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These examples below illustrate how researchers from different disciplines identified gaps in existing literature. For additional examples, try a NavigatorSearch using this search string: ("Literature review") AND (gap*)
- Addressing the Recent Developments and Potential Gaps in the Literature of Corporate Sustainability
- Applications of Psychological Science to Teaching and Learning: Gaps in the Literature
- Attitudes, Risk Factors, and Behaviours of Gambling Among Adolescents and Young People: A Literature Review and Gap Analysis
- Do Psychological Diversity Climate, HRM Practices, and Personality Traits (Big Five) Influence Multicultural Workforce Job Satisfaction and Performance? Current Scenario, Literature Gap, and Future Research Directions
- Entrepreneurship Education: A Systematic Literature Review and Identification of an Existing Gap in the Field
- Evidence and Gaps in the Literature on HIV/STI Prevention Interventions Targeting Migrants in Receiving Countries: A Scoping Review
- Homeless Indigenous Veterans and the Current Gaps in Knowledge: The State of the Literature
- A Literature Review and Gap Analysis of Emerging Technologies and New Trends in Gambling
- A Review of Higher Education Image and Reputation Literature: Knowledge Gaps and a Research Agenda
- Trends and Gaps in Empirical Research on Open Educational Resources (OER): A Systematic Mapping of the Literature from 2015 to 2019
- Where Should We Go From Here? Identified Gaps in the Literature in Psychosocial Interventions for Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Comorbid Anxiety
What is a ‘gap in the literature’?
The gap, also considered the missing piece or pieces in the research literature, is the area that has not yet been explored or is under-explored. This could be a population or sample (size, type, location, etc.), research method, data collection and/or analysis, or other research variables or conditions.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that just because you identify a gap in the research, it doesn't necessarily mean that your research question is worthy of exploration. You will want to make sure that your research will have valuable practical and/or theoretical implications. In other words, answering the research question could either improve existing practice and/or inform professional decision-making (Applied Degree), or it could revise, build upon, or create theoretical frameworks informing research design and practice (Ph.D Degree). See the Dissertation Center for additional information about dissertation criteria at NU.
For a additional information on gap statements, see the following:
- How to Find a Gap in the Literature
- Write Like a Scientist: Gap Statements
How do you identify the gaps?
Conducting an exhaustive literature review is your first step. As you search for journal articles, you will need to read critically across the breadth of the literature to identify these gaps. You goal should be to find a ‘space’ or opening for contributing new research. The first step is gathering a broad range of research articles on your topic. You may want to look for research that approaches the topic from a variety of methods – qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods.
See the videos below for further instruction on identifying a gap in the literature.
Identifying a Gap in the Literature - Dr. Laurie Bedford
How Do You Identify Gaps in Literature? - SAGE Research Methods
Literature Gap & Future Research - Library Workshop
This workshop presents effective search techniques for identifying a gap in the literature and recommendations for future research.
Where can you locate research gaps?
As you begin to gather the literature, you will want to critically read for what has, and has not, been learned from the research. Use the Discussion and Future Research sections of the articles to understand what the researchers have found and where they point out future or additional research areas. This is similar to identifying a gap in the literature, however, future research statements come from a single study rather than an exhaustive search. You will want to check the literature to see if those research questions have already been answered.
Identifying the gap in the research relies on an exhaustive review of the literature. Remember, researchers may not explicitly state that a gap in the literature exists; you may need to thoroughly review and assess the research to make that determination yourself.
However, there are techniques that you can use when searching in NavigatorSearch to help identify gaps in the literature. You may use search terms such as "literature gap " or "future research" "along with your subject keywords to pinpoint articles that include these types of statements.
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- Last Updated: Dec 29, 2023 9:51 AM
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How to find and fill gaps in the literature [Research Gaps Made Easy]
As we dive deeper into the realm of research, one term repeatedly echoes in the corridors of academia: “gap in literature.”
But what does it mean to find a gap in the literature, and why is it so crucial for your research project?
A gap in the literature refers to an area that hasn’t been studied or lacks substantial inquiry in your field of study. Identifying such gaps allows you to contribute fresh insights and innovation, thereby extending the existing body of knowledge.
It’s the cornerstone for every dissertation or research paper, setting the stage for an introduction that explicitly outlines the scope and aim of your investigation.
This gap review isn’t limited to what has been published in peer-reviewed journals; it may also include conference papers, dissertations, or technical reports, i.e., types of papers that provide an overview of ongoing research.
This step is where your detective work comes in—by spotting trends, common methodologies, and unanswered questions, you can unearth an opportunity to explore an unexplored domain, thereby finding a research gap.
Why Looking for Research Gaps is Essential
Looking for research gaps is essential as it enables the discovery of novel and unique contributions to a particular field.
By identifying these gaps, found through methods such as analyzing concluding remarks of recent papers, literature reviews, examining research groups’ non-peer-reviewed outputs, and utilizing specific search terms on Google Scholar, one can discern the trajectory of ongoing research and unearth opportunities for original inquiry.
These gaps highlight areas of potential innovation, unexplored paths, and disputed concepts, serving as the catalyst for valuable contributions and progression in the field. Hence, finding research gaps forms the basis of substantial and impactful scientific exploration.
Then your research can contribute by finding and filling the gap in knowledge.
Method 1: Utilizing Concluding Remarks of Recent Research
When embarking on a quest to find research gaps, the concluding remarks of recent research papers can serve as an unexpected treasure map.
This section of a paper often contains insightful comments on the limitations of the work and speculates on future research directions.
These comments, although not directly pointing to a research gap, can hint at where the research is heading and what areas require further exploration.
Consider these remarks as signposts, pointing you towards uncharted territories in your field of interest.
For example, you may come across a conclusion in a recent paper on artificial intelligence that indicates a need for more research on ethical considerations. This gives you a direction to explore – the ethical implications of AI.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that while these statements provide valuable leads, they aren’t definitive indicators of research gaps. They provide a starting point, a clue to the vast research puzzle.
Your task is to take these hints, explore further, and discern the most promising areas for your investigation. It’s a bit like being a detective, except your clues come from scholarly papers instead of crime scenes!
Method 2: Examining Research Groups and Non-peer Reviewed Outputs
If concluding remarks are signposts to potential research gaps, non-peer reviewed outputs such as preprints, conference presentations, and dissertations are detailed maps guiding you towards the frontier of research.
These resources reflect the real-time development in the field, giving you a sense of the “buzz” that surrounds hot topics.
These materials, presented but not formally published, offer a sneak peek into ongoing studies, providing you with a rich source of information to identify emerging trends and potential research gaps.
For instance, a presentation on the impact of climate change on mental health might reveal a new line of research that’s in its early stages.
One word of caution: while these resources can be enlightening, they have not undergone the rigorous peer review process that published articles have.
This means the quality of research may vary and the findings should be interpreted with a critical eye. Remember, the key is to pinpoint where the research is heading and then carve out your niche within that sphere.
Exploring non-peer reviewed outputs allows you to stay ahead of the curve, harnessing the opportunity to investigate and contribute to a burgeoning area of study before it becomes mainstream.
Method 3: Searching for ‘Promising’ and ‘Preliminary’ Results on Google Scholar
With a plethora of research at your fingertips, Google Scholar can serve as a remarkable tool in your quest to discover research gaps. The magic lies in a simple trick: search for the phrases “promising results” or “preliminary results” within your research area. Why these specific phrases? Scientists often use them when they have encouraging but not yet fully verified findings.
To illustrate, consider an example. Type “promising results and solar cell” into Google Scholar, and filter by recent publications.
The search results will show you recent studies where researchers have achieved promising outcomes but may not have fully developed their ideas or resolved all challenges.
These “promising” or “preliminary” results often represent areas ripe for further exploration.
They hint at a research question that has been opened but not fully answered. However, tread carefully.
While these findings can indeed point to potential research gaps, they can also lead to dead ends. It’s crucial to examine these leads with a critical eye and further corroborate them with a comprehensive review of related research.
Nevertheless, this approach provides a simple, effective starting point for identifying research gaps, serving as a launchpad for your explorations.
Method 4: Reading Around the Subject
Comprehensive reading forms the bedrock of effective research. When hunting for research gaps, you need to move beyond just the preliminary findings and delve deeper into the context surrounding these results.
This involves broadening your view and reading extensively around your topic of interest.
In the course of your reading, you will start identifying common themes, reoccurring questions, and shared challenges in the research.
Over time, patterns will emerge, helping you recognize areas where research is thin or missing.
For instance, in studying autonomous vehicles, you might find recurring questions about regulatory frameworks, pointing to a potential gap in the legal aspects of this technology.
However, this method is not about scanning through a huge volume of literature aimlessly. It involves strategic and critical reading, looking for patterns, inconsistencies, and areas where the existing literature falls short.
It’s akin to painting a picture where some parts are vividly detailed while others remain sketchy. Your goal is to identify these sketchy areas and fill in the details.
So grab your academic reading list, and start diving into the ocean of knowledge. Remember, it’s not just about the depth, but also the breadth of your reading, that will lead you to a meaningful research gap.
Method 5: Consulting with Current Researchers
Few methods are as effective in uncovering research gaps as engaging in conversations with active researchers in your field of interest.
Current researchers, whether they are PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, or supervisors, are often deeply engaged in ongoing studies and understand the current challenges in their respective fields.
Start by expressing genuine interest in their work. Rather than directly asking for research gaps, inquire about the challenges they are currently facing in their projects.
You can ask, “What are the current challenges in your research?”
Their responses can highlight potential areas of exploration, setting you on the path to identifying meaningful research gaps.
Moreover, supervisors, particularly those overseeing PhD and Master’s students, often have ideas for potential research topics. By asking the right questions, you can tap into their wealth of knowledge and identify fruitful areas of study.
While the act of discovering research gaps can feel like a solitary journey, it doesn’t have to be.
Engaging with others who are grappling with similar challenges can provide valuable insights and guide your path. After all, the world of research thrives on collaboration and shared intellectual curiosity.
Method 6: Utilizing Online Tools
The digital age has made uncovering research gaps easier, thanks to a plethora of online tools that help visualize the interconnectedness of research literature.
Platforms such as:
- Connected Papers,
- ResearchRabbit, and
allow you to see how different papers in your field relate to one another, thereby creating a web of knowledge.
Upon creating this visual web, you may notice that many papers point towards a certain area, but then abruptly stop. This could indicate a potential research gap, suggesting that the topic hasn’t been adequately addressed or has been sidelined for some reason.
By further reading around this apparent gap, you can understand if it’s a genuine knowledge deficit or merely a research path that was abandoned due to inherent challenges or a dead end.
These online tools provide a bird’s eye view of the literature, helping you understand the broader landscape of research in your area of interest.
By examining patterns and relationships among studies, you can effectively zero in on unexplored areas, making these tools a valuable asset in your quest for research gaps.
Method 7: Seeking Conflicting Ideas in the Literature
In scientific research, areas of conflict can often be fertile ground for finding research gaps. These are areas where there’s a considerable amount of disagreement or ongoing debate among researchers.
If you can bring a fresh perspective, a new technique, or a novel hypothesis to such a contentious issue, you may well be on your way to uncovering a significant research gap.
Take, for instance, an area in psychology where there is a heated debate about the influence of nature versus nurture.
If you can introduce a new dimension to the debate or a method to test a novel hypothesis, you could potentially fill a significant gap in the literature.
Investigating areas of conflict not only opens avenues for exploring research gaps, but it also provides opportunities for you to make substantial contributions to your field. The key is to be able to see the potential for a new angle and to muster the courage to dive into contentious waters.
However, engaging with conflicts in research requires careful navigation.
Striking the right balance between acknowledging existing research and championing new ideas is crucial.
In the end, resolving these conflicts or adding significant depth to the debate can be incredibly rewarding and contribute greatly to your field.
The Right Perspective Towards Research Gaps
The traditional understanding of research gaps often involves seeking out a ‘bubble’ of missing knowledge in the sea of existing research, a niche yet to be explored. However, in today’s fast-paced research environment, these bubbles are becoming increasingly rare.
The paradigm of finding research gaps is shifting. It’s no longer just about seeking out holes in existing knowledge, but about understanding the leading edge of research and the directions it could take. It involves not just filling in the gaps but extending the boundaries of knowledge.
To identify such opportunities, develop a comprehensive understanding of the research landscape, identify emerging trends, and keep a close eye on recent advancements.
Look for the tendrils of knowledge extending out into the unknown and think about how you can push them further. It might be a challenging task, but it offers the potential for making substantial, impactful contributions to your field.
Remember, every great innovation begins at the edge of what is known. That’s where your research gap might be hiding.
Wrapping up – Literature and research gaps
Finding and filling a gap in the literature is a task crucial to every research project. It begins with a systematic review of existing literature – a quest to identify what has been studied and more importantly, what hasn’t.
You must delve into the rich terrain of literature in their field, from the seminal, citation-heavy research articles to the fresh perspective of conference papers. Identifying the gap in the literature necessitates a thorough evaluation of existing studies to refine your area of interest and map the scope and aim of your future research.
The purpose is to explicitly identify the gap that exists, so you can contribute to the body of knowledge by providing fresh insights. The process involves a series of steps, from consulting with faculty and experts in the field to identify potential trends and outdated methodologies, to being methodological in your approach to identify gaps that have emerged.
Upon finding a gap in the literature, we’ll ideally have a clearer picture of the research need and an opportunity to explore this unexplored domain.
It is important to remember that the task does not end with identifying the gap. The real challenge lies in drafting a research proposal that’s objective, answerable, and can quantify the impact of filling this gap.
It’s important to consult with your advisor, and also look at commonly used parameters and preliminary evidence. Only then can we complete the task of turning an identified gap in the literature into a valuable contribution to your field, a contribution that’s peer-reviewed and adds to the body of knowledge.
To find a research gap is to stand on the shoulders of giants, looking beyond the existing research to further expand our understanding of the world.
Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.
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The Research Gap (Literature Gap)
Everything you need to know to find a quality research gap
By: Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | Expert Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | November 2022
If you’re just starting out in research, chances are you’ve heard about the elusive research gap (also called a literature gap). In this post, we’ll explore the tricky topic of research gaps. We’ll explain what a research gap is, look at the four most common types of research gaps, and unpack how you can go about finding a suitable research gap for your dissertation, thesis or research project.
Overview: Research Gap 101
- What is a research gap
- Four common types of research gaps
- Practical examples
- How to find research gaps
- Recap & key takeaways
What (exactly) is a research gap?
Well, at the simplest level, a research gap is essentially an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space. Alternatively, a research gap can also exist when there’s already a fair deal of existing research, but where the findings of the studies pull in different directions , making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.
For example, let’s say your research aims to identify the cause (or causes) of a particular disease. Upon reviewing the literature, you may find that there’s a body of research that points toward cigarette smoking as a key factor – but at the same time, a large body of research that finds no link between smoking and the disease. In that case, you may have something of a research gap that warrants further investigation.
Now that we’ve defined what a research gap is – an unanswered question or unresolved problem – let’s look at a few different types of research gaps.
Types of research gaps
While there are many different types of research gaps, the four most common ones we encounter when helping students at Grad Coach are as follows:
- The classic literature gap
- The disagreement gap
- The contextual gap, and
- The methodological gap
Need a helping hand?
1. The Classic Literature Gap
First up is the classic literature gap. This type of research gap emerges when there’s a new concept or phenomenon that hasn’t been studied much, or at all. For example, when a social media platform is launched, there’s an opportunity to explore its impacts on users, how it could be leveraged for marketing, its impact on society, and so on. The same applies for new technologies, new modes of communication, transportation, etc.
Classic literature gaps can present exciting research opportunities , but a drawback you need to be aware of is that with this type of research gap, you’ll be exploring completely new territory . This means you’ll have to draw on adjacent literature (that is, research in adjacent fields) to build your literature review, as there naturally won’t be very many existing studies that directly relate to the topic. While this is manageable, it can be challenging for first-time researchers, so be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.
2. The Disagreement Gap
As the name suggests, the disagreement gap emerges when there are contrasting or contradictory findings in the existing research regarding a specific research question (or set of questions). The hypothetical example we looked at earlier regarding the causes of a disease reflects a disagreement gap.
Importantly, for this type of research gap, there needs to be a relatively balanced set of opposing findings . In other words, a situation where 95% of studies find one result and 5% find the opposite result wouldn’t quite constitute a disagreement in the literature. Of course, it’s hard to quantify exactly how much weight to give to each study, but you’ll need to at least show that the opposing findings aren’t simply a corner-case anomaly .
3. The Contextual Gap
The third type of research gap is the contextual gap. Simply put, a contextual gap exists when there’s already a decent body of existing research on a particular topic, but an absence of research in specific contexts .
For example, there could be a lack of research on:
- A specific population – perhaps a certain age group, gender or ethnicity
- A geographic area – for example, a city, country or region
- A certain time period – perhaps the bulk of the studies took place many years or even decades ago and the landscape has changed.
The contextual gap is a popular option for dissertations and theses, especially for first-time researchers, as it allows you to develop your research on a solid foundation of existing literature and potentially even use existing survey measures.
Importantly, if you’re gonna go this route, you need to ensure that there’s a plausible reason why you’d expect potential differences in the specific context you choose. If there’s no reason to expect different results between existing and new contexts, the research gap wouldn’t be well justified. So, make sure that you can clearly articulate why your chosen context is “different” from existing studies and why that might reasonably result in different findings.
4. The Methodological Gap
Last but not least, we have the methodological gap. As the name suggests, this type of research gap emerges as a result of the research methodology or design of existing studies. With this approach, you’d argue that the methodology of existing studies is lacking in some way , or that they’re missing a certain perspective.
For example, you might argue that the bulk of the existing research has taken a quantitative approach, and therefore there is a lack of rich insight and texture that a qualitative study could provide. Similarly, you might argue that existing studies have primarily taken a cross-sectional approach , and as a result, have only provided a snapshot view of the situation – whereas a longitudinal approach could help uncover how constructs or variables have evolved over time.
Let’s take a look at some practical examples so that you can see how research gaps are typically expressed in written form. Keep in mind that these are just examples – not actual current gaps (we’ll show you how to find these a little later!).
Despite extensive research on diabetes management, there’s a research gap in terms of understanding the effectiveness of digital health interventions in rural populations (compared to urban ones) within Eastern Europe.
Context: Environmental Science
While a wealth of research exists regarding plastic pollution in oceans, there is significantly less understanding of microplastic accumulation in freshwater ecosystems like rivers and lakes, particularly within Southern Africa.
While empirical research surrounding online learning has grown over the past five years, there remains a lack of comprehensive studies regarding the effectiveness of online learning for students with special educational needs.
As you can see in each of these examples, the author begins by clearly acknowledging the existing research and then proceeds to explain where the current area of lack (i.e., the research gap) exists.
How To Find A Research Gap
Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of the different types of research gaps, the next question is of course, “how do you find these research gaps?” .
Well, we cover the process of how to find original, high-value research gaps in a separate post . But, for now, I’ll share a basic two-step strategy here to help you find potential research gaps.
As a starting point, you should find as many literature reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses as you can, covering your area of interest. Additionally, you should dig into the most recent journal articles to wrap your head around the current state of knowledge. It’s also a good idea to look at recent dissertations and theses (especially doctoral-level ones). Dissertation databases such as ProQuest, EBSCO and Open Access are a goldmine for this sort of thing. Importantly, make sure that you’re looking at recent resources (ideally those published in the last year or two), or the gaps you find might have already been plugged by other researchers.
Once you’ve gathered a meaty collection of resources, the section that you really want to focus on is the one titled “ further research opportunities ” or “further research is needed”. In this section, the researchers will explicitly state where more studies are required – in other words, where potential research gaps may exist. You can also look at the “ limitations ” section of the studies, as this will often spur ideas for methodology-based research gaps.
By following this process, you’ll orient yourself with the current state of research , which will lay the foundation for you to identify potential research gaps. You can then start drawing up a shortlist of ideas and evaluating them as candidate topics . But remember, make sure you’re looking at recent articles – there’s no use going down a rabbit hole only to find that someone’s already filled the gap 🙂
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Here are the key takeaways:
- A research gap is an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space.
- The four most common types of research gaps are the classic literature gap, the disagreement gap, the contextual gap and the methodological gap.
- To find potential research gaps, start by reviewing recent journal articles in your area of interest, paying particular attention to the FRIN section .
If you’re keen to learn more about research gaps and research topic ideation in general, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . Alternatively, if you’re looking for 1-on-1 support with your dissertation, thesis or research project, be sure to check out our private coaching service .
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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