The significance of the study is a written statement that explains why your research was
needed. It’s a justification of the importance of your work and impact it has on your
research field, it’s contribution to new knowledge and how others will benefit from it.
While stating the significance, you must highlight how your research will be beneficial to
the development of science and the society in general. You can first outline the
significance in a broader sense by stating how your research will contribute to the
broader problem in your field and gradually narrow it down to demonstrate the specific
group that will benefit from your research. While writing the significance of your study,
you must answer questions like:
Why should your research be published?
How will this study contribute to the development of your field?
The significance of the study, also known as the rationale of the study, is important to
convey to the reader why the research work was important. This may be an academic
reviewer assessing your manuscript under peer-review, an examiner reading your PhD
thesis, a funder reading your grant application or another research group reading your
published journal paper. Your academic writing should make clear to the reader what
the significance of the research that you performed was, the contribution you made and
the benefits of it.
Scope of the Study
The scope of the study refers to the boundaries within which your research project will
be performed; this is sometimes also called the scope of research. To define the scope
of the study is to define all aspects that will be considered in your research project. It is
also just as important to make clear what aspects will not be covered; i.e. what is
outside of the scope of the study.
Each of these parameters will have limits placed on them so that the study can
practically be performed, and the results interpreted relative to the limitations that have
been defined. These parameters will also help to shape the direction of each research
question you consider.
The scope of the study basically means all those things that will be covered in the
research project. It defines clearly the extent of content that will be covered by the
means of the research in order to come to more logical conclusions and give conclusive
and satisfactory answers to the research.
The sample size is a commonly used parameter in the definition of the research scope.
For example, a research project involving human participants may define at the start of
the study that 100 participants will be recruited. This number will be determined based
on an understanding of the difficulty in recruiting participants to studies and an
agreement of an acceptable period of time in which to recruit this number.
Importance of the Scope
The scope of the study is always considered and agreed upon in the early stages of the
project, before any data collection or experimental work has started. This is important
because it focuses the work of the proposed study down to what is practically
achievable within a given timeframe.
A well-defined research or study scope enables a researcher to give clarity to the study
outcomes that are to be investigated. It makes clear why specific data points have been
collected whilst others have been excluded.
Without this, it is difficult to define an end point for a research project since no limits
have been defined on the work that could take place. Similarly, it can also make the
approach to answering a research question too open ended.
The scope of the study is important to define as it enables a researcher to focus their
research to within achievable parameters.
Limitations of a 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. They are
the constraints on generalizability, applications to practice, and/or 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.
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.
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 an opportunity 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 to also confront assumptions and explore what we don’t know.
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.
Examples of 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 or a differently designed
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 take 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].
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 pretty much 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 does your
research expand 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.