How to identify research gaps and include them in your thesis?

By Riya Jain & Priya Chetty on October 2, 2021

A thesis is an investigation that adheres to the principles of academic writing. It is critically evaluated on its reliability and significance for the industry (Chandra, 2017). The thesis research provides new insights into academia by reviewing existing research. In this process, it is essential to identify the research gap. Research gaps are the centre of any research, determining the areas which lack crucial information. This article explains how to identify and write the thesis research gaps.

The purpose of identifying research gaps in a thesis

A research gap is a problem that has not been addressed or answered in previous studies in the form of books, journal articles or reports. For instance, presently, there is a lack of research on the long-term effects of the Covid-19 vaccine. This can be a research gap in many studies such as social sciences, biotechnology, and medicine. Such problems need citation analysis and systematic review (Tsoulfas, 2021). To formulate an information-driven thesis, it is important to recognize the area or the topic that is unexplored or has insufficient information. Often research gaps in a thesis are confused with research questions and problem statements. However, there are fundamental differences in these concepts. The sole purpose of a research gap is to summarise problems with outdated or primitive studies. It is a part of the thesis introduction chapter and can range from 200 to 1000 words in length.

Research gaps
Figure 1: Purpose of research gaps in a thesis
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How to devote a section for research gaps in a thesis?

The first step in preparing the research gaps section is to outline the general state of knowledge and research in the field of study. This step helps in building the outline for the aspects that could be relevant to the research field.

The second step involves a thorough reading of earlier research and publication on the topic. For this, the researcher can refer to journal articles, library books, or reports. This step also involves consulting your supervisor.

Further, as per the reviewed articles, a viewpoint about the given topic must be framed by listing all relevant information.

Lastly, the need or significance of addressing the listed gaps should be presented.

Start the research gaps in a thesis with a summary of existing research findings. It does not need a detailed elaboration of the situation. For instance, statistics can be skipped. Similarly, you do not need to explain concepts or theories in this section. Next, state the limitations or lacuna in the area of research. This section needs more elaboration like who, what, when, where, why and how should be discussed. Each gap must be stated separately. For instance, consider these 3 gaps:

  1. there is a lack of research in your country’s context,
  2. there is a lack of empirical evidence and,
  3. there is a lack of consensus,

each should be explained separately. It should be structured in the form of citations wherever necessary. The writing pattern should move from generic to specific thus targeting the research problem for the thesis.

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Points to avoid

  1. Too much description and analysis of the previously done studies must be avoided to keep the thesis research gap indicative and emblematic.
  2. Avoid giving too much statistical information.
  3. Avoid not reading enough. Identifying a research gap needs thorough reading, not skimping through facts.
  4. Avoid failing to accurately identify the need for further study and the lack of a persuasive framework for the identification of the research gap.
  5. Avoid not using enough citations for supporting the identified lacuna.
  6. Avoid not stating the significance of the identified gaps.

An example of research gaps in a thesis

Case topic: Impact of transformative heritage destinations on changing personal values of tourists

Travel behaviour today has shifted from global consumerism to a more meaningful and personalized experience. This has amplified the demand for heritage tourism, i.e. the movement of a person to places of cultural attraction away from their normal residential place to gain new experiences and information for satisfying cultural needs (G Richards, 2003; Rosenfeld, 2008). Tourists are also seeking transformative travel experiences which lead to positive changes in their values and attitudes. PineII & Gilmore (1999) have identified that heritage tourism is responding towards fulfilling the transformation needs of tourists. However, the lack of empirical evidence on the contribution of transformative heritage tourism in changing the personal values of tourists is restricting the formulation of strategies that can boost its growth.

Moreover, researchers have determined that authenticity, awareness, nostalgia, and satisfaction have a relationship with transformative effects and heritage tourism. Therefore, these factors may be interlinked. But despite this, not many academic studies have focused on addressing these tourist factors’ impact on the linkage between heritage tourism and transformative effect. This is another critical research gap.

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