Gaps, Flaws, and Limitations

All primary research will contain gaps (unexplored ideas), flaws (problems with study design), and limitations (factors that constrain the applicability of study findings). In fact, most academic articles will divulge these limitations when discussing their study design or results. These gaps, flaws, and limitations are what scholars look for when reading others’ academic work; they enable scholars to continue the academic conversation by addressing these gaps, flaws, and limitations through their own primary research. In other words, where one scholar may stop, another scholar will pick up and design research to fill that gap, correct that flaw, or address that limitation to further the conversation on the topic.

Being able to recognize gaps, flaws, and limitations in primary research is important to your research this semester. Identifying these gaps, flaws, and limitations will enable you to add a new and relevant idea to the current academic conversation on your topic; it will also boost your ethos by demonstrating to your audience that you are aware of the current conversation on the topic.

research toolbox

Locating gaps, flaws, and limitations will be easier once you have learned to read, analyze, and understand academic journal articles. For this research toolbox, you will ask yourself the following questions when reviewing one of your academic article’s primary research methods and results:

  • What was the aim or goal of the study?
  • How was the study designed to achieve this aim or goal?
  • What was the sample size in the study? Was it large enough to yield credible data?
  • Who were the participants in the study? Did it include a variety of participants, or did it focus on one age group, ethnicity, or gender?
  • Did the study attempt to control for any variables that might affect the validity of the results? How?
  • Did the study include a control group?
  • How long did the study take to complete?
  • How recently was the article published?
  • Does the article review a considerable number of secondary sources on the topic?