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Formulate problem definitions

Formulate the problem definitions you will use for the issue



Create alternate problem definitions for the issue.


By this point you've already explored possible problem cases and solutions.  Creating problem definitions will allow you to explore the last milestone in the line of argument.


Creating problem definitions requires phrasing the problem tension in a specific format to highly the conflict.



Problem definitions have the general form:

Some agent is involved in X
the same agent is involved in Y
[where X and Y are activities that conflict]

This general form usually falls into 3 categories: conflicting goals, belief/goal conflict, and goal/knowledge conflict.

A problem of conflicting goals

Some agent wants to X
the same agent wants to Y 
[where X and Y are goals that conflict]

In this case, the agent that has both goals usually has to give up one of them.

A problem of belief/goal conflict

Some agent wants X
the same agent believes Y 
[where goal X is in conflict with belief Y]

In this case, the agent usually has to change either their goal or their belief.

A problem of goal/knowledge conflict

Some agent wants X
the same agent doesn't know Y 
[where goal X requires knowledge Y to be achieved]

This kind of conflict is often presented in research papers where the solution to not knowing Y is the study the author's empirical study.



For this technique you will need:

  • your list of summaries
  • your list of problem cases
  • a word processor


To formulate problem definitions:

1. Locate possible problem definitions:

  • look through your notes from summarizing author's positions for points located at "defining the problem"
  • look at your problem cases to see if they provide working helpful for defining the problem

2. Create possible problem definitions using the forms described in the background section:

  • conflicting goals
  • belief/goal conflict
  • goal/knowledge conflict
  • general conflict

3. Make sure that your problem definitions:

  • have the same agent on both the X and Y side of the definition
  • test whether X & Y are in conflict by considering whether solutions eliminate the X or the Y, if not, you probably need to formulate the X and Y more precisely.


Critique questions


Kaufer, D. S., Geisler, C., & Neuwirth, C. M. (1989). Arguing from sources: Exploring issues through reading and writing. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, (p 198-202).