3.2 Limitations

The limitations in the study design should be acknowledged. Whether these limitations are due to biases emerging from studying a small number of units or limited expertise, admitting them enhances the integrity of the proposal and credibility of the proposer. It is easy to overthink these aspects and write far too much about the following items, however. It is best to focus on a few key limitations and write about them briefly.


Bias generally refers to a systematically prejudiced or unbalanced treatment of data/information. Unfortunately, no study is without bias of one sort of another. The real challenge is to recognize the forms of bias that pose the most obvious threats and to recommend measures such as inter-rater reliability to rectify them.

The most obvious forms of bias are related to:

  • sampling (e.g., non-response bias or sampling bias)
  • instrumentation (e.g., faulty question wording or non-validated scale)
  • techniques of data gathering (e.g., experimenter bias and interviewer bias)
  • analysis (e.g., interpretive bias, recall bias and citation bias)


Reliability refers to steadfastness of measures whether it is a tape measure or a questionnaire scale. This is often associated with respondent bias, when respondents do not answer truthfully. It is especially difficult to obtain reliable results for socially undesirable behaviour such as academic failure or binge drinking. Respondents are often hesitant to divulge the real facts to interviewers, or even to themselves. If you are studying variables that are vulnerable to such reliability threats, then admit the menace and recommend adopting measures to diminish the threat (e.g., place threatening questions later in the questionnaire or phrase questions in less threatening ways).


Calculating how long it will take to process your data/information is no easy task. This can be especially challenging when you do not have years of research experience as a guide. Many researchers admit to underestimating the time it takes to move a project from the planning stage to the publication stage.

Find out how many weeks and hours within those weeks are available for the assignment and then try to build your DCA decisions around that information. Confer with your teacher if you have any concerns.

A general rule is to make sure your hypothesis or thesis is as focused as possible and to have a very clear sense of what your method options are, so you can choose from several possible plans of action. It is easier to build on a modest proposal if it proves too narrow in scope than to narrow down an ambitious proposal.


The costs college students are expected to incur while conducting course-related research work are related to standard course costs such as books and paper. Exceptionally, some incidental costs may be involved, such as transportation to a location for observation or an interview.

Most college research is desk-based research, however, and requires little in the way of expenses. For this reason, budgets are not usually required for research proposals at the college level. Time estimates and resource availability are the real currencies for research proposals at the college level.                                                                    


Often confused with reliability or bias, validity is a difficult concept to understand. Validity refers to how well the overall design and techniques measure the phenomenon that you expect to find out more about. Using a survey questionnaire that asks college students what they think of gang violence is not a valid measure of whether gang violence is becoming more violent. College student opinion on gang violence is irrelevant (an invalid measure of gang violence) to the research question. A valid way of measuring gang violence is to find data and information collected by professionals and agencies that are charged with taking account of incidents of gang-related violence.


Even if you know a lot about the topic, your research knowledge and skills may be limited in certain respects. It is customary for a novice-level researcher to admit to not fully understanding certain analyses or the subtleties of a particular theory. It is better to admit than to conceal.

Available resources

As a college student, you have access to a wide variety of college resources: the library collections, computers, software, professors, reference librarians, fellow students and learning centre specialists. You also have access to your own personal resources, including your own network of friends, family, leisure/work colleagues, government services, neighbourhood facilities and the like.

Taken together, these represent a vast store of resources that can be leveraged for your research proposal. When building your method plan, take these resources into consideration. The key here is to demonstrate that you have specific resources at your disposal to advance the plan. Admit to shortcomings in your resources and address potential ways to offset them.