After analyzing the results, you are ready to announce everyone what you have found. It is important to persuade editors, peer reviewers and readers. You must also be ready to inform them about the limitations of your study.
How to write about the limitations of a study
No research is perfect, no matter how obsessively it has been designed. Most journals ask their authors to write about the limitations of their study at the end of discussion section. These limitations are obvious in some studies, for example they relate to small sample size, multiple comparison without correction, observational design and risk of confounding. Although in other designs there may be less obvious limitations, you still need to report them.
Some tips for writing limitation section
- Put your focus on design and analysis and not on results.
- Be bold in numerating the limitations and avoid ambiguous language.
- List the limitations, for example if your study has two limitations, simply say “this study has two main limitations.”
- Refer to the limitations directly. For example: “the first limitation relates to the small participant size”.
- Explain the limitations if necessary, but do not be defensive.
- Indicate the wrapping up of your limitations: “in the end, it was impossible to control for all extraneous variables and the observational nature of study design increases the risk of confounding.
Avid these in limitation section
- Do not include all and everything that you believe to be a limitation of your study. For example, if you could not do your measurements one day but it did not affect your results, you don’t need to report it as a limitation.
- Avoid being defensive. You do not need to elaborate on why your study had limitations.
- Avoid trying to justify your limitations by accusing other studies of the same limitations. Instead of saying that some other research groups did the same, you should point out the specific limitations of your own work.
- In the same way, don’t compare the limitations of your work favorably with those of other groups. This looks defensive and hostile.
Commenting for strengths
- The strength of a study usually precedes the limitations. Using the phrase “Our study has some advantages”, most authors start referring to the advantages of their studies. Similar to limitations, the strengths too are mostly related to design. These include large sample size, great controls and multiple adjustments. After listing your strengths, it is time to move to your limitations by saying for example, “our study had some limitations.”
- Owning the limitations of a study is an essential part of the process of science and of imparting your results. It indicates that you are willing to discuss the weaknesses along with the strengths of your study and shows an honest presentation of your findings.