• 4-minute read
  • 7th December 2020

Academic Writing Tips: What Are Study Limitations?

An important part of writing up research is to consider whether your study has any limitations. But what are study limitations? And why are they important? In this post, we explain what you need to know.

What Are Study Limitations?

The term ‘study limitations’ refers to anything that may affect the reliability or generalisability of the results in a study or experiment.

This could relate to the design of the research (e.g. your methods or research approach). Or it could be an issue with how the study was carried out (e.g. running out of time and resources before the study is over).

In either case, it’s important to note limitations when writing up your study. Typically, this will be as part of the discussion and analysis. However, different universities may have different guidelines on this, so make sure to check your style guide for advice on where to discuss study limitations.

Why Write About Study Limitations?

It may seem counterintuitive to include limitations when writing up your research, especially if something went wrong. But there are several good reasons to mention study limitations, including:

  • It shows you understand that every study will have at least some limitations and that you’re able to critically analyse your own work.
  • You can discuss how the limitations affect your analysis, or how you would address the problems you encountered if you did the study again.
  • It may offer opportunities for further research.
  • It ensures transparency, making your results more useful for others.

In addition, most of the time your professor will spot any problems with your study regardless of whether you mention them. Thus, it’s much better to embrace limitations and make them part of your analysis.

But what exactly counts as a limitation? Typically, they come in two broad types: methodological limitations and researcher limitations.

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Methodological Limitations

Methodological limitations are to do with the way a study was designed and carried out. Some examples include:

  • A small or unrepresentative sample may mean one unusual result skews your conclusions. It also limits the degree to which you can generalise your results to a wider or more varied population.
  • Flaws in data collection may mean data is incorrect or incomplete. For example, if you rely on self-reporting in a study, you may later find out that one participant was misleading you, making the results unreliable.
  • A lack of prior research in the area you are studying, which might make it difficult for you to predict outcomes and draw meaningful conclusions.
  • Your chosen research approach may be limited. For instance, if you only work with quantitative data, you may overlook something a qualitative approach would have worked better for.

There are other methodological limitations you may encounter depending on what you’re studying. But, in all cases, it is important to think about your methods and how they may affect your results.

Researcher Limitations

These are factors to do with the attitudes, capabilities, and situation of the researcher. Examples of this type of limitation include:

  • Time or budget constraints may limit the extent of the research that can be carried out, or force you to abandon a study before it is complete.
  • Limited access to the necessary equipment, documents, or people may mean you had to limit the scope of your study accordingly.
  • A lack of linguistic fluency could limit your access to data. For instance, if previous studies in your subject area are mostly in Chinese and you only know English, you may not be able to read key research.
  • Cultural and other biases may shape your methodological choices and your interpretation of the data, which may mean you miss other factors.

As above, the key here is thinking about how these limitations may affect your results. If you do this, you can then factor any limitations into your analysis and discussion when writing up your study.

Expert Academic Proofreading

In conclusion, remember that study limitations occur in all research. This isn’t something to worry about or try and hide. However, you should:

  • Think about potential limitations when designing your study. This will help you to make informed decisions about your research approach, objectives, and methodology.
  • Acknowledge limitations when you write up your research. You can then take them into consideration when you’re analysing your results.

To ensure your academic writing is clear and consistent, moreover, why not make use of our expert proofreaders? Sign up for a free trial today.

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