Parts of a problem frame can be more or less than a single sentence

When you write a problem frame, occasionally each of the problem frame pieces will be a stand-alone sentence. But more often, some or all of the parts of the problem frame will be more or less than a single sentence. Knowing how familiar your readers are with your topic and how complicated your arguments are will help you decide whether each part needs to be a phrase, a single sentence, or a few sentences.

The problem frame below is taken from a paper about the monuments in Jerusalem. In this example, each part of the problem frame is given its own sentence.

Click on each sentence to see which part of the problem frame it represents. As you read, ask yourself:

  • Is this problem clearly presented?
  • What information do you think should be more fully explained?

Though Jerusalem is the birthplace of three faiths, it is also the site and source of conflicts between the people of these faiths. But factors like poor management, tourism, and uncontrolled urban development during the twentieth-century have endangered many of Jerusalem’s most famous religious monuments. Not taking care of these monuments could intensify the conflict between these groups. In order to preserve these historical and religious sites, the city of Jerusalem should create open public spaces.

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This writer includes each part of the problem frame, as you can see in the color-coded version below:

Though Jerusalem is the birthplace of three faiths, it is also the site and source of conflicts between the people of these faiths. But factors like poor management, tourism, and uncontrolled urban development during the twentieth-century have endangered many of Jerusalem’s most famous religious monuments. Not taking care of these monuments could intensify the conflict between these groups. In order to preserve these historical and religious sites, the city of Jerusalem should create open public spaces.

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Most readers think that this paragraph jumps from topic to topic and is difficult to follow. This difficulty arises because each piece of this problem frame needs more explanation. For instance, while many readers are familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they might not know much about the factors endangering the monuments in Jerusalem. Without understanding this point, readers might struggle to see the connection between preserving historic sites and creating open public spaces. Such readers would need more explanation to understand how this writer frames her argument.

Here is a revised version of the same problem frame. Click on each section in order to see which part of the problem frame it represents.

Though Jerusalem is the birthplace of three faiths, it is also the site and source of conflicts between the people of these faiths. The Arab-Israeli Conflict, which began in the late 1940s, has endangered many of the over 220 holy sites located in Jerusalem. Yet Israeli-Palestinian violence is not the only threat to these religious monuments. In 1982 Jerusalem was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, which cited poor management, tourism, and uncontrolled urban development as the biggest threats. Continued deterioration of these religious sites could intensify the conflict between the already warring groups as certain faiths might see the destruction of their monuments as religiously motivated and could retaliate, causing further damage. The fragile nature of inter-faith relations in Israel means that the preservation of these sites is of the utmost importance. The best way to safeguard these monuments and alleviate the opportunity for conflict is to designate the monuments in Jerusalem as open, public spaces. Then the city of Jerusalem could use public tax dollars to preserve the monuments, and the increased freedom of access would make multiple groups feel connected to and responsible for the religious sites. This shared sense of community would be good for the monuments and for Israel and Palestine.

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As you can see in this color-coded version, each piece of this revised problem frame is more than one sentence:

Though Jerusalem is the birthplace of three faiths, it is also the site and source of conflicts between the people of these faiths. The Arab-Israeli Conflict, which began in the late 1940s, has endangered many of the over 220 holy sites located in Jerusalem. Yet Israeli-Palestinian violence is not the only threat to these religious monuments. In 1982 Jerusalem was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, which cited poor management, tourism, and uncontrolled urban development as the biggest threats. Continued deterioration of these religious sites could intensify the conflict between the already warring groups as certain faiths might see the destruction of their monuments as religiously motivated and could retaliate, causing further damage. The fragile nature of inter-faith relations in Israel means that the preservation of these sites is of the utmost importance. The best way to safeguard these monuments and alleviate the opportunity for conflict is to designate the monuments in Jerusalem as open, public spaces. Then the city of Jerusalem could use public tax dollars to preserve the monuments, and the increased freedom of access would make multiple groups feel connected to and responsible for the religious sites. This shared sense of community would be good for the monuments and for Israel and Palestine.

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In this revision the context for the problem is fully explained, and so are the implications of the destabilizing condition and the costs and consequences. Finally, in order to address each issue raised in the problem frame—Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lack of oversight of the monuments, and the possibility that further damage to the monuments could spark conflict in an already unstable situation—the claim has been expanded to three sentences.

In this case, the writer needed to expand on each part of the problem frame, making each part more than one sentence. But sometimes the parts of the problem frame can be less than a sentence, as in this problem frame about the role of the media in public service. Click on each sentence to see which part of the problem frame it represents.

Thomas Jefferson defined government by the people as “every man of ripe years and sane mind . . . contribut[ing] either by his purse or person to the support of his country.”1 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel argue that journalism’s “primary purpose” is to provide the general public with the information they need in order to fulfill this definition of self-government.2 Unfortunately, in today’s contentious political climate many people feel like they have been pushed out of public debate. This has left many feeling disenfranchised, but journalists can use the power of the pen to rectify this situation. In order to resuscitate our failing democracy, journalists should act as representatives for the public and provide spaces and resources for them to voice their opinions.


1 Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Lipscomb and Bergh. (Washington D.C.: D. C. Jefferson Memorial Association,1823), Volume 15, 482.
2Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2001), 12.

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In this paragraph the destabilizing condition is one sentence, but the claim and common ground each spans multiple sentences. The costs and consequences, because they’re easy for most readers to grasp, take up only part of a sentence:

Thomas Jefferson defined government by the people as “every man of ripe years and sane mind . . . contribut[ing] either by his purse or person to the support of his country.”1 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel argue that journalism’s “primary purpose” is to provide the general public with the information they need in order to fulfill this definition of self-government.2 Unfortunately, in today’s contentious political climate many people feel like they have been pushed out of public debate. This has left many feeling disenfranchised, but journalists can use the power of the pen to rectify this situation. In order to resuscitate our failing democracy, journalists should act as representatives for the public and provide spaces and resources for them to voice their opinions.


1 Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Lipscomb and Bergh. (Washington D.C.: D. C. Jefferson Memorial Association,1823), Volume 15, 482.
2Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2001), 12.

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The more familiar your readers are with your problem or the more straightforward your problem is, the shorter the parts of the problem frame will be. In this example, most readers can intuit that if large number of “people feel like they have been pushed out of public debate,” then those people “will feel disenfranchised.” This common-sense connection means that this writer can present her costs and consequences very concisely.