There are many different types of limitations in research, and it is important to be aware of them when conducting your studies. Otherwise, your findings may be invalidated or compromised.
Research limitation definition
A limitation in a research paper is anything that constrains or restricts the scope of what can be investigated. This may be due to a number of factors, such as time constraints, budget restrictions, ethical considerations, access to participants or data, researcher bias, and poor study design.
There are two main types of study limitations: internal and external.
Those within the researcher’s control, such as the sample size or type of research design used.
These are beyond the researcher’s control and include things like the availability of data or participants.
It is important to note that all research studies have limitations, and these should be acknowledged in scholarly research. However, this does not mean that research findings are not valuable or that you should not conduct the study. Rather, it is important to be transparent about the limitations of your study so that readers can correctly interpret your results.
Different research designs have different types of limitations. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common research designs and their potential limitations.
The different types of research and their limitations
Qualitative Research Limitations
Qualitative research is a type of research that uses observations, interviews, and focus groups to gather data about people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
One of the main limitations of qualitative research is that it is often subjective and open to interpretation. This means that different researchers may come to different conclusions from the same data. Another limitation is that qualitative research often has a small sample size, which can make it difficult to generalize the research findings to a larger population and make valid conclusions.
Quantitative Research Limitations
Quantitative research is a type of research that uses surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis to collect and analyze numerical data.
One of the main limitations of quantitative research is that it can be difficult to accurately measure complex concepts. Another limitation is that quantitative research often relies on self-reported data, which can be unreliable.
Since quantitative research heavily relies on statistical data, limitations are mostly related to how data is collected and analyzed. For example, researchers may only be able to collect data from a small number of people, which can make it difficult to generalize the findings to a larger population. Additionally, the way data is analyzed can also introduce bias and error.
Exploratory studies and their limitations
Some exploratory studies, both quantitative and qualitative, may not have a review of relevant literature published, and this shouldn’t be considered a limitation. If the research topic is new or innovative, it is expected that there might not be previous studies to draw upon. Other types of exploratory studies may have a review of the literature but may use a small sample size or a non-random sampling method, which can introduce bias.
Such studies may develop an entirely new research typology to address a specific research problem. They serve as a basis for a more complete research study and may pave the way for future research. Most common research limitations.
Hence you should keep in mind that in exploratory studies, such things as lack of reviewed literature or imperfect data collection methods are common and are not considered serious limitations.
Most common research limitations
Ineffective sampling strategy
One of the most common limitations in research is an ineffective sampling strategy. This can happen when researchers use a convenience sample, a non-random sample of people who are easily accessible and willing to participate in the study. While convenience samples can be quick and easy to collect, they are often not representative of the population as a whole, which can lead to findings that are not generalizable.
Another common sampling error is self-selection bias, which occurs when participants self-select into the study. For example, if you are conducting a study on people’s opinions of a new product, you may only be able to get people who are interested in the product to participate. This can lead to a biased sample that is not representative of the population.
To avoid these errors, researchers should use a random sampling method to select participants from the population. This will help to ensure that the sample is representative of the population and that findings can be generalized to the larger population.
Inadequate sample size
This can happen when there are not enough participants in a study to accurately represent the population. For example, suppose you are conducting a medical research study on the effects of a new treatment or medication. In that case, you will need a large sample to be able to detect small changes in the population. It is needed to understand what side effects can be observed among different people. If the sample is too small, you may not be able to detect any effects of the medication, even if there are real effects.
To avoid this, researchers should calculate the minimum sample size needed for their study before collecting data. This will help to ensure that the sample is large enough to accurately represent the population.
So, what sample size can be considered a limitation in the quantitative study? In general, it depends on the population size. However, as a rule of thumb, a sample size of less than 100 is considered small. Hence, if you are reviewing or conducting a study with 100 participants or less, mention this as a study limitation. If the sample size is too small, statistical analysis won’t be able to provide statistically significant results.
Determining adequate sample size in quantitative studies can be rather challenging, and it depends on various factors, such as total population size, research problem, and availability of time and resources.
Qualitative research sample sizes are typically smaller. For instance, if a qualitative study uses interviews as the main data collection method, the number of interviewees lower than 12 can be considered a limitation.
Poor review of prior research
Every research should provide a rationale, meaning that the researcher needs to explain why the study is being conducted and what question it is trying to answer. This can be done by conducting a literature review or prior research studies. If a study does not review any prior research, it is likely that the researcher is not familiar with the existing body of knowledge on the topic. This can be considered a serious limitation.
Additionally, you should pay attention to the publication date of previous research studies reviewed. In general, if the researchers reviewed the scientific literature published more than 10 years ago, this can be seen as a limitation since the field may have progressed since then.
To avoid this, researchers should ensure that they are familiar with the existing body of knowledge on their topic and review the most up-to-date research available.
Another way to avoid this limitation is by using only primary sources, which are data that you collect yourself, rather than secondhand information. Primary data is often more reliable and up-to-date than secondary data.
Certain study limitations may arise if a study relies on statistical analyses to interpret the data. As was mentioned, if the sample is too small, statistical analysis methods may fail to identify significant relationships between variables.
Additionally, the choice of statistical tests can also be a limitation. For example, if you are conducting a study on the effects of a new treatment, you will need to use a statistical test that can detect small changes in the population. If you use a test that is not sensitive enough, you may fail to acquire critical data and address the research problem effectively.
Finally, another statistical limitation is if the data is not normally distributed. This can happen when the data is skewed or has outliers. Certain statistical tests may not be appropriate to use if the data is not normally distributed.
Data management limitations
There can be possible limitations associated with data management. This can happen if the data is not properly collected, stored, or analyzed. For example, if the data is not collected in a standardized way, it may be difficult to compare across different studies. Additionally, if the data is not properly stored, it may be lost or corrupted.
Risk of bias
Every researcher is a human being (except for certain AI models, such as GPT-3). It means we all have biases that can distort our research findings. For example, if a researcher has a negative bias against the treatment being studied, they may be more likely to find negative side effects that don’t actually exist.
If you have social, racial, or other biases, this may also affect your ability to interpret data objectively.
So, how do we identify if there is a high risk of bias in a research paper? For instance, if only 1 researcher conducts a qualitative research study, the potential risk of bias is extremely high. The more researchers taking part in the study, the lower the risk of bias is.
How to identify the study’s limitations
There are several ways to identify limitations in research:
1. Check the “Limitations” section.
Look at the research “Limitations” section. This is where researchers will list the limitations of their study. If there is no “Limitations” section, mention that the authors didn’t provide any information regarding potential limitations.
2. Check the “Introduction” and “Literature Review” sections.
If the authors didn’t review relevant literature or reviewed literature older than 10 years, this can be considered a limitation of this research paper. Poor review of existing literature may undermine the researcher’s ability to identify the research problem.
You may write something like this, “the authors failed to conduct a comprehensive review of prior research studies, and literature review findings are based on outdated research.”
3. Pay close attention to the sample and data collection process.
A low sample size is one of the most widespread limitations of a study. If you see that the sample size is smaller than 100 for quantitative study or smaller than 12 for qualitative interview study, you should write about this. If a purposeful sampling strategy was employed, this could also be viewed as a limitation, as the sample may not accurately reflect the general population.
You may write that the “small sample contributes to poor generalizability of the results, which can be considered one of the research limitations.”
4. Pay attention to the research design and methods section.
This is where the researcher describes how the study was conducted and what research methodology was used. If there are any flaws in the research design, this can be considered a limitation of the study.
For example, suppose the study was conducted over a short period of time and didn’t consider long-term effects. In that case, you may write that “the research design didn’t allow for the assessment of long-term effects, which can be considered a limitation.” Additionally, if a research study used a self-report measure (such as a questionnaire), this can be considered a limitation as well, as people may not accurately report their thoughts and feelings.
5. Look at the emotional language.
If the authors use emotional language and words with a positive or negative connotation, this may be a warning sign of possible limitations associated with the author’s bias and prejudice.
One of the most important things to remember when writing about limitations is that you should always try to be as objective as possible. Even if you think that the study has a lot of limitations, it’s important to mention the positive aspects of the research as well. For example, if a study has a small sample, you may write that “despite the small sample, the study provides interesting and valuable insights into the research problem.”.
What to do if your study has limitations?
First of all, it is important to be transparent about the limitations of your study. You should try to minimize study limitations during the research process; however, no study is perfect.
Do not try to hide them or make excuses. Your major goal as a researcher is to write a thorough research paper. Be upfront about the limitations and explain how they affected your findings.
Describe each of your study’s limitations in detailed but concise terms.
Secondly, try to suggest ways to improve the study. For example, if the sample was small, you could provide suggestions for further research. Mention that future research on your topic should consider your study limitations and use a bigger sample.
If your study was conducted only in a small area, state that further research should be conducted in other regions to improve the generalizability of the results.
The lack of reliable data is another common limitation. For instance, if your study used self-reported data, you should emphasize that future studies should use objective measures.
Being aware of your study’s limitations is important. By being upfront about the limitations, you show that you are aware of the potential weaknesses in your study. This can make your research more credible. Finally, by suggesting ways to improve the study, you are showing that you try to avoid bias and be as objective as possible.
The limitations can be viewed as a weakness or a shortcoming of the study. However, it is important to remember that every study has limitations and that these limitations should not be ignored. Instead, the researcher should be transparent about the limitations and explain how they affected the findings of the study. Additionally, the researcher should suggest ways to improve the study in future research. By being aware of the limitations, the researcher can increase the credibility and trustworthiness of the study.