Online Writing Lab

The Problem-Reducing Essay

A problem-reducing essay is often referred to as a problem-solving (or problem-solution) essay.  While these terms are interchangeable, the term problem-reducing is generally preferred since many problems cannot be completely solved but can often be reduced.  Thus, the goal of a problem-reducing essay isn’t to find the perfect solution for a particular problem, but instead the goal is to find the best solution. 

Topic selection is particularly important when writing a problem-reducing essay.  As a writer, your goal is to find a topic that is big enough to impact others, but isn’t so big that it cannot be successfully managed with a few pages of writing.  For instance, your personal lack of spending money is too narrow of a topic since it does not impact others, and global poverty is too big and complex of an issue to successfully manage.  It is also important to avoid issues that have obvious solutions. 

The best topics for this type of essay are local-based issues such as city or county issues, neighborhood issues, or issues that affect your particular college campus.  It is sometimes possible to find a local focus to a larger issue.   For example, if you are interested in writing about healthcare, this topic may work if the focus is narrowed.  An essay that attempts to solve or reduce the national healthcare problem is too broad, but perhaps you can write about how your community or college campus can provide better and more affordable healthcare for young adults or students.   As always, consult with your instructor before committing to a particular topic. 

Before a problem can be solved or reduced, it must first be demonstrated that the problem actually exists.  Additionally, it is often important to evaluate several possible solutions and show why one particular solution is the best.  Therefore, a problem-reducing essay generally follows the following format:

  • Step One:  Demonstrate that a problem exists.  This means fully describing the problem by showing what the causes and effects of the problem are, who is affected by the problem, why the current solution(s) is not working, and why it is a problem that requires a new and innovative solution. 
  • Step Two:  Evaluate possible solutions.  What are some of the solutions that have been proposed? What has been tried in the past to solve or reduce this problem?  What worked and what didn’t?  Why were some of the solutions more effective than others?  Why have none of the solutions led to an acceptable solution?
  • Step Three:  Describe the ideal solution and demonstrate why it is the best.  Why is this particular solution better than the others?  How does it more adequately address the problem?  What resources are needed to make this solution work?  How/why will it adequately solve the problem? 

It is also important to be honest about the ideal solution that is presented.  In other words, don't hesitate to point out some of the drawbacks that come with this particular solution. Just be sure to show how even with these problems, it is still a better solution than others.  Remember, the solution is often the best one, not the perfect one.