I have seen posts where the OP states a problem, and it is closed as being unclear.

As an engineer, I've been trained to "State the Problem." A question does not necessarily need to be answered the way it was asked.

To me, a problem is a "more open" question than an open ended question.


Q: Do you know what the speed limit is?
A: 55!

Problem: May pain level is very high and it slows me down!

This is not a question. It does not have an answer. It has multiple solutions. Perhaps, the question should be: How can I stop my Pain? Or it could be: How do I work faster? It could also be: Can you give me more time to complete the task?

So, can anyone explain to me the difference between a Problem Statement and Asking a Question?

  • Hello Scottie. I've flagged this post to be moved to Meta because it's not a question about the English language but a question about Stack Exchange's culture. You'll get a more detailed answer once it's there, but the gist is this: Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. It's a Q&A site. One-specific-question/one-best-answer. The "problem" you cite as example is, indeed, terrible for SE. I'm also an engineer, and the example is terrible anyway. Who's speaking? Why are they speaking (it isn't because they have pain, it's because they don't want it)? Without context, it can't be addressed.
    – JBH
    Feb 17, 2019 at 7:07
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    In the most simplistic terms, a question is a sentence with a question mark at the end of it. Feb 17, 2019 at 16:18
  • Yes, I know. :) But, it isn't always that way. It's the subtle differences I am looking for. If I have a "problem," I may not know enough about the solution to ask the appropriate question. Such as: "My car doesn't work." I may not be smart enough to realize that my battery is weak. If I did, I would ask "How can I check my Car Battery." See the difference?
    – Scottie H
    Feb 17, 2019 at 19:37
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    Stack exchange isn’t a free problem solving service. It is a knowledge sharing site. I’m certain a fellow Engineer can understand the distinction. We help people with the knowledge they need to design their solutions. That knowledge should also be useful for other people designing a solution with different constraints.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 21, 2019 at 17:41
  • I don't think lack of clarity is what separates questions and problems, questions can be unclear too. "How quick can I go?" could refer to the speed limit or it could refer to the speed a machine is capable of, or it could even mean how soon can I leave. Isn't a question a sentence that is asking for a particular response, an answer?
    – Al Maki
    Feb 24, 2019 at 18:58
  • Well, @ColleenV, I still have difficulty with the distinction, because they are the same to me.
    – Scottie H
    Feb 25, 2019 at 19:06
  • @Al Maki: You grasp the concept of the question. You seem to hit on it. ".. a particular response ..." That seems to be the sticking point for me. In order to ask the 'question,' I have to know they type of answer I want. But, if I am ignorant enough of the situation, I cannot intelligently phrase the question, I only know that I have a problem. "Therin lies the rub," as Shakespeare would say.
    – Scottie H
    Feb 25, 2019 at 19:06
  • @ScottieH You don’t understand the difference between solving a problem and gaining knowledge? i.e. the difference between engineering and science? The guidelines for asking a “good” question on EL&U are well-documented. Why do you think calling something a “problem statement” excuses the author from having to share what they’ve already done to try to solve their problem and provide enough detail for us to understand the context of the problem?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 25, 2019 at 19:19
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    @ScottieH Ursula LeGuin once wrote that the problem is finding the right question. Then the answer will come tagging behind like the tail behind a sheep. I often find that finding the right question is an iterative and lengthy process, at least when the problem is interesting.
    – Al Maki
    Feb 26, 2019 at 16:31
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    @AlMaki I think you've hit the nail on the head. Asking a question pre-supposes a type of answer. A problem statement does not. Both are ways of finding new knowledge.
    – Scottie H
    Feb 27, 2019 at 1:10

1 Answer 1


From a practical point of view, your example "problem statement" doesn't give us any clue what kind of response the speaker is looking for. Do they want information on how to reduce the pain? Or how to increase speed in the face of the pain? Maybe they just want some commiseration and a hug? We can't tell.

In real life, or on a discussion forum, that might not be a problem, because we can just keep offering solutions until the person with the problem either gets what they want or goes away.

But on Stack Exchange we want to all members to be able to judge and rank answers, independently of the original poster. Without a clear question, it's impossible for anyone but the OP to say whether a given response is anywhere near the target.

  • 4
    Also don’t forget that we’re trying to build a library of questions and their answers. Neither the example question nor the problem statement as written are useful to anyone other than the author even if we could guess at a suitable answer. A question that had many equally viable but widely varying answers is most likely not a good fit for our purpose.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 21, 2019 at 17:39

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