It is important to know just what an assumption is when it is applied to research in general and your dissertation in particular. In the Dictionary of Statistics and Methodology, W.Paul Vogt defines an assumption as “(a) A statement that is presumed to be true, often only temporarily or for a specific purpose, such as building a theory; (b) The conditions under which statistical techniques yield valid results.”
For assumptions – examples: If you are writing a qualitative dissertation, such as case study, ethnography, grounded theory, narrative research, or phenomenology, here are some common assumptions to consider:
1. The participants will answer the interview questions in an honest and candid manner.
2. The inclusion criteria of the sample are appropriate and therefore, assures that the participants have all experienced the same or similar phenomenon of the study.
3. Participants have a sincere interest in participating in your research and do not any other motives, such as getting a better grade in a course if they are college students or impressing their job supervisor because they agreed to be in your study.
There may be other assumptions that are unique to your research design.
What are research limitations? Carol M. Roberts in her book, The Dissertation Journey offers some examples of limitations when she states, “Limitations are usually areas over which you have no control. Some typical limitations are sample size, methodology constraints, length of the study, and response rate.”
For limitations – examples:
1. There may be unknown conditions or factors at the facility where the participants reside, work, or study that could bias the responses of the participants.
2. If you are collecting data from the elderly, if is possible that some of their recollections of events, situations, and feelings could be questionable.
3. The number of participants or subjects is enough from which to adequately draw conclusions. In qualitative methods, you will want the numbers of participants to reach a level at which saturation of the data is achieved – no new data or meaning units are being discovered.
I suggest you define and cite two or three sources regarding assumptions and limitations before including the specific ones relevant to your study. You want your Chairperson to know the literature you consulted in understanding your specific assumptions and limitations.
Suggested citation for this article:
Wargo, W.G. (2015). Identifying Assumptions and Limitations for Your Dissertation. Menifee , CA : Academic Information Center .
Information about the limitations of your study are generally placed either at the beginning of the discussion section of your paper so the reader knows and understands the limitations before reading the rest of your analysis of the findings, or, the limitations are outlined at the conclusion of the discussion section as an acknowledgement of the need for further study. Statements about a study's limitations should not be buried in the body [middle] of the discussion section unless a limitation is specific to something covered in that part of the paper. If this is the case, though, the limitation should be reiterated at the conclusion of the section.
If you determine that your study is seriously flawed due to important limitations, such as, an inability to acquire critical data, consider reframing it as an exploratory study intended to lay the groundwork for a more complete research study in the future. Be sure, though, to specifically explain the ways that these flaws can be successfully overcome in a new study.
But, do not use this as an excuse for not developing a thorough research paper! Review the tab in this guide for developing a research topic. If serious limitations exist, it generally indicates a likelihood that your research problem is too narrowly defined or that the issue or event under study is too recent and, thus, very little research has been written about it. If serious limitations do emerge, consult with your professor about possible ways to overcome them or how to revise your study.
When discussing the limitations of your research, be sure to:
- Describe each limitation in detailed but concise terms;
- Explain why each limitation exists;
- Provide the reasons why each limitation could not be overcome using the method(s) chosen to acquire or gather the data [cite to other studies that had similar problems when possible];
- Assess the impact of each limitation in relation to the overall findings and conclusions of your study; and,
- If appropriate, describe how these limitations could point to the need for further research.
Remember that the method you chose may be the source of a significant limitation that has emerged during your interpretation of the results [for example, you didn't interview a group of people that you later wish you had]. If this is the case, don't panic. Acknowledge it, and explain how applying a different or more robust methodology might address the research problem more effectively in a future study. A underlying goal of scholarly research is not only to show what works, but to demonstrate what doesn't work or what needs further clarification.
Aguinis, Hermam and Jeffrey R. Edwards. “Methodological Wishes for the Next Decade and How to Make Wishes Come True.” Journal of Management Studies 51 (January 2014): 143-174; Brutus, Stéphane et al. "Self-Reported Limitations and Future Directions in Scholarly Reports: Analysis and Recommendations." Journal of Management 39 (January 2013): 48-75; Ioannidis, John P.A. "Limitations are not Properly Acknowledged in the Scientific Literature." Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 60 (2007): 324-329; Pasek, Josh. Writing the Empirical Social Science Research Paper: A Guide for the Perplexed. January 24, 2012. Academia.edu; Structure: How to Structure the Research Limitations Section of Your Dissertation. Dissertations and Theses: An Online Textbook. Laerd.com; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.