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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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APA In-Text Citation Guide for Research Writing
- 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
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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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
Excellent article ,,,it has helped me big
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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 About the Limitations of a Scientific Study
Home » Writing the Manuscript » How to Write About the Limitations of a Scientific Study
You’ve analyzed your results and reached some conclusions. Now, you’re ready to tell the world about what you’ve found and convince editors, peer reviewers, and readers that it’s important. So how do you tackle the task of also telling them about the limitations of your work?
How to write about the limitations of a study
No study is perfect, no matter how elegant its design may be, and many journals require authors to write a section at the end of the discussion about the limitations of their study. For some studies, these limitations will be obvious: small sample size, multiple comparisons without corrections, observational design and risk for confounding. For other designs, the limitations may be less obvious, but you’ll still need to list them.
Six tips for writing your limitations section
- Focus on weaknesses in your design and analyses, rather than results.
- Start with a bold statement: “This study has some limitations.” Don’t try to soften it with less obvious language.
- Enumerate the limitations, if you can. If you have three limitations to discuss, say so: “This study has three main limitations.”
- Be direct about what they are. “The first limitation is the small number of participants.”
- Explain if needed, but without being defensive. “Because this condition is so rare, we anticipated that recruitment might not meet targets. However, also because the condition is rare, the findings of this study offer new, potentially useful information for this patient population.”
- Signal that you are wrapping up your limitations: “Finally, we could not control for every possible lifestyle factor, and the observational nature of this design leaves the possibility of residual confounding.”
What not to include in the limitations section
You do not need to include every single thing that you personally view as a limitation of the work. For example, if you were late in making a measurement one day, but that timing did not affect outcomes, you probably don’t need to mention it.
Do not be extremely defensive. Don’t expend a lot of language explaining why your work had the limitation. See above for an example of how to explain a limitation while still emphasizing the importance of your work.
Usually, avoid pointing fingers in an accusatory way at other studies. If your work has a specific limitation because of real-world considerations, you can point that out, rather than saying as justification that some other author group or groups did the same thing.
In a similar vein, the limitations section is not usually the place to compare a limitation of your study favorably to the limitations of other studies. For example, you should not say, “We had only 25 participants, but Smith et al. had only 12 and they still published their results.” That comes across as defensive and uncollegial.
Where do you comment on the strengths?
The usual practice is to place the strengths of a study ahead of the limitations. Most authors will list the strengths, beginning with a phrase such as, “Our study had several strengths,” and then briefly describing what those are. As with limitations, these strengths usually will relate to design: large population, excellent controls, multiple adjustments, or double-blind design. If your design is considered more stringent than what others have used before (e.g., a randomized trial as opposed to an observational study), that’s a particular strength. When you’ve listed your strengths, then you move to your limitations, using phrasing such as, “Our study also had some limitations.”
Acknowledging a study’s limitations is an important part of the process of science and of communicating your results. It shows that you are willing to mention and discuss the weaknesses as well as the strengths of your work and suggests an intellectually honest presentation of your findings.
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- 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.
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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 ...
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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?
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
Before you even start your study or collect your data, you’re often aware of certain limitations on what you want to test or what results you’ll get. These are three broad areas of limitations. But there are certainly more. We admit our own limitations here. 😉
Study design limitations
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!
Statistical or data limitations
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).
How to describe your limitations
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.
Where to write your limitations
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.
Structure for writing about a limitation
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!
Writing up a broader limitation
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!
Dealing with breakthroughs and niche-type limitations
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.
Dealing with critical flaws
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.
Curb your enthusiasm: Manage expectations
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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Home » Limitations in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide
Limitations in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide
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Limitations in Research
Limitations in research refer to the factors that may affect the results, conclusions , and generalizability of a study. These limitations can arise from various sources, such as the design of the study, the sampling methods used, the measurement tools employed, and the limitations of the data analysis techniques.
Types of Limitations in Research
Types of Limitations in Research are as follows:
Sample Size Limitations
This refers to the size of the group of people or subjects that are being studied. If the sample size is too small, then the results may not be representative of the population being studied. This can lead to a lack of generalizability of the results.
Time limitations can be a constraint on the research process . This could mean that the study is unable to be conducted for a long enough period of time to observe the long-term effects of an intervention, or to collect enough data to draw accurate conclusions.
This refers to a type of bias that can occur when the selection of participants in a study is not random. This can lead to a biased sample that is not representative of the population being studied.
Confounding variables are factors that can influence the outcome of a study, but are not being measured or controlled for. These can lead to inaccurate conclusions or a lack of clarity in the results.
This refers to inaccuracies in the measurement of variables, such as using a faulty instrument or scale. This can lead to inaccurate results or a lack of validity in the study.
Ethical limitations refer to the ethical constraints placed on research studies. For example, certain studies may not be allowed to be conducted due to ethical concerns, such as studies that involve harm to participants.
Examples of Limitations in Research
Some Examples of Limitations in Research are as follows:
Research Title: “The Effectiveness of Machine Learning Algorithms in Predicting Customer Behavior”
- The study only considered a limited number of machine learning algorithms and did not explore the effectiveness of other algorithms.
- The study used a specific dataset, which may not be representative of all customer behaviors or demographics.
- The study did not consider the potential ethical implications of using machine learning algorithms in predicting customer behavior.
Research Title: “The Impact of Online Learning on Student Performance in Computer Science Courses”
- The study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have affected the results due to the unique circumstances of remote learning.
- The study only included students from a single university, which may limit the generalizability of the findings to other institutions.
- The study did not consider the impact of individual differences, such as prior knowledge or motivation, on student performance in online learning environments.
Research Title: “The Effect of Gamification on User Engagement in Mobile Health Applications”
- The study only tested a specific gamification strategy and did not explore the effectiveness of other gamification techniques.
- The study relied on self-reported measures of user engagement, which may be subject to social desirability bias or measurement errors.
- The study only included a specific demographic group (e.g., young adults) and may not be generalizable to other populations with different preferences or needs.
How to Write Limitations in Research
When writing about the limitations of a research study, it is important to be honest and clear about the potential weaknesses of your work. Here are some tips for writing about limitations in research:
- Identify the limitations: Start by identifying the potential limitations of your research. These may include sample size, selection bias, measurement error, or other issues that could affect the validity and reliability of your findings.
- Be honest and objective: When describing the limitations of your research, be honest and objective. Do not try to minimize or downplay the limitations, but also do not exaggerate them. Be clear and concise in your description of the limitations.
- Provide context: It is important to provide context for the limitations of your research. For example, if your sample size was small, explain why this was the case and how it may have affected your results. Providing context can help readers understand the limitations in a broader context.
- Discuss implications : Discuss the implications of the limitations for your research findings. For example, if there was a selection bias in your sample, explain how this may have affected the generalizability of your findings. This can help readers understand the limitations in terms of their impact on the overall validity of your research.
- Provide suggestions for future research : Finally, provide suggestions for future research that can address the limitations of your study. This can help readers understand how your research fits into the broader field and can provide a roadmap for future studies.
Purpose of Limitations in Research
There are several purposes of limitations in research. Here are some of the most important ones:
- To acknowledge the boundaries of the study : Limitations help to define the scope of the research project and set realistic expectations for the findings. They can help to clarify what the study is not intended to address.
- To identify potential sources of bias: Limitations 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.
- To provide opportunities for future research: Limitations can highlight areas for future research and suggest avenues for further exploration. This can help to advance knowledge in a particular field.
- To demonstrate transparency and accountability: By acknowledging the limitations of their research, researchers can demonstrate transparency and accountability to their readers, peers, and funders. This can help to build trust and credibility in the research community.
- To encourage critical thinking: Limitations can encourage readers to critically evaluate the study’s findings and consider alternative explanations or interpretations. This can help to promote a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the topic under investigation.
When to Write Limitations in Research
Limitations should be included in research when they help to provide a more complete understanding of the study’s results and implications. A limitation is any factor that could potentially impact the accuracy, reliability, or generalizability of the study’s findings.
It is important to identify and discuss limitations in research because doing so helps to ensure that the results are interpreted appropriately and that any conclusions drawn are supported by the available evidence. Limitations can also suggest areas for future research, highlight potential biases or confounding factors that may have affected the results, and provide context for the study’s findings.
Generally, limitations should be discussed in the conclusion section of a research paper or thesis, although they may also be mentioned in other sections, such as the introduction or methods. The specific limitations that are discussed will depend on the nature of the study, the research question being investigated, and the data that was collected.
Examples of limitations that might be discussed in research include sample size limitations, data collection methods, the validity and reliability of measures used, and potential biases or confounding factors that could have affected the results. It is important to note that limitations should not be used as a justification for poor research design or methodology, but rather as a way to enhance the understanding and interpretation of the study’s findings.
Importance of Limitations in Research
Here are some reasons why limitations are important in research:
- Enhances the credibility of research: Limitations highlight the potential weaknesses and threats to validity, which helps readers to understand the scope and boundaries of the study. This improves the credibility of research by acknowledging its limitations and providing a clear picture of what can and cannot be concluded from the study.
- Facilitates replication: By highlighting the limitations, researchers can provide detailed information about the study’s methodology, data collection, and analysis. This information helps other researchers to replicate the study and test the validity of the findings, which enhances the reliability of research.
- Guides future research : Limitations provide insights into areas for future research by identifying gaps or areas that require further investigation. This can help researchers to design more comprehensive and effective studies that build on existing knowledge.
- Provides a balanced view: Limitations help to provide a balanced view of the research by highlighting both strengths and weaknesses. This ensures that readers have a clear understanding of the study’s limitations and can make informed decisions about the generalizability and applicability of the findings.
Advantages of Limitations in Research
Here are some potential advantages of limitations in research:
- Focus : Limitations can help researchers focus their study on a specific area or population, which can make the research more relevant and useful.
- Realism : Limitations can make a study more realistic by reflecting the practical constraints and challenges of conducting research in the real world.
- Innovation : Limitations can spur researchers to be more innovative and creative in their research design and methodology, as they search for ways to work around the limitations.
- Rigor : Limitations can actually increase the rigor and credibility of a study, as researchers are forced to carefully consider the potential sources of bias and error, and address them to the best of their abilities.
- Generalizability : Limitations can actually improve the generalizability of a study by ensuring that it is not overly focused on a specific sample or situation, and that the results can be applied more broadly.
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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.
Present your research or paper in an innovative way
If you want your readers to be engaged and participate in your research, try Mind The Graph tool to add visual assets to your content. Infographics may improve comprehension and are easy to read, just as the Mind The Graph tool is simple to use and offers a variety of templates from which you can select the one that best suits your information.
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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.
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Don’t Worry! And Write the LIMITATIONS of Your Research!
Do you know someone who thinks they are simply perfect and has no faults? (Well, I know a few and some even become presidents of extremely important countries).
Well, as shocking and disappointing as it may seem to some people: no one is perfect! Some are too tall, some too short, some enjoy country music (nothing personal), some add water to their fine whiskey (honestly, why?) and some do not drink coffee.
The conclusion is: we all have some negative sides! And research is no different!
And what is considered a limitation of a study?
A limitation is any aspect that hinders a study and its findings.
Does it mean that if my study has limitations it is useless? NO!!!!!!!!!!!
Very often researchers (students or well established researchers) have concerns about clearly describing the limitations of their studies. Why? Because there is sometimes a misconception that if your research limitations are too clear, readers will undermine the relevance of your work. For example, you might be afraid others will think:
“Why are these findings relevant if there are so many limitations to the study?”
All right, first let us make some things clear here:
- EVERY STUDY HAS LIMITATIONS.
- Clarifying the limitations of a study allows the reader to better understand under which conditions the results should be interpreted.
- Clear descriptions of limitations of a study also show that the researcher has a holistic understanding of his/her study. And this is something very positive!
In other words, clearly describing the limitations of your study should only strengthen your work!
ALSO CHECK : Read our “STEP BY STEP Thesis Guide” with Many More Tips!
Video Content: Research Limitations
In case you are enjoying the article, do not forget to watch the video with further support on how to deal with your research limitations.
Examples of Research Limitations
Ok, you got it so far that no one is perfect, that some weird people become presidents and that research limitations should be included in your work.
I guess the next question would be: which limitations should I mention?
Look, it is extremely difficult to describe all possible types of research limitations. It will vary greatly depending on the type and nature of the study.
However, here are some examples:
- Often studies wish to understand a specific topic (e.g. Brazilian consumers’ perceptions towards a product) but only conduct a study with 50 participants. Considering that the Brazilian population has around 200 million people, can we generalize the results based on only 50 respondents? Clearly NOT! So consider your sample size in relation to the population of your study.
- For example, many academic studies have used student sampling. There are many advantages for this, such as easy access and low costs for data collection. Nonetheless, using purely student sampling is also extremely limiting if the population of the study is comprised of people with varies profiles.
- Very often, a method is accurate for a research aim, but it also includes many limitations. For example: Imagine you wish to understand consumers’ use of toilet paper (weird topic, isn’t it?) and the researcher uses in-depth interviews, as the study has an exploratory nature. Would you, as a respondent, feel comfortable to describe your use of toilet paper to a stranger? Probably not! Thus, your answers might be highly biased according to what is expected from him/her or to what is socially acceptable. So your answers might not exactly resemble the truth, due to the method.
- In the example above, the presence of the researcher influenced the responses, right? But would it be different if the interview had been done over the phone? Perhaps yes. Why? Because the topic is sensitive and private (Literally! ). So the point is: the way in which you collect data can represent a strong limitation. Some researchers collect data in busy areas such as train stations where there are many distractions and respondents are in a rush. Is this a limitation? Certainly! Thus, you must reflect to see if the way in which you collected your data represents a limitation.
- Imagine you are developing a study involving virtual reality (VR). You can use many different VR devices, ranging from very expensive ones (that have an extraordinary immersion experience) to cheaper ones (that will provide an immersive experience, but not as real). In other words, the type of device used influenced the study results. So if you use an equipment (e.g. devices, products, etc.) you have to consider if the type used represents a limitation or a strength of your work.
- Often students have a deadline to turn in their work. Other academics have conference or journal deadlines. Would we do better work if we had more time? Of course! Do we have unlimited time to do research and collect data? NO! For this reason, “time” is a very common limitation for many studies.
- Are you investigating a phenomenon long after it happened? Did you collect your data in a period that was not exactly suitable for respondents for some specific reason? All of these are examples of how timing might represent a strong limitation for studies.
- Money is always a problem (at least for me. If it is not for you, we should be friends! ). Sometimes we need it to purchase the necessary equipment for a study, to hire people for data collection, to purchase a specific statistical software or to simply reward participants with products or giveaways for having participated in the study. When financial resources are scarce, all of these possibilities are compromised. Consequently, such limitations might be reflected in the results of the study.
- In the majority of cases, studies start when researchers identify gaps in the literature and try to address them. However, the identification or understanding that there is a gap depends on the researchers’ level of access to the existing literature. What may seem as a research gap might be a huge misconception simply because the person did not have access to a larger range of scientific literature. Thus, access to literature can also be a limitation.
- If your study is based on secondary data, pay extra care to the age of the data. Making current assumptions based on old data represents a strong limitation.
Where Should Research Limitations be Included in the Thesis?
Once you are done thinking and considering the limitations of your work, a simple question may arise: Where in my thesis should I include such limitations?
Please note: there is no specific format to this and it may vary from supervisor to supervisor, and sometimes certain universities may have their own guidelines. But USUALLY, the limitations are the VERY LAST section of your thesis, and they appear after the MANAGERIAL RECOMMENDATIONS .
And why? Because as mentioned above, the limitations may be due to any section of your work. For example:
- Access to literature (literature review or theoretical background)
- Method and data collection process (methodology)
- Statistical software (analysis)
For this reason, it doesn’t really make much sense to have it in any other section of your work but the very END .
Got it? Great! Now go ahead and be honest with the limitations of your work! Reviewers will be positively impressed!
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Please note: All the suggestions here are personal, according to my own supervision style. Feel absolutely free to discuss them with your supervisor or other academics. Each one tends to have their own style and expectations.
Hope these tips have been useful for you and wish you all the best!
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- Limitations in Research: Writing about Your Study Limitations
- Limitations in Research: Best Tips and Examples for Everyone
What are the limitations in research?
Types of limitations in research, best tips on organizing study limitations, to conclude.
All of us encountered the term limitations in research at least once in academic paper writing . Usually, we interpret it as something bad. However, when it comes to your studies, restraints can actually become a positive thing. We have written an article about limitations in research which would explain not only what the limitations are, but also how to use them in your study.
Limitations in research are restrictions and constraints which have been put on your methodology of study and exploration process in general. Unfortunately, many researchers don’t work with restraints and ignore them. They do so because they feel like if they do actually determine some of the limitations, their work will not be valued as much. Limitations depend on the different types of research design . Of course, this is not the true cause. Every study should have its limits. If you want your work to be accurate, the research limitations section should be a must-have for your study. The truth is that each study has its flaws and negative sides, but this fact does not ultimately make writing your case study worse. Here are the key rules you should follow:
- Acknowledge the research limitations of your study before someone else does.
- Remember: problems and flaws can actually give you a chance to continue and develop your studies. You might get questions without any answer, and to get them, you need to know which restraints you had in a previous paper.
- Mentioning limitations can actually show your skills of critical analysis. During your research, you go through a lot of literature, i.e. literature review and experiments. When you come up with not only observations but also understanding of the flaws of your study, you take a step towards making your paper better.
- Sample size/sample bias. For example, let’s say 100 hundred people should participate in your survey. Each person may give you individual results, but it does not mean that the same results belong to the whole population.
- Access to data. You will not always be able to go through all the resources. You can’t gather all the data you want for your research since it will take a lot of time. Because of it, your work might not cover each aspect.
- Lack of time. Often deadlines are the reason why your study and research might not be complete. When we get a task, we have a limited amount of time to do it. To get a good grade, we need to submit the assignment prior to the deadline.
- Financial resources. Sometimes we need some equipment or additional software to conduct the research. This might be a problem since we don’t always have the sum we need.
- Data collection. There are different ways to collect data: interviews, surveys, questionnaire, etc. The way you collect data might be a real limitation since the answers and the results vary.
- Method. When you are finding new information, you use a specific research method and research methodology . Different methods give you various opportunities. Quality of the datum you get often depends on the method you choose.
Here are some tips on how to organize a discussion about research limitations for your studies.
- Identify the restraints of your work. What are the limitations that affected your study? How did they influence your conclusion? Answer these questions and come up with the review of all possible limitations and why they are important for your studies.
- Describe these restraints and explain why they took their place. This section should be short and give more details about what you have encountered in your research. Talk about the importance of the obstacles of your work and how they affect it. Don’t be ashamed to talk about it since it’s a normal thing: there are no perfect studies and researches.
- Structure your research limitations. Firstly, write a list of all the restraints you had. Create a plan for this part and think how long you would like it to be. Write a few drafts to see how this section will fit in the text.
- Give some thoughts on your future studies. Which mistakes would you try to avoid and how? Think about the perspective of additional studies. Note problems that you had and try to solve them when working on your next paper.
Limitations are a great way to have an open discussion about what did you discover and how your findings were influenced by these limits. Negative sides of your study can actually help you make your research better. Learn from the mistakes, and do your best to improve your work. In case you need some extra help with your papers you can always ask professionals to take care of it.