution strategy in detail.

First, there’s one thing you should know about this handout and its connection to another Academic Center handout. This handout is best used in conjunction with the Academic Center handout Drafting Body Paragraphs: CECC: An Internal Organization Strategy, which discusses a method of paragraph development that focuses on claim, evidence, commentary and conclusion. The CECC method accounts for the labeling in brackets of the example paragraphs in this handout. These labels in brackets are merely meant to show how each purpose-based organization strategy also corresponds with the CECC method.

A problem-solution paragraph identifies a problem, or problems, and recommends a plausible solution(s). This method of internal organization splits the paragraph, or paragraph block, into four easily-recognizable parts:

  • Use a topic sentence to explore the paragraph’s main idea, or claim (the problem that will be explored).
  • Provide a description of the problem for the reader.
  • Provide a description of the solution(s) for the reader.
  • Include a conclusion sentence to describe whether all solutions are applicable or whether one solution is better than the others.

Now, let’s look more closely at the second and third sections of the problem-solution organizational strategy.

The description of the problem, or second section of the paragraph, should provide sufficient evidence that a problem exists and address all questions that a reader may have about the problem, including who, what, when, where, why and how. The third section of the paragraph explores the recommended solution(s). If you wish to explore several solutions in this section, then you should explain the efficiency and/or effectiveness of each of the solutions. In this section you may also wish to arrive at a conclusion as to why one solution may be better than another solution. However, you can also reveal this information in the fourth section of the paragraph. It is your choice as a writer to decide where this information fits best based on your understanding of the reader’s needs and expectations.

Let’s take a look at an example of a successful problem-solution paragraph:

Topic sentence [claim]

  • General Computers, a Fortune 500 company, has recently experienced problems with employee dissatisfaction, especially in the area of lack of flexibility with work schedules; however, this problem can be easily solved by implementing new technology to allow employees to telecommute, which results in greater schedule flexibility and may, in effect, result in increased employee satisfaction.

Description of problem [evidence]

  • According to Edwards (2006), the problem was first recognized when General Computers administered a survey on employees and work satisfaction. Surprisingly, General Computers found that the majority of employee dissatisfaction (82%) resulted from a lack of flexibility in employee work schedules .

Description of solution [commentary]

  • The solution to General Computers’ problem lies in the implementation of a telecommuting program to enable employees greater scheduling flexibility. The telecommuting program would enable employees to bring up their workstation desktops from home. This method could facilitate greater scheduling flexibility in two areas: while this program would enable some employees to make the transition to full‐time telecommuters, other employees who still physically work in the office would also enjoy greater scheduling flexibility. For example, if an employee’s child has a dental appointment late in the afternoon, the employee can seek permission to leave work early and simply finish what he/she was working on from home later that evening.

Conclusion sentence [conclusion]

  • This type of scheduling flexibility allows employees to maintain an effective work‐life balance which will enable General Computers to significantly reduce the problem of employee dissatisfaction.

Note that each of the four primary sections of the problem- solution pattern is included in the example: topic sentence, problem description, solution description and conclusion sentence. Not only is this problem-solution pattern present, but you are also able to see the components of the CECC pattern emerging. For example, in the description of the problem section, the evidence, or statistics about employee dissatisfaction, cited according to Edwards, establish proof that there is a problem. The writer’s commentary, which follows in the solution section, is his/her own proposed solution to the organization’s problem.

More information on providing and signaling commentary is available in our handout Signal Your Commentary on Source Material.

A paragraph block is a seri s of several paragraphs which share the same topic sentence. The paragraph block has the same basic function as a single paragraph – to explore a main idea in detail. A paragraph block is used when the main idea being covered features several different components or is especially detailed. The paragraph bl ck will still follow the same organizational pattern; the content will just be revealed over the course of several paragraphs rather than contained within a single paragraph.

In this example paragraph, the cause is the offering of rewards to children, the effect is the delay in egocentric growth, and the description of the process explains why the offering of rewards leads to a delay in egocentric growth.

Not only is the cause and effect pattern present, but the components of the CECC pattern also emerge. For example, in the description of the process section, the evidence, or statements about how ego development relies on the ability to choose and control for oneself, is cited according to Smith. However, the writer’s commentary which follows these statements interprets and summarizes this evidence for the reader.

As an aside, it might also be beneficial to take a closer look at the third section of this example – the description of the solution. Although this section provides commentary for the problem in a broad sense, it also features its own separate claim – evidence – commentary pattern. The first sentence of that section (The solution to General Computers’ problem . . .) is the claim; the second sentence (The telecommuting program would enable employees to . . .) is the evidence; and the third and fourth sentences (This method could facilitate . . . ) are the commentary. It’s interesting to note that the CECC pattern is so foundational that it can emerge even within the body of a paragraph that already more broadly conforms to both the CECC pattern and the problem-solution organization strategy.

Although this handout discussed the problem-solution approach to paragraph organization, there are many other methods you can use to organize information within a specific paragraph. Additionally, while the information presented in this handout is tailored toward paragraph development, this organizational strategies discussed can be applied as overall organization strategies for research papers or can be used as organization strategies for paragraph blocks within a larger paper.

Copyright 2008 by the Academic Center, the University of Houston-Victoria, and Candice Chovanec Melzow. Created 2007 by Candice Chovanec Melzow.