Identifying research gap for analysis

By Shruti Datt on July 29, 2016

While it is understood that a well-defined research problem is the heart of the research project, therefore it is important to make sure why the researcher is trying to investigate a problem. In other words finding the research gap is one the most important part of any research. While stepping into drafting the research proposal, it can be known that there are some areas which are researched more than others and there are some which lack enough information. Consequently this lack of information will have been stated by the research scholars as “Hunches” or “Gaps” to explore further. These gaps can thus provide an intention to formulate the problem.

For example: Current economic crises have been hard for large scale organizations. Research conducted in the past has pointed at different characteristics within the firm to contribute in organizational performance in times of stress. However, results obtained are inconclusive and contradictory and thus scholars have pointed that more research is needed in this area.

Here, one should note that use of words like “inconclusive” and “contradictory” point at the implied “research gap” within the research. So reading further into the research area would eventually be regarded as a research problem.

Formulating a research gap

Identification of research gaps by reviewing and exploring eminent literature poses utmost importance for the furtherance of the study [1]. Identification and prioritization of research gaps has the potential to lead to more rapid generation of subsequent research, informed by input from previous research studies. Furthermore, literature review is the standard for evaluating the current state of scientific knowledge regarding a specific issue or research question. Therefore, it is imperative to identify gaps which would enable researchers to understand areas of uncertainty within the research problem [2]. Identification of research gap enables the researcher to ascertain the research problem and scope of the study which in turn is the key to success in a research project.

For example: In recent years there has been an increased focus on the relationship between firm’s strategic orientation and firm performance [3]. Prior studies have generally found a positive relationship between Entrepreneurial Orientation (EO) and firm performance [3]–[5]. However, there are also studies where such a relationship has not been found [6].

In the above example, it is observed that a Research gap in existing literature within the field of firm’s entrepreneurial orientation and performance. While some literature presents a positive relationship, others find no relationship at all. Hence, in such a contradictory environment, there is dearth of studies which present the actual scenario. Moreover, this contradiction might be a result of difference in environment.

The following image highlights the position of research gaps within a study:

identifying research gap
Position of Research Gaps within a Research study

Points to ponder

In conclusion it is important to clearly define a research problem, however, the foundation of any research problem is the research gap. Therefore it is important to note the following points while framing research gap.

  1. Look out for topics or area for which are inadequate and limits the ability of reviewers to reach a conclusion.
  2. Establish an analytic framework illustrating the relationship of gaps to the key questions and analytic framework of the review.
  3. Examine that the gaps identified are within the scope of the key research questions formed.
  4. Prioritize the gaps identified based on the objectives, relevance to the issue in hand and the scope of study which can be carried out or availability of appropriate data and/or ability to recruit subjects [7].

Further reading

  1. L. A. Bero, R. Grilli, J. M. Grimshaw, E. Harvey, A. D. Oxman, and M. A. Thomson, “Closing the gap between research and practice: an overview of systematic reviews of interventions to promote the implementation of research findings,” Br. Med. J., vol. 317, no. 7156, pp. 465–469, Aug. 1998.
  2. H. Arksey and L. O’Malley, “Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework,” Int. J. Soc. Res. Methodol., vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 19–32, Feb. 2005.
  3. E. L. Madsen, “The significance of sustained entrepreneurial orientation on performance of firms – A longitudinal analysis,” Entrep. Reg. Dev., vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 185–204, Mar. 2007.
  4. A. Jantunen, K. Puumalainen, S. Saarenketo, and K. Kyläheiko, “Entrepreneurial Orientation, Dynamic Capabilities and International Performance,” J. Int. Entrep., vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 223–243, Sep. 2005.
  5. J. Wiklund and D. Shepherd, “Entrepreneurial orientation and small business performance: a configurational approach,” J. Bus. Ventur., vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 71–91, Jan. 2005.
  6. D. T. Smart and J. S. Conant, “Entrepreneurial orientation, distinctive marketing competencies and organizational performance – ProQuest,” J. Appl. Bus. Res., vol. 10, no. 3, p. 28, 1994.
  7. J. W. Creswell and V. L. P. Clark, Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. SAGE Publications, 2011.


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