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8 Necessary Considerations When Writing Study Limitations and Alternatives


You will look forward to your research paper being read by the specific audience for which it is targeted—professors, experts in the field, publication editors, etc. And you will, of course, be gratified if and when your paper receives significant interest from other constituents—researchers with the same or similar interests, students, or even readers from the general public. Whatever the case, listing your study limitations with accompanying discussion must be included in your manuscript.

The primary section on limitations is best located in the closing stages of a paper. However, you may refer to limitations during the course of a paper when they are pertinent. In all instances, discuss limitations clearly and concisely, pointing out the reasons for their inclusion. Your honest appraisal of how limitations bear on your writing will only add to the impact and legitimacy of your writing. Moreover, you are aiding other researchers in setting their parameters for future writing.

You should avoid certain mistakes when listing your limitations and alternatives. To put it another way, become familiar with the primary pitfalls associated with research and writing so that you can articulate the limitations appropriately and accurately. Here are 8 significant factors that constitute study limitations and caution that applies to each.

Become familiar with the primary pitfalls associated with research and writing so that you can articulate the limitations appropriately and accurately
Become familiar with the primary pitfalls associated with research and writing so that you can articulate the limitations appropriately and accurately. Photo Andrey Zvyagintsev from Unsplash.

1. Sample selection/profile/size

Your sample participants must reflect the population you would be expected to approach for your particular study. In this regard, your ability to establish contact in some way with suitable respondents is critical. Otherwise, you cannot have suitable representation for your findings. Consequently, you will have to formulate an alternate methodology for your research that ensures reasonable findings while overcoming this limitation. Ultimately, when you do have issues with narrow access, break down the causes for this limitation.

Because larger sample sizes are commonly required in order to apply findings to the larger populace, be careful to use a sample size that reflects the depth of your study. For example, if you were researching the annual impact of thousands of visitors to your city for a major cultural event, and you only engaged with 50 participants, you would have obvious issues with your findings.

2. Scarcity of existing research

It is not unusual to undertake research on a subject for which there is scant previous information or no prior findings at all. Of course, you must recognize whether this may simply be your inability to have access to, or to track down, previously existing writings. This inaccessibility would definitely constitute a limitation that you would have to point out.

However, if there is a real lack of previous literature, your task is certainly going to be more involved. Nonetheless, you will also be presented with an opportunity to pave your own groundwork and to establish yourself at the head of new research. This can provide you with the opportunity to add meaningfully to the limited findings to date and you might even formulate important methodology for researching the topic at hand. You can create the need and desire for future, ongoing inquiry in the subject area.

3. Time restrictions/Timeliness

Workers in all walks of life are continually faced with deadlines. It is a paramount fact; writers know this all too well. A manuscript is assigned, the project and attendant methodology are planned, the research must be carried out, and the finished manuscript is expected for delivery—on time. You need look no further than at the other sections in this article to see that, although the limitations and issues that are discussed herein have their own particular issues and challenges, they could also all be included under the discussion of time restrictions.

Occasionally, an extension of a due date may be granted, but to rely on the possibility of an extension is to invite problems. Consequently, time restriction is a limitation. It would be easy to suggest that you should only accept writing offers that you can complete by the stated deadline. Yet, multiple issues can impact the best planning— unexpected delays, longer-than-anticipated research, travel, etc. Furthermore, it is often difficult, or simply not an option, for a dedicated writer to turn down a provocative assignment—and, hopefully, a reasonably lucrative project—because of the possible limits on time. If you commit to a project, and if time constraints adversely affect the completion of your manuscript, you must list this in your discussion of limitations and point out the necessity for continuing research on the subject.

While time restriction is a key factor in the research process, timeliness is also significant. In carrying out your research, it may be become apparent that many or most of the resources and data that you are studying are essentially out of date. To rely principally on this data is counterproductive and this is a problematic limitation. Still, this would also present potentially exciting opportunities for renewed and fresh research on a subject—something you should articulate in your discussion of limitations.

4. Process of data collection

Your success in amassing data may be tempered by the fact that you know of certain alternate perspectives on the subject that you will be unable to address in your research. Instances like this can result in the exclusion of important variables or can preclude adding critical questions and surveys. When discussing your limitations, you can emphasize the importance of adding these missing components in future research.

Sometimes researchers, out of necessity, must collect data in areas or locations that are not conducive to the process—for example, bustling airports, sports venues, or restaurants. These locations provide many distractions and there are no guarantees that participants will be giving you their full attention. This is another limitation related to process and it will be good to suggest that future studies ensure that site planning is addressed accordingly.

5. Unanticipated variables

Limitations out of one's control are not uncommon. A researcher is certainly capable of making a mistake, despite his or her expertise and dedication to the task at hand. Unforeseen technical problems may occur or a researcher may simply have health problems during the course of research. These and any number of other unexpected events can infringe on the research process, causing delays or even stoppages.

Researchers in science fields often run into issues relating to seasonal differences, the environment, or some missing findings among huge amounts of data. These or similar issues can however be found in most any area of research. For instance, interviewing participants on identical topics, but in varying locations, can yield results that are surprisingly different or seemingly of little relation to one another. Is this a true representation of the surveys, or does physical location actually have such a significant impact on the process?

It is also possible that research carried out by teams of two or more people may result in differing conclusions or be impacted by tension and even personal relationships. In this case, now the results are open to significantly more debate and assessment.

These unanticipated limitations need to be mentioned in any research writing. They may also be among the hardest to quantify and to rectify. Nonetheless, these limitations must be discussed. As in all cases, it is far more beneficial than sweeping them under the carpet.

6. Insufficient training and cooperation

It is not unusual for a writer or team of writers to tackle a new project despite the fact that they do not yet possess the requisite research skills. Nothing notable can result if these writers are not prepared to produce fresh new findings of their own. Moreover, it is critical that an adequate degree of cooperation exists between the researchers and the constituents that they approach. Strong interaction with professional agencies, government offices, and business establishments will ensure a satisfactory flow of information and data.

Deficiencies in training and constructive cooperation constitute substantial limitations. You should take the opportunity to suggest a concise training program for underprepared researchers before they begin their serious work. Moreover, it would behoove you to suggest specific areas of research, to clarify the breadth of the work, and to point out the rewards of successful cooperation in research.

You should take the opportunity to suggest a concise training program for underprepared researchers before they begin their serious work
You should take the opportunity to suggest a concise training program for underprepared researchers before they begin their serious work. Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels.

7. Funding

The funding of a writing project can be a challenge because there are often significant associated expenses. Researchers may need to acquire specific equipment (hardware, related products, etc.) or software that is essential in compiling statistics and various other data. Researchers occasionally must hire assistants and it is even possible that participants in a study will have to be remunerated. Financial difficulties during the course of your work are considered limitations. When discussing this, let it be known that the financial restraints have affected your work. You can suggest that future studies of the subject must take into account the real costs of such an undertaking.

8. Human nature/Personal and cultural attitudes

Finally, human nature and personal beliefs can impact a researcher's work, adversely affecting the accuracy and integrity of a study. For example, a writer is hired to study the training procedures and resulting benefits of service dogs for people with disabilities or special needs. However, this writer, because of his or her steadfast views on animal cruelty and attendant issues, may inherently be unable to treat the subject fairly and properly, despite the fact that service dogs are universally admired and that little or no harm ever comes to them.

It is not unusual for researchers to skew information and findings to conform to their views or leanings. As a result, the accuracy and validity of the research is compromised. It is your responsibility to vet your sources as well as you can to determine if the findings are supported appropriately. If do you indeed perceive that there are questions about some of your sources, you should mention this in your limitations and discuss how you handled this situation—either by correcting inaccuracies, by focusing predominantly on the most reliable sources, or by sharing other methods you used to offset these issues.

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