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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
When writing an essay, the first problem you might face is deciding on what topic to choose, which is pretty ironic if you’re writing a problem-solution essay.
The way out of that dilemma is to choose an issue that you’re really passionate about. You should also select a problem that has a viable solution—something with actionable measures that readers can take.
If you’re still stumped for ideas, then take heart. In this blog post, I offer 40 problem-solution essay topics to help you get started. Each topic will include links to sample essays to give you more ideas.
In each example, I present specific problems broken down by the issues of today (political, social, environmental, etc.) and ask questions that will help you consider different ideas on how they might be solved.
Each problem-solution topic I present offers broad possibilities, so you’ll have to do the important work of hunting down the facts and examples to provide specific solutions.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Problem-Solution Essay Topics—Social Problems
If you look around, you’ll see social problems that affect society every day. There are plenty of problems, even on your own campus, that need to be resolved.
Proposing solutions to social problems might seem challenging, especially when the issues seem so entrenched. Yet the point of a good problem-solution essay is to suggest solutions that are actionable–something that your readers can do.
Addressing specific problems will lead to specific, well-articulated solutions and to the most interesting and compelling essays. Here are five problem-solution essay topics that touch on social problems.
1. Problem: Undocumented immigrants
- Solution #1: Should the US government step up its deportation of undocumented immigrants, or should it offer asylum for those currently living in the country?
- Solution #2: How should the government address trade policies that affect the economies of South American countries and lead to immigration?
- Solution #3: Will ending the war on drugs provide some relief to the rise of undocumented immigrants arriving in the United States? Should there be more coordination between the US and Central American countries in how they deal with drug policies, and if so, in what ways?
2. Problem: Sexual assaults on college campuses
- Solution #1: What steps should universities take to prevent sexual assaults on campus?
- Solution #2: Should colleges provide safe places for victims to report rapes, and if so, how? What responsibilities should the administration have in protecting victim’s identities once they’ve reported the crime?
- Solution #3: In what ways should students be educated about rape culture, and what responsibility should colleges have in providing that education?
- Solution #4: Should student social services address rape culture? Should fraternities and sororities be more involved in educating students on rape culture? If yes, in what ways?
3. Problem: Mass shootings
- Solution #1: What role should mental health providers play in determining prevention? What policies or programs should be enacted that will provide greater care for people suffering from mental health issues?
- Solution #2: Should violence in the entertainment and gaming industry be addressed for a possible influence? How about the news media?
- Solution #3: What kind of gun control laws should be enacted? What role should gun manufacturers have? Should technology be used to decrease mass shootings? If so, in what ways can it be used?
4. Problem: Police brutality
- Solution #1: What are the possible ways in which communities can force local governments and police departments to address police brutality?
- Solution #2: What role should voting play? Should communities have a say in who heads the police department? What other ways should communities be able to review how local law enforcement polices communities?
- Solution #3: In what ways should the police department address cultural attitudes among officers about the people they police?
- Solution #4: What role does militarization in police departments play in police brutality? Should the federal government supply local police departments with military weaponry? If not, should there be a law against it? How should such a law be shaped?
Looking for a few articles about police brutality to get the research process rolling? Read 12 Articles to Support Your Police Brutality Essay.
5. Problem: Suicide
- Solution #1: What obstacles prevent people from getting help? Are there ways in which those obstacles can be addressed? What about social pressure, such as shaming? Should the public be educated about suicide? How might such programs be put into place?
- Solution #2: What roles should schools, colleges, police, social welfare, or other institutions play in recognizing those who are at risk, and how would they go about doing that?
- Solution #3: Should there be more therapy programs that are accessible for people? What about mental health programs for people who can’t afford them? In what ways should they be made available?
Example problem-solution essays on social issues
Problem-Solution Essay Topics—Economics
Everyone is affected by the economy in one way or another. They’re affected either directly through personal debts, indirectly through the loss of tax revenues that provide services for everyone, or through an uncertain job market.
A problem-solution essay that addresses economic problems is compelling precisely because everyone is eager for answers—especially college graduates. Check out these six problem-solution essay topics about economics for essay ideas.
6. Problem: Student loan debts
- Solution #1: What policies should the government enact that will help eliminate or lessen the burden for students once they graduate? Should there be greater consumer protections that protect students from predatory banking and credit loan institutions?
- Solution #2: Should universities and colleges bear a greater responsibility in protecting students from prohibitive debts? If so, how?
- Solution #3: Should state universities and colleges be allowed to enforce or raise student fees? If not, what alternatives would the schools have to pay for administrative costs?
7. Problem: Long-term unemployment
- Solution #1: Should there be programs on the local level that address long-term unemployment? If so, what? What laws or policies should the federal government enact that will address long-term unemployment?
- Solution #2: Should corporations take the lead on creating new job markets? If so, how could they implement programs to do so? How should the government encourage corporations to open up new markets? Subsidies? Tax breaks?
- Solution #3: What should individuals who are in long-term unemployment do? What programs should be accessible to them while they seek jobs? What about unemployment benefits? Should benefits be modified to address long-term unemployment rather than just short-term unemployment?
8. Problem: Consumer debt
- Solution #1: Should the government pass more rigorous consumer protection laws that will regulate and prosecute predatory banking institutions or credit loaning companies?
- Solution#2: Should the government provide debt relief programs? If so, how should they work and for whom? Should non-profit, non-governmental organizations, such as Occupy Wall Street, provide relief, or should the government create and enact such programs?
- Solution #3: What steps should individuals take to get out of debt? What programs, if any, are available for them? If none, what should be available?
9. Problem: Child labor
- Solution #1: What laws or policies can world governments enact that will address child labor?
- Solution #2: Should the US government enact trade policies that will address the problem? If so, what kind of policies should it enact?
- Solution #3: Do US companies exploit child labor, and if so, should local or state governments punish companies that do? What should citizens do? Boycott? Pressure congress to pass laws or prosecute?
10. Problem: Worker exploitation
- Solution #1: Should the government pass laws that protect workers? Should the government pass stricter laws that protect unionization?
- Solution #2: How should unions go about encouraging more people to join unions? What about workers who are unable to organize in their workplaces? What steps should they take to organize?
11. Problem: Home foreclosures
- Solution #1: What policies should be enacted that will ease economic problems leading to home foreclosures? Should the federal government enact laws that will protect homeowners, and if so, how?
- Solution #2: Should local governments pass laws to protect homeowners against foreclosures? What alternatives are available for local governments to prevent them? What should they do with homes that are underwater? How should they prevent blight?
- Solution #3: Should non-profit groups like Occupy Wall Street help people fight against foreclosures?
Example problem-solution essays on economics
Problem-Solution Essay Topics—Politics
Political problems are the most frustrating because the will to fix them is as elusive as the solutions. Perhaps this is largely because people get distracted by how challenging the problems are before they can even think about solving them.
The key to writing a good problem-solution essay is to think small. In other words, pick a very specific problem (money in politics, for instance) that will lead to goals that are clear and viable.
When you pick a topic that readers feel confident that they’ll be able to tackle, you’ll write an essay that just might move them to act.
Here are four political problem-solution essay topics to inspire action.
12. Problem: Money in politics
- Solution #1: What leads to the dependence on money in electoral politics, and what can be done to address the problem? For instance, what alternatives are available for candidates to raise funds for elections?
- Solution #2: Should the government regulate how much money is spent in campaigns? If not, what alternatives are available that will lead to campaign finance reform?
- Solution #3: Should the government pass laws that will define who should or shouldn’t be able to donate campaign dollars? If so, how should such a law be shaped? How should free speech rights be taken into consideration?
- Solution #4: Should the constitution be amended to address the problem? If so, what should be amended and how?
13. Problem: NSA spying
- Solution #1: Should there be more vigorous laws that protect Americans’ privacy rights from government surveillance? If so, what types of laws should be in place?
- Solution #2: Should congress be more proactive in monitoring the intelligence community? If so, how should Americans be certain that they are? In what ways should citizens be involved in the process?
- Solution #3: Do Americans have the right to know what the intelligence community is doing? If so, in what ways can that be done while protecting national security?
14. Problem: Partisanship
- Solution #1: Will electoral reform address the problems caused by partisanship? If so, in what ways?
- Solution #2: In what ways do American citizens help create partisanship? The media? How should Americans be better educated about their roles as citizens?
- Solution #3: Will media reform help address the problems that cause partisanship?
- Solution #4: How should political parties address partisanship? Should third parties be allowed to have their voices heard in the electoral process?
15. Problem: Voter disenfranchisement
- Solution #1: Should the federal government pass laws that will protect voter rights? Should the constitution be amended to protect voting rights for all citizens?
- Solution #2: How should state governments prevent partisanship from affecting electoral board policies? What should the public do to fight against voter ID laws or other laws that disenfranchise voters?
- Solution #3: What steps should be taken to revive people’s faith in the political process? Who should enact these steps? The public? Schools? The media? Politicians?
- Solution #4: Should congressional rules, policies, or social culture be changed to discourage and prevent obstructionism? If so, in what ways?
Example problem-solution essays on politics
By all measures, the environment is our most precious resource, yet we face many problems in trying to protect and preserve it.
A problem-solution essay that addresses environmental problems can be compelling and thought-provoking because it will alert readers to the necessity of proposing real solutions that people can enact as individuals or as political groups.
Here are five environmental problem-solution essay topics to start help you choose the focus for your own paper.
16. Problem: Climate change
- Solution #1: What kinds of laws or policies should the government pass that will address climate change?
- Solution #2: Should the government push for more trade policies that will address climate change?
- Solution #3: Should foreign policy play a role in addressing climate change? For instance, should the United States work with other heavy-polluting countries like China, and if so, how?
- Solution #4: How should the marketplace address the problem? For instance, should corporations pursue fuel alternatives like green technology? If so, how should they be encouraged to do so?
- Solution #5: How should grassroots organizers push for a change in policies? Who would be targeted for such a movement? The US government? The UN? Corporations?
Are you writing about global warming and need a few resources for your paper? Check out 12 Global Warming Articles to Help Your Next Essay.
17. Problem: Fracking
- Solution #1: Should the government pass laws that make fracking illegal? Should it promote energy fuel alternatives, such as green technology?
- Solution #2: How should companies that use fracking be discouraged from doing so? Should they be subject to civil lawsuits? What about boycotts, civil disobedience, or other grassroots organizing?
- Solution #3: What should be done to educate the public about fracking? Should the news media report on it more often? If so, how should environmental groups push the media to do so?
18. Problem: Endangered wildlife
- Solution #1: Should the government pass laws or policies that provide greater protections for preserving and protecting wildlife? If so, what types of laws? Should the government go after corporations that endanger wildlife?
- Solution #2: Should corporations take the lead in protecting wildlife?
- Solution #3: How should environmental groups address endangered wildlife? What are some of the things they can do to push the government and corporations to protect the environment?
19. Problem: Environmental pollution
- Solution #1: What should the government do about pollution? How should it be involved in long-term protections? For instance, should the government set aside relief funds or economic restorations for affected areas?
- Solution #2: What role should local and state governments play in protecting wildlife from pollution? Should local governments be stricter in regard to environmental studies for local projects, such as the building of chemical plants or factories near wildlife or residential areas?
- Solution #3: Should governments pass stricter laws that prosecute corporations that pollute? If so, how should the public push for such laws to get passed?
20. Problem: Environmental injustice
- Solution #1: Should local governments do more to protect communities from environmental injustices? If so, how? If not, what can the public do to fight against them? Will grassroots organizing help?
- Solution #2: Should the federal government provide relief for communities affected by environmental injustices? Should the US Justice Department get more involved in prosecuting corporations, or are local governments responsible for addressing the injustices?
- Solution #3: Should the media report more on environmental injustices? What can the public do to push the media to cover these stories? How should grassroots organizations get the information out to the public? Documentary films? YouTube? Crowdsourcing?
Example problem-solution essays on the environment
Problem-Solution Topics—Romantic Relationships
Anyone who has been involved in a romantic relationship has likely experienced both highs and lows. Some days can be pure bliss, and some days are, well … let’s just say they’re anything but blissful.
A successful problem-solution essay about romantic relationships will provide real solutions for couples experiencing the problem.
Here are five problem-solution essay topics about romantic relationships to inspire you.
21. Problem: Disagreements caused by social media
- Solution #1: Should couples stay away from most types of social media? Should they limit social media accounts? Would this bring couples closer together or create resentment?
- Solution #2: How might couples negotiate what is or isn’t acceptable behavior on social media accounts? Are discussions with old flames considered flirting or just simple discussions?
- Solution #3: Should couples share social media accounts? Should they know the other person’s passwords? Would this help solve any trust issues?
22. Problem: Safety concerns in online dating
- Solution #1: Does meeting a date in a public place help solve safety concerns? Should online dating services require background checks?
- Solution #2: Can asking the right questions help online daters really get to know a person, or is it too easy to pretend to be someone else online?
- Solution #3: Do shows like Catfish reduce instances of catfishing, or do they give people more inspiration?
23. Problem: Abusive relationships
- Solution #1: Would stricter laws help prevent abuse? Should it be easier for victims to file for protection orders against their abusers?
- Solution #2: Would additional education programs help prevent abuse?
24. Problem: Disciplining children
- Solution #1: Could parents go through counseling to solve their differences of opinion on disciplining children? Should parents have worked out such differences even before having children? Is it possible to work out such differences before having children?
- Solution #2: What type of parenting style is most effective in disciplining children? Does one style work best for all children? Should parents always use the same type of disciplinary style?
25. Problem: Teenage romance
- Solution #1: How do parents decide at what age their teens should be allowed to date? Should the dating age differ depending on the child?
- Solution #2: Should schools offer additional education about all forms of abuse? Would this help teens escape abusive relationships? Would it prevent abuse?
- Solution #3: Does social media create trust issues? Would more face-to-face interaction help teens establish more trusting and stable relationships?
- Solution #4: Should teens avoid serious relationships? Would they develop stronger and healthier relationships once they are older and more mature?
Example problem-solution essays on romantic relationships
Problem-Solution Topics—The Workplace
The workplace can be home to all types of problems, from technology failures to communication failures. While some problems can only be solved through a long meeting with HR, others must be solved between co-workers.
A problem-solution essay about the workplace should keep its audience in mind. A problem and its solution might look very different depending on whether you’re looking at it from an employee’s perspective or an employer’s perspective.
Let’s look at five workplace-related problem-solution topics to get you started on your paper.
26. Problem: Sexual harassment
- Solution #1: How should victims inform their boss or supervisor if they are harassed? Should the incident be documented in writing or discussed via email, in person, or on the phone?
- Solution #2: Do workplace training videos prevent harassment? Should other forms of training be in place?
- Solution #3: What should victims say to the person who is harassing them? Should they even confront the person?
27. Problem: Work-life balance
- Solution #1: Are people over-scheduled due to technology? Should people turn off their devices away from work? Should employers require (or suggest) times for employees to unplug?
- Solution #2: Are low wages causing people to work more hours and ultimately spend less time with their families? Would higher wages (including a higher minimum wage) solve the problem?
- Solution #3: Should younger generations develop stronger hobbies and interests outside of work? Should they minimize social events with their coworkers?
28. Problem: Employee privacy
- Solution #1: Should employees avoid conducting personal business on workplace computers?
- Solution #2: Does employer monitoring result in an invasion of privacy? Does monitoring employees help solve the problem of distracted employees?
29. Problem: Discrimination
- Solution #1: Will stricter laws help prevent discrimination in the workplace? Should companies audit their policies to ensure they discourage, rather than encourage, discrimination?
- Solution #2: What should industries more prone to discrimination do to change their ways? Can current employees speak up to change such discrimination? What might employees do in order to advocate for change?
- Solution #3: Do STEM programs and other education efforts help solve the problem of gender discrimination in science, technology, engineering, and math professions?
30. Problem: Social media use
- Solution #1: Would strict enforcement of computer use on the job prevent employees from logging in to their social media accounts at work? Should employers allow some personal time at work to check social media? Would this actually make employees more productive?
- Solution #2: Are social media accounts personal property, and should employers (and potential employers) be allowed to hire and fire based on personal accounts?
- Solution #3: Do company policies on social media use benefit only the company’s brand, or do they promote a more positive culture in the workplace? Does monitoring social media accounts solve any inherent problems of racism, stereotyping, etc., or does it merely highlight them?
Example problem-solution essays on the workplace
31. Problem: Obesity
- Solution #1: Will strategies such as taxing sugar drinks or adding nutritional information on fast food and restaurant menus reduce obesity? Is it the government’s place to legislate what its citizens eat and drink?
- Solution #2: Should schools require recess and physical education courses in order to help curb the current problem of childhood obesity?
- Solution #3: Should obese people pay more for health insurance? Would such a plan solve the problem of obesity by essentially forcing people to lose weight?
32. Problem: Opioid epidemic
- Solution #1: Should there be harsher penalties for doctors who continue to over-prescribe opioids to their patients? Should pharmacies more closely monitor prescriptions?
- Solution #2: Should manufacturers limit production of specific opioids? Should funding be provided to help researchers develop safer, less-addictive medications?
- Solution #3: Should additional treatment facilities be funded? Should Narcan be more readily available in schools, homes, and public facilities?
33. Problem: Technology addiction
- Solution #1: Does the problem of technology addiction begin at home? Should parents limit their children’s use of technology?
- Solution #2: Should schools encourage the use of more technology in the classroom? Should schools teach students about responsible use of technology?
- Solution #3: Should there be more technology-free zones in public? Would such zones help people leave their devices behind and thus lessen the effects of addiction?
34. Problem: Photoshopped images and self-esteem
- Solution #1: Should advertisers and publishers be required to limit the use of Photoshop or clearly state that images are digitally altered? Would these steps reduce body image concerns, particularly among young people?
- Solution #2: Would educational programs help young people understand that Photoshopped images are generally not attainable? Does self-esteem improve when companies show real people with more attainable body shapes?
35. Problem: Stress
- Solution #1: Should employers offer free or low-cost programs to help employees manage stress? Should employers offer additional sick and/or vacation days to help employees destress? Would this create a more productive workforce?
- Solution #2: Do practices such as meditation, soft music, and dietary changes help reduce stress?
- Solution #3: Should people make an effort to engage in more physical activity in order to alleviate stress?
Example problem-solution essays on health
Problem-Solution Topics—Off the Beaten Path: Ingenious Tips for College Students
Is your professor lenient on topics? Are you allowed to be a little more creative (and a whole lot less serious) when writing a problem-solution essay?
If so, try one of these five unique problem-solution topics that may allow you to express more of your creative talents.
36. Problem: Messy dorm room
- Solution #1: Could you hire a friend to clean your room? Could you hold a cleaning party? Should you call Mom and ask her to help clean?
- Solution #2: Do cleaning charts help organize tasks and actually help keep the space clean?
- Solution #3: Should you just get rid of almost everything in your dorm room and start again with a clean slate? Should you move to a new and cleaner space?
37. Problem: Forgot to study for an exam
- Solution #1: Could you ask your professor for an extension so that you can take the exam in a day or two? Should you try to convince all of your classmates to ask the professor to postpone the exam?
- Solution #2: Would it help to text everyone you know in class and ask them to help you cram before the test? Would they be willing to share their notes for you to review immediately before the test?
- Solution #3: Should you go to the doctor so that you have a doctor’s excuse that would allow you to make up the exam?
38. Problem: Loud neighbors
- Solution #1: Should you speak with them calmly and explain that you need quiet time to study, meditate, or just sleep? Should you bang on the door and yell loudly to get your point across?
- Solution #2: Should you avoid talking to your neighbors altogether and simply call the police?
- Solution #3: Could you soundproof your walls? Can you live in your space wearing noise-canceling headphones at all times?
- Solution #4: Should you ask to join the party and join in on the fun? (After all, you can always sleep or study later.)
39. Problem: Boring lectures
- Solution #1: Would asking your professor to create more interesting lectures actually inspire your professor to change his or her teaching strategy? Should you offer suggestions for more interesting lectures?
- Solution #2: Should you try drawing pictures, writing poetry, or taking creative notes to help pass the time as your professor rambles on?
- Solution #3: Should you drop the class and look for a professor with more engaging lectures? Is it too late to get into another class?
- Solution #4: Should you do nothing and accept the fact that sometimes you have to suffer through boring lectures?
40. Problem: No food in fridge
- Solution #1: Should you order a pizza? Should you do your grocery shopping online and have it delivered to your room?
- Solution #2: Should you save money and simply go to a friend’s place, hoping that he or she will feed you?
Example problem-solution essays on topics off the beaten path
Hopefully these problem-solution essay topics will make it easier to get started on your paper. And if you’re looking for help with the finer points of the problem-solution essay, don’t miss these resources:
I also recommend reading the posts below to give that extra boost to your writing style:
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