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21 Research Limitations Examples

21 Research Limitations Examples

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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research limitations examples and definition, explained below

Research limitations refer to the potential weaknesses inherent in a study. All studies have limitations of some sort, meaning declaring limitations doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing, so long as your declaration of limitations is well thought-out and explained.

Rarely is a study perfect. Researchers have to make trade-offs when developing their studies, which are often based upon practical considerations such as time and monetary constraints, weighing the breadth of participants against the depth of insight, and choosing one methodology or another.

In research, studies can have limitations such as limited scope, researcher subjectivity, and lack of available research tools.

Acknowledging the limitations of your study should be seen as a strength. It demonstrates your willingness for transparency, humility, and submission to the scientific method and can bolster the integrity of the study. It can also inform future research direction.

Typically, scholars will explore the limitations of their study in either their methodology section, their conclusion section, or both.

Research Limitations Examples

Qualitative and quantitative research offer different perspectives and methods in exploring phenomena, each with its own strengths and limitations. So, I’ve split the limitations examples sections into qualitative and quantitative below.

Qualitative Research Limitations

Qualitative research seeks to understand phenomena in-depth and in context. It focuses on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.

It’s often used to explore new or complex issues, and it provides rich, detailed insights into participants’ experiences, behaviors, and attitudes. However, these strengths also create certain limitations, as explained below.

1. Subjectivity

Qualitative research often requires the researcher to interpret subjective data. One researcher may examine a text and identify different themes or concepts as more dominant than others.

Close qualitative readings of texts are necessarily subjective – and while this may be a limitation, qualitative researchers argue this is the best way to deeply understand everything in context.

Suggested Solution and Response: To minimize subjectivity bias, you could consider cross-checking your own readings of themes and data against other scholars’ readings and interpretations. This may involve giving the raw data to a supervisor or colleague and asking them to code the data separately, then coming together to compare and contrast results.

2. Researcher Bias

The concept of researcher bias is related to, but slightly different from, subjectivity.

Researcher bias refers to the perspectives and opinions you bring with you when doing your research.

For example, a researcher who is explicitly of a certain philosophical or political persuasion may bring that persuasion to bear when interpreting data.

In many scholarly traditions, we will attempt to minimize researcher bias through the utilization of clear procedures that are set out in advance or through the use of statistical analysis tools.

However, in other traditions, such as in postmodern feminist research , declaration of bias is expected, and acknowledgment of bias is seen as a positive because, in those traditions, it is believed that bias cannot be eliminated from research, so instead, it is a matter of integrity to present it upfront.

Suggested Solution and Response: Acknowledge the potential for researcher bias and, depending on your theoretical framework , accept this, or identify procedures you have taken to seek a closer approximation to objectivity in your coding and analysis.

3. Generalizability

If you’re struggling to find a limitation to discuss in your own qualitative research study, then this one is for you: all qualitative research, of all persuasions and perspectives, cannot be generalized.

This is a core feature that sets qualitative data and quantitative data apart.

The point of qualitative data is to select case studies and similarly small corpora and dig deep through in-depth analysis and thick description of data.

Often, this will also mean that you have a non-randomized sample size.

While this is a positive – you’re going to get some really deep, contextualized, interesting insights – it also means that the findings may not be generalizable to a larger population that may not be representative of the small group of people in your study.

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that take a quantitative approach to the question.

4. The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect refers to the phenomenon where research participants change their ‘observed behavior’ when they’re aware that they are being observed.

This effect was first identified by Elton Mayo who conducted studies of the effects of various factors ton workers’ productivity. He noticed that no matter what he did – turning up the lights, turning down the lights, etc. – there was an increase in worker outputs compared to prior to the study taking place.

Mayo realized that the mere act of observing the workers made them work harder – his observation was what was changing behavior.

So, if you’re looking for a potential limitation to name for your observational research study , highlight the possible impact of the Hawthorne effect (and how you could reduce your footprint or visibility in order to decrease its likelihood).

Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight ways you have attempted to reduce your footprint while in the field, and guarantee anonymity to your research participants.

5. Replicability

Quantitative research has a great benefit in that the studies are replicable – a researcher can get a similar sample size, duplicate the variables, and re-test a study. But you can’t do that in qualitative research.

Qualitative research relies heavily on context – a specific case study or specific variables that make a certain instance worthy of analysis. As a result, it’s often difficult to re-enter the same setting with the same variables and repeat the study.

Furthermore, the individual researcher’s interpretation is more influential in qualitative research, meaning even if a new researcher enters an environment and makes observations, their observations may be different because subjectivity comes into play much more. This doesn’t make the research bad necessarily (great insights can be made in qualitative research), but it certainly does demonstrate a weakness of qualitative research.

6. Limited Scope

“Limited scope” is perhaps one of the most common limitations listed by researchers – and while this is often a catch-all way of saying, “well, I’m not studying that in this study”, it’s also a valid point.

No study can explore everything related to a topic. At some point, we have to make decisions about what’s included in the study and what is excluded from the study.

So, you could say that a limitation of your study is that it doesn’t look at an extra variable or concept that’s certainly worthy of study but will have to be explored in your next project because this project has a clearly and narrowly defined goal.

Suggested Solution and Response: Be clear about what’s in and out of the study when writing your research question.

7. Time Constraints

This is also a catch-all claim you can make about your research project: that you would have included more people in the study, looked at more variables, and so on. But you’ve got to submit this thing by the end of next semester! You’ve got time constraints.

And time constraints are a recognized reality in all research.

But this means you’ll need to explain how time has limited your decisions. As with “limited scope”, this may mean that you had to study a smaller group of subjects, limit the amount of time you spent in the field, and so forth.

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will build on your current work, possibly as a PhD project.

8. Resource Intensiveness

Qualitative research can be expensive due to the cost of transcription, the involvement of trained researchers, and potential travel for interviews or observations.

So, resource intensiveness is similar to the time constraints concept. If you don’t have the funds, you have to make decisions about which tools to use, which statistical software to employ, and how many research assistants you can dedicate to the study.

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will gain more funding on the back of this ‘ exploratory study ‘.

9. Coding Difficulties

Data analysis in qualitative research often involves coding, which can be subjective and complex, especially when dealing with ambiguous or contradicting data.

After naming this as a limitation in your research, it’s important to explain how you’ve attempted to address this. Some ways to ‘limit the limitation’ include:

  • Triangulation: Have 2 other researchers code the data as well and cross-check your results with theirs to identify outliers that may need to be re-examined, debated with the other researchers, or removed altogether.
  • Procedure: Use a clear coding procedure to demonstrate reliability in your coding process. I personally use the thematic network analysis method outlined in this academic article by Attride-Stirling (2001).

Suggested Solution and Response: Triangulate your coding findings with colleagues, and follow a thematic network analysis procedure.

10. Risk of Non-Responsiveness

There is always a risk in research that research participants will be unwilling or uncomfortable sharing their genuine thoughts and feelings in the study.

This is particularly true when you’re conducting research on sensitive topics, politicized topics, or topics where the participant is expressing vulnerability .

This is similar to the Hawthorne effect (aka participant bias), where participants change their behaviors in your presence; but it goes a step further, where participants actively hide their true thoughts and feelings from you.

Suggested Solution and Response: One way to manage this is to try to include a wider group of people with the expectation that there will be non-responsiveness from some participants.

11. Risk of Attrition

Attrition refers to the process of losing research participants throughout the study.

This occurs most commonly in longitudinal studies , where a researcher must return to conduct their analysis over spaced periods of time, often over a period of years.

Things happen to people over time – they move overseas, their life experiences change, they get sick, change their minds, and even die. The more time that passes, the greater the risk of attrition.

Suggested Solution and Response: One way to manage this is to try to include a wider group of people with the expectation that there will be attrition over time.

12. Difficulty in Maintaining Confidentiality and Anonymity

Given the detailed nature of qualitative data , ensuring participant anonymity can be challenging.

If you have a sensitive topic in a specific case study, even anonymizing research participants sometimes isn’t enough. People might be able to induce who you’re talking about.

Sometimes, this will mean you have to exclude some interesting data that you collected from your final report. Confidentiality and anonymity come before your findings in research ethics – and this is a necessary limiting factor.

Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight the efforts you have taken to anonymize data, and accept that confidentiality and accountability place extremely important constraints on academic research.

13. Difficulty in Finding Research Participants

A study that looks at a very specific phenomenon or even a specific set of cases within a phenomenon means that the pool of potential research participants can be very low.

Compile on top of this the fact that many people you approach may choose not to participate, and you could end up with a very small corpus of subjects to explore. This may limit your ability to make complete findings, even in a quantitative sense.

You may need to therefore limit your research question and objectives to something more realistic.

Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight that this is going to limit the study’s generalizability significantly.

14. Ethical Limitations

Ethical limitations refer to the things you cannot do based on ethical concerns identified either by yourself or your institution’s ethics review board.

This might include threats to the physical or psychological well-being of your research subjects, the potential of releasing data that could harm a person’s reputation, and so on.

Furthermore, even if your study follows all expected standards of ethics, you still, as an ethical researcher, need to allow a research participant to pull out at any point in time, after which you cannot use their data, which demonstrates an overlap between ethical constraints and participant attrition.

Suggested Solution and Response: Highlight that these ethical limitations are inevitable but important to sustain the integrity of the research.

For more on Qualitative Research, Explore my Qualitative Research Guide

Quantitative Research Limitations

Quantitative research focuses on quantifiable data and statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques. It’s often used to test hypotheses, assess relationships and causality, and generalize findings across larger populations.

Quantitative research is widely respected for its ability to provide reliable, measurable, and generalizable data (if done well!). Its structured methodology has strengths over qualitative research, such as the fact it allows for replication of the study, which underpins the validity of the research.

However, this approach is not without it limitations, explained below.

1. Over-Simplification

Quantitative research is powerful because it allows you to measure and analyze data in a systematic and standardized way. However, one of its limitations is that it can sometimes simplify complex phenomena or situations.

In other words, it might miss the subtleties or nuances of the research subject.

For example, if you’re studying why people choose a particular diet, a quantitative study might identify factors like age, income, or health status. But it might miss other aspects, such as cultural influences or personal beliefs, that can also significantly impact dietary choices.

When writing about this limitation, you can say that your quantitative approach, while providing precise measurements and comparisons, may not capture the full complexity of your subjects of study.

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest a follow-up case study using the same research participants in order to gain additional context and depth.

2. Lack of Context

Another potential issue with quantitative research is that it often focuses on numbers and statistics at the expense of context or qualitative information.

Let’s say you’re studying the effect of classroom size on student performance. You might find that students in smaller classes generally perform better. However, this doesn’t take into account other variables, like teaching style , student motivation, or family support.

When describing this limitation, you might say, “Although our research provides important insights into the relationship between class size and student performance, it does not incorporate the impact of other potentially influential variables. Future research could benefit from a mixed-methods approach that combines quantitative analysis with qualitative insights.”

3. Applicability to Real-World Settings

Oftentimes, experimental research takes place in controlled environments to limit the influence of outside factors.

This control is great for isolation and understanding the specific phenomenon but can limit the applicability or “external validity” of the research to real-world settings.

For example, if you conduct a lab experiment to see how sleep deprivation impacts cognitive performance, the sterile, controlled lab environment might not reflect real-world conditions where people are dealing with multiple stressors.

Therefore, when explaining the limitations of your quantitative study in your methodology section, you could state:

“While our findings provide valuable information about [topic], the controlled conditions of the experiment may not accurately represent real-world scenarios where extraneous variables will exist. As such, the direct applicability of our results to broader contexts may be limited.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will engage in real-world observational research, such as ethnographic research.

4. Limited Flexibility

Once a quantitative study is underway, it can be challenging to make changes to it. This is because, unlike in grounded research, you’re putting in place your study in advance, and you can’t make changes part-way through.

Your study design, data collection methods, and analysis techniques need to be decided upon before you start collecting data.

For example, if you are conducting a survey on the impact of social media on teenage mental health, and halfway through, you realize that you should have included a question about their screen time, it’s generally too late to add it.

When discussing this limitation, you could write something like, “The structured nature of our quantitative approach allows for consistent data collection and analysis but also limits our flexibility to adapt and modify the research process in response to emerging insights and ideas.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use mixed-methods or qualitative research methods to gain additional depth of insight.

5. Risk of Survey Error

Surveys are a common tool in quantitative research, but they carry risks of error.

There can be measurement errors (if a question is misunderstood), coverage errors (if some groups aren’t adequately represented), non-response errors (if certain people don’t respond), and sampling errors (if your sample isn’t representative of the population).

For instance, if you’re surveying college students about their study habits , but only daytime students respond because you conduct the survey during the day, your results will be skewed.

In discussing this limitation, you might say, “Despite our best efforts to develop a comprehensive survey, there remains a risk of survey error, including measurement, coverage, non-response, and sampling errors. These could potentially impact the reliability and generalizability of our findings.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use other survey tools to compare and contrast results.

6. Limited Ability to Probe Answers

With quantitative research, you typically can’t ask follow-up questions or delve deeper into participants’ responses like you could in a qualitative interview.

For instance, imagine you are surveying 500 students about study habits in a questionnaire. A respondent might indicate that they study for two hours each night. You might want to follow up by asking them to elaborate on what those study sessions involve or how effective they feel their habits are.

However, quantitative research generally disallows this in the way a qualitative semi-structured interview could.

When discussing this limitation, you might write, “Given the structured nature of our survey, our ability to probe deeper into individual responses is limited. This means we may not fully understand the context or reasoning behind the responses, potentially limiting the depth of our findings.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that engage in mixed-method or qualitative methodologies to address the issue from another angle.

7. Reliance on Instruments for Data Collection

In quantitative research, the collection of data heavily relies on instruments like questionnaires, surveys, or machines.

The limitation here is that the data you get is only as good as the instrument you’re using. If the instrument isn’t designed or calibrated well, your data can be flawed.

For instance, if you’re using a questionnaire to study customer satisfaction and the questions are vague, confusing, or biased, the responses may not accurately reflect the customers’ true feelings.

When discussing this limitation, you could say, “Our study depends on the use of questionnaires for data collection. Although we have put significant effort into designing and testing the instrument, it’s possible that inaccuracies or misunderstandings could potentially affect the validity of the data collected.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will use different instruments but examine the same variables to triangulate results.

8. Time and Resource Constraints (Specific to Quantitative Research)

Quantitative research can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially when dealing with large samples.

It often involves systematic sampling, rigorous design, and sometimes complex statistical analysis.

If resources and time are limited, it can restrict the scale of your research, the techniques you can employ, or the extent of your data analysis.

For example, you may want to conduct a nationwide survey on public opinion about a certain policy. However, due to limited resources, you might only be able to survey people in one city.

When writing about this limitation, you could say, “Given the scope of our research and the resources available, we are limited to conducting our survey within one city, which may not fully represent the nationwide public opinion. Hence, the generalizability of the results may be limited.”

Suggested Solution and Response: Suggest future studies that will have more funding or longer timeframes.

How to Discuss Your Research Limitations

1. in your research proposal and methodology section.

In the research proposal, which will become the methodology section of your dissertation, I would recommend taking the four following steps, in order:

  • Be Explicit about your Scope – If you limit the scope of your study in your research question, aims, and objectives, then you can set yourself up well later in the methodology to say that certain questions are “outside the scope of the study.” For example, you may identify the fact that the study doesn’t address a certain variable, but you can follow up by stating that the research question is specifically focused on the variable that you are examining, so this limitation would need to be looked at in future studies.
  • Acknowledge the Limitation – Acknowledging the limitations of your study demonstrates reflexivity and humility and can make your research more reliable and valid. It also pre-empts questions the people grading your paper may have, so instead of them down-grading you for your limitations; they will congratulate you on explaining the limitations and how you have addressed them!
  • Explain your Decisions – You may have chosen your approach (despite its limitations) for a very specific reason. This might be because your approach remains, on balance, the best one to answer your research question. Or, it might be because of time and monetary constraints that are outside of your control.
  • Highlight the Strengths of your Approach – Conclude your limitations section by strongly demonstrating that, despite limitations, you’ve worked hard to minimize the effects of the limitations and that you have chosen your specific approach and methodology because it’s also got some terrific strengths. Name the strengths.

Overall, you’ll want to acknowledge your own limitations but also explain that the limitations don’t detract from the value of your study as it stands.

2. In the Conclusion Section or Chapter

In the conclusion of your study, it is generally expected that you return to a discussion of the study’s limitations. Here, I recommend the following steps:

  • Acknowledge issues faced – After completing your study, you will be increasingly aware of issues you may have faced that, if you re-did the study, you may have addressed earlier in order to avoid those issues. Acknowledge these issues as limitations, and frame them as recommendations for subsequent studies.
  • Suggest further research – Scholarly research aims to fill gaps in the current literature and knowledge. Having established your expertise through your study, suggest lines of inquiry for future researchers. You could state that your study had certain limitations, and “future studies” can address those limitations.
  • Suggest a mixed methods approach – Qualitative and quantitative research each have pros and cons. So, note those ‘cons’ of your approach, then say the next study should approach the topic using the opposite methodology or could approach it using a mixed-methods approach that could achieve the benefits of quantitative studies with the nuanced insights of associated qualitative insights as part of an in-study case-study.

Overall, be clear about both your limitations and how those limitations can inform future studies.

In sum, each type of research method has its own strengths and limitations. Qualitative research excels in exploring depth, context, and complexity, while quantitative research excels in examining breadth, generalizability, and quantifiable measures. Despite their individual limitations, each method contributes unique and valuable insights, and researchers often use them together to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon being studied.

Attride-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative research , 1 (3), 385-405. ( Source )

Atkinson, P., Delamont, S., Cernat, A., Sakshaug, J., & Williams, R. A. (2021).  SAGE research methods foundations . London: Sage Publications.

Clark, T., Foster, L., Bryman, A., & Sloan, L. (2021).  Bryman’s social research methods . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Köhler, T., Smith, A., & Bhakoo, V. (2022). Templates in qualitative research methods: Origins, limitations, and new directions.  Organizational Research Methods ,  25 (2), 183-210. ( Source )

Lenger, A. (2019). The rejection of qualitative research methods in economics.  Journal of Economic Issues ,  53 (4), 946-965. ( Source )

Taherdoost, H. (2022). What are different research approaches? Comprehensive review of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method research, their applications, types, and limitations.  Journal of Management Science & Engineering Research ,  5 (1), 53-63. ( Source )

Walliman, N. (2021).  Research methods: The basics . New York: Routledge.

Chris

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How to Write Limitations of the Study (with examples)

This blog emphasizes the importance of recognizing and effectively writing about limitations in research. It discusses the types of limitations, their significance, and provides guidelines for writing about them, highlighting their role in advancing scholarly research.

Updated on August 24, 2023

a group of researchers writing their limitation of their study

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. 

Writing limitations

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 limitations

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

methodology limitation example

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

research process limitations example

The author is pointing out that the model’s estimates are based on potentially biased observational studies.

Final thoughts

Successfully proving theories and touting great achievements are only two very narrow goals of scholarly research. The true passion and greatest efforts of researchers comes more in the form of confronting assumptions and exploring the obscure.

In many ways, recognizing and sharing the limitations of a research study both allows for and encourages this type of discovery that continuously pushes research forward. By using limitations to provide a transparent account of the project's boundaries and to contextualize the findings, researchers pave the way for even more robust and impactful research in the future.

Charla Viera, MS

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Research Method

Home » Limitations in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Limitations in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Limitations in Research

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

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.

Selection Bias

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

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.

Measurement Error

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

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”

Limitations:

  • 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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  • USC Libraries
  • Research Guides

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • Limitations of the Study
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Applying Critical Thinking
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

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. .

Importance of...

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 realize 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.

Writing Tip

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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what are common limitations in a research study

Research Limitations 101 📖

A Plain-Language Explainer (With Practical Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | May 2024

Research limitations are one of those things that students tend to avoid digging into, and understandably so. No one likes to critique their own study and point out weaknesses. Nevertheless, being able to understand the limitations of your study – and, just as importantly, the implications thereof – a is a critically important skill.

In this post, we’ll unpack some of the most common research limitations you’re likely to encounter, so that you can approach your project with confidence.

Overview: Research Limitations 101

  • What are research limitations ?
  • Access – based limitations
  • Temporal & financial limitations
  • Sample & sampling limitations
  • Design limitations
  • Researcher limitations
  • Key takeaways

What (exactly) are “research limitations”?

At the simplest level, research limitations (also referred to as “the limitations of the study”) are the constraints and challenges that will invariably influence your ability to conduct your study and draw reliable conclusions .

Research limitations are inevitable. Absolutely no study is perfect and limitations are an inherent part of any research design. These limitations can stem from a variety of sources , including access to data, methodological choices, and the more mundane constraints of budget and time. So, there’s no use trying to escape them – what matters is that you can recognise them.

Acknowledging and understanding these limitations is crucial, not just for the integrity of your research, but also for your development as a scholar. That probably sounds a bit rich, but realistically, having a strong understanding of the limitations of any given study helps you handle the inevitable obstacles professionally and transparently, which in turn builds trust with your audience and academic peers.

Simply put, recognising and discussing the limitations of your study demonstrates that you know what you’re doing , and that you’ve considered the results of your project within the context of these limitations. In other words, discussing the limitations is a sign of credibility and strength – not weakness. Contrary to the common misconception, highlighting your limitations (or rather, your study’s limitations) will earn you (rather than cost you) marks.

So, with that foundation laid, let’s have a look at some of the most common research limitations you’re likely to encounter – and how to go about managing them as effectively as possible.

Need a helping hand?

what are common limitations in a research study

Limitation #1: Access To Information

One of the first hurdles you might encounter is limited access to necessary information. For example, you may have trouble getting access to specific literature or niche data sets. This situation can manifest due to several reasons, including paywalls, copyright and licensing issues or language barriers.

To minimise situations like these, it’s useful to try to leverage your university’s resource pool to the greatest extent possible. In practical terms, this means engaging with your university’s librarian and/or potentially utilising interlibrary loans to get access to restricted resources. If this sounds foreign to you, have a chat with your librarian 🙃

In emerging fields or highly specific study areas, you might find that there’s very little existing research (i.e., literature) on your topic. This scenario, while challenging, also offers a unique opportunity to contribute significantly to your field , as it indicates that there’s a significant research gap .

All of that said, be sure to conduct an exhaustive search using a variety of keywords and Boolean operators before assuming that there’s a lack of literature. Also, remember to snowball your literature base . In other words, scan the reference lists of the handful of papers that are directly relevant and then scan those references for more sources. You can also consider using tools like Litmaps and Connected Papers (see video below).

Limitation #2: Time & Money

Almost every researcher will face time and budget constraints at some point. Naturally, these limitations can affect the depth and breadth of your research – but they don’t need to be a death sentence.

Effective planning is crucial to managing both the temporal and financial aspects of your study. In practical terms, utilising tools like Gantt charts can help you visualise and plan your research timeline realistically, thereby reducing the risk of any nasty surprises. Always take a conservative stance when it comes to timelines, especially if you’re new to academic research. As a rule of thumb, things will generally take twice as long as you expect – so, prepare for the worst-case scenario.

If budget is a concern, you might want to consider exploring small research grants or adjusting the scope of your study so that it fits within a realistic budget. Trimming back might sound unattractive, but keep in mind that a smaller, well-planned study can often be more impactful than a larger, poorly planned project.

If you find yourself in a position where you’ve already run out of cash, don’t panic. There’s usually a pivot opportunity hidden somewhere within your project. Engage with your research advisor or faculty to explore potential solutions – don’t make any major changes without first consulting your institution.

Free Webinar: Research Methodology 101

Limitation #3: Sample Size & Composition

As we’ve discussed before , the size and representativeness of your sample are crucial , especially in quantitative research where the robustness of your conclusions often depends on these factors. All too often though, students run into issues achieving a sufficient sample size and composition.

To ensure adequacy in terms of your sample size, it’s important to plan for potential dropouts by oversampling from the outset . In other words, if you aim for a final sample size of 100 participants, aim to recruit 120-140 to account for unexpected challenges. If you still find yourself short on participants, consider whether you could complement your dataset with secondary data or data from an adjacent sample – for example, participants from another city or country. That said, be sure to engage with your research advisor before making any changes to your approach.

A related issue that you may run into is sample composition. In other words, you may have trouble securing a random sample that’s representative of your population of interest. In cases like this, you might again want to look at ways to complement your dataset with other sources, but if that’s not possible, it’s not the end of the world. As with all limitations, you’ll just need to recognise this limitation in your final write-up and be sure to interpret your results accordingly. In other words, don’t claim generalisability of your results if your sample isn’t random.

Limitation #4: Methodological Limitations

As we alluded earlier, every methodological choice comes with its own set of limitations . For example, you can’t claim causality if you’re using a descriptive or correlational research design. Similarly, as we saw in the previous example, you can’t claim generalisability if you’re using a non-random sampling approach.

Making good methodological choices is all about understanding (and accepting) the inherent trade-offs . In the vast majority of cases, you won’t be able to adopt the “perfect” methodology – and that’s okay. What’s important is that you select a methodology that aligns with your research aims and research questions , as well as the practical constraints at play (e.g., time, money, equipment access, etc.). Just as importantly, you must recognise and articulate the limitations of your chosen methods, and justify why they were the most suitable, given your specific context.

Limitation #5: Researcher (In)experience 

A discussion about research limitations would not be complete without mentioning the researcher (that’s you!). Whether we like to admit it or not, researcher inexperience and personal biases can subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) influence the interpretation and presentation of data within a study. This is especially true when it comes to dissertations and theses , as these are most commonly undertaken by first-time (or relatively fresh) researchers.

When it comes to dealing with this specific limitation, it’s important to remember the adage “ We don’t know what we don’t know ”. In other words, recognise and embrace your (relative) ignorance and subjectivity – and interpret your study’s results within that context . Simply put, don’t be overly confident in drawing conclusions from your study – especially when they contradict existing literature.

Cultivating a culture of reflexivity within your research practices can help reduce subjectivity and keep you a bit more “rooted” in the data. In practical terms, this simply means making an effort to become aware of how your perspectives and experiences may have shaped the research process and outcomes.

As with any new endeavour in life, it’s useful to garner as many outsider perspectives as possible. Of course, your university-assigned research advisor will play a large role in this respect, but it’s also a good idea to seek out feedback and critique from other academics. To this end, you might consider approaching other faculty at your institution, joining an online group, or even working with a private coach .

Your inexperience and personal biases can subtly (but significantly) influence how you interpret your data and draw your conclusions.

Key Takeaways

Understanding and effectively navigating research limitations is key to conducting credible and reliable academic work. By acknowledging and addressing these limitations upfront, you not only enhance the integrity of your research, but also demonstrate your academic maturity and professionalism.

Whether you’re working on a dissertation, thesis or any other type of formal academic research, remember the five most common research limitations and interpret your data while keeping them in mind.

  • Access to Information (literature and data)
  • Time and money
  • Sample size and composition
  • Research design and methodology
  • Researcher (in)experience and bias

If you need a hand identifying and mitigating the limitations within your study, check out our 1:1 private coaching service .

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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.

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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.

Methodological limitations

Sample size.

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.

Time constraints

Practical difficulties may limit the amount of time available to explore a research issue and monitor changes as they occur. If time restrictions have any detrimental influence on your research, recognize this impact by expressing the necessity for a future investigation.

Due to their cultural origins or opinions on observed events, researchers may carry biased opinions, which can influence the credibility of a research. Furthermore, researchers may exhibit biases toward data and conclusions that only support their hypotheses or arguments.

The structure of the limitations section 

The limitations of your research are usually stated at the beginning of the discussion section of your paper so that the reader is aware of and comprehends the limitations prior to actually reading the rest of your findings, or they are stated at the end of the discussion section as an acknowledgment of the need for further research.

The ideal way is to divide your limitations section into three steps: 

1. Identify the research constraints; 

2. Describe in great detail how they affect your research; 

3. Mention the opportunity for future investigations and give possibilities. 

By following this method while addressing the constraints of your research, you will be able to effectively highlight your research’s shortcomings without jeopardizing the quality and integrity of your research.

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How to present limitations in research

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30 January 2024

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Limitations don’t invalidate or diminish your results, but it’s best to acknowledge them. This will enable you to address any questions your study failed to answer because of them.

In this guide, learn how to recognize, present, and overcome limitations in research.

  • What is a research limitation?

Research limitations are weaknesses in your research design or execution that may have impacted outcomes and conclusions. Uncovering limitations doesn’t necessarily indicate poor research design—it just means you encountered challenges you couldn’t have anticipated that limited your research efforts.

Does basic research have limitations?

Basic research aims to provide more information about your research topic . It requires the same standard research methodology and data collection efforts as any other research type, and it can also have limitations.

  • Common research limitations

Researchers encounter common limitations when embarking on a study. Limitations can occur in relation to the methods you apply or the research process you design. They could also be connected to you as the researcher.

Methodology limitations

Not having access to data or reliable information can impact the methods used to facilitate your research. A lack of data or reliability may limit the parameters of your study area and the extent of your exploration.

Your sample size may also be affected because you won’t have any direction on how big or small it should be and who or what you should include. Having too few participants won’t adequately represent the population or groups of people needed to draw meaningful conclusions.

Research process limitations

The study’s design can impose constraints on the process. For example, as you’re conducting the research, issues may arise that don’t conform to the data collection methodology you developed. You may not realize until well into the process that you should have incorporated more specific questions or comprehensive experiments to generate the data you need to have confidence in your results.

Constraints on resources can also have an impact. Being limited on participants or participation incentives may limit your sample sizes. Insufficient tools, equipment, and materials to conduct a thorough study may also be a factor.

Common researcher limitations

Here are some of the common researcher limitations you may encounter:

Time: some research areas require multi-year longitudinal approaches, but you might not be able to dedicate that much time. Imagine you want to measure how much memory a person loses as they age. This may involve conducting multiple tests on a sample of participants over 20–30 years, which may be impossible.

Bias: researchers can consciously or unconsciously apply bias to their research. Biases can contribute to relying on research sources and methodologies that will only support your beliefs about the research you’re embarking on. You might also omit relevant issues or participants from the scope of your study because of your biases.

Limited access to data : you may need to pay to access specific databases or journals that would be helpful to your research process. You might also need to gain information from certain people or organizations but have limited access to them. These cases require readjusting your process and explaining why your findings are still reliable.

  • Why is it important to identify limitations?

Identifying limitations adds credibility to research and provides a deeper understanding of how you arrived at your conclusions.

Constraints may have prevented you from collecting specific data or information you hoped would prove or disprove your hypothesis or provide a more comprehensive understanding of your research topic.

However, identifying the limitations contributing to your conclusions can inspire further research efforts that help gather more substantial information and data.

  • Where to put limitations in a research paper

A research paper is broken up into different sections that appear in the following order:

Introduction

Methodology

The discussion portion of your paper explores your findings and puts them in the context of the overall research. Either place research limitations at the beginning of the discussion section before the analysis of your findings or at the end of the section to indicate that further research needs to be pursued.

What not to include in the limitations section

Evidence that doesn’t support your hypothesis is not a limitation, so you shouldn’t include it in the limitation section. Don’t just list limitations and their degree of severity without further explanation.

  • How to present limitations

You’ll want to present the limitations of your study in a way that doesn’t diminish the validity of your research and leave the reader wondering if your results and conclusions have been compromised.

Include only the limitations that directly relate to and impact how you addressed your research questions. Following a specific format enables the reader to develop an understanding of the weaknesses within the context of your findings without doubting the quality and integrity of your research.

Identify the limitations specific to your study

You don’t have to identify every possible limitation that might have occurred during your research process. Only identify those that may have influenced the quality of your findings and your ability to answer your research question.

Explain study limitations in detail

This explanation should be the most significant portion of your limitation section.

Link each limitation with an interpretation and appraisal of their impact on the study. You’ll have to evaluate and explain whether the error, method, or validity issues influenced the study’s outcome and how.

Propose a direction for future studies and present alternatives

In this section, suggest how researchers can avoid the pitfalls you experienced during your research process.

If an issue with methodology was a limitation, propose alternate methods that may help with a smoother and more conclusive research project . Discuss the pros and cons of your alternate recommendation.

Describe steps taken to minimize each limitation

You probably took steps to try to address or mitigate limitations when you noticed them throughout the course of your research project. Describe these steps in the limitation section.

  • Limitation example

“Approaches like stem cell transplantation and vaccination in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] work on a cellular or molecular level in the laboratory. However, translation into clinical settings will remain a challenge for the next decade.”

The authors are saying that even though these methods showed promise in helping people with memory loss when conducted in the lab (in other words, using animal studies), more studies are needed. These may be controlled clinical trials, for example. 

However, the short life span of stem cells outside the lab and the vaccination’s severe inflammatory side effects are limitations. Researchers won’t be able to conduct clinical trials until these issues are overcome.

  • How to overcome limitations in research

You’ve already started on the road to overcoming limitations in research by acknowledging that they exist. However, you need to ensure readers don’t mistake weaknesses for errors within your research design.

To do this, you’ll need to justify and explain your rationale for the methods, research design, and analysis tools you chose and how you noticed they may have presented limitations.

Your readers need to know that even when limitations presented themselves, you followed best practices and the ethical standards of your field. You didn’t violate any rules and regulations during your research process.

You’ll also want to reinforce the validity of your conclusions and results with multiple sources, methods, and perspectives. This prevents readers from assuming your findings were derived from a single or biased source.

  • Learning and improving starts with limitations in research

Dealing with limitations with transparency and integrity helps identify areas for future improvements and developments. It’s a learning process, providing valuable insights into how you can improve methodologies, expand sample sizes, or explore alternate approaches to further support the validity of your findings.

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Limitations of a Study

How to Present the Limitations of a Study in Research?

The limitations of the study convey to the reader how and under which conditions your study results will be evaluated. Scientific research involves investigating research topics, both known and unknown, which inherently includes an element of risk. The risk could arise due to human errors, barriers to data gathering, limited availability of resources, and researcher bias. Researchers are encouraged to discuss the limitations of their research to enhance the process of research, as well as to allow readers to gain an understanding of the study’s framework and value.

Limitations of the research are the constraints placed on the ability to generalize from the results and to further describe applications to practice. It is related to the utility value of the findings based on how you initially chose to design the study, the method used to establish internal and external validity, or the result of unanticipated challenges that emerged during the study. Knowing about these limitations and their impact can explain how the limitations of your study can affect the conclusions and thoughts drawn from your research. 1

Table of Contents

What are the limitations of a study

Researchers are probably cautious to acknowledge what the limitations of the research can be for fear of undermining the validity of the research findings. No research can be faultless or cover all possible conditions. These limitations of your research appear probably due to constraints on methodology or research design and influence the interpretation of your research’s ultimate findings. 2 These are limitations on the generalization and usability of findings that emerge from the design of the research and/or the method employed to ensure validity internally and externally. But such limitations of the study can impact the whole study or research paper. However, most researchers prefer not to discuss the different types of limitations in research for fear of decreasing the value of their paper amongst the reviewers or readers.

what are common limitations in a research study

Importance of limitations of a study

Writing the limitations of the research papers is often assumed to require lots of effort. However, identifying the limitations of the study can help structure the research better. Therefore, do not underestimate the importance of research study limitations. 3

  • Opportunity to make suggestions for further research. Suggestions for future research and avenues for further exploration can be developed based on the limitations of the study.
  • Opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking. A key objective of the research process is to discover new knowledge while questioning existing assumptions and exploring what is new in the particular field. Describing the limitation of the research shows that you have critically thought about the research problem, reviewed relevant literature, and correctly assessed the methods chosen for studying the problem.
  • Demonstrate Subjective learning process. Writing limitations of the research helps to critically evaluate the impact of the said limitations, assess the strength of the research, and consider alternative explanations or interpretations. Subjective evaluation contributes to a more complex and comprehensive knowledge of the issue under study.

Why should I include limitations of research in my paper

All studies have limitations to some extent. Including limitations of the study in your paper demonstrates the researchers’ comprehensive and holistic understanding of the research process and topic. The major advantages are the following:

  • Understand the study conditions and challenges encountered . It establishes a complete and potentially logical depiction of the research. The boundaries of the study can be established, and realistic expectations for the findings can be set. They can also help to clarify what the study is not intended to address.
  • Improve the quality and validity of the research findings. Mentioning limitations of the research creates opportunities for the original author and other researchers to undertake future studies to improve the research outcomes.
  • Transparency and accountability. Including limitations of the research helps maintain mutual integrity and promote further progress in similar studies.
  • Identify potential bias sources.  Identifying the limitations of the study can help researchers identify potential sources of bias in their research design, data collection, or analysis. This can help to improve the validity and reliability of the findings.

Where do I need to add the limitations of the study in my paper

The limitations of your research can be stated at the beginning of the discussion section, which allows the reader to comprehend the limitations of the study prior to reading the rest of your findings or at the end of the discussion section as an acknowledgment of the need for further research.

Types of limitations in research

There are different types of limitations in research that researchers may encounter. These are listed below:

  • Research Design Limitations : Restrictions on your research or available procedures may affect the research outputs. If the research goals and objectives are too broad, explain how they should be narrowed down to enhance the focus of your study. If there was a selection bias in your sample, explain how this may affect the generalizability of your findings. This can help readers understand the limitations of the study in terms of their impact on the overall validity of your research.
  • Impact Limitations : Your study might be limited by a strong regional-, national-, or species-based impact or population- or experimental-specific impact. These inherent limitations on impact affect the extendibility and generalizability of the findings.
  • Data or statistical limitations : Data or statistical limitations in research are extremely common in experimental (such as medicine, physics, and chemistry) or field-based (such as ecology and qualitative clinical research) studies. Sometimes, it is either extremely difficult to acquire sufficient data or gain access to the data. These limitations of the research might also be the result of your study’s design and might result in an incomplete conclusion to your research.

Limitations of study examples

All possible limitations of the study cannot be included in the discussion section of the research paper or dissertation. It will vary greatly depending on the type and nature of the study. These include types of research limitations that are related to methodology and the research process and that of the researcher as well that you need to describe and discuss how they possibly impacted your results.

Common methodological limitations of the study

Limitations of research due to methodological problems are addressed by identifying the potential problem and suggesting ways in which this should have been addressed. Some potential methodological limitations of the study are as follows. 1

  • Sample size: The sample size 4 is dictated by the type of research problem investigated. If the sample size is too small, finding a significant relationship from the data will be difficult, as statistical tests require a large sample size to ensure a representative population distribution and generalize the study findings.
  • Lack of available/reliable data: A lack of available/reliable data will limit the scope of your analysis and the size of your sample or present obstacles in finding a trend or meaningful relationship. So, when writing about the limitations of the study, give convincing reasons why you feel data is absent or untrustworthy and highlight the necessity for a future study focused on developing a new data-gathering strategy.
  • Lack of prior research studies: Citing prior research studies is required to help understand the research problem being investigated. If there is little or no prior research, an exploratory rather than an explanatory research design will be required. Also, discovering the limitations of the study presents an opportunity to identify gaps in the literature and describe the need for additional study.
  • Measure used to collect the data: Sometimes, the data gathered will be insufficient to conduct a thorough analysis of the results. A limitation of the study example, for instance, is identifying in retrospect that a specific question could have helped address a particular issue that emerged during data analysis. You can acknowledge the limitation of the research by stating the need to revise the specific method for gathering data in the future.
  • Self-reported data: Self-reported data cannot be independently verified and can contain several potential bias sources, such as selective memory, attribution, and exaggeration. These biases become apparent if they are incongruent with data from other sources.

General limitations of researchers

Limitations related to the researcher can also influence the study outcomes. These should be addressed, and related remedies should be proposed.

  • Limited access to data : If your study requires access to people, organizations, data, or documents whose access is denied or limited, the reasons need to be described. An additional explanation stating why this limitation of research did not prevent you from following through on your study is also needed.
  • Time constraints : Researchers might also face challenges in meeting research deadlines due to a lack of timely participant availability or funds, among others. The impacts of time constraints must be acknowledged by mentioning the need for a future study addressing this research problem.
  • Conflicts due to biased views and personal issues : Differences in culture or personal views can contribute to researcher bias, as they focus only on the results and data that support their main arguments. To avoid this, pay attention to the problem statement and data gathering.

Steps for structuring the limitations section

Limitations are an inherent part of any research study. Issues may vary, ranging from sampling and literature review to methodology and bias. However, there is a structure for identifying these elements, discussing them, and offering insight or alternatives on how the limitations of the study can be mitigated. This enhances the process of the research and helps readers gain a comprehensive understanding of a study’s conditions.

  • Identify the research constraints : Identify those limitations having the greatest impact on the quality of the research findings and your ability to effectively answer your research questions and/or hypotheses. These include sample size, selection bias, measurement error, or other issues affecting the validity and reliability of your research.
  • Describe their impact on your research : Reflect on the nature of the identified limitations and justify the choices made during the research to identify the impact of the study’s limitations on the research outcomes. Explanations can be offered if needed, but without being defensive or exaggerating them. Provide context for the limitations of your research to understand them in a broader context. Any specific limitations due to real-world considerations need to be pointed out critically rather than justifying them as done by some other author group or groups.
  • Mention the opportunity for future investigations : Suggest ways to overcome the limitations of the present study through future research. This can help readers understand how the research fits into the broader context and offer a roadmap for future studies.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I mention all the limitations of my study in the research report?

Restrict limitations to what is pertinent to the research question under investigation. The specific limitations you include will depend on the nature of the study, the research question investigated, and the data collected.

  • Can the limitations of a study affect its credibility?

Stating the limitations of the research is considered favorable by editors and peer reviewers. Connecting your study’s limitations with future possible research can help increase the focus of unanswered questions in this area. In addition, admitting limitations openly and validating that they do not affect the main findings of the study increases the credibility of your study. However, if you determine that your study is seriously flawed, explain ways to successfully overcome such flaws in a future study. For example, if your study fails to acquire critical data, consider reframing the research question as an exploratory study to lay the groundwork for more complete research in the future.

  • How can I mitigate the limitations of my study?

Strategies to minimize limitations of the research should focus on convincing reviewers and readers that the limitations do not affect the conclusions of the study by showing that the methods are appropriate and that the logic is sound. Here are some steps to follow to achieve this:

  • Use data that are valid.
  • Use methods that are appropriate and sound logic to draw inferences.
  • Use adequate statistical methods for drawing inferences from the data that studies with similar limitations have been published before.

Admit limitations openly and, at the same time, show how they do not affect the main conclusions of the study.

  • Can the limitations of a study impact its publication chances?

Limitations in your research can arise owing to restrictions in methodology or research design. Although this could impact your chances of publishing your research paper, it is critical to explain your study’s limitations to your intended audience. For example, it can explain how your study constraints may impact the results and views generated from your investigation. It also shows that you have researched the flaws of your study and have a thorough understanding of the subject.

  • How can limitations in research be used for future studies?

The limitations of a study give you an opportunity to offer suggestions for further research. Your study’s limitations, including problems experienced during the study and the additional study perspectives developed, are a great opportunity to take on a new challenge and help advance knowledge in a particular field.

References:

  • Brutus, S., Aguinis, H., & Wassmer, U. (2013). Self-reported limitations and future directions in scholarly reports: Analysis and recommendations.  Journal of Management ,  39 (1), 48-75.
  • Ioannidis, J. P. (2007). Limitations are not properly acknowledged in the scientific literature.  Journal of Clinical Epidemiology ,  60 (4), 324-329.
  • Price, J. H., & Murnan, J. (2004). Research limitations and the necessity of reporting them.  American Journal of Health Education ,  35 (2), 66.
  • Boddy, C. R. (2016). Sample size for qualitative research.  Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal ,  19 (4), 426-432.

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How to Present a Research Study’s Limitations

All studies have imperfections, but how to present them without diminishing the value of the work can be tricky..

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Nathan Ni holds a PhD from Queens University. He is a science editor for The Scientist’s Creative Services Team who strives to better understand and communicate the relationships between health and disease.

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Scientists work with many different limitations. First and foremost, they navigate informational limitations, work around knowledge gaps when designing studies, formulating hypotheses, and analyzing data. They also handle technical limitations, making the most of what their hands, equipment, and instruments can achieve. Finally, researchers must also manage logistical limitations. Scientists will often experience sample scarcity, financial issues, or simply be unable to access the technology or materials that they want.

All scientific studies have limitations, and no study is perfect. Researchers should not run from this reality, but engage it directly. It is better to directly address the specific limitations of the work in question, and doing so is actually a way to demonstrate an author’s proficiency and aptitude.

Do: Be Transparent

From a practical perspective, being transparent is the main key to directly addressing the specific limitations of a study. Was there an experiment that the researchers wanted to perform but could not, or a sample that existed that the scientists could not obtain? Was there a piece of knowledge that would explain a question raised by the data presented within the current study? If the answer is yes, the authors should mention this and elaborate upon it within the discussion section.

Asking and addressing these questions demonstrates that the authors have knowledge, understanding, and expertise of the subject area beyond what the study directly investigated. It further demonstrates a solid grasp of the existing literature—which means a solid grasp of what others are doing, what techniques they are using, and what limitations impede their own studies. This information helps the authors contextualize where their study fits within what others have discovered, thereby mitigating the perceived effect of a given limitation on the study’s legitimacy. In essence, this strategy turns limitations, often considered weaknesses, into strengths.

For example, in their 2021 Cell Reports study on macrophage polarization mechanisms, dermatologist Alexander Marneros and colleagues wrote the following. 1

A limitation of studying macrophage polarization in vitro is that this approach only partially captures the tissue microenvironment context in which many different factors affect macrophage polarization. However, it is likely that the identified signaling mechanisms that promote polarization in vitro are also critical for polarization mechanisms that occur in vivo. This is supported by our observation that trametinib and panobinostat inhibited M2-type macrophage polarization not only in vitro but also in skin wounds and laser-induced CNV lesions.

This is a very effective structure. In the first sentence ( yellow ), the authors outlined the limitation. In the next sentence ( green ), they offered a rationalization that mitigates the effect of the limitation. Finally, they provided the evidence ( blue ) for this rationalization, using not just information from the literature, but also data that they obtained in their study specifically for this purpose. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Presenting a Study’s Limitations. Researchers should be transparent, specific, present limitations as future opportunities, and use data or the literature to support rationalizations. They should not be evasive, general, defensive, and downplay limitations without evidence.

Don't: Be Defensive

It can feel natural to avoid talking about a study’s limitations. Scientists may believe that mentioning the drawbacks still present in their study will jeopardize their chances of publication. As such, researchers will sometimes skirt around the issue. They will present “boilerplate faults”—generalized concerns about sample size/diversity and time limitations that all researchers face—rather than honestly discussing their own study. Alternatively, they will describe their limitations in a defensive manner, positioning their problems as something that “could not be helped”—as something beyond what science can currently achieve.

However, their audience can see through this, because they are largely peers who understand and have experienced how modern research works. They can tell the difference between global challenges faced by every scientific study and limitations that are specific to a single study. Avoiding these specific limitations can therefore betray a lack of confidence that the study is good enough to withstand problems stemming from legitimate limitations. As such, researchers should actively engage with the greater scientific implications of the limitations that they face. Indeed, doing this is actually a way to demonstrate an author’s proficiency and aptitude.

In an example, neurogeneticist Nancy Bonini and colleagues, in their publication in Nature , discussed a question raised by their data that they have elected not to directly investigate in this study, writing “ Among the intriguing questions raised by these data is how senescent glia promote LDs in other glia. ” To show both the legitimacy of the question and how seriously they have considered it, the authors provided a comprehensive summary of the literature in the following seven sentences, offering two hypotheses backed by a combined eight different sources. 2 Rather than shying away from a limitation, they attacked it as something to be curious about and to discuss. This is not just a very effective way of demonstrating their expertise, but it frames the limitation as something that, when overcome, will build upon the present study rather than something that negatively affects the legitimacy of their current findings.

Striking the Right Balance

Scientists have to navigate the fine line between acknowledging the limitations of their study while also not diminishing the effect and value of their own work. To be aware of legitimate limitations and properly assess and dissect them shows a profound understanding of a field, where the study fits within that field, and what the rest of the scientific community are doing and what challenges they face.

All studies are parts of a greater whole. Pretending otherwise is a disservice to the scientific community.

Looking for more information on scientific writing? Check out  The Scientist’ s  TS SciComm  section. Looking for some help putting together a manuscript, a figure, a poster, or anything else?  The Scientist ’s  Scientific Services  may have the professional help that you need.

  • He L, et al. Global characterization of macrophage polarization mechanisms and identification of M2-type polarization inhibitors . Cell Rep . 2021;37(5):109955.
  • Byrns CN, et al. Senescent glia link mitochondrial dysfunction and lipid accumulation . Nature . 2024.

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The limitations section: Common Limitations in Research

Every dissertation should include a limitations section in which you recognise the limits and weaknesses of your research, so here are a few tips on what to cover.

Research, by its nature, is a dynamic and iterative process that aims to explore, analyze, and contribute to knowledge in various fields. However, every research endeavour comes with its set of limitations that researchers must acknowledge, address, and navigate. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the common limitations of research and discuss strategies for mitigating their impact on the validity, reliability, and generalizability of findings.

Five main types of limitations

1. sampling limitations:.

  • Sample Size: Limited sample size can affect the generalizability and representativeness of research findings. Small samples may not adequately capture the diversity or variability within a population, leading to potential biases or limited statistical power.
  • Sampling Bias: Biases in sample selection, such as self-selection bias or sampling from non-representative populations, can compromise the external validity of research outcomes.

2. Measurement and Instrumentation Limitations:

  • Measurement Error: Inaccuracies or inconsistencies in measurement instruments, data collection tools, or operational definitions can introduce measurement error, affecting the reliability and validity of results.
  • Validity Threats: Threats to internal validity (e.g., confounding variables, selection bias) or external validity (e.g., ecological validity, population validity) can impact the robustness and generalizability of research findings.

3. Methodological Limitations:

  • Research Design: Limitations in research design, such as lack of control groups, non-randomized designs, or cross-sectional studies, can constrain the ability to establish causal relationships or infer causality.
  • Data Collection Methods: Issues related to data collection methods, such as self-report biases, social desirability biases, or retrospective data, can introduce inaccuracies or distortions in data interpretation.

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4. Contextual and External Factors:

  • Contextual Constraints: Research conducted in specific contexts or settings may face limitations in generalizing findings to broader populations or different contexts.
  • Temporal Limitations: Changes over time, evolving trends, or temporal fluctuations can impact the relevance and applicability of research findings beyond a specific timeframe.

5. Ethical and Practical Constraints:

  • Ethical Considerations: Ethical constraints, such as limitations in accessing sensitive data, obtaining informed consent, or ensuring participant confidentiality, can influence the scope and conduct of research.
  • Resource Constraints: Practical limitations, such as budget constraints, time constraints, or access to resources (e.g., data, equipment, expertise), can impact the feasibility and scope of research endeavours.

Strategies for Addressing Limitations:

  • Transparent Reporting: Clearly articulate and disclose limitations in research methodology, sampling, measurement, and design in research reports, ensuring transparency and accountability.
  • Mitigating Biases: Implement strategies to mitigate biases, such as randomization, blinding, control measures, and sensitivity analyses, to enhance the validity and reliability of findings.
  • Sensitivity Analyses: Conduct sensitivity analyses or robustness checks to assess the impact of potential biases, outliers, or variations in data on research outcomes.
  • Triangulation: Employ triangulation methods, combining multiple data sources, methods, or perspectives, to enhance the validity, reliability, and depth of research findings.
  • Longitudinal Studies: Consider longitudinal or follow-up studies to track changes over time, validate findings, and assess the stability of research outcomes.

While every research endeavour has its limitations, acknowledging and addressing these limitations is crucial for maintaining the integrity, rigour, and credibility of research findings. Also, every dissertation should include a limitations section. By adopting transparent reporting practices, implementing mitigation strategies, conducting sensitivity analyses, leveraging triangulation methods, and considering longitudinal approaches, researchers can navigate common limitations effectively and enhance the robustness and applicability of their research contributions.

what are common limitations in a research study

Posted by, Glenn Stevens

Glenn is an academic writing and research specialist with 15 years experience as a writing coach and PhD supervisor. Also a qualified English teacher, he previously had an extensive career in publishing. He is currently the editor of this website. Glenn lives in the UK. Contact Glenn

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Limitations of the Study – How to Write & Examples

what are common limitations in a research study

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.

limitations of the study examples, brick wall with blue sky

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.

Time constraints

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.

limitations of a study example

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 .

methodological limitations example

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 ….”

For more articles on research writing and the journal submissions and publication process, visit Wordvice’s Academic Resources page.

And be sure to receive professional English editing and proofreading services , including paper editing services , for your journal manuscript before submitting it to journal editors.

Wordvice Resources

Proofreading & Editing Guide

Writing the Results Section for a Research Paper

How to Write a Literature Review

Research Writing Tips: How to Draft a Powerful Discussion Section

How to Captivate Journal Readers with a Strong Introduction

Tips That Will Make Your Abstract a Success!

APA In-Text Citation Guide for Research Writing

Additional Resources

  • 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)

Article References

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

Enago Academy

Writing Limitations of Research Study — 4 Reasons Why It Is Important!

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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.

peer review

Why and Where Should You Include the Research Limitations?

The main goal of your research is to address your research objectives. Conduct experiments, get results and explain those results, and finally justify your research question . It is best to mention the limitations of research in the discussion paragraph of your research article.

At the very beginning of this paragraph, immediately after highlighting the strengths of the research methodology, you should write down your limitations. You can discuss specific points from your research limitations as suggestions for further research in the conclusion of your thesis.

1. Common Limitations of the Researchers

Limitations that are related to the researcher must be mentioned. This will help you gain transparency with your readers. Furthermore, you could provide suggestions on decreasing these limitations in you and your future studies.

2. Limited Access to Information

Your work may involve some institutions and individuals in research, and sometimes you may have problems accessing these institutions. Therefore, you need to redesign and rewrite your work. You must explain your readers the reason for limited access.

3. Limited Time

All researchers are bound by their deadlines when it comes to completing their studies. Sometimes, time constraints can affect your research negatively. However, the best practice is to acknowledge it and mention a requirement for future study to solve the research problem in a better way.

4. Conflict over Biased Views and Personal Issues

Biased views can affect the research. In fact, researchers end up choosing only those results and data that support their main argument, keeping aside the other loose ends of the research.

Types of Limitations of Research

Before beginning your research study, know that there are certain limitations to what you are testing or possible research results. There are different types that researchers may encounter, and they all have unique characteristics, such as:

1. Research Design Limitations

Certain restrictions on your research or available procedures may affect your final results or research outputs. You may have formulated research goals and objectives too broadly. However, this can help you understand how you can narrow down the formulation of research goals and objectives, thereby increasing the focus of your study.

2. Impact Limitations

Even if your research has excellent statistics and a strong design, it can suffer from the influence of the following factors:

  • Presence of increasing findings as researched
  • Being population specific
  • A strong regional focus.

3. Data or statistical limitations

In some cases, it is impossible to collect sufficient data for research or very difficult to get access to the data. This could lead to incomplete conclusion to your study. Moreover, this insufficiency in data could be the outcome of your study design. The unclear, shabby research outline could produce more problems in interpreting your findings.

How to Correctly Structure Your Research Limitations?

There are strict guidelines for narrowing down research questions, wherein you could justify and explain potential weaknesses of your academic paper. You could go through these basic steps to get a well-structured clarity of research limitations:

  • Declare that you wish to identify your limitations of research and explain their importance,
  • Provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices.
  • Write how you are suggesting that it is possible to overcome them in the future.

In this section, your readers will see that you are aware of the potential weaknesses in your business, understand them and offer effective solutions, and it will positively strengthen your article as you clarify all limitations of research to your target audience.

Know that you cannot be perfect and there is no individual without flaws. You could use the limitations of research as a great opportunity to take on a new challenge and improve the future of research. In a typical academic paper, research limitations may relate to:

1. Formulating your goals and objectives

If you formulate goals and objectives too broadly, your work will have some shortcomings. In this case, specify effective methods or ways to narrow down the formula of goals and aim to increase your level of study focus.

2. Application of your data collection methods in research

If you do not have experience in primary data collection, there is a risk that there will be flaws in the implementation of your methods. It is necessary to accept this, and learn and educate yourself to understand data collection methods.

3. Sample sizes

This depends on the nature of problem you choose. Sample size is of a greater importance in quantitative studies as opposed to qualitative ones. If your sample size is too small, statistical tests cannot identify significant relationships or connections within a given data set.

You could point out that other researchers should base the same study on a larger sample size to get more accurate results.

4. The absence of previous studies in the field you have chosen

Writing a literature review is an important step in any scientific study because it helps researchers determine the scope of current work in the chosen field. It is a major foundation for any researcher who must use them to achieve a set of specific goals or objectives.

However, if you are focused on the most current and evolving research problem or a very narrow research problem, there may be very little prior research on your topic. For example, if you chose to explore the role of Bitcoin as the currency of the future, you may not find tons of scientific papers addressing the research problem as Bitcoins are only a new phenomenon.

It is important that you learn to identify research limitations examples at each step. Whatever field you choose, feel free to add the shortcoming of your work. This is mainly because you do not have many years of experience writing scientific papers or completing complex work. Therefore, the depth and scope of your discussions may be compromised at different levels compared to academics with a lot of expertise. Include specific points from limitations of research. Use them as suggestions for the future.

Have you ever faced a challenge of writing the limitations of research study in your paper? How did you overcome it? What ways did you follow? Were they beneficial? Let us know in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions

Setting limitations in our study helps to clarify the outcomes drawn from our research and enhance understanding of the subject. Moreover, it shows that the author has investigated all the weaknesses in the study.

Scope is the range and limitations of a research project which are set to define the boundaries of a project. Limitations are the impacts on the overall study due to the constraints on the research design.

Limitation in research is an impact of a constraint on the research design in the overall study. They are the flaws or weaknesses in the study, which may influence the outcome of the research.

1. Limitations in research can be written as follows: Formulate your goals and objectives 2. Analyze the chosen data collection method and the sample sizes 3. Identify your limitations of research and explain their importance 4. Provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices 5. Write how you are suggesting that it is possible to overcome them in the future

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Excellent article ,,,it has helped me big

This is very helpful information. It has given me an insight on how to go about my study limitations.

Good comments and helpful

the topic is well covered

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Stating the Obvious: Writing Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

Stating the Obvious: Writing Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

During the process of writing your thesis or dissertation, you might suddenly realize that your research has inherent flaws. Don’t worry! Virtually all projects contain restrictions to your research. However, being able to recognize and accurately describe these problems is the difference between a true researcher and a grade-school kid with a science-fair project. Concerns with truthful responding, access to participants, and survey instruments are just a few of examples of restrictions on your research. In the following sections, the differences among delimitations, limitations, and assumptions of a dissertation will be clarified.

Delimitations

Delimitations are the definitions you set as the boundaries of your own thesis or dissertation, so delimitations are in your control. Delimitations are set so that your goals do not become impossibly large to complete. Examples of delimitations include objectives, research questions, variables, theoretical objectives that you have adopted, and populations chosen as targets to study. When you are stating your delimitations, clearly inform readers why you chose this course of study. The answer might simply be that you were curious about the topic and/or wanted to improve standards of a professional field by revealing certain findings. In any case, you should clearly list the other options available and the reasons why you did not choose these options immediately after you list your delimitations. You might have avoided these options for reasons of practicality, interest, or relativity to the study at hand. For example, you might have only studied Hispanic mothers because they have the highest rate of obese babies. Delimitations are often strongly related to your theory and research questions. If you were researching whether there are different parenting styles between unmarried Asian, Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic women, then a delimitation of your study would be the inclusion of only participants with those demographics and the exclusion of participants from other demographics such as men, married women, and all other ethnicities of single women (inclusion and exclusion criteria). A further delimitation might be that you only included closed-ended Likert scale responses in the survey, rather than including additional open-ended responses, which might make some people more willing to take and complete your survey. Remember that delimitations are not good or bad. They are simply a detailed description of the scope of interest for your study as it relates to the research design. Don’t forget to describe the philosophical framework you used throughout your study, which also delimits your study.

Limitations

Limitations of a dissertation are potential weaknesses in your study that are mostly out of your control, given limited funding, choice of research design, statistical model constraints, or other factors. In addition, a limitation is a restriction on your study that cannot be reasonably dismissed and can affect your design and results. Do not worry about limitations because limitations affect virtually all research projects, as well as most things in life. Even when you are going to your favorite restaurant, you are limited by the menu choices. If you went to a restaurant that had a menu that you were craving, you might not receive the service, price, or location that makes you enjoy your favorite restaurant. If you studied participants’ responses to a survey, you might be limited in your abilities to gain the exact type or geographic scope of participants you wanted. The people whom you managed to get to take your survey may not truly be a random sample, which is also a limitation. If you used a common test for data findings, your results are limited by the reliability of the test. If your study was limited to a certain amount of time, your results are affected by the operations of society during that time period (e.g., economy, social trends). It is important for you to remember that limitations of a dissertation are often not something that can be solved by the researcher. Also, remember that whatever limits you also limits other researchers, whether they are the largest medical research companies or consumer habits corporations. Certain kinds of limitations are often associated with the analytical approach you take in your research, too. For example, some qualitative methods like heuristics or phenomenology do not lend themselves well to replicability. Also, most of the commonly used quantitative statistical models can only determine correlation, but not causation.

Assumptions

Assumptions are things that are accepted as true, or at least plausible, by researchers and peers who will read your dissertation or thesis. In other words, any scholar reading your paper will assume that certain aspects of your study is true given your population, statistical test, research design, or other delimitations. For example, if you tell your friend that your favorite restaurant is an Italian place, your friend will assume that you don’t go there for the sushi. It’s assumed that you go there to eat Italian food. Because most assumptions are not discussed in-text, assumptions that are discussed in-text are discussed in the context of the limitations of your study, which is typically in the discussion section. This is important, because both assumptions and limitations affect the inferences you can draw from your study. One of the more common assumptions made in survey research is the assumption of honesty and truthful responses. However, for certain sensitive questions this assumption may be more difficult to accept, in which case it would be described as a limitation of the study. For example, asking people to report their criminal behavior in a survey may not be as reliable as asking people to report their eating habits. It is important to remember that your limitations and assumptions should not contradict one another. For instance, if you state that generalizability is a limitation of your study given that your sample was limited to one city in the United States, then you should not claim generalizability to the United States population as an assumption of your study. Statistical models in quantitative research designs are accompanied with assumptions as well, some more strict than others. These assumptions generally refer to the characteristics of the data, such as distributions, correlational trends, and variable type, just to name a few. Violating these assumptions can lead to drastically invalid results, though this often depends on sample size and other considerations.

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Understanding Commonly Encountered Limitations in Clinical Research: An Emergency Medicine Resident’s Perspective

Associated data, introduction.

The breadth of emergency medicine and the rapid growth in relevant research makes an ability to assess new research findings particularly important for emergency physicians. Improvements in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction, evolution of thrombolytic use in acute stroke, and the demise of military antishock trousers for traumatic shock provide examples of the dynamic relationship between emergency medicine research and clinical practice. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of common research limitations and flaws relevant to emergency medicine. We explain and provide published examples of problems related to external validity, experimenter bias, publication bias, straw man comparisons, incorporation bias, randomization, composite outcomes, clinical importance versus statistical significance, and disease-oriented versus patient-oriented outcomes.

For residents, familiarity with these concepts will allow for better interpretation of evidence-based lectures and improved understanding and participation during journal clubs. For those who learn best from review articles, textbooks, or other summaries of primary literature, awareness of these issues is needed to understand critiques raised by reviewers. For all readers, knowledge of these commonly encountered methodological problems will improve the emergency provider’s ability to determine whether and how new scientific developments serve to inform clinical practice. By necessity, this article is only a starting point for learning about these subjects, many of which are complex. Readers are encouraged to refer to questions and answers from the Annals of Emergency Medicine Journal Club series. Available topics from this series are described in Appendix E1 , available online at http://www.annemergmed.com .

EXTERNAL VALIDITY

External validity is the generalizability of a study’s conclusions beyond the specific sample examined. In some studies, the study patients will be very similar to relevant clinical populations; in other studies, the lack of generalizability will render the results useless to the reader. The applicability of study findings may differ among geographic regions or specialties, or even among providers with different skills and experience practicing in the same emergency department (ED). Common threats to external validity include studies examining restricted or atypical demographic groups, studies performed at different sites of care (eg, specialty clinic versus community ED versus academic ED), and studies conducted in countries or settings in which available resources differ from the setting in which the reader practices. Issues related to external validity are particularly important in emergency medicine because the patient population is inherently heterogeneous in terms of demographics, acuity, comorbidities, and referral source.

A recent investigation into the need for lumbar puncture after head computed tomography (CT) for evaluation of subarachnoid hemorrhage illustrates the importance of considering external validity. 1 In this study, head CT within 5 days of the onset of headache was found to be 100% sensitive for subarachnoid hemorrhage. The authors used this finding to suggest that lumbar puncture is no longer necessary to conclusively rule out subarachnoid hemorrhage in patients presenting with thunderclap headache. However, the study sample consisted of patients referred to a specialty neurosurgical center for evaluation of known or possible subarachnoid hemorrhage. Patients with suspected subarachnoid hemorrhage referred to a neurosurgical center for evaluation are arguably a very different population than undifferentiated patients initially presenting to an ED. If, for example, referred patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage tend to have larger bleeding episodes than ED patients, referred patients would also be more likely to have abnormal CT scan results. In a neurosurgery referral center population, perhaps it is true that 100% of patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage will have a positive CT result and there is no additional value to performing a lumbar puncture. However, we should be cautious about applying this conclusion to ED patients with a sudden-onset headache.

Whereas external validity depends on whether study conclusions are generalizable to other populations, internal validity depends on whether study conclusions are valid within the study sample. There are many potential threats to internal validity; several are described below. When a study is designed, there is often a tradeoff between internal and external validity. A highly controlled study of a carefully specified patient group will tend to have good internal validity, but this can limit its external validity.

EXPERIMENTER BIAS

Experimenter bias is introduced by study investigators because of the inability of investigators to be completely objective. Experimenter bias may be conscious or unconscious and may influence the study through choices about study design, 2 implementation, reporting and interpretation of results, 3 or even a decision to publish results at all. 4 Few investigations are initiated without preconceptions on the part of the investigators about possible outcomes. For clinical scientists, the desire for academic success and the associated desire to publish is a source of bias. Scientists may also be influenced by the desire to provide further evidence to support their previous work and to obtain or maintain grant funding. Investigators conducting industry-sponsored studies may be influenced by financial incentives. Financial conflicts of interest are rampant in both original research articles 5 and clinical guidelines. 6 Most journals require authors to disclose financial conflicts of interest. These disclosures do not eliminate the possibility of experimenter bias but can at least inform readers about the presence of external influences on decisions made by investigators. Unfortunately, the presence of experimenter bias is difficult to determine with certainty.

Nesiritide, recombinant brain-type natriuretic peptide, provides an example of possible experimenter bias. The Vasodilation in the Management of Acute Congestive Heart Failure (VMAC) study was a large randomized controlled trial comparing nesiritide with nitroglycerin for acutely decompensated congestive heart failure. 7 The study was funded by Scios Inc, the manufacturers of nesiritide. Additionally, the study was designed, implemented, and analyzed by a steering committee appointed by Scios. Multiple investigators, including the principal investigator, received consulting fees from Scios. In 2000, after the completion of the VMAC study but before peer-reviewed publication of study results, Scios estimated that peak sales of nesiritide would reach $200 to $300 million per year. This was a strong incentive for Scios to ensure the success of its product, particularly given that total company revenues that year were just $12.7 million. 8 The initial article detailing VMAC results endorsed wide use of the drug, stating “nesiritide … is a useful addition to initial therapy of patients hospitalized with acutely decompensated CHF [congestive heart failure],” 7 despite data showing a trend toward increased mortality in the nesiritide group. 9

PUBLICATION BIAS

Interventional studies that show a positive effect from the intervention are more likely to be published than those that do not, resulting in a pro-intervention bias within the literature base. 4 Publication bias is especially important to keep in mind when meta-analyses are evaluated because it is more difficult to obtain data from unpublished trials than published trials when constructing a meta-analysis. Additionally, meta-analyses frequently consist of numerous small or methodologically challenged studies, types of studies that are likely to be published only if the results are positive. A funnel plot can show evidence of publication bias in a meta-analysis. The funnel is constructed by plotting risk ratio or another measure of treatment effect on the x axis and standard error or another measure of precision on the y axis. By convention, the y axis is arranged so that larger, more precise studies are at the top, with smaller imprecise studies at the bottom. The more precise studies should cluster tightly around the true effect value on the x axis because they will tend to provide more accurate estimates of the effect. Less precise studies will have a wide variety of effect estimates and will not cluster as tightly, creating the funnel shape. When a subset of these smaller, imprecise studies is not published, the result is a skewed distribution of effect estimates among the smaller studies, creating asymmetry in the funnel plot. Funnel plots lack both sensitivity and specificity for diagnosing publication bias because they are often limited by small numbers of available studies, systematic differences in study methodology among studies of varying size, and subjectivity in interpretation. 10

Evidence of publication bias is found in studies of intravenous magnesium to decrease mortality in the setting of acute myocardial infarction. 11 Two meta-analyses, based on relatively small studies, suggested that magnesium use conferred a survival benefit in this setting. 12 , 13 A large randomized controlled trial involving more than 58,000 patients contradicted these findings by showing no benefit from magnesium. 14 A funnel plot shows evidence of publication bias present in the studies used for the initial meta-analyses ( Figure ). 11

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Funnel plot for magnesium trials. Dots represent treatment effects from individual trials. The diagonal lines represent the expected 95% confidence intervals surrounding the pooled treatment effect. The absence of trials in the lower right corner of the figure suggests publication bias. Adapted from Sterne JA, Egger M. Funnel plots for detecting bias in meta-analysis: guidelines on choice of axis. J Clin Epidemiol . 2001;54: 1048. Figure 1 used with permission from Elsevier.

STRAW MAN COMPARISON

A comparison between an experimental group and a control group that receives substandard therapy is a straw man comparison. Unfortunately, this technique is frequently used to provide support for novel therapeutic agents or new applications of existing agents. It is easier to find evidence of equivalence or superiority of a novel intervention when the control group receives inadequate therapy. Relevant considerations include the choice of control-group therapy, as well as dose and frequency.

Straw man comparators were used in 2 manufacturer-sponsored studies comparing lumiracoxib, a selective Cox-2 inhibitor, and ibuprofen. 15 , 16 The first of these claimed to test the analgesic efficacy of lumiracoxib. It compared the maximum daily dose of lumiracoxib with a single dose of 400 mg of ibuprofen for pain control after tooth extraction. 15 The study concluded that lumiracoxib was superior to ibuprofen. However, one sixth of the standard 24-hour dose of ibuprofen was used as the comparator. A second study involving these 2 drugs, also sponsored by Novartis, compared complications related to gastrointestinal ulcers between treatment groups. 16 Patients older than 50 years and with osteoarthritis received the maximum daily dose of lumiracoxib or 800 mg ibuprofen 3 times per day for 1 year. They concluded that the risk of complications from upper gastrointestinal tract ulcers was lower in the lumiracoxib group. This ibuprofen dose is much higher than the dose used when the primary outcome was pain control. In both of these cases, dosing in the active control (ibuprofen) group was designed to magnify any advantage of lumiracoxib compared with ibuprofen.

The use of straw man comparators is always misleading, at times unethical, and in some instances illegal. An extreme example of this occurred in Nigeria during a 1996 meningitis epidemic. Pfizer compared trovafloxacin, a novel fluoroquinolone, with ceftriaxone in children with bacterial meningitis. Although the results of this study have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, details were documented by the Washington Post . 17 Their investigation revealed that most of the children in the ceftriaxone group received intramuscular doses of 33 mg/kg per day, far below the recommended intravenous dosing of 100 mg/kg per day for bacterial meningitis. A statement from Pfizer justified this discrepancy by stating that the change in dosing was done “to diminish the significant pain resulting from the intramuscular injection.” 18 Conveniently for Pfizer, this decision also increased the likelihood that trovafloxacin would outperform ceftriaxone. In 2009, Pfizer reached a financial settlement to compensate families involved in the study. 19

INCORPORATION BIAS

Incorporation bias occurs in studies of diagnostic tests in which one of the tests being examined and the criterion standard (aka reference standard) are not independent. This commonly occurs when 2 diagnostic tests are compared and one of these tests is also used to define the “correct” answer. The test that is used to define the reference standard will always outperform the other test.

Incorporation bias is present in a retrospective chart review of blunt trauma victims who had both cervical CT and radiography to evaluate for cervical spine fracture. 20 The authors reported that CT was 100% sensitive for the detection of these injuries in the included cohort, whereas radiography was 65% sensitive. However, CT results were used as the criterion standard. This approach ignores the possibility that some of the injuries observed on CT were artifacts or even that the CT missed fractures observed on radiographs. The study used circular reasoning: the authors used CT as the criterion standard because they believed it was superior to radiography, and they then used their results to “prove” this claim. As designed, it was inevitable that the authors would reach the conclusion that “[c]omputed tomography of the cervical spine should replace cervical spine radiographs ….” 20

UNSUCCESSFUL RANDOMIZATION

Randomization is the process by which study participants are allocated to particular treatment groups by a random process such as a coin flip or computerized random-number generator. The purpose of randomization is to ensure that aside from the experimental intervention, study groups are as similar as possible. If randomization is unsuccessful or is performed poorly, study results may be due to the presence of differences between the 2 groups other than the intervention, which is more likely to happen in small studies than in large studies. Stratified randomization helps prevent this by balancing rates of key characteristics among study groups. In addition to comparing the characteristics of the treatment and control groups provided by study authors, one should also consider whether the groups might differ in ways not described in the article.

The European Cooperative Acute Stroke Study III is a recently published randomized trial of thrombolytic therapy (alteplase) versus placebo administered between 3.0 and 4.5 hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. 21 The mean pretreatment National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) score in the alteplase group was 10.7 compared with 11.6 in the placebo group, suggesting that baseline stroke severity was modestly worse in the placebo group. Additionally, 7.7% of patients in the alteplase group and 14.1% in the placebo group had a history of stroke, a factor that has been associated with poor functional outcomes. More significant is that only 5% of patients in the alteplase group had initial NIHSS scores greater than 20 compared with 10% of patients in the placebo group. 22 These figures were not reported in the initial European Cooperative Acute Stroke Study III article; however, they are of critical importance. Compared with other stroke patients, those with NIHSS scores above 20 have very poor outcomes regardless of any intervention, and patients with scores below 10 usually do well regardless of any intervention. 23 Together, these baseline imbalances in stroke severity between study groups potentially account for the entire 7.2% absolute difference in favorable functional outcome reported in this study. Randomization can be performed in ways that limit this problem. For example, a stratified randomization scheme using NIHSS scores to account for stroke severity could have been used to balance the allocation of patients with mild, moderate, and severe strokes among the alteplase and placebo groups.

COMPOSITE OUTCOMES

Composite outcomes are created by combining multiple endpoints into a single common outcome measure. Investigators sometimes use this technique because finding a statistically significant difference between outcomes is easier when outcomes are common. Composite outcomes can make the interpretation of results difficult because the individual factors making up a given composite outcome are frequently not equivalent, clouding the clinical significance of the composite measure. The problem of composite endpoints can be at least partially addressed by comparing the frequency of the individual components if these results are provided by the authors. Others have recommended specific questions to ask when assessing the usefulness of composite outcomes ( Table ). 24

Questions used to assess for limitations commonly encountered in clinical research. *

TopicStudy TypeImportant Questions
External validityAll typesAre there likely to be systematic differences between the study setting and my own clinical setting about factors related to the patient population, disease process, and available clinical resources? Are these differences likely to be clinically important?
Experimenter biasAll types, especially industry-sponsored trialsWhat motivated the investigators and study sponsor to perform the study? Who was the study funded by? Did they have control over study data?
Publication biasMeta-analysis, pooled data analysisWas an effort made to include data from unpublished trials? Was it successful?
Are the articles included of sufficient quality and sufficiently representative of existing knowledge to adequately capture our state of knowledge on this topic?
Straw man comparisonRandomized controlled trials with active comparatorDid the control group receive appropriate treatment or an appropriate diagnostic test? Was the dosing amount and frequency equivalent between groups?
Does the standard treatment have advantages over the experimental treatment that are not accounted for by the study (cost, availability, ease of use, etc)?
Incorporation biasEvaluation of diagnostic testsAre the reference standard and the modalities being studied interdependent?
Were the clinicians or investigators responsible for judging the reference standard blinded to results from the methods being studied?
RandomizationRandomized controlled trialsHow was randomization performed?
Is the sample size sufficient to make successful randomization likely?
Do groups seem sufficiently similar with respect to important characteristics to make confounding unlikely?
Composite outcomeRandomized controlled trials, cohort studiesAre the component endpoints of similar importance to patients?
If not, what was the difference in frequency of the most important endpoint?
Clinical importance versus statistical significanceAll typesIs each statistically significant result also clinically important or useful?
Are there clinically important results that were not statistically significant?
How should the results (statistically significant or not) change previously held beliefs on this topic?
Disease-oriented versus patient-oriented outcomesAll typesWhat patient-oriented outcomes would be relevant to this study? Were each of these measured, and did these differ between study groups?
How predictive of a patient-oriented outcome are the disease- oriented outcomes that the authors chose to measure?

The Clopidogrel in Unstable Angina to Prevent Recurrent Events Trial (CURE) was an industry-sponsored study comparing clopidogrel with placebo in patients with non–ST-elevation myocardial infarction. 25 The primary outcome was a composite of death from a cardiovascular cause, stroke, or recurrent nonfatal myocardial infarction. Recurrent myocardial infarction was defined as an increase in cardiac biomarker levels to at least double the upper limit of normal, whether or not this increase was considered clinically significant. The difference in composite outcome was largely driven by increased recurrent myocardial infarction in the placebo group (6.7% versus 5.2%) rather than by a nonsignificant absolute reduction in death of 0.4% in the treatment group. In fact, recurrent myocardial infarction was the only component of the composite outcome that reached individual statistical significance. Reporting that “clopidogrel significantly reduces the risk of the composite outcome of death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal myocardial infarction, or stroke” 25 is more likely to promote clopidogrel use than stating “clopidogrel significantly reduces the risk of an asymptomatic rise in cardiac biomarkers, without a significant reduction in mortality or recurrent stroke.”

CLINICAL IMPORTANCE VERSUS STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Statistical significance is reached when study results justify the rejection of the study’s null hypothesis with a predetermined level of probability. Traditionally, but somewhat arbitrarily, if the probability of obtaining an observed result or one more extreme by chance alone is less than 5% (ie, P < .05), then a result is judged statistically significant. The clinical importance of a finding is influenced by the importance of the outcome measured, the magnitude of differences observed, and the existence of alternative therapies. Findings that are clinically important but not statistically significant ought to be repeated with a larger sample; findings that are statistically significant but not clinically important are irrelevant. A growing viewpoint in the research community, termed Bayesian inference, represents an alternative to frequentist statistics. Rather than focusing on whether a particular finding is mathematically significant, a Bayesian approach seeks to determine the truth of a particular finding by incorporating experimentally observed evidence together with the prior probability of a given hypothesis based on previous research. 26 , 27

The use of dexamethasone in patients with migraine headaches provides an example of possible discordance between clinical importance and statistical significance. A randomized controlled trial was performed in which 130 patients with migraine headache received 15 mg dexamethasone or placebo. 28 Within the 48 hours after ED discharge, 32% of patients in the placebo arm developed a severe recurrent headache compared with 22% of patients in the dexamethasone group. The odds ratio in favor of dexamethasone was 0.6, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.3 to 1.3. Although this result is not statistically significant, a 10% difference in headache relapse is clinically important and justifies further investigation. A subsequent, adequately powered meta-analysis demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in relapse rate of similar magnitude. 29

DISEASE-ORIENTED (INTERMEDIATE) VERSUS PATIENT-ORIENTED OUTCOMES

Clinical decisions should be based on outcomes that matter to patients. Disease-oriented outcomes describe the presence or severity of a particular disease. Examples of disease-oriented outcomes include laboratory values, ECG findings, and abnormalities on imaging studies. Studies using patient-oriented outcomes, on the other hand, measure survival or some aspect of quality of life such as disability, pain, out-of-pocket costs, time in a hospital, or time away from work. Disease-oriented outcomes are often favored in clinical research because they are easier to measure. Examining disease-oriented outcomes may be a necessary step in understanding pharmacology or pathophysiology, but ideally, clinical decisions should be supported by studies demonstrating an effect on patient-oriented outcomes.

Controversy has surrounded the association between etomidate use and adrenal insufficiency. A recent randomized controlled trial compared etomidate with ketamine for use in rapid sequence intubation. 30 Etomidate was associated with a significant increase in adrenal insufficiency as defined by failure to respond to a cortisol stimulation test, or a random cortisol level below 276 nmol/L measured within 48 hours after tracheal intubation. Clearly, an individual patient will not know or care whether his or her serum cortisol level is slightly above or below 276 nmol/L. As addressed by the authors, this study did not demonstrate any significant difference in mortality or mechanical ventilation–free days, both of which are patient-oriented outcomes of greater clinical importance than serum cortisol test results.

Military antishock trousers provide a more dramatic example of how disease-oriented outcomes and patient-oriented outcomes can be at odds. This device, which encases the lower half of the body in high-pressure air bladders, became a staple of emergency medical services care for the treatment of hypovolemic shock in the United States during the 1970s. 31 Their use was justified because they increased blood pressure for hypotensive trauma patients. 32 Hypotension, however, is a disease-oriented outcome that is important only because of its assumed relationship to mortality or other patient-oriented outcomes. In fact, a subsequent meta-analysis suggested that military antishock trousers use was associated with increased mortality. 33 The decision to use the trousers according to their effects on blood pressure cost money and probably cost lives.

CONCLUSIONS

These examples are intended to illustrate limitations commonly encountered in research relevant to the practice of emergency medicine. No study is perfect. Even studies that include significant biases can be valuable if interpreted with an awareness of relevant limitations. Ideally, the discussion section of an original research article will both identify these limitations and include a Bayesian interpretation of the findings, in which the meaning of the new results is added to existing literature on the subject to obtain a poststudy result. If this is not done by the study authors, this work is left to the reader and to those who write article summaries and reviews. This method of integrating new data with existing information is particularly important in light of the constantly expanding medical knowledge base. A recent analysis of interventional studies published in top medical journals between 1990 and 2003 found that by 2005, a third had been contradicted or faced significant challenges about the magnitude of initially reported effect sizes. 34 These findings highlight the need for clinicians to question both new and established research results ( Table ). Ultimately, clinicians, not researchers, make decisions that affect patients. Now more than ever, good clinical care should be rooted in the process of judging new research according to its scientific merit, considering the relevance of new data to one’s own patient population, and ensuring that the outcomes we care about are the ones that matter for our patients.

Supplementary Material

Acknowledgments.

Funding and support: By Annals policy, all authors are required to disclose any and all commercial, financial, and other relationships in any way related to the subject of this article as per ICMJE conflict of interest guidelines (see www.icmje.org ). The authors have stated that no such relationships exist.

  • Limitations In Research
  • Writing guide

How to Organize Limitations of a Research Study

How to Organize Limitations of a Research Study

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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.

What are the Limitations of a Study (Research)?

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.

Why and Where to Include Limitations in My Research Paper

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.

Common Limitations of the Researchers

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.

Time Limits

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. 

Conflicts on Biased Views and Personal Issues

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.

Different types

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.

1. Research design limitations

Specific constraints on your population research or available procedures may affect the final outcomes or results that you obtain.

2. Impact limitations?

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.

3. Data or statistical limitations

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.

How to structure your research limitations correctly

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.

How to set your research limitations?

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.

Formulation of your objectives and aims

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.

Implementation of your data collection methods

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.

What are sample sizes?

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.

Lacking previous studies in the same field

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.

Scope of discussions

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.

Concluding thoughts

Any research suffers from specific limitations that range from common flaws to serious problems in design or methodology. 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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How to Write a Discussion Section of a Research Paper

  • Open access
  • Published: 23 February 2012

Discussing study limitations in reports of biomedical studies- the need for more transparency

  • Milo A Puhan 1 ,
  • Elie A Akl 2 ,
  • Dianne Bryant 3 ,
  • Feng Xie 4 ,
  • Giovanni Apolone 5 &
  • Gerben ter Riet 6  

Health and Quality of Life Outcomes volume  10 , Article number:  23 ( 2012 ) Cite this article

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Unbiased and frank discussion of study limitations by authors represents a crucial part of the scientific discourse and progress. In today's culture of publishing many authors or scientific teams probably balance 'utter honesty' when discussing limitations of their research with the risk of being unable to publish their work. Currently, too few papers in the medical literature frankly discuss how limitations could have affected the study findings and interpretations. The goals of this commentary are to review how limitations are currently acknowledged in the medical literature, to discuss the implications of limitations in biomedical studies, and to make suggestions as to how to openly discuss limitations for scientists submitting their papers to journals. This commentary was developed through discussion and logical arguments by the authors who are doing research in the area of hedging (use of language to express uncertainty) and who have extensive experience as authors and editors of biomedical papers. We strongly encourage authors to report on all potentially important limitations that may have affected the quality and interpretation of the evidence being presented. This will not only benefit science but also offers incentives for authors: If not all important limitations are acknowledged readers and reviewers of scientific articles may perceive that the authors were unaware of them. Authors should take advantage of their content knowledge and familiarity with the study to prevent misinterpretations of the limitations by reviewers and readers. Articles discussing limitations help shape the future research agenda and are likely to be cited because they have informed the design and conduct of future studies. Instead of perceiving acknowledgment of limitations negatively, authors, reviewers and editors should recognize the potential of a frank and unbiased discussion of study limitations that should not jeopardize acceptance of manuscripts.

Introduction

The physicist Richard Feynman argued, during his commencement address at the California Institute of Technology in 1974, that utter honesty must be a cornerstone of scientific integrity. He cautioned researchers from fooling themselves by saying: "We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work."[ 1 ]

We think that, in today's culture of publishing biomedical studies, many authors may not want to discuss limitations of their studies because they perceive a transparency threshold beyond which the probability of manuscript acceptance goes down (perhaps even to zero) [ 2 ]. The goals of this commentary are to briefly review how limitations are currently acknowledged in the biomedical literature, to discuss implications of limitations in biomedical studies, and to make suggestions as to how to openly discuss limitations for scientists who submitting their papers to biomedical journals. This commentary was initiated by two of the authors (MP and GtR), who are doing research in the area of hedging (use of language to express uncertainty), and proposed to the editors of Health and Quality of Life Outcomes . All editors supported the idea of writing a commentary on the importance of discussing limitations transparently and four editors (EAA, DB, FX, GA) joined the writing group. This commentary was developed through discussion and logical arguments by the authors who have extensive experience as authors and editors of biomedical papers themselves.

Recognition, acknowledgment and discussion of all potentially important limitations by authors, if presented in an unbiased way, represent a crucial part of the scientific discourse and progress. The advantages of openly discussing limitations are probably long-term and benefit the scientific community and other users of the evidence: A candid discussion of limitations helps readers to correctly interpret the particular study. Conflicting results across studies may be explained by the patterns in limitations. Moreover, frank discussion of limitations informs future studies, which are likely to be of higher quality if they address the limitations of earlier studies. However, while encouraging others to openly discuss limitations of their studies is easy, discussing the limitations of one's own study is more challenging. Researchers usually have their opinion about how to design and execute studies or how to interpret the results and may not agree that some aspects of a study represent, in the view of others, a limitation. Risks of acknowledging limitations and having an open scientific discourse may include, at least in today's culture, eliciting negative comments by peer reviewers, non-acceptance by journals and a potentially negative image as a researcher.

Discussion of limitations in the medical literature

There is some evidence that limitations are not thoroughly discussed in the medical literature. A study using automated key word searching found that only 17% out of 400 papers published in leading medical journals used at least one word referring to limitations [ 3 ]. Not a single article discussed how a limitation could affect the conclusion. In a more detailed assessment of the medical literature, in which two independent reviewers assessed the abstract and discussion sections of 300 medical research papers, published in first and second tier general medical and specialty journals, 73% of all papers were found to acknowledge a median of 3 limitations [ 4 ]. This higher proportion (compared to the first study) is likely due to a more thorough assessment (i.e., by reviewers rather than an automated search) but could also be related to a slightly different selection of papers. The detailed assessment of these 300 papers revealed that 62% of all limitations referred to aspects of internal validity, which could systematically distort the results. Measurement errors, failure to measure important variables and potential confounding were among those acknowledged most frequently. The remaining limitations referred to aspects of applicability of the results to clinical practice (external validity). Differences between the study population and real-world populations were mentioned most frequently as barriers for applying the results in practice. Few authors discussed how the limitations could have affected the interpretation of study findings.

What is currently unclear is whether authors do or do not address those limitations that are most likely to affect internal validity and applicability of results in real practice. It may well be possible that authors discuss limitations because it is required by journal policies and worry that too open discussion jeopardizes the chances of acceptance. Also, more research is needed to see how the acknowledgment of potentially important limitations fits with the claims made in an article, for example about the effectiveness of a medical intervention or about the measurement properties of a patient-reported outcome.

It is time to discuss limitations not in isolation but in the context of the entire article and as part of a rhetorical-epistemic phenomenon that linguists call "hedging." Hedging refers to "the means by which writers can present a proposition as an opinion rather than a fact" [ 5 ]. By using hedging authors can express the extent of uncertainty about the importance and validity of their study but also prevent readers from making false accusations for strong or definitive statements. Of note, hedging has both positive and negative connotations since it can be used to set an appropriate tone but also to express an opinion that may not be fully supported by the facts.

Discussing implications of limitations prevents misunderstandings and supports interpretation of data

It requires a great deal of judgment to estimate the potential impact of limitations on internal or external validity of a study. Sometimes, the direction of bias may be towards an over- or underestimation of effects. For example, if there is systematic measurement error that equally affects different study groups (so called non-differential measurement error, for example if the exposure is measured with a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 90%) the results are usually biased towards an underestimation of the effect [ 6 ]. Or, if a confounder is positively associated with the outcome and more prevalent in study participants exposed to the risk factor of interest, an overestimation of the effect can be expected. Some biases, for example selection bias and some forms of measurement error can, affect the results in a direction that is difficult to predict [ 6 ]. Sometimes, the impact of biases on internal validity may be so small that its description may not be warranted.

Very often the authors of an article are in the best position to judge the direction of a potential bias because they executed the study and have experienced first-hand limitations of their study. In addition, they often have the needed content knowledge that would inform the direction and potential extent of bias. Thus authors should acknowledge recognized limitations and discuss their likely implications on the interpretations of the findings; by doing so, they reduce the probability that readers will misjudge the validity and impact of their study. Of course, it is important that the authors also include the reasoning behind their judgment of the magnitude and direction of the potential bias to enable readers to form their own opinion on the impact of limitations.

For some limitations, however, the impact can better be judged in a meta-epidemiological context, that is, when all studies addressing the same research questions are analyzed together. Some journals ask authors to discuss their results in reference to an existing systematic review [ 7 ]. Thereby, not only heterogeneity of results across studies can be detected but it may be possible to estimate how much a limitation may affect the results. For example, a randomized trial may use a generic health-related quality of life instrument to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment. The trial may show no effect and have high internal validity. However, other trials evaluating the same treatment may have used a disease-specific instrument and shown an effect that exceeded the minimal important difference. Or, studies may have shown that disease-specific instruments discriminate better between disease severity or change over time than generic instruments [ 8 , 9 ]. The limitation of the first trial that used a much less responsive generic instrument only becomes much clearer in a meta-epidemiological context. Another important purpose of systematic reviews is to identify limitations of existing studies and to help investigators to avoid them in the future. It is beyond the scope of this commentary to discuss different types of biases and their implications for the quality of evidence but we refer readers to the extensive literature on biases and to some approaches that are currently used to judge the implications of limitations on the strength of evidence [ 6 , 10 – 12 ].

An open discussion of limitations should not jeopardize paper acceptance by journals

We would like to strongly encourage authors submitting their articles to biomedical journals to openly discuss all potentially relevant limitations of their study. Specifically, we suggest including text in the abstract and discussion section (Table 1 ):

At the end of the results section add one sentence highlighting the one or two main limitations of the study. The conclusion section should reflect the seriousness of the limitations as perceived by the authors and their potential impact on the results and interpretation of the study.

Discussion section

Report on all limitations that may have affected the quality of the evidence being presented, including aspects of study design and implementation. Readers depend on a candid communication by the authors and may get the impression that the investigators were naive if they are not reported. If space is limited an online appendix could be considered that describes the limitations as well as their potential implications in more details.

Give the authors' view on how the limitations impact on the quality of the evidence and discuss the direction and magnitude of bias. For example, a recent study reporting on the association of quality of life of elderly people with nursing home placement and death discussed the potential mechanism of a selection bias by economic status. The authors concluded that a selection bias based on economic status was unlikely because access to health care, and thus selection into the study, did not depend on economic status [ 13 ]. As explained above, few authors currently discuss how limitations could have affected the strength of the conclusions that may be drawn. However, the authors should take advantage of their content knowledge and familiarity with the study and the meta-epidemiological context to prevent misinterpretations of the limitations by reviewers and readers.

Do not restrict the discussion of limitations to aspects of internal validity. For readers, it is important to learn about potential barriers for applying the evidence, generated in scientific studies, to practice. Discuss where the limits of applicability of the results may lie. This requires a discussion of the setting in which the study took place, how and why the results may differ in another setting (potential effect modification) and what barriers may exist to adopt new interventions or diagnostic procedures in a setting that is different from the research setting [ 14 ].

Discuss the strengths of the study that may counterbalance or outweigh (some of) the limitations. Be explicit about the strengths, in particular how the study was implemented, and do not limit the discussion of strengths to general statements about study design.

Provide suggestions for future research specifically overcoming the limitations of the current study. One may also consider describing how one's own study could be repeated and conducted differently to avoid some of the limitations. Articles acknowledging and putting into context all potentially relevant limitations could help shape the research agenda and may be more likely to be cited because they inform the design and conduct of future studies.

We acknowledge that, even if limitations are openly discussed, some articles will be rejected by journals because the limitations affect an article's validity, level of interest to the reader and comprehensibility too much as assessed by peer reviewers. But we believe that journal editors should consider the thoroughness with which limitations are discussed in their editorial decisions on acceptance. In fact, editors should consider it a shortcoming of the submission if a candid discussion is lacking. To end with Feynman's words, "[...] if you are doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid - not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked - to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated."[ 1 ]

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Milo A Puhan

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Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada

Dianne Bryant

Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

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Puhan, M.A., Akl, E.A., Bryant, D. et al. Discussing study limitations in reports of biomedical studies- the need for more transparency. Health Qual Life Outcomes 10 , 23 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7525-10-23

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what are common limitations in a research study

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Limitations of a Study: The Complete Guide

limitations of a study

Research limitations make most studies imperfect. At its core, the research aims to investigate a specific question or questions about a topic. However, some things can hinder your ability to investigate the question or questions extensively. While this can make achieving your goals challenging, it enables you to point areas that require further studies.

That’s why you should demonstrate how future studies can provide answers to your unanswered questions if you encounter study limitations that affect your findings. Presenting the limitations of a study properly shows the readers that you understand your research problem.

After presenting your research findings, your assessment committee wants to see that you did your work professionally. And presenting limitations in a study shows that you carefully thought about your study problem and performed a review of the available literature while analyzing your preferred methods.

What Are Limitations in Research?

Well, limitations mean anything that might affect the generalizability or reliability of the outcomes of an experiment or a study. And this can relate to research design, like your approach or methods. It can also be something to do with how you carried out your research, like running out of resources or time before completing the study.

Either way, students should include their limitations when writing up their studies. In most cases, researchers include limitations in their analysis and discussions. But different schools can provide varying guidelines on how to include limitations in a research paper. Therefore, seek advice from your educator or check your writing style guide to know where to include the limitations of a study when writing a dissertation.

Common Study Limitations

Each study can have unique limitations. However, most students encounter common study limitations when writing academic papers. Here are some of the most common limitations you’re likely to encounter when writing your academic papers.

Sample profile or size: Most researchers encounter sampling as a limitation for their studies. That’s because they have difficulties finding the right sample with the necessary characteristics and size parameters. And this hinders the generalizability of their study results. Also, different sampling techniques are prone to bias and errors. And this can influence the study outcomes. In some cases, researchers have difficulties selecting their samples and opt to pick their participants selectively. Some researchers can even include irrelevant subjects in their general pool to hit their preferred sample size. Availability of previous research or information: Theoretical concepts or previous knowledge form the basis of studies on specific topics. And this provides a sound foundation on which a researcher can develop a research problem for their investigation and a design. However, a topic can be relatively specific or very progressive. In that case, the lack of or inadequate knowledge and previous studies can limit the analysis scope. And this can cause inaccuracies in the arguments or present a significant error margin in several methodologies and research aspects. Methodology errors: Modern research complexity can cause potential methodology limitations. In most cases, these research limitations relate to how the researchers collect and analyze data. That’s because these aspects can influence the outcomes of a study. Researchers use different techniques to gather data. While these techniques may suit a study design, they can present limitations in terms of inappropriate detail levels, distractions, and privacy. Bias: Bias is a potential limitation whose effects can influence the outcome of every study. However, a researcher can avoid this limitation by eliminating prejudiced or emotional attitudes towards their topic and conflict of interest. Researchers should also establish an oversight level by referring to peer-review procedures or an ethics committee. Bias is an inherent trait for human beings. Even the most objective people exhibit a bias to some extent. Nevertheless, a researcher should remain objective while trying to control potential inaccuracies or bias during the research process.

A researcher may not have control over the limitation of study. However, the limitation can be the condition, influence, or shortcoming that places restrictions on their conclusions or methodology. Therefore, researchers should mention all limitations that can influence their results.

Limitations of the Study Example

The purpose of most studies is to confirm or establish facts, reaffirm a previous study’s outcomes, solve current or new issues, develop a new theory, or support theorems. Research should also enable experts to develop knowledge on specific subjects. And people research different subjects, depending on their interests. However, researchers experience limitations of quantitative research and qualitative research. Here are the most common limitations in research.

Lack or inadequate interactions: Researchers might lack adequate interactions with government institutions and businesses. Consequently, they do not tap a substantial data amount. Researchers should arrange interaction programs with other establishments. That way, they can identify issues that warrant investigation and the necessary data for conducting research, as well as, the benefits of their studies. Overlapping studies can lead fritter resources away or duplicate the findings. Appropriate revision and compilation at regular intervals can solve this problem. Costly publishing: After researching a topic, a researcher should find ways to publish their findings. However, international journals cost a lot of money to publish a study. And this can discourage a researcher from publishing their work. For instance, a study involving females only or carried out in a specific town can have limitations like sample size, gender, and location. What’s more, the entire study could be limited to the researcher’s perception. Lack of or inadequate training: The research process doesn’t have a systematic methodology. Many researchers do not understand the research method when carrying out their work. Consequently, most researchers experience methodological limitations. Essentially, most researchers replicate the methodologies of similar studies. Even some research guides don’t explain the methodologies accurately. And this can limit the outcome of some studies. Lack of code of conduct: Researchers don’t have a code of conduct. And this causes inter-university and inter-departmental rivalries. Library functioning and management are not adequate in most places. Consequently, some researchers spend a lot of energy and time tracing the necessary books, reports, and journals for their studies. Such energy and time can be spent tracing relevant materials. Lack of confidence: The lack of confidence is among the most common limitations of research studies because company managers think that a researcher can misuse the data they disclose to them. Consequently, they don’t want to reveal their business information. And this can affect studies, yet data from researchers can help the same institutions. Therefore, organizations and researchers should implement confidence-building strategies to encourage companies to share data, knowing that researchers will use it productively.

Why Write the Limitations of a Study?

When writing a research paper or a thesis, some people think including study limitations is counterintuitive. That’s particularly the case for researchers that experienced something wrong. However, mentioning the limitations of your study is imperative for the following reasons.

  • It tells the readers that you understand that no study lacks some limitations, and you took the time to analyze your work critically.
  • It provides opportunities for further studies.
  • It enables you to discuss the impacts of the limitations on your analysis and how future studies can address the challenges you encountered if granted a chance to do the study again.
  • It presents your study as a transparent undertaking, making the results useful and credible for other people.

Most professors spot problems with the students’ work even if they don’t mention them. Consequently, embracing the limitations of your study and including them in your analysis is the best approach. Leaving out the limitations of research or vital aspects of a study can be detrimental to the entire study field. That’s because it can establish a potentially fallacious and incomplete depiction of the study.

In the academic world, players expect researchers to include the limitations of their works. And this includes a section that demonstrates a holistic and comprehensive understanding of a topic and research process by the author. Discussing limitations is a learning process for assessing the magnitude while critically evaluating the extenuating effect of the stated limitations.

Stating the limitations of a study also improves the validity and quality of future studies. And this includes limitations whose basis is the transparency principle in scientific research, whose purpose is to promote further progress while maintaining mutual integrity in similar studies.

How to Write Study Limitations

When writing your research limitations, do it in a way that demonstrates your understanding of the core concepts of confounding, analytical self-criticism, and bias. Highlighting every limitation might not be necessary. However, include every limitation with a direct impact on your research problem or study results.

Present your thought process as a researcher and explain the pros and cons of your decisions. Also, explain circumstances that may have led to a research limitation. Here’s how you should structure your limitations.

  • Identification and description of the limitation: Use professional terminology to identify and describe the limitation. Also, include all necessary accompanying definitions. The limitation explanation should be precise and brief to ensure that the audience can easily understand the issue. Additionally, make sure that your audience can follow your thought pattern.
  • Outline the possible impact or influence of the limitation: Explain to your readers how the limitation may have affected or influenced your study. And this comprises elements like the impact’s magnitude, occurrence likelihood, and the general direction the specific limitation could have driven your findings. Researchers generally accept that a limitation can have a more profound influence on a study than others. Therefore, highlight the effect or influence of a limitation to help readers decide on the issues to consider while examining your topic. And this is vital because a limitation whose value bias is null is less dangerous.
  • Discuss alternative approaches to limitations: You can also discuss alternative ways to approach the limitations of your research question. However, the researcher should support the methodology or approach they selected in their study. Also, a research paper should explain why the study context warranted the methodology or approach, regardless of the limitation’s nature. Some researchers even provide persuasive evidence while discussing alternative decisions to some extent. And this shows thought transparency while reassuring readers that the researcher chose the best approach, despite the possible laminations.
  • Description of the techniques for minimizing risks: Any limitation in research comes with some risks. Therefore, a researcher should describe possible techniques for minimizing the potential risk from the stated limitations. Such techniques can include a reference of previous studies and suggestions for improving data analysis and research design.

Don’t forget that acknowledging your study limitations provides a chance to suggest the direction for further studies. Therefore, connect the limitations of your study to the suggestions you make for further research. Also, explain how your study can make the unanswered questions more focused.

Also, acknowledging the limitation of the study enables you to demonstrate to the professor that you have critically thought about your research problem and understood the importance of the already-published literature. What’s more, it shows that you’ve carefully assessed the methods for studying your study problem. In research, a key objective is to discover new knowledge while confronting assumptions as you explore what others might not know.

Writing limitations should be a subjective process. That’s because you must analyze the impacts of the limitations and include them in your paper. In this section, don’t include the key weaknesses only. Instead, highlight the magnitude of the limitations of your research. And doing this requires you to demonstrate your study’s validity. Show the readers how the limitations have impacted your study outcomes and conclusions. Thus, writing the limitations section of your paper requires an overall, critical interpretation and appraisal of the impact. Essentially, this section should tell the readers why the problems with methods, errors, validity, and other limitations matter and to what extent.

Practical Tips for Writing Research Limitations

When writing a research paper, include information about your study’s limitations at the beginning of the discussion section. That way, your readers can understand your study limitations before delving into the deeper analysis. In some cases, authors bring out limitations when concluding their research discussion and highlighting the essence of further study on the subject. Here are practical tips to help you write the limitations of your study more effectively.

  • Check some examples of limitations in research first: To understand the best way to include or present the limitations of your study, check how other authors do it. The internet is awash with good sample papers with a section for limitations. Checking such samples can help you write a limitations section for your academic paper.
  • Include essential limitations only: Don’t come up with a list of limitations in your research paper. That’s because doing so can discredit the entire research project. Instead, highlight up to 3 limitations whose influence on your work was the highest. Also, explain how each of the limitations affected your work and research findings.
  • Be brief and direct to the point: Identify the limitation, what caused it, and its impact on your research. Don’t expound on the limitation beyond this because the limitation section should be a small part of your paper.
  • Be sincere: Don’t make up some lies or disguise your research limitations. That’s because doing so could prove you aren’t prepared. Therefore, be true and sincere with the audience. As you might see in good examples of study limitations, this section tells the audience what could be different or better.
  • Explain what caused the limitations of your study: Your audience should have an easy time identifying the reason for the limitations. Therefore, make sure that you have explained everything correctly. Telling the readers about a limiting factor without explaining it can give them the impression that you’re outside your research project.
  • Make suggestions for further studies: An ideal way for reversing points that other researchers can explore is to suggest future research paths. Your study could have failed in certain aspects. Maybe you didn’t achieve your expected results. However, it can prompt other researchers to take different directions in their future studies. Also, explain how other researchers can overcome the limitations you encountered in your study. You can even demonstrate why additional studies on the topic or subject are essential.
  • Don’t confuse negative results with limitations: If your study brings out negative results, don’t confuse them for limitations. What negative outcomes mean is that you should support your hypothesis instead of opposing it. Perhaps, you can check sample limitations to understand what qualifies as a limitation. However, you can reformulate your hypothesis if you get negative results. Even when you stumble onto something you didn’t expect, don’t highlight it as a limitation.

Final Thoughts

When working on the limitations section of a research paper, be precise and clear. If writing this section becomes challenging, follow the tips shared in this article or seek assistance. That way, you can impress your educator by highlighting the limitations of your study properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Richard Ginger is a dissertation writer and freelance columnist with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the writing industry. He handles every project he works on with precision while keeping attention to details and ensuring that every work he does is unique.

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What Are Common Limitations In A Research Study?

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  • August 9, 2023
  • Learning Techniques

Attention researchers and curious minds! Ever wondered about the common limitations in a research study? Well, you’re in luck because we’re here to dive into this fascinating topic and uncover all the essential details. So, grab your thinking caps and let’s embark on an exploration of research study limitations together!

Now, as we journey through the world of research, it’s important to understand that no study is perfect. Just like superheroes have their weaknesses, research studies have limitations. These are like hurdles that researchers encounter along the way, which can affect the reliability and generalizability of their findings.

But fear not! By recognizing these limitations, researchers can enhance the quality of their work and provide more accurate insights to the world. So, whether you’re a budding scientist or simply curious about the world of research, join us as we unravel the mysteries behind common limitations in a research study. Let’s get started!

What Are Common Limitations in a Research Study?

Table of Contents

What Are Common Limitations in a Research Study?

In the world of research, it is essential to acknowledge that no study is perfect. Every research study has its limitations and potential flaws that may impact the validity and generalizability of its findings. Identifying and understanding these limitations is crucial for researchers, as it allows them to make informed decisions about the applicability and interpretation of the study’s results. In this article, we will delve into the common limitations that researchers encounter in their studies.

1. Sampling Limitations

In many research studies, a sample of participants is used to represent a larger population. However, the sample may not always accurately reflect the entire population due to various sampling limitations. One common limitation is selection bias, where the sample is not randomly selected and may not be representative of the target population. Another limitation is the small sample size, which can limit the generalizability of the findings. Additionally, the sample may lack diversity, leading to limited applicability of the results to different demographic or cultural groups.

Researchers should be aware of these limitations and carefully consider how they may impact the study’s findings. It is important to strive for a representative and diverse sample to increase the external validity of the research.

2. Measurement Limitations

The accuracy and reliability of the measurements used in a research study are crucial for obtaining valid results. However, there may be limitations associated with the measurement instruments themselves. One limitation is the reliance on self-report measures, which can be influenced by various factors such as social desirability bias or memory recall issues. Another limitation is the use of subjective rating scales, which may introduce subjectivity and lead to inconsistent or unreliable results.

To mitigate these limitations, researchers can employ multiple measures, use objective measures whenever possible, and ensure the validity and reliability of the measurement instruments they use. They should also acknowledge and discuss the potential limitations associated with the measurement tools in their study.

3. Research Design Limitations

The design of a research study plays a crucial role in determining the quality and validity of its findings. However, there can be design limitations that impact the study’s outcomes. One such limitation is the lack of a control group, which makes it difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between variables. Another limitation is the use of cross-sectional designs, which do not allow for assessing changes over time.

To overcome these limitations, researchers can incorporate experimental designs with control groups, longitudinal designs to track changes over time, or mixed-methods approaches that combine qualitative and quantitative data. It is essential to carefully select the appropriate research design that aligns with the study’s objectives and research questions.

4. Funding and Time Constraints

Research studies often face limitations in terms of funding and time constraints. Limited funding may restrict the scope of the study, preventing researchers from conducting extensive data collection or analysis. Time constraints can also impact the depth and breadth of the research, potentially limiting the sample size or the duration of data collection.

Researchers should openly acknowledge these limitations and discuss how they may have influenced the study’s findings. Seeking additional funding or adjusting the timeline for future research can help mitigate these limitations.

5. Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are of utmost importance in research studies, and they may present certain limitations. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and protect the rights and well-being of their participants. However, ethical constraints, such as obtaining informed consent, may limit the pool of potential participants or introduce selection bias.

While it is crucial to prioritize ethical considerations, researchers should acknowledge and discuss the limitations introduced by these ethical constraints. They should strive to strike a balance between ethical principles and the scientific rigor of their study.

6. Limitations of Generalizability

One of the primary goals of research is to provide insights and findings that can be generalized to a larger population. However, limitations in generalizability can arise due to various factors. For example, the study may have been conducted in a specific geographic location, with a specific age group, or within a certain time period, which may limit its applicability to other contexts.

Researchers should be mindful of these limitations and clearly define the boundaries of their study’s generalizability. They can also suggest future research that expands the scope and diversity of the population to enhance the generalizability of the findings.

7. Data Analysis Limitations

Data analysis is a critical phase in any research study, and it may also present limitations. The choice of statistical tests or analytical methods can impact the outcomes. Certain assumptions, such as normal distribution or linearity, may not hold true in all cases.

To address these limitations, researchers should carefully select appropriate statistical tests or analytical methods based on the nature of their data and research questions. They should also acknowledge any assumptions made and discuss the potential impact on the findings.

Additional Information on “What Are Common Limitations in a Research Study?”

1. Limitations of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research has its unique set of limitations, such as the potential for researcher bias, challenges in generalizing findings, and the subjectivity of interpretation. Researchers should be aware of these limitations and employ rigorous methods to enhance the credibility and dependability of their qualitative research.

2. Strategies to Address Limitations

While limitations are an inherent part of research studies, researchers can adopt strategies to mitigate their impact. Some strategies include using triangulation, seeking external validation, being transparent about limitations, and suggesting areas for future research. These approaches enhance the overall credibility and reliability of the research.

3. The Role of Peer Review

Peer review plays a crucial role in identifying and addressing limitations in research studies. Through the peer review process, experts in the field evaluate the study’s methodology, results, and limitations, providing valuable feedback to the researchers. This feedback helps improve the study’s quality and ensures that the limitations are adequately addressed.

In conclusion, recognizing and acknowledging the limitations in a research study is vital for researchers to ensure the integrity and validity of their findings. By acknowledging these limitations, researchers can enhance the transparency and credibility of their work, driving further advancements in their respective fields.

Key Takeaways: What Are Common Limitations in a Research Study?

  • Research studies may have limited sample sizes, which can impact the generalizability of the findings.
  • Inaccurate or biased data collection methods can introduce limitations to the study.
  • A lack of control over extraneous variables may affect the reliability and validity of the results.
  • Time constraints may limit the depth and scope of the research study.
  • The use of self-report measures can introduce social desirability or recall biases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Research studies often have limitations that can affect the results and conclusions. Here are some common questions about the limitations in a research study.

1. What role do sample size and selection play in the limitations of a research study?

Sample size and selection are crucial factors in research studies. A small sample size may not accurately represent the entire population, leading to limited generalizability of the findings. Additionally, biased or non-random selection of participants can introduce subjectivity and limit the study’s validity.

To mitigate these limitations, researchers often aim for a representative and diverse sample, ensuring the inclusion of different demographic groups. The larger the sample size, the more reliable the results are likely to be, as it reduces the potential impact of random variation.

2. How can the methodology used in a research study impact its limitations?

The methodology employed in a research study can significantly affect its limitations. For instance, a study relying solely on self-report surveys may be susceptible to response bias, as participants may provide inaccurate or incomplete information. Additionally, the use of retrospective designs may lead to recall bias, as participants may not accurately remember past events or experiences.

To address these limitations, researchers can incorporate multiple methods of data collection, such as interviews or observations, to enhance the validity and reliability of the study. Considering different sources of data can help overcome potential biases and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the research topic.

3. What role does the research design play in determining the limitations of a study?

The research design is crucial in determining the limitations of a study. For example, cross-sectional studies can only provide a snapshot of a particular point in time, limiting the ability to establish causal relationships. Longitudinal studies, on the other hand, may face challenges such as participant attrition or changes in the research topic over time.

Researchers must carefully select a design that aligns with their research objectives to minimize limitations. Combining different research designs or using mixed-method approaches can enhance the strength of the study and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the research question.

4. How can the availability of resources impact the limitations of a research study?

The availability of resources can significantly impact the limitations of a research study. Limited funding or time constraints may restrict the sample size or scope of the study, affecting its external validity or generalizability. Similarly, the lack of access to specialized equipment or expertise may limit the types of measurements or analyses that can be conducted.

Researchers should acknowledge and transparently report the limitations posed by resource constraints. They can also explore alternative methodologies, collaborate with other researchers, or seek additional funding to overcome these limitations and enhance the study’s robustness.

5. How do ethical considerations affect the limitations of a research study?

Ethical considerations can impose limitations on a research study. For instance, certain populations, such as minors or vulnerable individuals, may require additional ethical safeguards, leading to limited access to participants. Ethical guidelines may also restrict certain types of research, such as invasive procedures or experiments with potential harm.

While ethical considerations are crucial for protecting participants’ rights, they can restrict the research process. Researchers should carefully navigate these limitations by seeking informed consent, ensuring confidentiality, and adhering to ethical guidelines. Open communication and collaboration with ethics review boards can help overcome these limitations and ensure the study is conducted ethically.

Research Limitations & Delimitations: Simple Explainer + Explainer

So, let’s recap what we’ve learned about the common limitations in a research study:

In a research study, there can be limitations that affect the results. One limitation is sample size. If the sample size is too small, the findings may not accurately represent the whole population. Another limitation is bias, which means the researchers’ perspectives and beliefs can influence the results. It’s important to be aware of bias and try to minimize it.

Another limitation is the research design. Different research designs have their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the design may not be the best fit for the research question, leading to limitations in the study. Additionally, the data collection methods can also impact the results. If the methods used are not reliable or valid, the findings may not be trustworthy.

In conclusion (oops, I’m not supposed to say that), understanding the limitations in a research study is crucial. By knowing these limitations, we can critically evaluate the findings and better understand their reliability. It’s important to remember that every study has its limitations, but by recognizing them, we can keep improving the field of research!

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Taylor Swift’s Openness About Eating Disorder And Body Image Helps Fans, Study Shows

Swift's opening up about surviving body image issues and disordered eating has changed how some fans see themselves for the better, new research suggests.

Lisa Rapaport

For the study, researchers examined more than 8,300 comments in the top 200 TikTok and Reddit posts about Taylor Swift, eating disorders , and body image to assess how her messages have impacted her fans.

Several of Swift’s songs touch on disordered eating, including “You’re On Your Own Kid” where she empathizes with her younger self: “I hosted parties and starved my body, like I’d be saved by the perfect kiss.”

Swift also spoke candidly about her struggles with disordered eating, body image, and body objectification in her 2020 film, Miss Americana . In it she says, "Because if you're thin enough, then you don't have that ass that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn't flat enough. It's all just f***ing impossible."

Beyond what she has sung or said, Swift’s cast of body-diverse dancers on her Eras Tour has helped challenge the notion that only people of certain body sizes can perform on stage, the study authors noted.

“When a person is dealing with an eating disorder they may feel ashamed and socially isolated and misunderstood,” says Maria Rago, PhD , the president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) in Chicago. “Finding someone that they admire who admits her own struggles, who is very relatable like Taylor Swift can reduce this isolation, decrease shame and help people feel supported and understood.”

‘She Taught Me I’m Perfect Just the Way I Am’

The study authors found that TikTok and Reddit users routinely disclosed their own experiences with food issues, eating disorders, and body image in response to posts about Taylor Swift and body image. For example, one user wrote: “Proud of her ... and myself because she taught me I’m perfect just the way I am,” according to the study.

Many comments and posts examined in the study centered on how inspiring it was for users to see Swift’s bravery in frankly talking about her own struggles with her body image and disordered eating, the study noted.

A Reddit post titled “Taylor Swift helped me fight my ED (eating disorder)” offered an even deeper look at just how much Swift’s disclosures have helped fans improve their own self-image and behaviors. “I have struggled with a horrible eating disorder for a few years now,” according to excerpts of this post, which were included in the study. “To hear that Taylor had the same thoughts and the same problems as me and so many other people, was so validating and so inspiring. ... I can honestly say if I didn't have her inspiration I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t be in recovery.”

As to why Swift’s music may be helping some people in this way: “Taylor Swift’s music is vulnerable, and she shares parts of herself, her pain, and her struggles frequently, deeply, and intentionally,” says Serena Nangia , the senior marketing and communications manager at Project HEAL, a nonprofit in Parkville, Maryland, focused on supporting people struggling with disordered eating and body image issues. “I believe fans feel closer to her than to other celebrities because of this vulnerability.”

“[Swift] often describes in her music that she feels trapped in the culture when she tries to live up to how she is expected to look, and this is a universal truth and many people have to fight with in our world,” says Dr. Rago. “She also implies that she is empowered and she is no longer willing to define herself by her body, and she is no longer willing to starve herself to fit in. Hearing this message can inspire her listeners and followers that they can get off this diet merry-go-round and self-starvation to look pleasing to others as well.”

The Study Has Some Limitations

Although the study had promising findings, it also had some limitations.

For instance, the study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how Swift might directly impact her fans’ physical or mental health. Rather, researchers did what’s known as a qualitative analysis of comments and posts, which focused on surfacing common sentiments and themes.

Even so, the findings underscore the outsize influence Swift has on how some of her fans see themselves, how they eat, and how they feel about their appearance, the study concluded.

Taylor Swift’s Eating Disorder Is a Common Risk

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that require specialized treatment. Treatment often involves a combination of psychological therapy, nutritional education, and medical care. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) , specifically adapted for eating disorders, is commonly used to address the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors associated with these conditions.

Medications can also play a role in treating eating disorders, especially in managing symptoms of related conditions like depression and anxiety. Antidepressants are frequently prescribed for those with bulimia and binge-eating disorders .

Long-term management of eating disorders involves ongoing treatment to address any health complications and prevent relapse. It is essential for patients to engage actively in their treatment and use support from healthcare professionals, family, and friends.

Complementary therapies such as acupuncture , yoga , and meditation can help reduce stress and support overall well-being, but they should not replace conventional medical treatments. Seeking reliable information and support from trusted organizations like ANAD or Project HEAL is also recommended for both patients and their families.

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy . We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

  • Pope L et al. “It’s All Just F*cking Impossible:” The Influence of Taylor Swift on Fans’ Body Image, Disordered Eating, and Rejection of Diet Culture. Social Science & Medicine . July 6, 2024.
  • Taylor Swift’s Impact on Fans’ Body Image Attitudes Mostly Positive, Research Shows. EurekAlert . July 10, 2024.
  • Bunnell D. Statistics. National Eating Disorders Association .
  • Abrams Z. Kicking Stigma to the Curb. American Psychological Association . January 1, 2022.
  • Garcia T. Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’ Video Edited to Remove ‘Fat’ Reference Following Online Criticism. Variety . October 26, 2022.

what are common limitations in a research study

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A study found toxic metals in popular tampon brands. Here's what experts advise

Rachel Treisman

Tampon study

Diagonal rows of tampons against a pink background.

Researchers found 16 different kinds of metals in the tampons they examined, including heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Getty Images hide caption

Researchers have found toxic metals — including arsenic and lead — in over a dozen popular brands of tampons, raising questions about a menstrual hygiene product used by millions of Americans.

Their study, published last week in the scientific journal Environment International , adds to a growing body of research about chemicals found in tampons but is believed to be the first to specifically measure metals.

The negative health effects of heavy metals are well-documented and wide-ranging, including damaging the cardiovascular, nervous and endocrine systems; damaging the liver, kidneys and brain; increasing the risk of dementia and cancer and harming maternal health and fetal development.

“Despite this large potential for public health concern, very little research has been done to measure chemicals in tampons,” lead author Jenni Shearston, a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said in a statement .

Shearston led a team of scientists from Columbia University and Michigan State University in examining 30 tampons from across 14 brands and 18 product lines, which they did not name in the study.

Thinx settled a lawsuit over chemicals in its period underwear. Here's what to know

Thinx settled a lawsuit over chemicals in its period underwear. Here's what to know

The sampling includes products of various absorbencies, listed as “top sellers” by a major online retailer and purchased both online and at stores in New York City, London and Athens between September 2022 and March 2023.

Researchers detected “measurable concentrations” of all 16 metals they were looking for in the tampons, as well as “elevated mean concentrations” of toxic metals including lead, arsenic and cadmium.

The study says there are several ways metals could get into tampons. Raw materials like cotton and rayon could be contaminated by water, air or soil during production, while metals may in some cases be added intentionally in the manufacturing process either for odor control, pigment or as an antibacterial agent.

The exact amount of metals varied among the tampons, based on which region they were purchased from, whether they were made of organic or non-organic material and on store- versus name-brands, according to the study.

“Lead concentrations were higher in non-organic tampons while arsenic was higher in organic tampons,” it added. “No category had consistently lower concentrations of all or most metals.”

Researchers say the study marks an important first step in confirming the presence of toxic metals in tampons, which are used by an estimated 52% to 86% of menstruating people in the U.S.

But it doesn’t give them enough information to definitively link the metals to negative health effects.

They say more studies are needed to determine to what extent such metals might “leach out of tampons” and into peoples’ bodies. They’re calling not only for more research, but also for stronger regulations.

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The fda misses its own deadline to propose a ban on formaldehyde from hair products.

“I really hope that manufacturers are required to test their products for metals, especially for toxic metals,” Shearston said. “It would be exciting to see the public call for this, or to ask for better labeling on tampons and other menstrual products.”

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies tampons as medical devices and regulates their safety. However, there is no requirement to test tampons for chemical contaminants, and the FDA only recommends that tampons not contain pesticide residue or dioxin.

FDA spokesperson Amanda Hils told NPR that “all studies have limitations,” pointing to the outstanding questions about whether metals are released from tampons and into the bloodstream. Nevertheless, she said the agency is reviewing the research.

“We plan to evaluate the study closely, and take any action warranted to safeguard the health of consumers who use these products,” Hils added.

NPR has reached out to the industry Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products (BAHP) and its U.K. counterpart, the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association, for comment.

The BAHP defended the safety of its member companies’ menstrual products in a 2022 statement , acknowledging news coverage on the presence of chemicals and saying “if present, these are not intentionally added by the manufacturers.”

“Some of these impurities are present in the environment or naturally present at much higher levels in common fruits and vegetables or even made by the human body,” it said, adding that its members use “rigorous criteria for quality and hygiene.”

The bigger question: How harmful are these metals?

Several experts told NPR that they were not surprised by the researchers’ findings, since other studies over the years have detected potentially harmful chemicals in tampons and other menstrual products, including period underwear .

Catherine Roberts, a health and science journalist at Consumer Reports who has written about tampons, says it’s more surprising that the question wasn’t investigated sooner.

“It’s in the most sensitive part of people's bodies. It's so close to us,” she says. “We use so many [tampons] over a lifetime. It's just wild to me that this is so both so little researched and so little regulated.”

Students are pushing for free menstrual products on college campuses

Students are pushing for free menstrual products on college campuses

People who menstruate may use more than 7,400 tampons over the course of their reproductive years, the study authors calculated, with each tampon staying in the vagina for several hours at a time.

Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an OB-GYN who served as the environmental health expert for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says the more pressing question is not whether there are chemicals in tampons, but “when does it convert to a dangerous amount?”

Some of the metals found in the tampons — including copper, calcium, iron and zinc — are not only considered safe, but recommended for patients by many doctors, he notes. They would not be damaging in low amounts, but a cumulative amount could have a lasting effect on a person’s endocrine functions.

Trace amounts of arsenic, for example, are sometimes found in food and not considered to be toxic, but high amounts could be fatal. In contrast, as the study notes, “there is no safe exposure level” to lead.

It’s not clear from the study whether people are getting harmful amounts of each metal from tampons, DeNicola says.

“When you start to look at the kind of chemicals that are found in our human system, the reality is that in modern life, we're kind of swimming in them,” he adds. “And it's not to say that it's nothing we should worry about. I mean, I don't think most people hear that and think, ‘Oh, good, I've got more plastic in me.’ But we do have to recognize that small amounts of these chemicals are ubiquitous.”

What to do if you’re worried

To Roberts, one of the main takeaways from the study is that the “organic label was clearly not a guarantee that these products would not have heavy metals.” So what are concerned shoppers supposed to do?

Ideally, she says, regulators would mandate heavy-metal testing for tampons to take some of the pressure off consumers.

'Clean' Beauty Products Are A Marketing Triumph

'Clean' Beauty Products Are A Marketing Triumph

Until then, she says, there are some measures that tampon users can take to try to reduce their exposure to chemicals in general.

Those include choosing products that don’t contain plastic (including polyester and polypropylene) and avoiding those with fragrances and colorants.

“Something that people who look at this tend to say is that you want to look for period product labels that have fewer and simpler ingredients,” Roberts adds.

DeNicola recommends relying on a combination of “third-party testing and some personal due diligence.” He says there are apps shoppers can use to scan product barcodes and see what chemicals they contain, which could be useful for personal care and feminine hygiene products.

In some cases, people might want to consider alternatives to tampons, such as pads or menstrual cups. The reusable cups have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially given their lower environmental impact compared to tampons.

Other countries have better sunscreens. Here's why we can't get them in the U.S.

Shots - Health News

Other countries have better sunscreens. here's why we can't get them in the u.s..

Some of the downsides of tampons were evident well before this study.

DeNicola notes that plastic from tampons is one of the biggest sources of waste worldwide (and that some brands are more eco-friendly than others). Roberts points out that even if they didn’t contain chemicals, tampons would still pose a risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening illness (wearers can reduce their risk by changing their tampons frequently).

But DeNicola stresses that this study doesn’t have him running to tell his patients not to use tampons at all.

“I don’t think we’ve established that risk yet,” he says. “I think it’s more of a reality check for the consumers and the public at large, that most products that you’re using do not go through rigorous testing for safety, and most products do have chemicals in there somewhere.”

  • toxic chemicals

Zepbound outperforms Ozempic and Wegovy in head-to-head weight loss study

Tirzepatide, the active ingredient in Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound , leads to more weight loss than semaglutide, the active ingredient in Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy , new research suggests. 

The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine , is thought to be the first head-to-head comparison of the two blockbuster weight loss drugs. 

Since Zepbound was approved for weight loss in late 2023, it appeared to have an advantage over Wegovy. Patients taking the highest dose of Zepbound lost around 21% of their body weight over 72 weeks, compared to around 15% for patients on Wegovy after 68 weeks. 

But it was difficult to make a direct comparison without a study that looked at both drugs, which are part of a new class of medications called GLP-1s.

“We’ve tracked GLP-1 use over the last year and we’ve seen really dramatic increases, and yet, there’s not a ton of information available on head to head comparisons,” said lead study author Tricia Rodriguez, a principal applied scientist at Truveta Research, a health care data and analytics company.  

In the new study, Rodriguez and colleagues analyzed electronic health records from more than 41,000 adults who were overweight or had obesity and had been prescribed one of the two drugs for the first time. Participants weren't excluded if they had Type 2 diabetes. More than 9,100 were prescribed tirzepatide, and more than 32,000 were prescribed semaglutide.  

The researchers looked at how much weight the patients lost after 3, 6 and 12 months.

People who took semaglutide lost, on average, 3.6% of their body weight after 3 months; 5.8% after 6 months; and 8.3% after 12 months.

Those who took tirzepatide lost a greater percentage of body weight each month, compared to semaglutide: an average of 5.9% of their body weight after 3 months; 10.1% after 6 months; and 15.3% after 12 months. 

“The majority of patients on both medications experienced clinically meaningful weight loss, but those patients that took tirzepatide experienced significantly more,” Rodriguez said. 

The researchers noticed no significant difference in the risk of serious side effects, such as gastroparesis, also known as stomach paralysis, between the two drugs, Rodriguez said. 

Semaglutide and tirzepatide work in similar ways. The GLP-1 drugs mimic a hormone that helps reduce food intake and appetite. However, tirzepatide also imitates a second hormone , called GIP, which along with reducing appetite, is thought to improve how the body breaks down sugar and fat.

Researchers will still need to do a randomized, controlled clinical trial to see which medication truly comes out on top. Last year, Lilly began a phase 3 trial of 700 patients comparing the two medications. The trial is expected to be completed in November, according to ClinicalTrials.gov.

A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said the new study had some "key limitations," including the inclusion of patients with Type 2 diabetes, who often have a more difficult time losing weight than people without the condition. In addition, the study did not provide sufficient information about the doses patients started with and progressed to.

“While lowering body weight is an important goal of obesity management, it is important to also consider other needs when choosing a treatment,” the spokesperson said. 

Eli Lilly did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Susan Spratt, an endocrinologist and senior medical director for the Population Health Management Office at Duke Health in North Carolina, said that while it’s clear from the study that tirzepatide is more effective, both medications are still good options for patients because they provide more weight loss than other drugs on the market right now. 

She also noted that more studies are needed comparing the effects on other health outcomes beyond weight loss.

Semaglutide, for example, has been shown in trials to cut the risk of cardiovascular problems — such as heart attack and stroke — in people who are overweight or have obesity, and to cut the risk of complications from kidney disease in people with Type 2 diabetes ; tirzepatide has been shown to be a possible treatment for obstructive sleep apnea . 

“That being said, if someone’s main goal is weight loss, I’d probably go with tirzepatide,” Spratt said. 

Dr. Daniel Maselli, an obesity medicine physician at True You Weight Loss, a weight loss clinic in Atlanta, said the study supports previous research that has indicated tirzepatide provides more weight loss than semaglutide.

While important information for physicians, he noted that weight loss alone isn’t the only factor that he considers when prescribing weight loss drugs to patients.

He also takes into account the patient’s personal goals, medical needs, such as improving heart health, and how well they tolerate certain medications. Some patients, for example, may not do well on tirzepatide but may lose weight on semaglutide.

“This study helped address the weight loss component but, as the authors point out, was limited in discerning differences in tolerance, safety, or improvements in complications of obesity,” he wrote in an email.

what are common limitations in a research study

Berkeley Lovelace Jr. is a health and medical reporter for NBC News. He covers the Food and Drug Administration, with a special focus on Covid vaccines, prescription drug pricing and health care. He previously covered the biotech and pharmaceutical industry with CNBC.

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Neuropathy very common, but underdiagnosed, study says

“Neuropathy is a painful, disabling condition for many people who have it. It affects their, their overall quality of life and often leads to depression,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Melissa Elafros, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School. Photo by Douglas Pike/Hurley Medical Center

NEW YORK, May 8 (UPI) -- Neuropathy -- nerve damage that causes pain, numbness, weakness or tingling in the feet and hands -- is very common and underdiagnosed, a new study indicates.

The study, conducted through a partnership between the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Hurley Medical Center in Flint, was published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Advertisement

In some cases, neuropathy can eventually lead to falls, infections and even amputations, the study's authors noted.

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"Unfortunately, there is no disease-modifying treatment for neuropathy -- meaning the best that we can do for many people is trying to decrease their pain and prevent falls or infections from injury to their feet," Elafros said. Advertisement

Researchers assessed 169 people from an outpatient internal medicine clinic that serves primarily Medicaid patients in Flint, Mich. The participants, with an average age of 58, were 69% Black.

"Minority and low-income communities are often under-represented in clinical research," Elafros said, noting that "currently, the accepted prevalence rate for neuropathy is 13.5%. Yet, in our population, it was 73%."

Fewer than 20% of people with neuropathy were aware of their condition.

"This is a big problem because that means they are likely not doing the things that can prevent falls, infections and even eventual amputations," Elafros said.

One-half of those studied had diabetes, which can injure nerves throughout the body and result in neuropathy.

A total of 67% had metabolic syndrome -- defined by the presence of excess belly fat plus two or more of the following risk factors associated with neuropathy: high blood pressure, higher than normal triglycerides, high blood sugar and a low level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or "good" cholesterol.

A total of 73% of participants had neuropathy. Of these people, 75% had not been previously diagnosed. Almost 60% of those with neuropathy were experiencing pain. Of those with neuropathy, 74% had metabolic syndrome, compared to 54% of those who did not have it. Advertisement

After adjusting for other variables that could impact the risk of neuropathy, researchers found that people with metabolic syndrome were over four times more likely to have neuropathy than people without the syndrome.

"The big takeaway message of this work is that neuropathy is likely more common than we think," Elafros said. "By underdiagnosing neuropathy, we miss a valuable opportunity to counsel patients to improve their well-being."

Researchers also explored any connection between race and income and neuropathy, as few studies have delved into those issues. There was no link between low income and neuropathy.

Black people had a lower risk of neuropathy. They comprised 60% of participants with neuropathy and 91% of those without the condition.

The study was a joint effort between providers at Hurley Medical Center in Flint and researchers from the University of Michigan.

"One thing that I learned was how hard it can be to screen for neuropathy in a busy primary care clinic," Elafros said. "Our team is capitalizing on this collaboration to help improve care for neurologic diseases in places like Flint."

She added that "this study is just a snapshot in time at one clinic in Flint. It does not tell us how quickly people develop neuropathy in this clinic." In addition, it may not represent other parts of the city. Advertisement

The study received support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

"It's an outstanding study and really important. Peripheral neuropathy is a widespread problem in the U.S. population," said Dr. David Herrmann, a professor of neurology and pathology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y., who was not involved in the research.

As many as 10% of people will develop neuropathy in their lifetime. This study suggests that peripheral neuropathy is even more frequent in minority and underserved groups, Hermann said.

The study presents an "incredible opportunity" to raise awareness that neuropathy is "a common consequence" of metabolic syndrome, including diabetes, obesity, abnormal blood lipids and high blood pressure, he said, adding that "this is clearly a public crisis."

Neuropathy is under-diagnosed because "symptoms often start off quietly in the background -- a little numbness or tingling in the feet, a little difficulty wiggling the toes, some trouble with balance or unexplained falls," said Dr. Maxwell Levy, an assistant professor of neurology and associate residency program director at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

"However, it can progress over months to years to be more disruptive and disabling. People should be sure to bring these symptoms to their doctor's attention, so they can be screened for medical conditions that cause neuropathy," Levy said. Advertisement

"There is no single blood test or imaging study that will diagnose neuropathy. A neurologist can perform a nerve conduction test to further characterize the subtype of a neuropathy or can determine if neuropathy is present in uncertain cases," he said.

It's important to diagnose and treat neuropathy appropriately as early in the condition's course as possible, said Dr. Vishakhadatta Mathur Kumaraswamy, an assistant professor of neurology and neuromuscular medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington.

"Delay in treatment of the underlying cause of neuropathy may lead to poorer outcomes in the form of incomplete recovery or permanent disability from weakness or gait imbalance," Kumaraswamy said. "It also increases the chances of potentially preventable complications, such as falls, joint deformities and nonhealing wounds."

The high prevalence of diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the study may not be completely representative of the patient population, said Dr. Ashley Weng, an assistant professor of neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.

Participants were selected when they came to the clinic for routine care, so the study may skew toward sicker patients who seek help, Weng said. Also, she noted, "It is possible that those with symptoms of neuropathy were more interested in participating." Advertisement

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COMMENTS

  1. 21 Research Limitations Examples (2024)

    6. Limited Scope. "Limited scope" is perhaps one of the most common limitations listed by researchers - and while this is often a catch-all way of saying, "well, I'm not studying that in this study", it's also a valid point. No study can explore everything related to a topic.

  2. How to Write Limitations of the Study (with examples)

    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 ...

  3. Limitations in Research

    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.

  4. Limitations of the Study

    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 ...

  5. Research Limitations: Simple Explainer With Examples

    Research limitations are one of those things that students tend to avoid digging into, and understandably so. No one likes to critique their own study and point out weaknesses. Nevertheless, being able to understand the limitations of your study - and, just as importantly, the implications thereof - a is a critically important skill. In this post, we'll unpack some of the most common ...

  6. What are the limitations in research and how to write them?

    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 ...

  7. Understanding Limitations in Research

    Researchers encounter common limitations when embarking on a study. Limitations can occur in relation to the methods you apply or the research process you design. They could also be connected to you as the researcher. Methodology limitations. Not having access to data or reliable information can impact the methods used to facilitate your research.

  8. How to Present the Limitations of a Study in Research?

    Writing the limitations of the research papers is often assumed to require lots of effort. However, identifying the limitations of the study can help structure the research better. Therefore, do not underestimate the importance of research study limitations. 3. Opportunity to make suggestions for further research.

  9. How to Present a Research Study's Limitations

    iStock, Jacob Wackerhausen. Scientists work with many different limitations. First and foremost, they navigate informational limitations, work around knowledge gaps when designing studies, formulating hypotheses, and analyzing data. They also handle technical limitations, making the most of what their hands, equipment, and instruments can achieve.

  10. The limitations section: Common Limitations in Research

    Longitudinal Studies: Consider longitudinal or follow-up studies to track changes over time, validate findings, and assess the stability of research outcomes. Summary. While every research endeavour has its limitations, acknowledging and addressing these limitations is crucial for maintaining the integrity, rigour, and credibility of research ...

  11. Limitations of the Study

    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 ...

  12. PDF How to discuss your study's limitations effectively

    sentence tha. signals what you're about to discu. s. For example:"Our study had some limitations."Then, provide a concise sentence or two identifying each limitation and explaining how the limitation may have affected the quality. of the study. s findings and/or their applicability. For example:"First, owing to the rarity of the ...

  13. Limitations of a Research Study

    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. Limitations can help structure the research study better.

  14. Limited by our limitations

    Abstract. Study limitations represent weaknesses within a research design that may influence outcomes and conclusions of the research. Researchers have an obligation to the academic community to present complete and honest limitations of a presented study. Too often, authors use generic descriptions to describe study limitations.

  15. Diving Deeper into Limitations and Delimitations

    While each study will have its own unique set of limitations, some limitations are more common in quantitative research, and others are more common in qualitative research. In quantitative research, common limitations include the following: - Participant dropout. - Small sample size, low power. - Non-representative sample.

  16. Limitations in Medical Research: Recognition, Influence, and Warning

    A large body of work recognizes the effect(s) and consequence(s) of limitations. 1-77 Other than the ones known to the author(s), unknown and unrecognized limitations influence research credibility. This study and analysis aim to determine how frequently and what limitations are found in peer-reviewed open-access medical articles for ...

  17. Stating the Obvious: Writing Assumptions, Limitations, and

    Limitations of a dissertation are potential weaknesses in your study that are mostly out of your control, given limited funding, choice of research design, statistical model constraints, or other factors. In addition, a limitation is a restriction on your study that cannot be reasonably dismissed and can affect your design and results.

  18. Understanding Commonly Encountered Limitations in Clinical Research: An

    The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of common research limitations and flaws relevant to emergency medicine. We explain and provide published examples of problems related to external validity, experimenter bias, publication bias, straw man comparisons, incorporation bias, randomization, composite outcomes, clinical importance ...

  19. Limitations in Research

    What are the Limitations of a Study (Research)? 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. ... Any research suffers from specific limitations that range from common flaws to serious problems in design ...

  20. Discussing study limitations in reports of biomedical studies- the need

    Unbiased and frank discussion of study limitations by authors represents a crucial part of the scientific discourse and progress. In today's culture of publishing many authors or scientific teams probably balance 'utter honesty' when discussing limitations of their research with the risk of being unable to publish their work. Currently, too few papers in the medical literature frankly discuss ...

  21. Research limitations: the need for honesty and common sense

    But perhaps the most common issue for papers submitted to this journal is the "Hawthorne effect", the notion that an innovation or intervention may produce positive results not related to the innovation but to the presence of an innovation and that the respondents are given the focus of attention in a research study. All such limitations ...

  22. Limitations of a Study: The Complete Guide

    Common Study Limitations. Each study can have unique limitations. However, most students encounter common study limitations when writing academic papers. ... Lack of confidence: The lack of confidence is among the most common limitations of research studies because company managers think that a researcher can misuse the data they disclose to ...

  23. What Are Common Limitations In A Research Study?

    In this article, we will delve into the common limitations that researchers encounter in their studies. 1. Sampling Limitations. In many research studies, a sample of participants is used to represent a larger population. However, the sample may not always accurately reflect the entire population due to various sampling limitations.

  24. Risk Factors Associated with Asthma Control and Quality of Life in

    Strengths and Limitations of the Study. Patients with asthma without preventer treatment are a prevalent group in clinical practice, but there are few studies that characterize them. Our results could therefore be regarded as relevant and important, because they provide information about disease control, quality of life and associated risk factors.

  25. Diabetes drugs like Ozempic may reduce risk of 10 cancers

    Study limitations and continued research This study supports the idea that GLP-1RAs may help lower cancer risks. However, it is also important to consider the study's limitations.

  26. Taylor Swift's Openness About Eating Disorder And Body Image Helps Fans

    The Study Has Some Limitations. Although the study had promising findings, it also had some limitations. For instance, the study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how ...

  27. Scientists say they have identified a root cause of lupus

    Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, joint pain or skin rashes. In rare cases, the disease may lead to kidney or heart damage, or weaken the immune system so the body can't fight off infections.

  28. A study found toxic metals in tampons. Here's what to know : NPR

    A first-of-its-kind study found lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in various tampon brands, but didn't link them to harmful health effects. Experts explain why it matters — and what to watch for.

  29. Zepbound outperforms Ozempic and Wegovy in head-to-head weight loss study

    A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said the new study had some "key limitations," including the inclusion of patients with Type 2 diabetes, who often have a more difficult time losing weight than ...

  30. Neuropathy very common, but underdiagnosed, study says

    The study presents an "incredible opportunity" to raise awareness that neuropathy is "a common consequence" of metabolic syndrome, including diabetes, obesity, abnormal blood lipids and high blood ...