ARTICLE 20: Specifying the Limitation for Your Ph. D. or Masters Degree Research

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


There is no such thing as a perfect research report.

It is, nevertheless, human to have great ideas for your research.

It is also human not to achieve everything that you had in mind for your research.

What are limitations?

Do not confuse the “delimitation” of your research with “limitation”.

Delimitation would be setting boundaries for the scope of your research.

The limitations of your research are those characteristics of design or methodology that inhibit the validity, applicability, objectivity, generalizability or interpretation of the results of your findings.

Examples of possible limitations can include lack of access to data sources that you hoped to consult, lack of cooperation from participants in your research, time constraints, legislation, lack of access to research instruments, etc.

There are certain mistakes that you should not make in your research and that you, therefore, also should not list as limitations. Examples include not being motivated to work, wasting time unnecessarily, dishonesty, plagiarism, shoddy work, etc.

Limitations are mostly imposed from the outside. Flaws in your research report that can be attributed to you will probably not be accepted by your study leader as limitations. They are mostly things that you could or should have foreseen and you should have done contingency planning to avoid them from happening.

Acknowledging the limitations of your research

Acknowledging the limitations of your research shows that you have integrity and that you understand what you should have done, even if, for whatever reason, you did not manage to achieve perfection.

Nobody will know the shortcomings of your research better than you.

The limitations that you acknowledge should be tempered with reasonableness.

They should not be so extensive that your study becomes unimportant or not at an acceptable standard.

Failure to acknowledge the limitations of your research can render your research invalid and it can misdirect future research done by you or somebody else who is inspired by your work.

Sometimes you might be able to make up for limitations through assumptions.

Where to acknowledge the limitations of your research

Most universities will require you to acknowledge the limitations in the last chapter of your research report.

This makes sense because you cannot foresee most of the limitations before you have done your research.

It is a good idea to write down the limitations that you encounter from the start as you encounter them.

You can always delete some of them if you find a solution to the problem later.


The limitations of your research are the flaws in your research design or methodology that can damage the quality of your research project.

Limitations are mostly caused by external factors over which you have little or no control.

Internal factors, that is the omissions or mistakes that you are responsible for are mostly signs of poor research work and, therefore, mostly not acceptable.

Acknowledging the limitations of your research is a responsible and mature thing to do.

It might not improve the quality of your work but will help to render your work trustworthy, authentic and valid.

Acknowledging limitations does not free you, as a student, from having to submit quality work.

Although you will probably acknowledge the limitations of your work in the last chapter of your research report, you should write the limitations down while doing your research and immediately when you come across them.

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