How to Identify the Problem and Solution in a Reading Selection

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  • 0:02 How to Identify…
  • 1:59 Problem & Solution Example
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Informational texts can be arranged in a variety of ways. In this lesson, we'll discuss how to identify the problem/solution structure. We will look at key words used and an example that uses this format.

How to Identify Problem and Solution

Informational texts, such as news articles, arrange facts and details in a specific way. Text structure refers to how the information in a text is organized. One way that it can be organized is using a problem/solution structure so that the problem is stated and one or more possible solutions are explained. This way of organizing a text can be done for just one paragraph or for an entire news article or textbook chapter.

For example, one might read an article about a consistent littering issue within a community that's being solved by a clean-up crew. Or, a science chapter in a textbook might discuss different types of pollution, including a problem/solution paragraph about the issue of overflowing landfills and how recycling can help remedy the situation before going on to discuss the causes and effects of pollution.

Using this format, the author presents a problem that needs to be solved. A problem can involve one person, be between two people or between different groups. Or, it might be a national or global issue. Being able to identify the problem and solution structure helps readers better comprehend and remember the information covered in a reading selection because they have to:

  • Identify the issue
  • Explain how people tried to resolve it or how it was actually resolved
  • Recognize which details expand on the problem, which expand on the solution and which ones are not important to the main idea of the text

In order to identify the problem and solution structure in a text, the reader needs to look for signal words and phrases such as:

  • Problem
  • The dilemma is
  • Issue
  • To solve this
  • To address this
  • Solution
  • Challenges
  • Proposed solution
  • Difficulties
  • Resolve
  • Repair
  • Remedy
  • One answer is

Problem and Solution Example

Let's look at an example of an article written using the problem/solution structure. CNN journalist Dean Irvine wrote an article entitled Hong Kong's Mounting Food Waste Problem. Here are a couple of excerpts from it:

'Nestled among the granite peaks of eastern Hong Kong, a new, man-made mountain is emerging.'

Irvine goes on to describe the landfill, which will be up to 100 meters high when the site is full:

'While plans to expand some sites are being proposed and a controversial mega-incinerator project remains a possibility, focus in the city is turning to how to reduce the amount of waste it produces.'

The problem is clearly introduced through the mention of a 'new, man-made mountain' and then details about this landfill are provided. Possible solutions are touched on and the word 'proposed' is used to hint at a suggested solution. 'How to reduce' also conveys the need to find a solution to this specific issue.

'The local government has created a task-force to address the issue of food waste and set a 10% reduction target by 2016. Globally, only around 3% of food waste is recycled.'

The phrase 'to address the issue' is used, signaling to the reader that the problem/solution structure is being used and pointing to a possible solution.

'Carol Lin is an assistant professor at City University of Hong Kong and is developing a process that turns bread products into... a compound that can be used to create bioplastics and eco-friendly detergents… .' 'I think this is an innovative solution for trying to use biorefinery to tackle food waste in Hong Kong,' she said.'

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