Limitations of a Study

After analyzing the results, you are ready to announce what you have found to everyone. 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 the discussion section. These limitations are evident in some studies, for example, they relate to small sample size, multiple comparisons without correction, observational design, and risk of confounding. Although there may be less apparent limitations in other designs, you still need to report them.

Some tips for writing the 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 boundaries, 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 the limitation section

  • Do not include everything 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 loads.
  • Avoid trying to justify your restrictions by accusing other studies of the same restrictions. 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 restrictions, the strengths to are mostly related to design. These include large sample sizes, great controls, and multiple adjustments. After listing your muscles, it is time to move to your limitations by saying, “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 and strengths of your study and shows an honest presentation of your findings.

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