What Are Scope and Limitations in Research?


Scope and limitations are two terms that address the details of a research project. The term scope refers to the problem or issue that the researcher wants to study with the project. Limitations is the term used for constraints that impact the researcher’s ability to effectively study the scope of the project. 

Identifying the Scope of a Project

One of the first tasks you need to do when completing research is to identify the scope of the project. When identifying the scope, you need to address not only the problem or issue that you want to study but the population that you want to examine. 

For example, assume your project strives to research the impact of sleep quality on productivity. Who will you study when examining productivity? Are you interested in worker productivity, student productivity, or general productivity? What demographic do you want to examine? You might ultimately decide that you want to study student productivity for students between the ages of 18 and 19. 

How to Identify the Project Scope

Identifying the project’s scope sounds easy in theory, but it can take days or even weeks for researchers to identify a reasonable scope for the project. Though you might want to study the problem in as large a sample as possible, this usually isn’t the best idea for an efficient project. It’s time-consuming and expensive to thoroughly examine a problem when the scope is too wide. 

A better option is to use a narrower scope for each study and complete multiple studies if necessary. If your goal is to learn how sleep quality affects productivity, you don’t want to examine productivity in workers, students, and stay-at-home parents with one study. Instead, complete a study that examines one of these groups and complete more studies over time to study the other groups.

When identifying your scope, you should also keep the intended audience of your project in mind. Though your audience doesn’t always need to have a strong impact on your scope, if you’re not sure how to narrow your scope, you might select a group that will pertain to your audience. For example, in the previously mentioned productivity study, if your audience is corporations, you might examine worker productivity in a demographic that these corporations frequently employ. 

Examining the Reality of Project Limitations

Every project, even the ones that boast meticulous planning and seasoned researchers, have limitations. When you craft a paper that summarizes your research findings, it’s essential to include the limitations in your report. Though you may worry that identifying limitations will cause readers and other researchers to dismiss your findings, the opposite is typically true. Your audience is more likely to view your findings as credible if they know you’ve considered and examined aspects that impacted your ability to properly study the topic. 

Common Research Limitations

There are numerous limitations that can impact your ability to complete quality research. Research limitations may be methodological (related to how the study is completed) or a lack of researcher resources (such as time and research funds).

Methodological limitations include the following:

  • Small sample size
  • Limited diversity in your sample size
  • Lack of previous research to examine
  • Improper techniques or measurements used for collecting data

Common researcher related limitations include:

  • Limited access to your project respondents (perhaps due to geographical constraints)
  • Time constraints
  • Personal conflicts and biases
  • Budget restraints

Learning from Project Limitations

One of the most important reasons to identify and document project limitations is that it permits future researchers to learn from these limitations and adjust their research accordingly. Imagine that your project studies the effects of low carbohydrate consumption on sleep quality; due to time constraints, you were only able to study your sample size for two weeks. The next researcher who wants to study this topic would know that time constraints were a limitation for your study. They can then take steps to design a study that addresses this constraint. Their study might examine their sample size for a month to see if that changes the findings.