Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Issue and Problem

problemIssue vs Problem

What strokes the most prominent difference between issue and problem is the solution. When you have an issue, you generally can readily come up with the solution. Often, you even know how you would solve an issue before it even presents itself. A problem, on the other hand, is not something that you can solve without forethought, and even a certain amount of guesswork.

Size often dictates the difference between an issue and a problem. An issue is smaller, not life altering, and it doesn’t present such a degree of difficulty that you have to seek out the counsel of others in order to figure out the impact of the issue. A problem is larger in scale, often large enough to alter your life either temporarily or permanently. A problem can easily require the advice and guidance of those around you, in order to solve it.

An issue is a factor that might cause you some annoyance. A problem can impact people and situations around you, even if they are not directly related to the problem. For instance, forgetting your lunch is an issue, but losing your job is a problem.

On a corporate or governmental level, an issue is something that can be handled behind closed doors, impacting no one but the people of highest authority in the situation. A problem involves information that must be released, because there will be cause to involve employees, or citizens, in the solution to the problem.

An issue also holds potential. When you discover that there is great potential for a situation to have a large impact, it is still, by definition, an issue. The issue mutates into a problem when the potential is realized. For instance, when a restaurant chef realizes that part of the batch of fish they are serving for the night has gone bad, they have an issue, because it holds the potential to make a lot of people sick, cause people to sue, and ruin the establishment’s reputation. If no one has eaten, or has had a bad reaction to the fish, then it remains an issue. Once someone becomes ill and accusations start to surface, the issue is now a problem.

Summary:

· An issue has a readily recognizable solution.

· Problems are life altering, temporarily or permanently.

· Issues bear only a slight impact.

· Issues cause personal annoyance.

· Problems cause others to be affected.

· Issues can be handled privately.

· Problems must be handled openly, in order to resolve them in government or business capacities.

· An issue may have the potential to cause harm.

· A problem develops when the harm or impact begins to surface.


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20 Comments

  1. I don’t mean to be rude but how accurate is the article. It’s just i got the impression that issue is much more major than a problem but your article implies otherwise. A part from that i think this article is great! It clearly distinguishes the two making it much easier for me to understand.

    • i got the same information that the problem can be fixed unlike an issue which has to be dealt with.

    • This article is simply wrong. This is some made-up management-speak that fails to recognise that “problem” and “issue” are completely unrelated. It is the politically correct, euphamism-loving and corporate psycho-babble that has decided that “issue” is more acceptable a word than “problem”, and which it is intended to supplant.

      A problem is – a problem: it’s something that needs to be resolved, something that is a barrier to success, something that is negative. As issue is a topic, a matter, a subject of debate. The two are completely unrelated.

      The frightening thing is that people read this sort of rubbish printed above and take it in unquestioningly. When you hear the weather forecaster on BBC1 saying “The weather won’t cause you any issues tomorrow” you know that the issue of word misuse has become a real problem.

  2. The problem with this article is that it does not address the issue of the misuse of the word issue to mean “problem”
    An word ” issue ” implies a degree of conflict ( usually of opinion ).
    An issue can be a problem to the parties involved.
    A problem can become an issue if there is disagreement about how to resolve it.

    So – I take issue with the author about their article implying that “issue” means a lesser degree of problem.
    The problem is that the word has been subject to so much popular misuse, by people who want a word to mean “minor problem” , that there is now probably no way back to resolve the confusions caused by this “new” use of the word.
    After all it does have several other meanings – but the usually isn’t a problem with knowing what is meant as the context invariably makes that clear.
    e.g. … ” I have just issued my latest rant about this issue of “issue”, hope fully to be published in the next issue of this admirable website…”

  3. Issue vs problem?? Seriously?? There is no difference between an issue and a problem. And this article illustrates what’s been wrong with this industry: constant battles over semantics and terminology for the sake of terminology. As far as I’m concerned you need to do what works for you and stop evangelizing in order to justify your (possibly precarious) position on this matter.

    In my view everything starts as a issue. Depending on the time frame, impact and scope, it will be categorized as one of the following:

    - a risk (potential future issue)
    - a defect (current issue who’s scope is in your immediate application scope, is of your team’s making, and is within your ability to directly remediate)
    - a note/lesson learned (Knowledge stemming from a past issue that you deem that should be captured for future reference)
    - an inquiry (manifestation of uncertainty in the product or process)

    You may not agree, and that’s alright. But a simpler process is better, and I bet my metrics are better than yours ; )

  4. It looks as if this might be a transatlantic issue.

    To say there is no difference between a problem and an issue is to miss a fundamental and very useful distinction .. at least, in British English. American may be simpler.

    I suspect the use of issue to mean a small problem came from a desire to find a euphemism where it was not wanted to admit that there was an actual problem.

    I’s a shame that this is now current usage among certain groups, and now it’s difficult to ascertain whether or not there is the degree of conflict implied by the use of issue to mean problem.

    One last example from a typical Formula One commentary … ” Hamilton has an issue with his car’s handling ” … No he doesn’t … a car is a machine … he may very well have an issue with his team for not setting up the car right … but with his car – he has a problem…

    See the scope for confusion ??

  5. At some point in the recent past, someone decided that it was no longer acceptable for a person to say what he or she means; it was no longer acceptable to speak in precise, direct words. And what’s worse, someone, somewhere decided that we should all be offended when someone calls a problem a problem! Everything has to be translated into some sort of euphemism. I don’t really know why it started, but can we please stop referring to every problem as an issue?
    An employee no longer has a problem keeping up with production; he has a productivity issue. A child no longer behaves badly; he has a behavioural issue. A married couple no longer argue; they have marital issues.
    Bad weather now causes performance issues on the football field and traffic issues on the road; and a basketball player who twists his foot has an ankle issue. I’m not sure what’s so offensive about discussing traffic problems, ankle injury, or simply poor football. Is it just me?
    The problem (that is, what’s wrong) with substituting issue for problem is that those two words are not synonymous and no amount of being politically correct, disingenuous, or even condescending will make it so.
    An issue is a topic; a subject for discussion. For example “the candidates will discuss the issue of university fees at the debate”. That means that the candidates will debate the various topics, subject areas (both for and against) involved in charging students for their education.
    A problem is something negative. A problem is something that needs to be solved. A problem is something that we try to overcome. A problem is something that we don’t want. There, I’ve said it. And it feels great.
    An issue is not a problem, but I’ll tell you what is a problem: the grammatically incorrect trend of telling someone that he has an issue when what you really mean is that he has a problem. Call it what it is, and it’ll be easier to solve.

    • Excellent John.

      You made it absolutely clear. Thanks. there are clear disfferences between these terms, and it is better that we know what they are and recogtnise and call them what they are. That way we can deal with them better. I read a couple of other so called ‘difference articles’ which make them even more confusing and the writers pretty confused but believing that they understand.

      I just want to add one more small clarification.

      A problem can be solved – there is a solution.

      An issue has to be resolved, not solved and there is no solution to an issue. but often we seem to say that the issue was solved !!

      I am writing from Sri Lanka, where people are talking about an ‘ethnic problem’; and arguing to find a solution. I can see why there is no solution, because what we have is an ethnic issue, that needs to be resolved by discussion, and agreements.

  6. Let me jump in here – as an Arts and Letters graduate of Old College (Trinity), Dublin – considered by most to be the pre-eminent academic institution in the study of the English language…

    The authors are exactly correct. An “issue” is an annoyance, is usually a matter of opinion, and subject to interpretation. A “problem” (in software and computer science generally) is a demonstrable failure, shortcoming, or malfunction; needing resolution by corrective action. It is not debatable (at least by those with sufficient knowledge and education to be considered authoritative on the subject, take those who “debate” and “question” the reality of Man Induced Global Warming as an example…), nor can it be ignored if correct and proper operation is the goal.

    The fact that the majority of American young people are now very poorly educated coupled with the nauseating rise of “politically correct” speech that obfuscates any sort of criticism, or even factual observation, does not change the reality of the English language, or reality itself. A previous post states this beautifully.

    Speak the truth! Not liking a car’s colour is an issue. Having a dead car battery is a problem. Not knowing the difference between the two is also a problem, not an issue…

  7. I feel that this article is not very accurate. To my understanding an issue is debatable while a problem is not. For example:
    Problem: your dog ran away (can’t really do anything about it)
    Issue: animal cruelty (can debate a number of possibble solutions)

    • Exactly. An issue is a topic for discussion whereas a problem is an obvious impediment to a situation. The misuse is issue for problem is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

  8. This is the worst attempt to define these two words I have ever read. One more example of why it is important to vet information obatined on the Internet!

  9. You may have a problem, as I do, with misuse of the word “issue” but you have used “impact” as a verb in the third paragraph.

    Impact is a noun.

    http://languageandgrammar.com/2008/02/13/more-on-impact/

  10. In terms off needing a defined statement and keeping it simple.

    Problems and issues in some aspects differ. A problem can be regarded as unacceptable therefore means that an action can change the “problem” for the best. Action being the key word. You have to do something to fix it. An issue involves more work. It tends to have a difference of thinking amongst people. You might need to provide details on the resolution to the issue. It is a longer process. You may need to consult others.

    Ask whether feelings and personal opinions are involved, if they are than address it as an issue. A problem needs some type of an action to be done to be resolved and doesn’t always need (as stated above) advice or guidance.

    Example of a problem: A student trying to study and their roomate plays loud music.

    Example of an issue: A public school teacher having her students pray in class.

  11. Hey guys, I talk from Brasil, and I reached this site because while I was studying english and there is an article with the following head;
    - ISSUES IN EDUCATION

    Not by point of view of this article here, but from comments, should I understand different meaning for;
    - ISSUES IN EDUCATION
    and
    - PROBLEMS IN EDUCATION

    ???

    Maybe, “ISSUES IN EDUCATION” is matter of debate, where people with different point of view, talk about education and its “problems”.
    In other hands, “PROBLEMS IN/ON EDUCATION”, means, refer to specific problems found, where might, the speaker know the problem and has a solution or a suggestion.

    Please, am I right? Do I have a problem on my understanding (misunderstand)?

    Help me!

    • Hi Jean,
      The article’s context will tell you whether it’s a discussion of topics relevant to education (i.e. “issues”), or a discussion of topics which are negatively affecting education (i.e “problems”). The author’s purpose for writing the article (discussion of issues vs. discussion of problems) is usually clearly made in the opening paragraph that introduces the article. For instance, financial budgets, access to schools, teacher quality, etc. are all topics that are relevant to education but are not necessarily “problems” unless the author is taking that position.
      Simply put, if the author is summarizing the types of “things” that can affect education without specifying that the effects are bad, then “Issues In Education” would be an appropriate title. If the author expresses that the effects are bad, then the better title would be: “Problems In Education”.
      Let us know if the difference still isn’t clear.

      Best,
      Jason

    • Dear Jean

      You are absolutely right. “Issue” and “problem” are NOT the same word. An issue is something for consideration, for debate; a topic; a matter to talk about. A problem is – a problem! It’s something to surmount, to solve, to resolve. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that there is little or no difference between the words: they are two completely differ
      Fervent and not synonymous, words. People use “issue” in business/organisations; and it is a word that has entered the management-speak/psychobabble dictionary. But it is wrong. I am an English teacher of British English. I hope this has helped. Yours sincerely Andrew Staton

  12. Andrew – that’s the best and clearest explanation yet.

  13. A problem is something that is difficult to deal with and requires some type of problem solving. “Issue” is a word that people began using a few years ago instead of “problem” because they think the word problem sounds “too negative.” Which it is. A problem implies that something is wrong and something needs to be fixed.

    An issue, on the other hand, is a subject or topic for discussion. Issues are raised. Issues are not experienced. Or caused. Or solved. Problems are.

    People who are trying to convey that something is not the way it should be ideally, should use the word “problem” because that’s what that word actually means.

    Go ahead and look at anything written ten or twenty years ago. You will see that when the writer is describing some type of problem, he or she will use the word “problem” to descvribe the problem. Never “issue.” Because that’s not what the word issue means, or not what it meant for the majority of its existence in the English language.

    When people use “issue” to mean “problem” they are weakening the English language, and it’s pretty obvious that this change that is weakening our language was handed down from idiot PR departments of corporations who don’t want to “sound negative” when discussing how their products aren’t working. At some point someone issued (notice the word issue there . . . used correctly) a memo saying “Do not use the term ‘problem’ when communicating to customers. Use ‘issue.’

    So now people routinely and idiotically say things like “double clicking may cause an issue” or “customers may experience issues.”

    This is BS. Customers will experience problems. Something isn’t working. It’s a problem. Stop obfuscating the language in the interest of not “sounding negative” about reality.

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