The scope of the study refers to the parameters under which the study will be operating. The problem you seek to resolve will fit within certain parameters. Think of the scope as the domain of your research—what’s in the domain, and what is not. You need to make it as clear as possible what you will be studying and what factors are within the accepted range of your study. For example, if you are studying the ill effects of bullying on middle school children, the scope could include both face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying in grades 6 through 8.
Limitations are matters and occurrences that arise in a study which are out of the researcher’s control. They limit the extensity to which a study can go, and sometimes affect the end result and conclusions that can be drawn. Every study, no matter how well it is conducted and constructed, has limitations. This is one of the reasons why we do not use the words “prove” and “disprove” with respect to research findings. It is always possible that future research may cast doubt on the validity of any hypothesis or conclusion from a study. Your study might have access to only certain people in an organization, certain documents, and certain data. These are limitations. Subsequent studies may overcome these limitations.
Limitations of Qualitative Studies
A limitation associated with qualitative study is related to validity and reliability. “Because qualitative research occurs in the natural setting it is extremely difficult to replicate studies” (Wiersma, 2000, p. 211). When you select certain methodologies and designs, for example phenomenology, they come with limitations over which you may have little control.
Limitations of Case Studies
We cannot make causal inferences from case studies, because we cannot rule out alternative explanations. It is always unclear about the generality of the findings of a case study. A case study involves the behavior of one person, group, or organization. The behavior of this one unit of analysis may or may not reflect the behavior of similar entities. Case studies may be suggestive of what may be found in similar organizations, but additional research would be needed to verify whether findings from one study would generalize elsewhere.
Limitations of Correlational Studies
Correlational research merely demonstrates that we can predict the behavior of one variable from the behavior of another variable. If a relationship exists then there is an association between variables. However, two variables can be associated without there being a causal relationship between the variables. If we find that X is associated with Y, it could mean that X caused Y, or Y caused X, or some “third” (confounding) variable caused both X and Y without there being any causal relationship between X and Y.
Correlational research may also have limitations with respect to the generality of the findings. Perhaps the study involved a specific group of people, or that the relationship between the variables was only investigated under some situation or circumstance. Thus, it may be uncertain whether the correlational findings will generalize to other people or situations.
Limitations of Randomized Experiments
Experiments involving the random assignment of participants to conditions sometimes allow us to make causal conclusions if the variables that are manipulated are not confounded with other variables. Experiments gain rigor by controlling for influences outside of the variables of interest. However, there still may be limitations with respect to the generality of the findings.
The experiment may have involved a specific group of people, certain situations, and only some of the possible conceptualizations of variables. Thus, we may not know whether the findings will generalize to other people, situations, or conceptualizations of the variables. Within particular bounds, significant findings from an experimental study may infer a general cause, but the presence of other unmeasured variables can limit that inference.
Limitations of Survey Instruments
Surveys that are distributed with time constraints were noted by Delva, Kirby, Knapper, and Birtwhistle (2002) as problematic in that people who struggle with real or perceived time constraints are less likely to respond to surveys because these possible respondents feel overworked – they just do not have the time to complete the survey. Surveys often also suffer the limitation of forcing respondents into particular response categories, thereby limiting the range of responses. Unlike an interview, where respondents can ask clarifying questions, respondents are usually limited to the text in the survey itself for direction about how to complete it and where to respond.
The delimitations of a study are those characteristics that arise from limitations in the scope of the study (defining the boundaries) and by the conscious exclusionary and inclusionary decisions made during the development of the study plan. Unlike limitations, which flow from implicit characteristics of method and design, delimitations result from specific choices by the researcher. Among these are the choice of objectives and questions, variables of interest, the choice of theoretical perspectives that were adopted, the paradigm (qualitative/quantitative/mixed), the methodology, the theoretical framework and the choice of participants.
The first delimiting step is the choice of problem, implying that there were other, related problems that could have been chosen but were rejected or screened off from view. To elucidate the delimitations of your study review each decision you had to make in putting together your study. In your purpose statement you declare what your study intends to accomplish. In the delimitations section you can repeat this declaration along with a pronouncement of what the study does not intend to cover. In the latter case, your decisions for excluding certain pursuits are likely based on such criteria as not directly relevant; too problematic because…; not feasible and the like. Make this reasoning as explicit as possible.