Limitations are flaws and shortcomings of your study. It is very important that you discuss the limitations of your study in the discussion section of your research paper. In this blog, we provide tips for presenting study limitations in your paper along with some real-world examples.

1. Should I Report the Limitations of My Work?

Most studies will have some form of limitation. So be honest and don’t hide your limitations. You have to tell your readers how your limitations might influence the outcomes and conclusions of your research.  In reality, your readers and reviewers will be impressed with your paper if you are upfront about your limitations. 

2. Examples

Let’s look at some examples. We have selected a variety of examples from different research topics.

2.1. Limitations Example 1

Following example is from a Medical research paper.

The authors talk about the limitations and emphasis the importance of reconfirming the findings in a much larger study

Study design and small sample size are important limitations. This could have led to an overestimation of the effect. Future research should reconfirm these findings by conducting larger-scale studies.

_ Limitation_ How it might affect the results? _  How to fix the limitation?

The authors are saying that the main limitations of the study are the small sample size and weak study design. Then they explain how this might have affected their results. They are saying that it is possible that they are overestimating the actual effect they are measuring. Then finally they are telling the readers that more studies with larger sample sizes should be conducted to reconfirm the findings.

As you can see, the authors are clearly explaining three things here: (1) What is the limitation? (2) How it might affect the study outcomes? and (3) What should be done to address the limitation?

2.2. Limitations Example 2

Following example is from an Engineering research paper.

The authors are acknowledging the limitations and warning readers against generalizing the research findings

However, some study limitations should be acknowledged. The experiments do not fully consider the problems that can appear in real situations. Hence, caution should be taken with generalizing the findings and applying them to real-life situations.

_ Acknowledging limitations _ Explaining the limitation _  How it might affect the results?

The authors acknowledge that their study has some limitations. Then they explain what the limitations are. They are saying that their experiments do not consider all problems that might occur in real-life situations. Then they explain how this might affect their research outcomes. They are saying that readers should be careful when generalizing the results to practical real-world situations, because there is a possibility that the methods might fail.

2.3. Limitations Example 3

It is important to remember not to end your paper with limitations. Finish your paper on a positive note by telling your readers about the benefits of your research and possible future directions. In the following example, right after listing the limitations, the authors proceed to talk about the positive aspects of the work.

The authors finish their paper on a positive note by talking about the benefits of their work and possible future work

With this limited study, it is not known whether this finding can be applied to all clinical scenarios. Notwithstanding these limitations, this study has proven that Ultrasound can potentially serve as a more efficient alternative to X-rays in diagnosis. Future directions include studying the effects of different ultrasound pulsing schemes on pain relief. Another interesting direction would be to consider applications in nonhuman primates.

_ Limitations _ Benefits of the work _  Possible future directions

The authors are saying that their experiments were somewhat limited and are not sure if their findings apply to the wider clinical practice. Then the authors highlight the benefits of their research. The authors say that their study has proven that ultrasound can be used instead of X-rays for diagnosis of certain types of diseases. Then they are explaining how future research can extend this work further. The authors are suggesting that it will be interesting to explore if ultrasound can be used for the treatment of chronic pain. And they are also suggesting that future studies can explore treating certain types of animal diseases with ultrasound. This is a very good example of how to finish the discussion section of your paper on a positive note.

3. Summary

Limitations are a vital component of the discussion section of your research paper. Remember, every study has limitations. There is no such thing as a perfect study. One of the major mistakes beginner writers make is hiding the limitations in the paper. Don’t do this, reviewers will reject your paper. Explain clearly how your limitations might have impacted your results, and provide ideas to mitigate them in the future. For further reading, please refer to our blogs on handling negative results and advanced tactics to address study limitations.

If you have any questions, please drop a comment below, and we will answer as soon as possible. We also recommend you to refer to our other blogs on academic writing tools,  academic writing resourcesacademic writing phrases and research paper examples which are relevant to the topic discussed in this blog. 

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