Writing Limitations of Research Study — 4 Reasons Why It Is Important!
It is not unusual for researchers to come across the term limitations of research during their academic paper writing. More often this is interpreted as something terrible. However, when it comes to research study, limitations can help structure the research study better. Therefore, do not underestimate significance of limitations of research study.
Allow us to take you through the context of how to evaluate the limits of your research and conclude an impactful relevance to your results.
Table of Contents
What Are the Limitations of a Research Study?
Every research has its limit and these limitations arise due to restrictions in methodology or research design. This could impact your entire research or the research paper you wish to publish. Unfortunately, most researchers choose not to discuss their limitations of research fearing it will affect the value of their article in the eyes of readers.
However, it is very important to discuss your study limitations and show it to your target audience (other researchers, journal editors, peer reviewers etc.). It is very important that you provide an explanation of how your research limitations may affect the conclusions and opinions drawn from your research. Moreover, when as an author you state the limitations of research, it shows that you have investigated all the weaknesses of your study and have a deep understanding of the subject. Being honest could impress your readers and mark your study as a sincere effort in research.
Why and Where Should You Include the Research Limitations?
The main goal of your research is to address your research objectives. Conduct experiments, get results and explain those results, and finally justify your research question . It is best to mention the limitations of research in the discussion paragraph of your research article.
At the very beginning of this paragraph, immediately after highlighting the strengths of the research methodology, you should write down your limitations. You can discuss specific points from your research limitations as suggestions for further research in the conclusion of your thesis.
1. Common Limitations of the Researchers
Limitations that are related to the researcher must be mentioned. This will help you gain transparency with your readers. Furthermore, you could provide suggestions on decreasing these limitations in you and your future studies.
2. Limited Access to Information
Your work may involve some institutions and individuals in research, and sometimes you may have problems accessing these institutions. Therefore, you need to redesign and rewrite your work. You must explain your readers the reason for limited access.
3. Limited Time
All researchers are bound by their deadlines when it comes to completing their studies. Sometimes, time constraints can affect your research negatively. However, the best practice is to acknowledge it and mention a requirement for future study to solve the research problem in a better way.
4. Conflict over Biased Views and Personal Issues
Biased views can affect the research. In fact, researchers end up choosing only those results and data that support their main argument, keeping aside the other loose ends of the research.
Types of Limitations of Research
Before beginning your research study, know that there are certain limitations to what you are testing or possible research results. There are different types that researchers may encounter, and they all have unique characteristics, such as:
1. Research Design Limitations
Certain restrictions on your research or available procedures may affect your final results or research outputs. You may have formulated research goals and objectives too broadly. However, this can help you understand how you can narrow down the formulation of research goals and objectives, thereby increasing the focus of your study.
2. Impact Limitations
Even if your research has excellent statistics and a strong design, it can suffer from the influence of the following factors:
- Presence of increasing findings as researched
- Being population specific
- A strong regional focus.
3. Data or statistical limitations
In some cases, it is impossible to collect sufficient data for research or very difficult to get access to the data. This could lead to incomplete conclusion to your study. Moreover, this insufficiency in data could be the outcome of your study design. The unclear, shabby research outline could produce more problems in interpreting your findings.
How to Correctly Structure Your Research Limitations?
There are strict guidelines for narrowing down research questions, wherein you could justify and explain potential weaknesses of your academic paper. You could go through these basic steps to get a well-structured clarity of research limitations:
- Declare that you wish to identify your limitations of research and explain their importance,
- Provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices.
- Write how you are suggesting that it is possible to overcome them in the future.
In this section, your readers will see that you are aware of the potential weaknesses in your business, understand them and offer effective solutions, and it will positively strengthen your article as you clarify all limitations of research to your target audience.
Know that you cannot be perfect and there is no individual without flaws. You could use the limitations of research as a great opportunity to take on a new challenge and improve the future of research. In a typical academic paper, research limitations may relate to:
1. Formulating your goals and objectives
If you formulate goals and objectives too broadly, your work will have some shortcomings. In this case, specify effective methods or ways to narrow down the formula of goals and aim to increase your level of study focus.
2. Application of your data collection methods in research
If you do not have experience in primary data collection, there is a risk that there will be flaws in the implementation of your methods. It is necessary to accept this, and learn and educate yourself to understand data collection methods.
3. Sample sizes
This depends on the nature of problem you choose. Sample size is of a greater importance in quantitative studies as opposed to qualitative ones. If your sample size is too small, statistical tests cannot identify significant relationships or connections within a given data set.
You could point out that other researchers should base the same study on a larger sample size to get more accurate results.
4. The absence of previous studies in the field you have chosen
Writing a literature review is an important step in any scientific study because it helps researchers determine the scope of current work in the chosen field. It is a major foundation for any researcher who must use them to achieve a set of specific goals or objectives.
However, if you are focused on the most current and evolving research problem or a very narrow research problem, there may be very little prior research on your topic. For example, if you chose to explore the role of Bitcoin as the currency of the future, you may not find tons of scientific papers addressing the research problem as Bitcoins are only a new phenomenon.
It is important that you learn to identify research limitations examples at each step. Whatever field you choose, feel free to add the shortcoming of your work. This is mainly because you do not have many years of experience writing scientific papers or completing complex work. Therefore, the depth and scope of your discussions may be compromised at different levels compared to academics with a lot of expertise. Include specific points from limitations of research. Use them as suggestions for the future.
Have you ever faced a challenge of writing the limitations of research study in your paper? How did you overcome it? What ways did you follow? Were they beneficial? Let us know in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
Setting limitations in our study helps to clarify the outcomes drawn from our research and enhance understanding of the subject. Moreover, it shows that the author has investigated all the weaknesses in the study.
Scope is the range and limitations of a research project which are set to define the boundaries of a project. Limitations are the impacts on the overall study due to the constraints on the research design.
Limitation in research is an impact of a constraint on the research design in the overall study. They are the flaws or weaknesses in the study, which may influence the outcome of the research.
1. Limitations in research can be written as follows: Formulate your goals and objectives 2. Analyze the chosen data collection method and the sample sizes 3. Identify your limitations of research and explain their importance 4. Provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices 5. Write how you are suggesting that it is possible to overcome them in the future
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How to Present the Limitations of the Study Examples
What are the limitations of a study?
The limitations of a study are the elements of methodology or study design that impact the interpretation of your research results. The limitations essentially detail any flaws or shortcomings in your study. Study limitations can exist due to constraints on research design, methodology, materials, etc., and these factors may impact the findings of your study. However, researchers are often reluctant to discuss the limitations of their study in their papers, feeling that bringing up limitations may undermine its research value in the eyes of readers and reviewers.
In spite of the impact it might have (and perhaps because of it) you should clearly acknowledge any limitations in your research paper in order to show readers—whether journal editors, other researchers, or the general public—that you are aware of these limitations and to explain how they affect the conclusions that can be drawn from the research.
In this article, we provide some guidelines for writing about research limitations, show examples of some frequently seen study limitations, and recommend techniques for presenting this information. And after you have finished drafting and have received manuscript editing for your work, you still might want to follow this up with academic editing before submitting your work to your target journal.
Why do I need to include limitations of research in my paper?
Although limitations address the potential weaknesses of a study, writing about them toward the end of your paper actually strengthens your study by identifying any problems before other researchers or reviewers find them.
Furthermore, pointing out study limitations shows that you’ve considered the impact of research weakness thoroughly and have an in-depth understanding of your research topic. Since all studies face limitations, being honest and detailing these limitations will impress researchers and reviewers more than ignoring them.
Where should I put the limitations of the study in my paper?
Some limitations might be evident to researchers before the start of the study, while others might become clear while you are conducting the research. Whether these limitations are anticipated or not, and whether they are due to research design or to methodology, they should be clearly identified and discussed in the discussion section —the final section of your paper. Most journals now require you to include a discussion of potential limitations of your work, and many journals now ask you to place this “limitations section” at the very end of your article.
Some journals ask you to also discuss the strengths of your work in this section, and some allow you to freely choose where to include that information in your discussion section—make sure to always check the author instructions of your target journal before you finalize a manuscript and submit it for peer review .
Limitations of the Study Examples
There are several reasons why limitations of research might exist. The two main categories of limitations are those that result from the methodology and those that result from issues with the researcher(s).
Common Methodological Limitations of Studies
Limitations of research due to methodological problems can be addressed by clearly and directly identifying the potential problem and suggesting ways in which this could have been addressed—and SHOULD be addressed in future studies. The following are some major potential methodological issues that can impact the conclusions researchers can draw from the research.
Issues with research samples and selection
Sampling errors occur when a probability sampling method is used to select a sample, but that sample does not reflect the general population or appropriate population concerned. This results in limitations of your study known as “sample bias” or “selection bias.”
For example, if you conducted a survey to obtain your research results, your samples (participants) were asked to respond to the survey questions. However, you might have had limited ability to gain access to the appropriate type or geographic scope of participants. In this case, the people who responded to your survey questions may not truly be a random sample.
Insufficient sample size for statistical measurements
When conducting a study, it is important to have a sufficient sample size in order to draw valid conclusions. The larger the sample, the more precise your results will be. If your sample size is too small, it will be difficult to identify significant relationships in the data.
Normally, statistical tests require a larger sample size to ensure that the sample is considered representative of a population and that the statistical result can be generalized to a larger population. It is a good idea to understand how to choose an appropriate sample size before you conduct your research by using scientific calculation tools—in fact, many journals now require such estimation to be included in every manuscript that is sent out for review.
Lack of previous research studies on the topic
Citing and referencing prior research studies constitutes the basis of the literature review for your thesis or study, and these prior studies provide the theoretical foundations for the research question you are investigating. However, depending on the scope of your research topic, prior research studies that are relevant to your thesis might be limited.
When there is very little or no prior research on a specific topic, you may need to develop an entirely new research typology. In this case, discovering a limitation can be considered an important opportunity to identify literature gaps and to present the need for further development in the area of study.
Methods/instruments/techniques used to collect the data
After you complete your analysis of the research findings (in the discussion section), you might realize that the manner in which you have collected the data or the ways in which you have measured variables has limited your ability to conduct a thorough analysis of the results.
For example, you might realize that you should have addressed your survey questions from another viable perspective, or that you were not able to include an important question in the survey. In these cases, you should acknowledge the deficiency or deficiencies by stating a need for future researchers to revise their specific methods for collecting data that includes these missing elements.
Common Limitations of the Researcher(s)
Study limitations that arise from situations relating to the researcher or researchers (whether the direct fault of the individuals or not) should also be addressed and dealt with, and remedies to decrease these limitations—both hypothetically in your study, and practically in future studies—should be proposed.
Limited access to data
If your research involved surveying certain people or organizations, you might have faced the problem of having limited access to these respondents. Due to this limited access, you might need to redesign or restructure your research in a different way. In this case, explain the reasons for limited access and be sure that your finding is still reliable and valid despite this limitation.
Just as students have deadlines to turn in their class papers, academic researchers might also have to meet deadlines for submitting a manuscript to a journal or face other time constraints related to their research (e.g., participants are only available during a certain period; funding runs out; collaborators move to a new institution). The time available to study a research problem and to measure change over time might be constrained by such practical issues. If time constraints negatively impacted your study in any way, acknowledge this impact by mentioning a need for a future study (e.g., a longitudinal study) to answer this research problem.
Conflicts arising from cultural bias and other personal issues
Researchers might hold biased views due to their cultural backgrounds or perspectives of certain phenomena, and this can affect a study’s legitimacy. Also, it is possible that researchers will have biases toward data and results that only support their hypotheses or arguments. In order to avoid these problems, the author(s) of a study should examine whether the way the research problem was stated and the data-gathering process was carried out appropriately.
Steps for Organizing Your Study Limitations Section
When you discuss the limitations of your study, don’t simply list and describe your limitations—explain how these limitations have influenced your research findings. There might be multiple limitations in your study, but you only need to point out and explain those that directly relate to and impact how you address your research questions.
We suggest that you divide your limitations section into three steps: (1) identify the study limitations; (2) explain how they impact your study in detail; and (3) propose a direction for future studies and present alternatives. By following this sequence when discussing your study’s limitations, you will be able to clearly demonstrate your study’s weakness without undermining the quality and integrity of your research.
Step 1. Identify the limitation(s) of the study
- This part should comprise around 10%-20% of your discussion of study limitations.
The first step is to identify the particular limitation(s) that affected your study. There are many possible limitations of research that can affect your study, but you don’t need to write a long review of all possible study limitations. A 200-500 word critique is an appropriate length for a research limitations section. In the beginning of this section, identify what limitations your study has faced and how important these limitations are.
You only need to identify limitations that had the greatest potential impact on: (1) the quality of your findings, and (2) your ability to answer your research question.
Step 2. Explain these study limitations in detail
- This part should comprise around 60-70% of your discussion of limitations.
After identifying your research limitations, it’s time to explain the nature of the limitations and how they potentially impacted your study. For example, when you conduct quantitative research, a lack of probability sampling is an important issue that you should mention. On the other hand, when you conduct qualitative research, the inability to generalize the research findings could be an issue that deserves mention.
Explain the role these limitations played on the results and implications of the research and justify the choice you made in using this “limiting” methodology or other action in your research. Also, make sure that these limitations didn’t undermine the quality of your dissertation .
Step 3. Propose a direction for future studies and present alternatives (optional)
- This part should comprise around 10-20% of your discussion of limitations.
After acknowledging the limitations of the research, you need to discuss some possible ways to overcome these limitations in future studies. One way to do this is to present alternative methodologies and ways to avoid issues with, or “fill in the gaps of” the limitations of this study you have presented. Discuss both the pros and cons of these alternatives and clearly explain why researchers should choose these approaches.
Make sure you are current on approaches used by prior studies and the impacts they have had on their findings. Cite review articles or scientific bodies that have recommended these approaches and why. This might be evidence in support of the approach you chose, or it might be the reason you consider your choices to be included as limitations. This process can act as a justification for your approach and a defense of your decision to take it while acknowledging the feasibility of other approaches.
P hrases and Tips for Introducing Your Study Limitations in the Discussion Section
The following phrases are frequently used to introduce the limitations of the study:
- “There may be some possible limitations in this study.”
- “The findings of this study have to be seen in light of some limitations.”
- “The first is the…The second limitation concerns the…”
- “The empirical results reported herein should be considered in the light of some limitations.”
- “This research, however, is subject to several limitations.”
- “The primary limitation to the generalization of these results is…”
- “Nonetheless, these results must be interpreted with caution and a number of limitations should be borne in mind.”
- “As with the majority of studies, the design of the current study is subject to limitations.”
- “There are two major limitations in this study that could be addressed in future research. First, the study focused on …. Second ….”
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- Diving Deeper into Limitations and Delimitations (PhD student)
- Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Limitations of the Study (USC Library)
- Research Limitations (Research Methodology)
- How to Present Limitations and Alternatives (UMASS)
Pearson-Stuttard, J., Kypridemos, C., Collins, B., Mozaffarian, D., Huang, Y., Bandosz, P.,…Micha, R. (2018). Estimating the health and economic effects of the proposed US Food and Drug Administration voluntary sodium reformulation: Microsimulation cost-effectiveness analysis. PLOS. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002551
Xu, W.L, Pedersen, N.L., Keller, L., Kalpouzos, G., Wang, H.X., Graff, C,. Fratiglioni, L. (2015). HHEX_23 AA Genotype Exacerbates Effect of Diabetes on Dementia and Alzheimer Disease: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study. PLOS. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001853
It is for sure that your research will have some limitations and it is normal. However, it is critically important for you to be striving to minimize the range of scope of limitations throughout the research process. Also, you need to provide the acknowledgement of your research limitations in conclusions chapter honestly.
It is always better to identify and acknowledge shortcomings of your work, rather than to leave them pointed out to your by your dissertation assessor. While discussing your research limitations, don’t just provide the list and description of shortcomings of your work. It is also important for you to explain how these limitations have impacted your research findings.
Your research may have multiple limitations, but you need to discuss only those limitations that directly relate to your research problems. For example, if conducting a meta-analysis of the secondary data has not been stated as your research objective, no need to mention it as your research limitation.
Research limitations in a typical dissertation may relate to the following points:
1. Formulation of research aims and objectives . You might have formulated research aims and objectives too broadly. You can specify in which ways the formulation of research aims and objectives could be narrowed so that the level of focus of the study could be increased.
2. Implementation of data collection method . Because you do not have an extensive experience in primary data collection (otherwise you would not be reading this book), there is a great chance that the nature of implementation of data collection method is flawed.
3. Sample size. Sample size depends on the nature of the research problem. If sample size is too small, statistical tests would not be able to identify significant relationships within data set. You can state that basing your study in larger sample size could have generated more accurate results. The importance of sample size is greater in quantitative studies compared to qualitative studies.
4. Lack of previous studies in the research area . Literature review is an important part of any research, because it helps to identify the scope of works that have been done so far in research area. Literature review findings are used as the foundation for the researcher to be built upon to achieve her research objectives.
However, there may be little, if any, prior research on your topic if you have focused on the most contemporary and evolving research problem or too narrow research problem. For example, if you have chosen to explore the role of Bitcoins as the future currency, you may not be able to find tons of scholarly paper addressing the research problem, because Bitcoins are only a recent phenomenon.
5. Scope of discussions . You can include this point as a limitation of your research regardless of the choice of the research area. Because (most likely) you don’t have many years of experience of conducing researches and producing academic papers of such a large size individually, the scope and depth of discussions in your paper is compromised in many levels compared to the works of experienced scholars.
You can discuss certain points from your research limitations as the suggestion for further research at conclusions chapter of your dissertation.
My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance offers practical assistance to complete a dissertation with minimum or no stress. The e-book covers all stages of writing a dissertation starting from the selection to the research area to submitting the completed version of the work within the deadline. John Dudovskiy
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The limitations of the study are those characteristics of design or methodology that impacted or influenced the interpretation of the findings from your research. Study limitations are the constraints placed on the ability to generalize from the results, to further describe applications to practice, and/or related to the utility of findings that are the result of the ways in which you initially chose to design the study or the method used to establish internal and external validity or the result of unanticipated challenges that emerged during the study.
Price, James H. and Judy Murnan. “Research Limitations and the Necessity of Reporting Them.” American Journal of Health Education 35 (2004): 66-67; Theofanidis, Dimitrios and Antigoni Fountouki. "Limitations and Delimitations in the Research Process." Perioperative Nursing 7 (September-December 2018): 155-163. .
Always acknowledge a study's limitations. It is far better that you identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor and have your grade lowered because you appeared to have ignored them or didn't know they existed.
Keep in mind that acknowledgment of a study's limitations is an opportunity to make suggestions for further research. If you do connect your study's limitations to suggestions for further research, be sure to explain the ways in which these unanswered questions may become more focused because of your study.
Acknowledgment of a study's limitations also provides you with opportunities to demonstrate that you have thought critically about the research problem, understood the relevant literature published about it, and correctly assessed the methods chosen for studying the problem. A key objective of the research process is not only discovering new knowledge but also to confront assumptions and explore what we don't know.
Claiming limitations is a subjective process because you must evaluate the impact of those limitations . Don't just list key weaknesses and the magnitude of a study's limitations. To do so diminishes the validity of your research because it leaves the reader wondering whether, or in what ways, limitation(s) in your study may have impacted the results and conclusions. Limitations require a critical, overall appraisal and interpretation of their impact. You should answer the question: do these problems with errors, methods, validity, etc. eventually matter and, if so, to what extent?
Price, James H. and Judy Murnan. “Research Limitations and the Necessity of Reporting Them.” American Journal of Health Education 35 (2004): 66-67; Structure: How to Structure the Research Limitations Section of Your Dissertation. Dissertations and Theses: An Online Textbook. Laerd.com.
Descriptions of Possible Limitations
All studies have limitations . However, it is important that you restrict your discussion to limitations related to the research problem under investigation. For example, if a meta-analysis of existing literature is not a stated purpose of your research, it should not be discussed as a limitation. Do not apologize for not addressing issues that you did not promise to investigate in the introduction of your paper.
Here are examples of limitations related to methodology and the research process you may need to describe and discuss how they possibly impacted your results. Note that descriptions of limitations should be stated in the past tense because they were discovered after you completed your research.
Possible Methodological Limitations
- Sample size -- the number of the units of analysis you use in your study is dictated by the type of research problem you are investigating. Note that, if your sample size is too small, it will be difficult to find significant relationships from the data, as statistical tests normally require a larger sample size to ensure a representative distribution of the population and to be considered representative of groups of people to whom results will be generalized or transferred. Note that sample size is generally less relevant in qualitative research if explained in the context of the research problem.
- Lack of available and/or reliable data -- a lack of data or of reliable data will likely require you to limit the scope of your analysis, the size of your sample, or it can be a significant obstacle in finding a trend and a meaningful relationship. You need to not only describe these limitations but provide cogent reasons why you believe data is missing or is unreliable. However, don’t just throw up your hands in frustration; use this as an opportunity to describe a need for future research based on designing a different method for gathering data.
- Lack of prior research studies on the topic -- citing prior research studies forms the basis of your literature review and helps lay a foundation for understanding the research problem you are investigating. Depending on the currency or scope of your research topic, there may be little, if any, prior research on your topic. Before assuming this to be true, though, consult with a librarian! In cases when a librarian has confirmed that there is little or no prior research, you may be required to develop an entirely new research typology [for example, using an exploratory rather than an explanatory research design ]. Note again that discovering a limitation can serve as an important opportunity to identify new gaps in the literature and to describe the need for further research.
- Measure used to collect the data -- sometimes it is the case that, after completing your interpretation of the findings, you discover that the way in which you gathered data inhibited your ability to conduct a thorough analysis of the results. For example, you regret not including a specific question in a survey that, in retrospect, could have helped address a particular issue that emerged later in the study. Acknowledge the deficiency by stating a need for future researchers to revise the specific method for gathering data.
- Self-reported data -- whether you are relying on pre-existing data or you are conducting a qualitative research study and gathering the data yourself, self-reported data is limited by the fact that it rarely can be independently verified. In other words, you have to the accuracy of what people say, whether in interviews, focus groups, or on questionnaires, at face value. However, self-reported data can contain several potential sources of bias that you should be alert to and note as limitations. These biases become apparent if they are incongruent with data from other sources. These are: (1) selective memory [remembering or not remembering experiences or events that occurred at some point in the past]; (2) telescoping [recalling events that occurred at one time as if they occurred at another time]; (3) attribution [the act of attributing positive events and outcomes to one's own agency, but attributing negative events and outcomes to external forces]; and, (4) exaggeration [the act of representing outcomes or embellishing events as more significant than is actually suggested from other data].
Possible Limitations of the Researcher
- Access -- if your study depends on having access to people, organizations, data, or documents and, for whatever reason, access is denied or limited in some way, the reasons for this needs to be described. Also, include an explanation why being denied or limited access did not prevent you from following through on your study.
- Longitudinal effects -- unlike your professor, who can literally devote years [even a lifetime] to studying a single topic, the time available to investigate a research problem and to measure change or stability over time is constrained by the due date of your assignment. Be sure to choose a research problem that does not require an excessive amount of time to complete the literature review, apply the methodology, and gather and interpret the results. If you're unsure whether you can complete your research within the confines of the assignment's due date, talk to your professor.
- Cultural and other type of bias -- we all have biases, whether we are conscience of them or not. Bias is when a person, place, event, or thing is viewed or shown in a consistently inaccurate way. Bias is usually negative, though one can have a positive bias as well, especially if that bias reflects your reliance on research that only support your hypothesis. When proof-reading your paper, be especially critical in reviewing how you have stated a problem, selected the data to be studied, what may have been omitted, the manner in which you have ordered events, people, or places, how you have chosen to represent a person, place, or thing, to name a phenomenon, or to use possible words with a positive or negative connotation. NOTE : If you detect bias in prior research, it must be acknowledged and you should explain what measures were taken to avoid perpetuating that bias. For example, if a previous study only used boys to examine how music education supports effective math skills, describe how your research expands the study to include girls.
- Fluency in a language -- if your research focuses , for example, on measuring the perceived value of after-school tutoring among Mexican-American ESL [English as a Second Language] students and you are not fluent in Spanish, you are limited in being able to read and interpret Spanish language research studies on the topic or to speak with these students in their primary language. This deficiency should be acknowledged.
Aguinis, Hermam and Jeffrey R. Edwards. “Methodological Wishes for the Next Decade and How to Make Wishes Come True.” Journal of Management Studies 51 (January 2014): 143-174; Brutus, Stéphane et al. "Self-Reported Limitations and Future Directions in Scholarly Reports: Analysis and Recommendations." Journal of Management 39 (January 2013): 48-75; Senunyeme, Emmanuel K. Business Research Methods. Powerpoint Presentation. Regent University of Science and Technology; ter Riet, Gerben et al. “All That Glitters Isn't Gold: A Survey on Acknowledgment of Limitations in Biomedical Studies.” PLOS One 8 (November 2013): 1-6.
Structure and Writing Style
Information about the limitations of your study are generally placed either at the beginning of the discussion section of your paper so the reader knows and understands the limitations before reading the rest of your analysis of the findings, or, the limitations are outlined at the conclusion of the discussion section as an acknowledgement of the need for further study. Statements about a study's limitations should not be buried in the body [middle] of the discussion section unless a limitation is specific to something covered in that part of the paper. If this is the case, though, the limitation should be reiterated at the conclusion of the section.
If you determine that your study is seriously flawed due to important limitations , such as, an inability to acquire critical data, consider reframing it as an exploratory study intended to lay the groundwork for a more complete research study in the future. Be sure, though, to specifically explain the ways that these flaws can be successfully overcome in a new study.
But, do not use this as an excuse for not developing a thorough research paper! Review the tab in this guide for developing a research topic . If serious limitations exist, it generally indicates a likelihood that your research problem is too narrowly defined or that the issue or event under study is too recent and, thus, very little research has been written about it. If serious limitations do emerge, consult with your professor about possible ways to overcome them or how to revise your study.
When discussing the limitations of your research, be sure to:
- Describe each limitation in detailed but concise terms;
- Explain why each limitation exists;
- Provide the reasons why each limitation could not be overcome using the method(s) chosen to acquire or gather the data [cite to other studies that had similar problems when possible];
- Assess the impact of each limitation in relation to the overall findings and conclusions of your study; and,
- If appropriate, describe how these limitations could point to the need for further research.
Remember that the method you chose may be the source of a significant limitation that has emerged during your interpretation of the results [for example, you didn't interview a group of people that you later wish you had]. If this is the case, don't panic. Acknowledge it, and explain how applying a different or more robust methodology might address the research problem more effectively in a future study. A underlying goal of scholarly research is not only to show what works, but to demonstrate what doesn't work or what needs further clarification.
Aguinis, Hermam and Jeffrey R. Edwards. “Methodological Wishes for the Next Decade and How to Make Wishes Come True.” Journal of Management Studies 51 (January 2014): 143-174; Brutus, Stéphane et al. "Self-Reported Limitations and Future Directions in Scholarly Reports: Analysis and Recommendations." Journal of Management 39 (January 2013): 48-75; Ioannidis, John P.A. "Limitations are not Properly Acknowledged in the Scientific Literature." Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 60 (2007): 324-329; Pasek, Josh. Writing the Empirical Social Science Research Paper: A Guide for the Perplexed. January 24, 2012. Academia.edu; Structure: How to Structure the Research Limitations Section of Your Dissertation. Dissertations and Theses: An Online Textbook. Laerd.com; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.
Don't Inflate the Importance of Your Findings!
After all the hard work and long hours devoted to writing your research paper, it is easy to get carried away with attributing unwarranted importance to what you’ve done. We all want our academic work to be viewed as excellent and worthy of a good grade, but it is important that you understand and openly acknowledge the limitations of your study. Inflating the importance of your study's findings could be perceived by your readers as an attempt hide its flaws or encourage a biased interpretation of the results. A small measure of humility goes a long way!
Another Writing Tip
Negative Results are Not a Limitation!
Negative evidence refers to findings that unexpectedly challenge rather than support your hypothesis. If you didn't get the results you anticipated, it may mean your hypothesis was incorrect and needs to be reformulated. Or, perhaps you have stumbled onto something unexpected that warrants further study. Moreover, the absence of an effect may be very telling in many situations, particularly in experimental research designs. In any case, your results may very well be of importance to others even though they did not support your hypothesis. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that results contrary to what you expected is a limitation to your study. If you carried out the research well, they are simply your results and only require additional interpretation.
Lewis, George H. and Jonathan F. Lewis. “The Dog in the Night-Time: Negative Evidence in Social Research.” The British Journal of Sociology 31 (December 1980): 544-558.
Yet Another Writing Tip
Sample Size Limitations in Qualitative Research
Sample sizes are typically smaller in qualitative research because, as the study goes on, acquiring more data does not necessarily lead to more information. This is because one occurrence of a piece of data, or a code, is all that is necessary to ensure that it becomes part of the analysis framework. However, it remains true that sample sizes that are too small cannot adequately support claims of having achieved valid conclusions and sample sizes that are too large do not permit the deep, naturalistic, and inductive analysis that defines qualitative inquiry. Determining adequate sample size in qualitative research is ultimately a matter of judgment and experience in evaluating the quality of the information collected against the uses to which it will be applied and the particular research method and purposeful sampling strategy employed. If the sample size is found to be a limitation, it may reflect your judgment about the methodological technique chosen [e.g., single life history study versus focus group interviews] rather than the number of respondents used.
Boddy, Clive Roland. "Sample Size for Qualitative Research." Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal 19 (2016): 426-432; Huberman, A. Michael and Matthew B. Miles. "Data Management and Analysis Methods." In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 428-444; Blaikie, Norman. "Confounding Issues Related to Determining Sample Size in Qualitative Research." International Journal of Social Research Methodology 21 (2018): 635-641; Oppong, Steward Harrison. "The Problem of Sampling in qualitative Research." Asian Journal of Management Sciences and Education 2 (2013): 202-210.
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How to Write Limitations of the Study (with examples)
This blog emphasizes the importance of recognizing and effectively writing about limitations in research. It discusses the types of limitations, their significance, and provides guidelines for writing about them, highlighting their role in advancing scholarly research.
Updated on August 24, 2023
No matter how well thought out, every research endeavor encounters challenges. There is simply no way to predict all possible variances throughout the process.
These uncharted boundaries and abrupt constraints are known as limitations in research . Identifying and acknowledging limitations is crucial for conducting rigorous studies. Limitations provide context and shed light on gaps in the prevailing inquiry and literature.
This article explores the importance of recognizing limitations and discusses how to write them effectively. By interpreting limitations in research and considering prevalent examples, we aim to reframe the perception from shameful mistakes to respectable revelations.
What are limitations in research?
In the clearest terms, research limitations are the practical or theoretical shortcomings of a study that are often outside of the researcher’s control . While these weaknesses limit the generalizability of a study’s conclusions, they also present a foundation for future research.
Sometimes limitations arise from tangible circumstances like time and funding constraints, or equipment and participant availability. Other times the rationale is more obscure and buried within the research design. Common types of limitations and their ramifications include:
- Theoretical: limits the scope, depth, or applicability of a study.
- Methodological: limits the quality, quantity, or diversity of the data.
- Empirical: limits the representativeness, validity, or reliability of the data.
- Analytical: limits the accuracy, completeness, or significance of the findings.
- Ethical: limits the access, consent, or confidentiality of the data.
Regardless of how, when, or why they arise, limitations are a natural part of the research process and should never be ignored . Like all other aspects, they are vital in their own purpose.
Why is identifying limitations important?
Whether to seek acceptance or avoid struggle, humans often instinctively hide flaws and mistakes. Merging this thought process into research by attempting to hide limitations, however, is a bad idea. It has the potential to negate the validity of outcomes and damage the reputation of scholars.
By identifying and addressing limitations throughout a project, researchers strengthen their arguments and curtail the chance of peer censure based on overlooked mistakes. Pointing out these flaws shows an understanding of variable limits and a scrupulous research process.
Showing awareness of and taking responsibility for a project’s boundaries and challenges validates the integrity and transparency of a researcher. It further demonstrates the researchers understand the applicable literature and have thoroughly evaluated their chosen research methods.
Presenting limitations also benefits the readers by providing context for research findings. It guides them to interpret the project’s conclusions only within the scope of very specific conditions. By allowing for an appropriate generalization of the findings that is accurately confined by research boundaries and is not too broad, limitations boost a study’s credibility .
Limitations are true assets to the research process. They highlight opportunities for future research. When researchers identify the limitations of their particular approach to a study question, they enable precise transferability and improve chances for reproducibility.
Simply stating a project’s limitations is not adequate for spurring further research, though. To spark the interest of other researchers, these acknowledgements must come with thorough explanations regarding how the limitations affected the current study and how they can potentially be overcome with amended methods.
How to write limitations
Typically, the information about a study’s limitations is situated either at the beginning of the discussion section to provide context for readers or at the conclusion of the discussion section to acknowledge the need for further research. However, it varies depending upon the target journal or publication guidelines.
Don’t hide your limitations
It is also important to not bury a limitation in the body of the paper unless it has a unique connection to a topic in that section. If so, it needs to be reiterated with the other limitations or at the conclusion of the discussion section. Wherever it is included in the manuscript, ensure that the limitations section is prominently positioned and clearly introduced.
While maintaining transparency by disclosing limitations means taking a comprehensive approach, it is not necessary to discuss everything that could have potentially gone wrong during the research study. If there is no commitment to investigation in the introduction, it is unnecessary to consider the issue a limitation to the research. Wholly consider the term ‘limitations’ and ask, “Did it significantly change or limit the possible outcomes?” Then, qualify the occurrence as either a limitation to include in the current manuscript or as an idea to note for other projects.
Once the limitations are concretely identified and it is decided where they will be included in the paper, researchers are ready for the writing task. Including only what is pertinent, keeping explanations detailed but concise, and employing the following guidelines is key for crafting valuable limitations:
1) Identify and describe the limitations : Clearly introduce the limitation by classifying its form and specifying its origin. For example:
- An unintentional bias encountered during data collection
- An intentional use of unplanned post-hoc data analysis
2) Explain the implications : Describe how the limitation potentially influences the study’s findings and how the validity and generalizability are subsequently impacted. Provide examples and evidence to support claims of the limitations’ effects without making excuses or exaggerating their impact. Overall, be transparent and objective in presenting the limitations, without undermining the significance of the research.
3) Provide alternative approaches for future studies : Offer specific suggestions for potential improvements or avenues for further investigation. Demonstrate a proactive approach by encouraging future research that addresses the identified gaps and, therefore, expands the knowledge base.
Whether presenting limitations as an individual section within the manuscript or as a subtopic in the discussion area, authors should use clear headings and straightforward language to facilitate readability. There is no need to complicate limitations with jargon, computations, or complex datasets.
Examples of common limitations
Limitations are generally grouped into two categories , methodology and research process .
Methodology may include limitations due to:
- Sample size
- Lack of available or reliable data
- Lack of prior research studies on the topic
- Measure used to collect the data
- Self-reported data
The researcher is addressing how the large sample size requires a reassessment of the measures used to collect and analyze the data.
Research process limitations
Limitations during the research process may arise from:
- Access to information
- Longitudinal effects
- Cultural and other biases
- Language fluency
- Time constraints
The author is pointing out that the model’s estimates are based on potentially biased observational studies.
Successfully proving theories and touting great achievements are only two very narrow goals of scholarly research. The true passion and greatest efforts of researchers comes more in the form of confronting assumptions and exploring the obscure.
In many ways, recognizing and sharing the limitations of a research study both allows for and encourages this type of discovery that continuously pushes research forward. By using limitations to provide a transparent account of the project's boundaries and to contextualize the findings, researchers pave the way for even more robust and impactful research in the future.
Charla Viera, MS
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Research Limitations & Delimitations
What they are and how they’re different (with examples)
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | September 2022
If you’re new to the world of research, you’ve probably heard the terms “ research limitations ” and “ research delimitations ” being thrown around, often quite loosely. In this post, we’ll unpack what both of these mean, how they’re similar and how they’re different – so that you can write up these sections the right way.
Overview: Limitations vs Delimitations
- Are they the same?
- What are research limitations
- What are research delimitations
- Limitations vs delimitations
First things first…
Let’s start with the most important takeaway point of this post – research limitations and research delimitations are not the same – but they are related to each other (we’ll unpack that a little later). So, if you hear someone using these two words interchangeably, be sure to share this post with them!
Research limitations are, at the simplest level, the weaknesses of the study, based on factors that are often outside of your control as the researcher. These factors could include things like time , access to funding, equipment , data or participants . For example, if you weren’t able to access a random sample of participants for your study and had to adopt a convenience sampling strategy instead, that would impact the generalizability of your findings and therefore reflect a limitation of your study.
Research limitations can also emerge from the research design itself . For example, if you were undertaking a correlational study, you wouldn’t be able to infer causality (since correlation doesn’t mean certain causation). Similarly, if you utilised online surveys to collect data from your participants, you naturally wouldn’t be able to get the same degree of rich data that you would from in-person interviews .
Simply put, research limitations reflect the shortcomings of a study , based on practical (or theoretical) constraints that the researcher faced. These shortcomings limit what you can conclude from a study, but at the same time, present a foundation for future research . Importantly, all research has limitations , so there’s no need to hide anything here – as long as you discuss how the limitations might affect your findings, it’s all good.
Alright, now that we’ve unpacked the limitations, let’s move on to the delimitations .
Research delimitations are similar to limitations in that they also “ limit ” the study, but their focus is entirely different. Specifically, the delimitations of a study refer to the scope of the research aims and research questions . In other words, delimitations reflect the choices you, as the researcher, intentionally make in terms of what you will and won’t try to achieve with your study. In other words, what your research aims and research questions will and won’t include.
As we’ve spoken about many times before, it’s important to have a tight, narrow focus for your research, so that you can dive deeply into your topic, apply your energy to one specific area and develop meaningful insights. If you have an overly broad scope or unfocused topic, your research will often pull in multiple, even opposing directions, and you’ll just land up with a muddy mess of findings .
So, the delimitations section is where you’ll clearly state what your research aims and research questions will focus on – and just as importantly, what they will exclude . For example, you might investigate a widespread phenomenon, but choose to focus your study on a specific age group, ethnicity or gender. Similarly, your study may focus exclusively on one country, city or even organization. As long as the scope is well justified (in other words, it represents a novel, valuable research topic), this is perfectly acceptable – in fact, it’s essential. Remember, focus is your friend.
Need a helping hand?
Conclusion: Limitations vs Delimitations
Ok, so let’s recap.
Research limitations and research delimitations are related in that they both refer to “limits” within a study. But, they are distinctly different. Limitations reflect the shortcomings of your study, based on practical or theoretical constraints that you faced.
Contrasted to that, delimitations reflect the choices that you made in terms of the focus and scope of your research aims and research questions. If you want to learn more about research aims and questions, you can check out this video post , where we unpack those concepts in detail.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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Good clarification of ideas on how a researcher ought to do during Process of choice
Thank you so much for this very simple but explicit explanation on limitation and delimitation. It has so helped me to develop my masters proposal. hope to recieve more from your site as time progresses
Thank you for this explanation – very clear.
Thanks for the explanation, really got it well.
This website is really helpful for my masters proposal
Thank you very much for helping to explain these two terms
I spent almost the whole day trying to figure out the differences
when I came across your notes everything became very clear
thanks for the clearly outlined explanation on the two terms, limitation and delimitation.
Very helpful Many thanks 🙏
Excellent it resolved my conflict .
I would like you to assist me please. If in my Research, I interviewed some participants and I submitted Questionnaires to other participants to answered to the questions, in the same organization, Is this a Qualitative methodology , a Quantitative Methodology or is it a Mixture Methodology I have used in my research? Please help me
How do I cite this article in APA format
Really so great ,finally have understood it’s difference now
Getting more clear regarding Limitations and Delimitation and concepts
I really appreciate your apt and precise explanation of the two concepts namely ; Limitations and Delimitations.
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What are the limitations in research and how to write them?
Learn about the potential limitations in research and how to appropriately address them in order to deliver honest and ethical research.
It is fairly uncommon for researchers to stumble into the term research limitations when working on their research paper. Limitations in research can arise owing to constraints on design, methods, materials, and so on, and these aspects, unfortunately, may have an influence on your subject’s findings.
In this Mind The Graph’s article, we’ll discuss some recommendations for writing limitations in research , provide examples of various common types of limitations, and suggest how to properly present this information.
What are the limitations in research?
The limitations in research are the constraints in design, methods or even researchers’ limitations that affect and influence the interpretation of your research’s ultimate findings. These are limitations on the generalization and usability of findings that emerge from the design of the research and/or the method employed to ensure validity both internally and externally.
Researchers are usually cautious to acknowledge the limitations of their research in their publications for fear of undermining the research’s scientific validity. No research is faultless or covers every possible angle. As a result, addressing the constraints of your research exhibits honesty and integrity .
Why should include limitations of research in my paper?
Though limitations tackle potential flaws in research, commenting on them at the conclusion of your paper, by demonstrating that you are aware of these limitations and explaining how they impact the conclusions that may be taken from the research, improves your research by disclosing any issues before other researchers or reviewers do .
Additionally, emphasizing research constraints implies that you have thoroughly investigated the ramifications of research shortcomings and have a thorough understanding of your research problem.
Limits exist in any research; being honest about them and explaining them would impress researchers and reviewers more than disregarding them.
Remember that acknowledging a research’s shortcomings offers a chance to provide ideas for future research, but be careful to describe how your study may help to concentrate on these outstanding problems.
Possible limitations examples
Here are some limitations connected to methodology and the research procedure that you may need to explain and discuss in connection to your findings.
The number of units of analysis used in your study is determined by the sort of research issue being investigated. It is important to note that if your sample is too small, finding significant connections in the data will be challenging, as statistical tests typically require a larger sample size to ensure a fair representation and this can be limiting.
Lack of available or reliable data
A lack of data or trustworthy data will almost certainly necessitate limiting the scope of your research or the size of your sample, or it can be a substantial impediment to identifying a pattern and a relevant connection.
Lack of prior research on the subject
Citing previous research papers forms the basis of your literature review and aids in comprehending the research subject you are researching. Yet there may be little if any, past research on your issue.
The measure used to collect data
After finishing your analysis of the findings, you realize that the method you used to collect data limited your capacity to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the findings. Recognize the flaw by mentioning that future researchers should change the specific approach for data collection.
Issues with research samples and selection
Sampling inaccuracies arise when a probability sampling method is employed to choose a sample, but that sample does not accurately represent the overall population or the relevant group. As a result, your study suffers from “sampling bias” or “selection bias.”
Limitations of the research
When your research requires polling certain persons or a specific group, you may have encountered the issue of limited access to these interviewees. Because of the limited access, you may need to reorganize or rearrange your research. In this scenario, explain why access is restricted and ensure that your findings are still trustworthy and valid despite the constraint.
Practical difficulties may limit the amount of time available to explore a research issue and monitor changes as they occur. If time restrictions have any detrimental influence on your research, recognize this impact by expressing the necessity for a future investigation.
Due to their cultural origins or opinions on observed events, researchers may carry biased opinions, which can influence the credibility of a research. Furthermore, researchers may exhibit biases toward data and conclusions that only support their hypotheses or arguments.
The structure of the limitations section
The limitations of your research are usually stated at the beginning of the discussion section of your paper so that the reader is aware of and comprehends the limitations prior to actually reading the rest of your findings, or they are stated at the end of the discussion section as an acknowledgment of the need for further research.
The ideal way is to divide your limitations section into three steps:
1. Identify the research constraints;
2. Describe in great detail how they affect your research;
3. Mention the opportunity for future investigations and give possibilities.
By following this method while addressing the constraints of your research, you will be able to effectively highlight your research’s shortcomings without jeopardizing the quality and integrity of your research.
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About Jessica Abbadia
Jessica Abbadia is a lawyer that has been working in Digital Marketing since 2020, improving organic performance for apps and websites in various regions through ASO and SEO. Currently developing scientific and intellectual knowledge for the community's benefit. Jessica is an animal rights activist who enjoys reading and drinking strong coffee.
- The role of limitations in research: why they are important
- How to Organize Limitations of a Research Study
What are the Limitations of a Study (Research)?
Why and where to include limitations in my research paper, common limitations of the researchers.
- Limited Access to Information
Conflicts on biased views and personal issues, different types, 1. research design limitations, 2. impact limitations, 3. data or statistical limitations, how to structure your research limitations correctly, how to set your research limitations, formulation of your objectives and aims, implementation of your data collection methods, what are sample sizes, lacking previous studies in the same field, scope of discussions, concluding thoughts.
When completing a study or any other important work, there are different details that you should include to present its comprehensive and clear description. Sometimes you might even need to hire a thesis writer to help you with the whole writing process. Don’t underrate the section with limitations in research . It plays a big role in the entire process. Some students find it difficult to write this part, while others are reluctant to include it in their academic papers. Don’t underestimate the significance of limitations in research to provide readers with an accurate context of your work and enough data to evaluate the impact and relevance of your results. What is the best way to go about them? Keep reading to find out more.
Every research has its limitations. These limitations can appear due to constraints on methodology or research design. Needless to say, this may impact your whole study or research paper. Most researchers prefer to not discuss their study limitations because they think it may decrease the value of their paper in the eyes of the audience.
Remember that it’s quite important to show your study limitations to your audience (other researchers, editors of journals, and public readers). You need to notice that you know about these limitations and about the impact they may have. It’s important to give an explanation of how your research limitations can affect the conclusions and thoughts drawn from your research.
In this guide, you can read useful tips on how to write limitations on your future research. Read great techniques on making a proper limitations section and see examples to make sure you have got an idea of writing your qualitative research limitations. You need to understand that even if limitations show the weaknesses of your future research, including them in your study can make your paper strengthen because you show all the problems before your readers will discover them by themselves.
Apart from this, when the author points out the study limitations, it means that you have researched all the weak sides of your study and you understand the topic deeply. Needless to say, all the studies have their limitations even if you know how to make research design properly. When you’re honest with your readers, it can impress people much better than ignoring limitations at all.
Every research has certain limitations, and it’s completely normal, but you need to minimize their range of scope in the process. Provide your acknowledgment of them in the conclusion. Identify and understand potential shortcomings in your work.
When discussing limitations in research, explain how they impact your findings because creating their short list or description isn’t enough. Your research may have many limitations. Your basic goal is to discuss the ones that relate to the research questions that you choose for a specific academic assignment.
Limitations of your qualitative research can become clear to your readers even before they start to read your study. Sometimes, people can see the limitations only when they have viewed the whole document. You have to present your study limitations clearly in the Discussion section of a researh paper . This is the final part of your work where it’s logical to place the limitations section. You should write the limitations at the very beginning of this paragraph, just after you have highlighted the strong sides of the research methodology. When you discuss the limitations before the findings are analyzed, it will help to see how to qualify and apply these findings in future research.
Limitations related to the researcher must also be written and shown to readers. You have to provide suggestions on decreasing these limitations in both your and future studies.
Limited Access to Information
Your study may involve some organizations and people in the research, and sometimes you may get problems with access to these organizations. Due to this, you need to redesign and rewrite your study. You need to explain the cause of limited access to your readers.
Needless to say, all the researchers have their deadlines when they need to complete their studies. Sometimes, time constraints can affect your research negatively. If this happened, you need to acknowledge it and mention a need for future research to solve the main problem.
Some researchers can have biased views because of their cultural background or personal views. Needless to say, it can affect the research. Apart from this, researchers with biased views can choose only those results and data that support their main arguments. If you want to avoid this problem, pay your attention to the problem statement and proper data gathering.
Before you start your study or work, keep in mind that there are specific limitations to what you test or possible research results. What are their types? There are different types that students may encounter and they all have unique features, including:
- Research design limitations,
- Impact limitations,
- Data or statistical limitations.
Specific constraints on your population research or available procedures may affect the final outcomes or results that you obtain.
Even if your research has excellent stats and a strong design, it may suffer from the impact of such factors as:
- The field is conductive to incremental findings,
- Being too population-specific.
- A strong regional focus.
In some cases, it’s impossible to collect enough data or enrollment is very difficult, and all that under-powers your research results. They may stem from your study design. They produce more issues in interpreting your findings.
There are strict rules to structure this section of your academic paper where you need to justify and explain its potential weaknesses. Take these basic steps to end up with a well-structured section:
- Announce to identify your research limitations and explain their importance,
- Reflect to provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices,
- Look forward to suggest how it’s possible to overcome them in the future.
They walk your readers through this section. You need them to make it clear to your target audience that you recognize potential weaknesses in your work, understand them, and can point effective solutions.
No one is perfect. It means that your work isn’t beyond possible flaws, but you need to use them as a great opportunity to overcome new challenges and improve your knowledge. In a typical academic paper, research limitations can relate to these points:
- Formulation of your objectives and aims,
- Implementation of your data collection methods,
- Sample sizes,
- Lack of previous studies in your chosen area,
- The scope of discussions.
Learn to determine them in each one.
Your work has certain shortcomings if you formulate objectives and aims in a very broad manner. What to do in this case? Specify effective methods or ways to narrow your formulation of objectives and aims to increase the level of your study focus.
If you don’t have a lot of experience in collecting primary data, there’s a certain risk that the implementation of your methods has flaws. It’s necessary to acknowledge that.
They depend on the nature of your chosen problem and their significance is bigger in quantitative studies, unlike the qualitative ones. If your sample size is very small, statistical tests will fail to identify important relationships or connections within a particular data set. How to solve this problem? State that other researchers need to base the same study on a larger sample size to end up with more accurate results. To find more information on how to identify a resesrch problem , check our guide.
Writing a literature review is a key step in any scientific work because it helps students determine the scope of existing studies in the chosen area. Why should you use the literature review findings? They are a basic foundation for any researcher who must use them to achieve a set of specific objectives or aims. What if there are no previous works? You may face this challenge if you choose an evolving or current problem for your study or if it’s very narrow.
Feel free to include this point as a shortcoming of your work, no matter what your chosen area is. Why? The main reason is that you don’t have long years of experience in writing scientific papers or completing complex studies. That’s why the depth and scope of your discussions can be compromised in different levels compared to scholars with a lot of expertise. Include certain points from limitations in research. Use them as suggestions for the future.
Any research suffers from specific limitations that range from common flaws to serious problems in design or methodology dissertation has. The ability to set these shortcomings plays a huge role in writing a successful academic paper and earning good grades. What if you lack it? Turn to our professional thesis writers and get their expert consultation on thesis or research paper.
What comes first, the research design or research problem selection? Read on this guide from our dissertation writing service if you are struggling to answer this question. Any research paper is based on the hypothesis, datum, and methodology. These things though are not written down in the instruct...
The methodology is an important part of your dissertation. It describes a broad philosophical underpinning to your chosen research methods, either quantitative or qualitative, to explain to readers your approach better. Make sure that you’re clear about an academic basis for your choice of research ...
Students have to complete different writing assignments, and some of them are utterly complex. Every assignment has the central idea or problem, which is supposed to be discussed and analyzed during the entire work. It’s called a thesis statement. The main objective of the statement is to explain to...
21 Research Limitations Examples
Research limitations refer to the potential weaknesses inherent in a study. All studies have limitations of some sort, meaning declaring limitations doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing, so long as your declaration of limitations is well thought-out and explained.
Rarely is a study perfect. Researchers have to make trade-offs when developing their studies, which are often based upon practical considerations such as time and monetary constraints, weighing the breadth of participants against the depth of insight, and choosing one methodology or another.
In research, studies can have limitations such as limited scope, researcher subjectivity, and lack of available research tools.
Acknowledging the limitations of your study should be seen as a strength. It demonstrates your willingness for transparency, humility, and submission to the scientific method and can bolster the integrity of the study. It can also inform future research direction.
Typically, scholars will explore the limitations of their study in either their methodology section, their conclusion section, or both.
Research Limitations Examples
Qualitative and quantitative research offer different perspectives and methods in exploring phenomena, each with its own strengths and limitations. So, I’ve split the limitations examples sections into qualitative and quantitative below.
Qualitative Research Limitations
Qualitative research seeks to understand phenomena in-depth and in context. It focuses on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.
It’s often used to explore new or complex issues, and it provides rich, detailed insights into participants’ experiences, behaviors, and attitudes. However, these strengths also create certain limitations, as explained below.
Qualitative research often requires the researcher to interpret subjective data. One researcher may examine a text and identify different themes or concepts as more dominant than others.
Close qualitative readings of texts are necessarily subjective – and while this may be a limitation, qualitative researchers argue this is the best way to deeply understand everything in context.
Suggested Solution and Response: To minimize subjectivity bias, you could consider cross-checking your own readings of themes and data against other scholars’ readings and interpretations. This may involve giving the raw data to a supervisor or colleague and asking them to code the data separately, then coming together to compare and contrast results.
2. Researcher Bias
The concept of researcher bias is related to, but slightly different from, subjectivity.
Researcher bias refers to the perspectives and opinions you bring with you when doing your research.
For example, a researcher who is explicitly of a certain philosophical or political persuasion may bring that persuasion to bear when interpreting data.
In many scholarly traditions, we will attempt to minimize researcher bias through the utilization of clear procedures that are set out in advance or through the use of statistical analysis tools.
However, in other traditions, such as in postmodern feminist research , declaration of bias is expected, and acknowledgment of bias is seen as a positive because, in those traditions, it is believed that bias cannot be eliminated from research, so instead, it is a matter of integrity to present it upfront.
Suggested Solution and Response: Acknowledge the potential for researcher bias and, depending on your theoretical framework , accept this, or identify procedures you have taken to seek a closer approximation to objectivity in your coding and analysis.
If you’re struggling to find a limitation to discuss in your own qualitative research study, then this one is for you: all qualitative research, of all persuasions and perspectives, cannot be generalized.
This is a core feature that sets qualitative data and quantitative data apart.
The point of qualitative data is to select case studies and similarly small corpora and dig deep through in-depth analysis and thick description of data.
Often, this will also mean that you have a non-randomized sample size.
While this is a positive – you’re going to get some really deep, contextualized, interesting insights – it also means that the findings may not be generalizable to a larger population that may not be representative of the small group of people in your study.
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that take a quantitative approach to the question.
4. The Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne effect refers to the phenomenon where research participants change their ‘observed behavior’ when they’re aware that they are being observed.
This effect was first identified by Elton Mayo who conducted studies of the effects of various factors ton workers’ productivity. He noticed that no matter what he did – turning up the lights, turning down the lights, etc. – there was an increase in worker outputs compared to prior to the study taking place.
Mayo realized that the mere act of observing the workers made them work harder – his observation was what was changing behavior.
So, if you’re looking for a potential limitation to name for your observational research study , highlight the possible impact of the Hawthorne effect (and how you could reduce your footprint or visibility in order to decrease its likelihood).
Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight ways you have attempted to reduce your footprint while in the field, and guarantee anonymity to your research participants.
Quantitative research has a great benefit in that the studies are replicable – a researcher can get a similar sample size, duplicate the variables, and re-test a study. But you can’t do that in qualitative research.
Qualitative research relies heavily on context – a specific case study or specific variables that make a certain instance worthy of analysis. As a result, it’s often difficult to re-enter the same setting with the same variables and repeat the study.
Furthermore, the individual researcher’s interpretation is more influential in qualitative research, meaning even if a new researcher enters an environment and makes observations, their observations may be different because subjectivity comes into play much more. This doesn’t make the research bad necessarily (great insights can be made in qualitative research), but it certainly does demonstrate a weakness of qualitative research.
6. Limited Scope
“Limited scope” is perhaps one of the most common limitations listed by researchers – and while this is often a catch-all way of saying, “well, I’m not studying that in this study”, it’s also a valid point.
No study can explore everything related to a topic. At some point, we have to make decisions about what’s included in the study and what is excluded from the study.
So, you could say that a limitation of your study is that it doesn’t look at an extra variable or concept that’s certainly worthy of study but will have to be explored in your next project because this project has a clearly and narrowly defined goal.
Suggested Solution and Response: Be clear about what’s in and out of the study when writing your research question.
7. Time Constraints
This is also a catch-all claim you can make about your research project: that you would have included more people in the study, looked at more variables, and so on. But you’ve got to submit this thing by the end of next semester! You’ve got time constraints.
And time constraints are a recognized reality in all research.
But this means you’ll need to explain how time has limited your decisions. As with “limited scope”, this may mean that you had to study a smaller group of subjects, limit the amount of time you spent in the field, and so forth.
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will build on your current work, possibly as a PhD project.
8. Resource Intensiveness
Qualitative research can be expensive due to the cost of transcription, the involvement of trained researchers, and potential travel for interviews or observations.
So, resource intensiveness is similar to the time constraints concept. If you don’t have the funds, you have to make decisions about which tools to use, which statistical software to employ, and how many research assistants you can dedicate to the study.
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will gain more funding on the back of this ‘ exploratory study ‘.
9. Coding Difficulties
Data analysis in qualitative research often involves coding, which can be subjective and complex, especially when dealing with ambiguous or contradicting data.
After naming this as a limitation in your research, it’s important to explain how you’ve attempted to address this. Some ways to ‘limit the limitation’ include:
- Triangulation: Have 2 other researchers code the data as well and cross-check your results with theirs to identify outliers that may need to be re-examined, debated with the other researchers, or removed altogether.
- Procedure: Use a clear coding procedure to demonstrate reliability in your coding process. I personally use the thematic network analysis method outlined in this academic article by Attride-Stirling (2001).
Suggested Solution and Response: Triangulate your coding findings with colleagues, and follow a thematic network analysis procedure.
10. Risk of Non-Responsiveness
There is always a risk in research that research participants will be unwilling or uncomfortable sharing their genuine thoughts and feelings in the study.
This is particularly true when you’re conducting research on sensitive topics, politicized topics, or topics where the participant is expressing vulnerability .
This is similar to the Hawthorne effect (aka participant bias), where participants change their behaviors in your presence; but it goes a step further, where participants actively hide their true thoughts and feelings from you.
Suggested Solution and Response: One way to manage this is to try to include a wider group of people with the expectation that there will be non-responsiveness from some participants.
11. Risk of Attrition
Attrition refers to the process of losing research participants throughout the study.
This occurs most commonly in longitudinal studies , where a researcher must return to conduct their analysis over spaced periods of time, often over a period of years.
Things happen to people over time – they move overseas, their life experiences change, they get sick, change their minds, and even die. The more time that passes, the greater the risk of attrition.
Suggested Solution and Response: One way to manage this is to try to include a wider group of people with the expectation that there will be attrition over time.
12. Difficulty in Maintaining Confidentiality and Anonymity
Given the detailed nature of qualitative data , ensuring participant anonymity can be challenging.
If you have a sensitive topic in a specific case study, even anonymizing research participants sometimes isn’t enough. People might be able to induce who you’re talking about.
Sometimes, this will mean you have to exclude some interesting data that you collected from your final report. Confidentiality and anonymity come before your findings in research ethics – and this is a necessary limiting factor.
Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight the efforts you have taken to anonymize data, and accept that confidentiality and accountability place extremely important constraints on academic research.
13. Difficulty in Finding Research Participants
A study that looks at a very specific phenomenon or even a specific set of cases within a phenomenon means that the pool of potential research participants can be very low.
Compile on top of this the fact that many people you approach may choose not to participate, and you could end up with a very small corpus of subjects to explore. This may limit your ability to make complete findings, even in a quantitative sense.
You may need to therefore limit your research question and objectives to something more realistic.
Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight that this is going to limit the study’s generalizability significantly.
14. Ethical Limitations
Ethical limitations refer to the things you cannot do based on ethical concerns identified either by yourself or your institution’s ethics review board.
This might include threats to the physical or psychological well-being of your research subjects, the potential of releasing data that could harm a person’s reputation, and so on.
Furthermore, even if your study follows all expected standards of ethics, you still, as an ethical researcher, need to allow a research participant to pull out at any point in time, after which you cannot use their data, which demonstrates an overlap between ethical constraints and participant attrition.
Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight that these ethical limitations are inevitable but important to sustain the integrity of the research.
For more on Qualitative Research, Explore my Qualitative Research Guide
Quantitative Research Limitations
Quantitative research focuses on quantifiable data and statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques. It’s often used to test hypotheses, assess relationships and causality, and generalize findings across larger populations.
Quantitative research is widely respected for its ability to provide reliable, measurable, and generalizable data (if done well!). Its structured methodology has strengths over qualitative research, such as the fact it allows for replication of the study, which underpins the validity of the research.
However, this approach is not without it limitations, explained below.
Quantitative research is powerful because it allows you to measure and analyze data in a systematic and standardized way. However, one of its limitations is that it can sometimes simplify complex phenomena or situations.
In other words, it might miss the subtleties or nuances of the research subject.
For example, if you’re studying why people choose a particular diet, a quantitative study might identify factors like age, income, or health status. But it might miss other aspects, such as cultural influences or personal beliefs, that can also significantly impact dietary choices.
When writing about this limitation, you can say that your quantitative approach, while providing precise measurements and comparisons, may not capture the full complexity of your subjects of study.
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest a follow-up case study using the same research participants in order to gain additional context and depth.
2. Lack of Context
Another potential issue with quantitative research is that it often focuses on numbers and statistics at the expense of context or qualitative information.
Let’s say you’re studying the effect of classroom size on student performance. You might find that students in smaller classes generally perform better. However, this doesn’t take into account other variables, like teaching style, student motivation, or family support.
When describing this limitation, you might say, “Although our research provides important insights into the relationship between class size and student performance, it does not incorporate the impact of other potentially influential variables. Future research could benefit from a mixed-methods approach that combines quantitative analysis with qualitative insights.”
3. Applicability to Real-World Settings
Oftentimes, experimental research takes place in controlled environments to limit the influence of outside factors.
This control is great for isolation and understanding the specific phenomenon but can limit the applicability or “external validity” of the research to real-world settings.
For example, if you conduct a lab experiment to see how sleep deprivation impacts cognitive performance, the sterile, controlled lab environment might not reflect real-world conditions where people are dealing with multiple stressors.
Therefore, when explaining the limitations of your quantitative study in your methodology section, you could state:
“While our findings provide valuable information about [topic], the controlled conditions of the experiment may not accurately represent real-world scenarios where extraneous variables will exist. As such, the direct applicability of our results to broader contexts may be limited.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will engage in real-world observational research, such as ethnographic research.
4. Limited Flexibility
Once a quantitative study is underway, it can be challenging to make changes to it. This is because, unlike in grounded research, you’re putting in place your study in advance, and you can’t make changes part-way through.
Your study design, data collection methods, and analysis techniques need to be decided upon before you start collecting data.
For example, if you are conducting a survey on the impact of social media on teenage mental health, and halfway through, you realize that you should have included a question about their screen time, it’s generally too late to add it.
When discussing this limitation, you could write something like, “The structured nature of our quantitative approach allows for consistent data collection and analysis but also limits our flexibility to adapt and modify the research process in response to emerging insights and ideas.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use mixed-methods or qualitative research methods to gain additional depth of insight.
5. Risk of Survey Error
Surveys are a common tool in quantitative research, but they carry risks of error.
There can be measurement errors (if a question is misunderstood), coverage errors (if some groups aren’t adequately represented), non-response errors (if certain people don’t respond), and sampling errors (if your sample isn’t representative of the population).
For instance, if you’re surveying college students about their study habits , but only daytime students respond because you conduct the survey during the day, your results will be skewed.
In discussing this limitation, you might say, “Despite our best efforts to develop a comprehensive survey, there remains a risk of survey error, including measurement, coverage, non-response, and sampling errors. These could potentially impact the reliability and generalizability of our findings.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use other survey tools to compare and contrast results.
6. Limited Ability to Probe Answers
With quantitative research, you typically can’t ask follow-up questions or delve deeper into participants’ responses like you could in a qualitative interview.
For instance, imagine you are surveying 500 students about study habits in a questionnaire. A respondent might indicate that they study for two hours each night. You might want to follow up by asking them to elaborate on what those study sessions involve or how effective they feel their habits are.
However, quantitative research generally disallows this in the way a qualitative semi-structured interview could.
When discussing this limitation, you might write, “Given the structured nature of our survey, our ability to probe deeper into individual responses is limited. This means we may not fully understand the context or reasoning behind the responses, potentially limiting the depth of our findings.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that engage in mixed-method or qualitative methodologies to address the issue from another angle.
7. Reliance on Instruments for Data Collection
In quantitative research, the collection of data heavily relies on instruments like questionnaires, surveys, or machines.
The limitation here is that the data you get is only as good as the instrument you’re using. If the instrument isn’t designed or calibrated well, your data can be flawed.
For instance, if you’re using a questionnaire to study customer satisfaction and the questions are vague, confusing, or biased, the responses may not accurately reflect the customers’ true feelings.
When discussing this limitation, you could say, “Our study depends on the use of questionnaires for data collection. Although we have put significant effort into designing and testing the instrument, it’s possible that inaccuracies or misunderstandings could potentially affect the validity of the data collected.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use different instruments but examine the same variables to triangulate results.
8. Time and Resource Constraints (Specific to Quantitative Research)
Quantitative research can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially when dealing with large samples.
It often involves systematic sampling, rigorous design, and sometimes complex statistical analysis.
If resources and time are limited, it can restrict the scale of your research, the techniques you can employ, or the extent of your data analysis.
For example, you may want to conduct a nationwide survey on public opinion about a certain policy. However, due to limited resources, you might only be able to survey people in one city.
When writing about this limitation, you could say, “Given the scope of our research and the resources available, we are limited to conducting our survey within one city, which may not fully represent the nationwide public opinion. Hence, the generalizability of the results may be limited.”
Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will have more funding or longer timeframes.
How to Discuss Your Research Limitations
1. in your research proposal and methodology section.
In the research proposal, which will become the methodology section of your dissertation, I would recommend taking the four following steps, in order:
- Be Explicit about your Scope – If you limit the scope of your study in your research question, aims, and objectives, then you can set yourself up well later in the methodology to say that certain questions are “outside the scope of the study.” For example, you may identify the fact that the study doesn’t address a certain variable, but you can follow up by stating that the research question is specifically focused on the variable that you are examining, so this limitation would need to be looked at in future studies.
- Acknowledge the Limitation – Acknowledging the limitations of your study demonstrates reflexivity and humility and can make your research more reliable and valid. It also pre-empts questions the people grading your paper may have, so instead of them down-grading you for your limitations; they will congratulate you on explaining the limitations and how you have addressed them!
- Explain your Decisions – You may have chosen your approach (despite its limitations) for a very specific reason. This might be because your approach remains, on balance, the best one to answer your research question. Or, it might be because of time and monetary constraints that are outside of your control.
- Highlight the Strengths of your Approach – Conclude your limitations section by strongly demonstrating that, despite limitations, you’ve worked hard to minimize the effects of the limitations and that you have chosen your specific approach and methodology because it’s also got some terrific strengths. Name the strengths.
Overall, you’ll want to acknowledge your own limitations but also explain that the limitations don’t detract from the value of your study as it stands.
2. In the Conclusion Section or Chapter
In the conclusion of your study, it is generally expected that you return to a discussion of the study’s limitations. Here, I recommend the following steps:
- Acknowledge issues faced – After completing your study, you will be increasingly aware of issues you may have faced that, if you re-did the study, you may have addressed earlier in order to avoid those issues. Acknowledge these issues as limitations, and frame them as recommendations for subsequent studies.
- Suggest further research – Scholarly research aims to fill gaps in the current literature and knowledge. Having established your expertise through your study, suggest lines of inquiry for future researchers. You could state that your study had certain limitations, and “future studies” can address those limitations.
- Suggest a mixed methods approach – Qualitative and quantitative research each have pros and cons. So, note those ‘cons’ of your approach, then say the next study should approach the topic using the opposite methodology or could approach it using a mixed-methods approach that could achieve the benefits of quantitative studies with the nuanced insights of associated qualitative insights as part of an in-study case-study.
Overall, be clear about both your limitations and how those limitations can inform future studies.
In sum, each type of research method has its own strengths and limitations. Qualitative research excels in exploring depth, context, and complexity, while quantitative research excels in examining breadth, generalizability, and quantifiable measures. Despite their individual limitations, each method contributes unique and valuable insights, and researchers often use them together to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon being studied.
Attride-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative research , 1 (3), 385-405. ( Source )
Atkinson, P., Delamont, S., Cernat, A., Sakshaug, J., & Williams, R. A. (2021). SAGE research methods foundations . London: Sage Publications.
Clark, T., Foster, L., Bryman, A., & Sloan, L. (2021). Bryman’s social research methods . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Köhler, T., Smith, A., & Bhakoo, V. (2022). Templates in qualitative research methods: Origins, limitations, and new directions. Organizational Research Methods , 25 (2), 183-210. ( Source )
Lenger, A. (2019). The rejection of qualitative research methods in economics. Journal of Economic Issues , 53 (4), 946-965. ( Source )
Taherdoost, H. (2022). What are different research approaches? Comprehensive review of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method research, their applications, types, and limitations. Journal of Management Science & Engineering Research , 5 (1), 53-63. ( Source )
Walliman, N. (2021). Research methods: The basics . New York: Routledge.
Chris Drew (PhD)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 102 Examples of Social Norms (List)
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 15 Social Environment Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 15 Selective Perception Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ Field Observation (Research Method): Definition and Examples
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How to Write about Research Limitations Without Reducing Your Impact
Being open about what you could not do in your research is actually extremely positive, and it’s viewed favorably by editors and peer reviewers. Writing about your limitations without reducing your impact is a valuable skills that will help your reputation as a researcher.
Areas you might have “failed,” in other words, your limitations, include:
- Aims and objectives (they were a bit too ambitious)
- Study design (not quite right)
- Supporting literature (you’re in uncharted territory)
- Sampling method (if only you’d snowballed it)
- Size of your study population (not enough power)
- Data collection method (bias found its way in)
- Confounding factors (didn’t see that coming!)
Your limitations don’t harm your work and reputation. Quite the opposite, they validate your work and increase your contribution to your field.
Limitations are quite easy to write about in a useful way that won’t reducing your impact. In fact, it’ll increase it.
Why are limitations so important?
Study design limitations, impact limitations, statistical or data limitations, other limitations, how to describe your limitations, where to write your limitations, structure for writing about a limitation, writing up a broader limitation, dealing with breakthroughs and niche-type limitations, dealing with critical flaws, curb your enthusiasm: manage expectations.
Regrettably, the publish-or-perish mentality has created pressure to only come up with successful results. It’s also not too much to say that journals prefer positive studies – where the findings support the hypothesis.
But success alone is not science. Science is trial and error.
So it’s important to present a well-balanced, comprehensive description of your research. That includes your limitations. Accurately reporting your limitations will:
- Help prevent research waste on repeated failures
- Lead to creation of new hypotheses
- Provide useful information for systematic reviews
- Further demonstrate the robustness of your study
Adding clear discussion of any negative results and/or outcomes as well as your study limitations makes you much better able to provide your readers (including peer reviewers ) with:
- Information about your positive results
- Explanation of why your results are credible
- Ideas for future hypothesis generation
- Understanding of why your study has impact
These are good things. There’s even a journal for failure ! That’s how important it is in science.
Some authors find it hard to write about their study limitations, seeing it as an admission of failure. You can do it, and you don’t have to overdo it, either.
Know your limitations and you can anticipate and record them
These might include the procedures, experiments, or reagents (or funding) you have available. As well as specific constraints on the study population. There may be ethical guidelines , and institutional or national policies, that limit what you can do.
These are very common limitations to medical research, for example. We refer to these kinds as study design limitations. Clinical trials, for instance, may have a restriction on interventions expected to have a positive effect. Or there may be restrictions on data collection based on the study population.
Even if your study has a strong design and statistical foundation there might be a strong regional, national, or species-based focus. Or your work could be very population- or experimental-specific.
Your entire field of study, in fact, may only be conducive to incremental findings (e.g., particle physics or molecular biology).
These are inherent limits on impact in that they’re so specific. This limits the extendibility of the findings. It doesn’t however, limit the impact on a specific area or your field. Note the impact and push forward!
Perhaps the most common kind of limitation is statistical or data-based. This category is extremely common in experimental (e.g., chemistry) or field-based (e.g., ecology, population biology, qualitative clinical research) studies.
In many situations, testing hypotheses, you simply may not be able to collect as much data or as good quality data as you want to. Perhaps enrollment was more difficult than expected, under-powering your results.
Statistical limitations can also stem from study design, producing more serious issues in terms of interpreting findings. Seeking expert review from a statistician, such as by using Edanz scientific solutions , may be a good idea before starting your study design.
The above three are often interconnected. And they’re certainly not comprehensive.
As mentioned up top, you may also be limited by the literature. By external confounders. By things you didn’t even see coming (like how long it took you to find 10 qualified respondents for a qualitative study).
Once you’ve identified possible limitations in your work, you need to get to the real point of this post – describing them in your manuscript.
Use the perspective of limitations = contribution and impact to maximize your chances of acceptance.
Reviewers, editors, and readers expect you to present your work authoritatively. You’re the expert in the field, after all. This may make them critical. Embrace that. Counter their possibly negative interpretation by explaining each limitation, showing why the results are still important and useful.
Limitations are usually listed at the end of your Discussion section, though they can also be added throughout. Especially for a long manuscript or for an essay or dissertation, the latter may be useful for the reader.
Writing on your limitations: Words and structure
- This study did have some limitations.
- Three notable limitations affected this study.
- While this study successfully x, there were some limitations.
Giving a specific number is useful for the reader and can guide your writing. But if it’s a longer list, no need to number them. For a short list, you can write them as:
But this gets tiring for more than three limitations (bad RX: reader experience).
So, for longer lists, add a bit of variety in the language to engage the reader. Like this:
- The first issue was…
- Another limitation was…
An expert editor will be happy to help you make the English more natural and readable.
After your lead-in sentence, follow a pattern of writing on your findings and related limitation(s), giving a quick interpretation, back it with support (if needed), and offer the next steps.
This provides a complete package for the reader: what happened, what it means, why this is the case, and what is now needed.
In that way, you’ve admitted what may be lacking, but you’ve further established your authority. You’ve also provided a quick roadmap for your reader. That’s an impactful contribution!
It might not always be logical or readable to give that much detail. As long as you fully describe and justify the limitation, you’ve done your job well.
Your study looked at a weight intervention over 6 months at primary healthcare clinics in Japan. The results were generally. But because you only looked at Japanese patients, these findings may not be extendible to patients of other cultures/nationalities, etc.
That’s not a failure at all. It’s a success. But it is a limitation. And other researchers can learn from it and build on it. Write it up in the limitations.
Finding: We found that, in the intervention group, BMI was reduced over 6 months.
Interpretation (and support): This suggests a regimen of routine testing and measurement followed by personalized health guidance from primary physicians had a positive effect on patients’ conditions.
Support: Yamazaki (2019) and Endo et al. (2020) found similar results in urban Japanese clinics and hospitals, respectively.
Limitation and how to use it: While these are useful findings, they are limited by only including Japanese populations. This does not ensure these interventions would be as effective in other nations or cultures. Similar interventions, adapted to the local healthcare and cultural conditions, would help to further clarify the methods.
Now you’ve stated the value of your finding, the limitation, and what to do with it. Nice impact!
Another hurdle you may hit is when your results are particularly novel or you’re publishing in a little-researched field. Those are limitations that need to be stated. In this case, you can support your findings by reinforcing the novelty of your results.
When breaking new ground, there are probably still many gaps in the knowledge base that need to be filled. A good follow-up statement for this type of limitation is to describe what, based on these results, the next steps would be to build a stronger overall evidence base.
It’s possible that your study will have a fairly “critical” flaw (usually in the study design) that decreases confidence in your findings.
Other experts will likely notice this (in peer review or perhaps on a preprint server, they should notice it), so it’s best to explain why this error or flaw occurred.
You can still explain why the study is worth repeating or how you plan to retest the phenomenon. But you may need to temper your publication goals if you still plan to publish your work.
No one expects science to be perfect the first time and while your peers can be highly critical, no one’s work is beyond limitations. This is important to keep in mind.
Edanz experts can help by giving you an Expert Scientific Review and seeking out your limitations.
Our knowledge base is built on uncovering each piece of the puzzle, one at a time, and limitations show us where new efforts need to be made. Much like peer review , don’t think of limitations as being inherently bad, but more as an opportunity for a new challenge.
Ultimately, your limitations may be someone else’s inspirations. Include them in your submission when you get published in the journal of your choice .
All research faces problems: Being honest impresses people much more than ignoring your limitations.
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How to Present the Limitations of a Study in Research?
The limitations of the study convey to the reader how and under which conditions your study results will be evaluated. Scientific research involves investigating research topics, both known and unknown, which inherently includes an element of risk. The risk could arise due to human errors, barriers to data gathering, limited availability of resources, and researcher bias. Researchers are encouraged to discuss the limitations of their research to enhance the process of research, as well as to allow readers to gain an understanding of the study’s framework and value.
Limitations of the research are the constraints placed on the ability to generalize from the results and to further describe applications to practice. It is related to the utility value of the findings based on how you initially chose to design the study, the method used to establish internal and external validity, or the result of unanticipated challenges that emerged during the study. Knowing about these limitations and their impact can explain how the limitations of your study can affect the conclusions and thoughts drawn from your research. 1
Table of Contents
What are the limitations of a study
Researchers are probably cautious to acknowledge what the limitations of the research can be for fear of undermining the validity of the research findings. No research can be faultless or cover all possible conditions. These limitations of your research appear probably due to constraints on methodology or research design and influence the interpretation of your research’s ultimate findings. 2 These are limitations on the generalization and usability of findings that emerge from the design of the research and/or the method employed to ensure validity internally and externally. But such limitations of the study can impact the whole study or research paper. However, most researchers prefer not to discuss the different types of limitations in research for fear of decreasing the value of their paper amongst the reviewers or readers.
Importance of limitations of a study
Writing the limitations of the research papers is often assumed to require lots of effort. However, identifying the limitations of the study can help structure the research better. Therefore, do not underestimate the importance of research study limitations. 3
- Opportunity to make suggestions for further research. Suggestions for future research and avenues for further exploration can be developed based on the limitations of the study.
- Opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking. A key objective of the research process is to discover new knowledge while questioning existing assumptions and exploring what is new in the particular field. Describing the limitation of the research shows that you have critically thought about the research problem, reviewed relevant literature, and correctly assessed the methods chosen for studying the problem.
- Demonstrate Subjective learning process. Writing limitations of the research helps to critically evaluate the impact of the said limitations, assess the strength of the research, and consider alternative explanations or interpretations. Subjective evaluation contributes to a more complex and comprehensive knowledge of the issue under study.
Why should I include limitations of research in my paper
All studies have limitations to some extent. Including limitations of the study in your paper demonstrates the researchers’ comprehensive and holistic understanding of the research process and topic. The major advantages are the following:
- Understand the study conditions and challenges encountered . It establishes a complete and potentially logical depiction of the research. The boundaries of the study can be established, and realistic expectations for the findings can be set. They can also help to clarify what the study is not intended to address.
- Improve the quality and validity of the research findings. Mentioning limitations of the research creates opportunities for the original author and other researchers to undertake future studies to improve the research outcomes.
- Transparency and accountability. Including limitations of the research helps maintain mutual integrity and promote further progress in similar studies.
- Identify potential bias sources. Identifying the limitations of the study can help researchers identify potential sources of bias in their research design, data collection, or analysis. This can help to improve the validity and reliability of the findings.
Where do I need to add the limitations of the study in my paper
The limitations of your research can be stated at the beginning of the discussion section, which allows the reader to comprehend the limitations of the study prior to reading the rest of your findings or at the end of the discussion section as an acknowledgment of the need for further research.
Types of limitations in research
There are different types of limitations in research that researchers may encounter. These are listed below:
- Research Design Limitations : Restrictions on your research or available procedures may affect the research outputs. If the research goals and objectives are too broad, explain how they should be narrowed down to enhance the focus of your study. If there was a selection bias in your sample, explain how this may affect the generalizability of your findings. This can help readers understand the limitations of the study in terms of their impact on the overall validity of your research.
- Impact Limitations : Your study might be limited by a strong regional-, national-, or species-based impact or population- or experimental-specific impact. These inherent limitations on impact affect the extendibility and generalizability of the findings.
- Data or statistical limitations : Data or statistical limitations in research are extremely common in experimental (such as medicine, physics, and chemistry) or field-based (such as ecology and qualitative clinical research) studies. Sometimes, it is either extremely difficult to acquire sufficient data or gain access to the data. These limitations of the research might also be the result of your study’s design and might result in an incomplete conclusion to your research.
Limitations of study examples
All possible limitations of the study cannot be included in the discussion section of the research paper or dissertation. It will vary greatly depending on the type and nature of the study. These include types of research limitations that are related to methodology and the research process and that of the researcher as well that you need to describe and discuss how they possibly impacted your results.
Common methodological limitations of the study
Limitations of research due to methodological problems are addressed by identifying the potential problem and suggesting ways in which this should have been addressed. Some potential methodological limitations of the study are as follows. 1
- Sample size: The sample size 4 is dictated by the type of research problem investigated. If the sample size is too small, finding a significant relationship from the data will be difficult, as statistical tests require a large sample size to ensure a representative population distribution and generalize the study findings.
- Lack of available/reliable data: A lack of available/reliable data will limit the scope of your analysis and the size of your sample or present obstacles in finding a trend or meaningful relationship. So, when writing about the limitations of the study, give convincing reasons why you feel data is absent or untrustworthy and highlight the necessity for a future study focused on developing a new data-gathering strategy.
- Lack of prior research studies: Citing prior research studies is required to help understand the research problem being investigated. If there is little or no prior research, an exploratory rather than an explanatory research design will be required. Also, discovering the limitations of the study presents an opportunity to identify gaps in the literature and describe the need for additional study.
- Measure used to collect the data: Sometimes, the data gathered will be insufficient to conduct a thorough analysis of the results. A limitation of the study example, for instance, is identifying in retrospect that a specific question could have helped address a particular issue that emerged during data analysis. You can acknowledge the limitation of the research by stating the need to revise the specific method for gathering data in the future.
- Self-reported data: Self-reported data cannot be independently verified and can contain several potential bias sources, such as selective memory, attribution, and exaggeration. These biases become apparent if they are incongruent with data from other sources.
General limitations of researchers
Limitations related to the researcher can also influence the study outcomes. These should be addressed, and related remedies should be proposed.
- Limited access to data : If your study requires access to people, organizations, data, or documents whose access is denied or limited, the reasons need to be described. An additional explanation stating why this limitation of research did not prevent you from following through on your study is also needed.
- Time constraints : Researchers might also face challenges in meeting research deadlines due to a lack of timely participant availability or funds, among others. The impacts of time constraints must be acknowledged by mentioning the need for a future study addressing this research problem.
- Conflicts due to biased views and personal issues : Differences in culture or personal views can contribute to researcher bias, as they focus only on the results and data that support their main arguments. To avoid this, pay attention to the problem statement and data gathering.
Steps for structuring the limitations section
Limitations are an inherent part of any research study. Issues may vary, ranging from sampling and literature review to methodology and bias. However, there is a structure for identifying these elements, discussing them, and offering insight or alternatives on how the limitations of the study can be mitigated. This enhances the process of the research and helps readers gain a comprehensive understanding of a study’s conditions.
- Identify the research constraints : Identify those limitations having the greatest impact on the quality of the research findings and your ability to effectively answer your research questions and/or hypotheses. These include sample size, selection bias, measurement error, or other issues affecting the validity and reliability of your research.
- Describe their impact on your research : Reflect on the nature of the identified limitations and justify the choices made during the research to identify the impact of the study’s limitations on the research outcomes. Explanations can be offered if needed, but without being defensive or exaggerating them. Provide context for the limitations of your research to understand them in a broader context. Any specific limitations due to real-world considerations need to be pointed out critically rather than justifying them as done by some other author group or groups.
- Mention the opportunity for future investigations : Suggest ways to overcome the limitations of the present study through future research. This can help readers understand how the research fits into the broader context and offer a roadmap for future studies.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Should I mention all the limitations of my study in the research report?
Restrict limitations to what is pertinent to the research question under investigation. The specific limitations you include will depend on the nature of the study, the research question investigated, and the data collected.
- Can the limitations of a study affect its credibility?
Stating the limitations of the research is considered favorable by editors and peer reviewers. Connecting your study’s limitations with future possible research can help increase the focus of unanswered questions in this area. In addition, admitting limitations openly and validating that they do not affect the main findings of the study increases the credibility of your study. However, if you determine that your study is seriously flawed, explain ways to successfully overcome such flaws in a future study. For example, if your study fails to acquire critical data, consider reframing the research question as an exploratory study to lay the groundwork for more complete research in the future.
- How can I mitigate the limitations of my study?
Strategies to minimize limitations of the research should focus on convincing reviewers and readers that the limitations do not affect the conclusions of the study by showing that the methods are appropriate and that the logic is sound. Here are some steps to follow to achieve this:
- Use data that are valid.
- Use methods that are appropriate and sound logic to draw inferences.
- Use adequate statistical methods for drawing inferences from the data that studies with similar limitations have been published before.
Admit limitations openly and, at the same time, show how they do not affect the main conclusions of the study.
- Can the limitations of a study impact its publication chances?
Limitations in your research can arise owing to restrictions in methodology or research design. Although this could impact your chances of publishing your research paper, it is critical to explain your study’s limitations to your intended audience. For example, it can explain how your study constraints may impact the results and views generated from your investigation. It also shows that you have researched the flaws of your study and have a thorough understanding of the subject.
- How can limitations in research be used for future studies?
The limitations of a study give you an opportunity to offer suggestions for further research. Your study’s limitations, including problems experienced during the study and the additional study perspectives developed, are a great opportunity to take on a new challenge and help advance knowledge in a particular field.
- Brutus, S., Aguinis, H., & Wassmer, U. (2013). Self-reported limitations and future directions in scholarly reports: Analysis and recommendations. Journal of Management , 39 (1), 48-75.
- Ioannidis, J. P. (2007). Limitations are not properly acknowledged in the scientific literature. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology , 60 (4), 324-329.
- Price, J. H., & Murnan, J. (2004). Research limitations and the necessity of reporting them. American Journal of Health Education , 35 (2), 66.
- Boddy, C. R. (2016). Sample size for qualitative research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal , 19 (4), 426-432.
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