When you’re writing an academic paper – no matter whether it’s a first year essay or a Ph.D. thesis, it is very important to acknowledge your limitations.
It is a must for every researcher to recognise the weak points in their work and clearly acknowledge them in their writing, so that the reader would have no doubts about the limitations of the research.
So, where can you find weak points in your academic work? Some areas to look at are listed below:
- Weaknesses of the theory (because no theory is perfect)
- Weaknesses and deficiencies of the data (because your data can only be representative of a small percentage of all the data available in the world)
- Weaknesses of the research methods (because every research method has its limitations)
Here are the top four reasons why you should acknowledge your limitations:
Reason #1: Your lecturer will like it.
Yes, acknowledging your weaknesses and limitations is a sign of a mature researcher and a professional. Doing this will earn you points. Being over-confident and cocky will not.
Reason #2: No theory is perfect.
A perfect one-size-fits-all theory is called reality. It is just as useless as a map with a one-to-one scale.
The benefit of any theory lies in the fact that it depicts a limited view of reality from a single viewpoint, excluding multiple minor factors. It allows the researcher to analyse and generalise, but, of course, the limited view is a drawback at the same time.
However, you have to finish your paper some time, so you can’t combine all the theories in the world and write about your topic forever. Just choose a theory, acknowledge its limitations and stick to it.
Reason #3: There is no such thing as perfect data.
No matter how hard you try to make your data maximally representative and useful for your study, there will always be limitations to it.
Your sample will always be too small. The number of respondents to your questionnaire will never represent the entire population. The number of people you interview needs to be reasonably small so you can type up and analyse their responses in the given time-frame.
Even the number of books and journals you have read will not be large enough because you just can’t read them all.
This has to be admitted.
Reason #4: There is no perfect research method.
Whatever technique you choose – statistical analysis (quantitative methods) or reading carefully, looking for notable features and comparing what you find against an existing theoretical framework (qualitative research), it is usually one and not the other.
However, if you decide to combine several different methods, it may mean that one method is not representative enough, or there is a potential for error and you want to re-check something.
In short – make it clear that your research is limited and there is no limit to perfection. Even if your data is brilliant.
After all, research is all about bridging one knowledge gap and creating another.
A conclusion can be drawn from the points mentioned above: your results do not perfectly prove or disprove your hypothesis because your data, method or experiment design will always be imperfect. All you have to do is acknowledge that imperfection.
Once again, I repeat that this is never a problem in academia. In fact, there is a legend in scientific circles about the experiments Thomas Edison carried out during the process of inventing the light bulb. Edison tried ten thousand different materials that he thought would burn inside the bulb, but each time the experiment failed. He was asked by one of his colleagues: ‘Aren’t you discouraged by failure? You’ve already failed ten thousand times!’ Edison’s reply was: ‘On the contrary – I’ve succeeded ten thousand times! I’ve found ten thousand materials that don’t work!’
P.S. This article is based on Vlad Mackevic’s book From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write a First-Class Essay. You can download sample chapters of the book for FREE by clicking here or by entering your email address below.
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