Problems Solutions Essay

Problem-solution essays are a common essay type, especially for short essays such as subject exams or IELTS. The page gives information on what they are, how to structure this type of essay, and gives an example problem-solution essay on the topic of obesity and fitness levels.

What are problem-solution essays?

Problem-solution essays consider the problems of a particular situation, and give solutions to those problems. They are in some ways similar to cause and effect essays, especially in terms of structure (see below). Problem-solution essays are actually a sub-type of another type of essay, which has the following four components:


The 'situation' may be included in the essay prompt, in which case it will not be needed in the main body. If it is needed, it can often be included in the introduction, especially for short essays, as with the example essay below. The 'evaluation' may be included as part of the conclusion (also as in the example below), or omitted altogether, especially for short essays. For these reasons, problem-solution essays are more common than situation-problem-solution-evaluation essays (or SPSE essays).

Structure

There are two main ways to structure a problem-solution essay. These are similar to the ways to structure cause and effect essays, namely using a block or a chain structure. For the block structure, all of the problems are listed first, and all of the solutions are listed afterwards. For the chain structure, each problem is followed immediately by the solution to that problem. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is generally clearer, especially for shorter essays, while the latter ensures that any solutions you present relate directly to the problems you have given.


The two types of structure, block and chain, are shown in the diagram below. This is for a short essay, which includes the 'situation' in the introduction and 'evaluation' in the conclusion. A longer essay, for example one of around 1,000 words, with citations, would probably have these two sections as separate paragraphs in the main body.


Block

Introduction
(including 'situation')

Transition sentence/paragraph

Conclusion
(including 'evaluation')



Chain

Introduction
(including 'situation')

Problem 1
&
Solution to Problem 1

Problem 2
&
Solution to Problem 2

Problem 3
&
Solution to Problem 3

Conclusion
(including 'evaluation')


Example essay

Below is a problem-solution essay on the topic of obesity and poor fitness. It uses the block structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also (for problems and solutions) the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the problems and solutions contained in the main body.


Situation

   

Problem

         

Solution

   

Evaluation

   

1

   

2

         

Consumption of processed and convenience foods and our dependence on the car have led to an increase in obesity and reduction in the fitness level of the adult population. In some countries, especially industrialized ones, the number of obese people can amount to one third of the population. This is significant as obesity and poor fitness lead to a decrease in life expectancy, and it is therefore important for individuals and governments to work together to tackle this issue and improve their citizens' diet and fitness.

Obesity and poor fitness decrease life expectancy. Overweight people are more likely to have serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which can result in premature death. It is well known that regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, which means that those with poor fitness levels are at an increased risk of suffering from those problems.

Changes by individuals to their diet and their physical activity can increase life expectancy. There is a reliance today on the consumption of processed foods, which have a high fat and sugar content. By preparing their own foods, and consuming more fruit and vegetables, people could ensure that their diets are healthier and more balanced, which could lead to a reduction in obesity levels. In order to improve fitness levels, people could choose to walk or cycle to work or to the shops rather than taking the car. They could also choose to walk up stairs instead of taking the lift. These simple changes could lead to a significant improvement in fitness levels.

Governments could also implement initiatives to improve their citizens' eating and exercise habits. This could be done through education, for example by adding classes to the curriculum about healthy diet and lifestyles. Governments could also do more to encourage their citizens to walk or cycle instead of taking the car, for instance by building more cycle lanes or increasing vehicle taxes. While some might argue that increased taxes are a negative way to solve the problem, it is no different from the high taxes imposed on cigarettes to reduce cigarette consumption.

In short, obesity and poor fitness are a significant problem in modern life, leading to lower life expectancy. Individuals and governments can work together to tackle this problem and so improve diet and fitness. Of the solutions suggested, those made by individuals themselves are likely to have more impact, though it is clear that a concerted effort with the government is essential for success. With obesity levels in industrialized and industrializing countries continuing to rise, it is essential that we take action now to deal with this problem.

Situation

 

Problem

 

Solution

   

1

   

2

   
 

Evaluation

Below is a checklist for the main body of an essay. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.






IELTS Problem Solution Essays

Problem solution essays are a type of essay question sometimes given to you in the test. 

In this type of essay you need to discuss the problems with regards to a particular topic and then suggest possible solutions to these problems.

One of the first things you want to make sure that you are able to do is identfy one of these questions when it arises. 

Here are some examples of this type of question.




Problem Solution Essay Questions:

Overpopulation of urban areas has led to numerous problems.

Identify one or two serious ones and suggest ways that governments and individuals can tackle these problems.


Nowadays many people have access to computers on a wide basis and a large number of children play computer games.

What are the negative impacts of playing computer games and what can be done to minimize the bad effects?


The internet has transformed the way information is shared and consumed, but it has also created problems that did not exist before.

What are the most serious problems associated with the internet and what solutions can you suggest?


In the developed world, average life expectancy is increasing.

What problems will this cause for individuals and society?

Suggest some measures that could be taken to reduce the impact of ageing populations.

An important note. Some essays ask for reasons and solutions, not problems and solutions. Writing about a reason (or cause) is not the same as writing about a problem.

Check these model essays to see the difference.




IELTS Problem Solution Essay Example 

In order to understand these types of problem solution essays further and how to organize your writing, we'll look at a problem solution example essay:

The internet has transformed the way information is shared and consumed, but it has also created problems that did not exist before.

What are the most serious problems associated with the internet and what solutions can you suggest?

Model Answer

The enormous growth in the use of the internet over the last decade has led to radical changes to the way that people consume and share information. Although serious problems have arisen as a result of this, there are solutions.

One of the first problems of the internet is the ease with which children can access potentially dangerous sites. For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult. There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society. Another major problem is the growth of online fraud and hacking. These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked, resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.

It is important that action is taken to combat these problems. Governments should ensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites, such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site. Parents also have a part to play. They need to closely monitor the activities of their children and restrict their access to certain sites, which can now be done through various computer programs. Companies must also improve their onsite IT security systems to make fraud and hacking much more difficult by undertaking thorough reviews of their current systems for weaknesses.

To conclude, the internet is an amazing technological innovation that has transformed people’s lives, but not without negative impacts. However, with the right action by individuals, governments and businesses, it can be made a safe place for everyone.

(285 words)




Writing about Problems

From the problem solution essay, look at the problems paragraph, and answer the following questions (then click on the link below to see the answers):

  1. How many problems are discussed?
  2. What are they?
  3. What expressions are used to introduce the problems?
  4. How are the problems illustrated further?
  5. What results are discussed for each problem?

Show / hide answers

1) How many problems are discussed?

2

2) What are they?

children can access potentially dangerous sites

growth of online fraud and hacking

3) What expressions are used to introduce the problems?

One of the first problems of the internet is...

Another major problem is...

4) How are the problems illustrated further?

For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult.

These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked.

5) What results are discussed for each problem?

There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society.

...resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.

 

Your answers to these questions should tell you a lot about how to plan and organize a problem paragraph.

You only need two or three problems as remember you do not have much time and you need to explain the problems.

When you brainstorm your ideas for problem solution essays, think about (a) what the problem is (b) how you will explain it (c) and what the effect is. Your paragraph will then follow this pattern.

Here is an example of the brainstorming for this paragraph:

Problem 1: children can access potentially dangerous sites

  • Explanation / Example: Pornography sites
  • Result: Affects thought & development - negative for children & society

Problem 2: growth of online fraud and hacking

  • Explanation / Example: Evident from the constant news stories
  • Result: Criminals get sensitive information

Here they are illustrated in the paragraph, with the introductory expressions underlined:

One of the first problems of the internet is the ease with which children can access potentially dangerous sites. For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult. There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society. Another major problem is the growth of online fraud and hacking. These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked, resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.






Writing about Solutions

Answer the following questions about the solutions paragraph:

  1. How many solutions are given?
  2. What are they?
  3. What three different groups of people does the writer say are responsble for these solutions?
  4. How would the solutions be implemented?
  5. What three modal verb structures are used to make the suggestions?
Show / hide answers

1) How many solutions are given?

3

2) What are they?

adequate legislation and controls

monitor the activities of children / restrict access

improve company IT security systems

3) What three different groups of people does the writer say are responsble for these solutions?

Governments

Parents

Companies

4) How would the solutions be implemented?

Stricter criteria for accessing sites

Using computer programs

Reviewing current IT systems for weaknesses

5) What three modal verb structures are used to make the suggestions?

should

need to

must

Your answers to these questions provide you with some key tips on writing a solutions paragraph. Some of these points are now explained further.

a) The people involved

When you come to brainstorm your solutions, think of the key 'actors' who are involved. It is usually governments and individuals in some way or another.

There may be another group specifically realted to the topic. For example, in this case it is companies and parents. If you are discussing crime it could be the police. If it is violence on TV it could be TV and film producers.

You can then brainstorm your ideas under each 'group' and organize them in the same way.

b) Developing your solutions

Also, try to make sure your solutions are not too simplistic. It's all too easy to make sweeping generalizations about what people can do. For example, look at this idea:

The government should introduce stricter laws.

It it common to see such statements in IELTS problem solution essays with no further explantion. Give more detail about how or why this would work. For example:

Governments should ensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites, such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site.

Some specific detail has now been given on how this solution could work.

b) Modal Verbs

Modal verbs can be used to make suggestions in problem solution essays. These are usually found in solutions paragraphs.

Check out this grammar lesson if you are unsure how to use modal verbs.

Here again is a plan for the problem solution essay for the solutions paragraph:

Solution 1: Governments

  • Idea: Adequate legislation and controls for young people
  • How: More complex website access criteria

Solution 2: Parents

  • Idea: Monitor children and restrict access
  • How: Use a computer program

Solution 3: Companies

  • Idea: Improve IT security systems
  • How: Review current systems in place

Here is the paragraph again. Note how it follows the plan and the clear topic sentence that tells the reader the essay is moving on to discuss solutions (modals verbs are underlined):

It is important that action is taken to combat these problems.Governments shouldensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites, such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site. Parents also have a part to play. They need toclosely monitor the activities of their children and restrict their access to certain sites, which can now be done through various computer programs.Companies mustalso improve their onsite IT security systems to make fraud and hacking much more difficultby undertaking thorough reviews of their current systems for weaknesses.

 

Here is another example of a problem solution essay: Overpopulation

 



 

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