Thursday, 14 May 2009

Finding a Gap in the Literature

If you're going to pass your PhD you need to contribute some new knowledge about something. That means you need to be able to establish what is usually referred to as "a gap in the literature" i.e. something that has not yet been researched. Mapping out the literature is a major job in itself. You need to be able to articulate what previous studies have shown and use this as the means of pointing toward things that are not yet known. Helpfully, academic papers often conclude with a call for further research on something or other. This might be a useful starting point. However, you shouldn't rely on others to solve your problem. Whenever you read anything, an article, a book, a chapter, a thesis ... write out your own summary of what they've told you and what you still don't know. Use mind maps, tables, pictures, post-it notes, or whatever works for you but keep tracking the relationship between known, unknown and your contribution. One former colleague suggested thinking about it like the free application "minesweeper" that is often bundled with Microsoft operating systems. Try to find an empty square and be clear about the contents of adjacent squares. Miles and miles of clear white space around your own interest might mean that you have found something really interesting that no-one has ever thought to research. However, the downside to such splendid isolation is that it can be hard to find related studies to cite in your literature review.

97 comments:

  1. Thanks for the explanation on what a "literature gap" is. It helped quite a bit!

    cheers

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  2. I can see the gap in my mind, as I look for gaps in the literature! Thanks!

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  3. I really appreciate your explaining this in depth. I'm not a Ph.D. student, but a MSN student and I'm really struggling with this. Blessings, A Gonzalez, BSN, RN

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  4. i'm undergraduate student..
    thanks for ur info

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  5. I am a Doctor of Nursing Practice(DNP) student. Thanks for the explicit explanation of this phrase.

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  6. Thanks, I too am a Dissertation student in Organizational Psychology and my topics have not been showing a "gap in literature" so thanks for those explicit details.

    Pam A

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  7. Can you conduct a phenomenological study with "typical-case sampling" method?

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  8. You can conduct a phenomenological study of pretty much anything (so long as you can spell it) ... but the question of internal consistency is whether this is a comfortable and obvious fit with "typical case sampling" which implies a more traditional, scientific mindset. Not necessarily the best bed-fellow ... maybe justifying case selection on different grounds (such as industry leading, or outlier cases) would seem a more logical fit.

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  9. This explaination help me a lot :) Thank you so much.

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  10. Dr. MacIntosh,

    I am considering coducting a phenomenological study on Africam American women in the Religious Scienc movement. While the research is extensive on African American women in the African American church, there exits hardly no information on this topic for women in the Religious Science church. I know personally four African American women in the Centers for Spiritual Living churches around the country who will be supportive of my efforts. I know I need a larger sample size. Shuold I consider doing a case study?

    Thank you for your reply

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  11. Robert MacIntosh25 August 2011 04:36

    Some students base their PhD on a single case study ... the argument of breadth (number of cases) versus depth (how much detail is involved in each case) is far more important than the absolute number. If you're asking a handful of questions you need a large number of respondents (typical in questionnaire or survey research) ... if however, you're trying to make sense of a complex, multifaceted phenomenon then it makes sense to do a few cases in greater depth to get the richness required. My preference has always been for the latter ... but that is as much personal taste as anything.

    Good Luck

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    1. i am suffering to find my gap in literature review. can i scan through the abstract in each journal to find what is not yet done? i am interested in cooperative learning but there are thousand of journal in the field. how am i suppose to find the gap? do i need to read all the journals one by one or just focus on current published journals?

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  12. thanks 4 your explanation..it little bit help me to do a literature gap in my research..thank again!

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  13. thanks for explaining the GAP in the literature.
    You helped a bunch

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  14. I wish that I had found this blog long ago. I have been struggling with what to write in my methodological section of my Master's dissertation in Advanced Clinical Nursing. The importance of the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of my study is clear to me but I have been floundering in what feels like a quagmire of ideas and conflicting thoughts. The literature is confusing due to the lack of consistency within the terms used. I am conducting a descriptive phenomenological study on autonomy in advanced practice nurses. I had thought to explain the why my research is qualitative, that it is descriptive in nature. I am now reading Moustakas(1994) to flesh out my ontological and epistemological underpinnings for my research. Is it that the ontological stance taken needs to be consistent with Husserlian and my own beliefs or only that is consistent with Husserlian phenomenology and then with my methodolgy? Does this make sense? I believe that idealism is the ontoplogical stance of Husserlian, that the nature of the world and how we know about it through our consciousness. Its epistemology is based in constructionism. But is it only that I can justify these two components and move on....bogged down and lost! Perhaps just in writing this, I am a little clearer, maybe I just need to take the decisions as stated and stick with them??? But what if I am totally wrong? I would like to know what another's consciousness is telling them. Thanks

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    1. You're reading something which I've not read so I can't really comment beyond the observation that you're right about the need for consistency. The academic faux pas is to choose contradictory positions within the same research design. Writing it down and asking others almost always makes it clearer ... even if its only clearer where further work needs done. Don't give up !

      Good luck

      Robert

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  15. I was wondering if it would be appropriate to word my problem statement in this vain: The specific problem is there is a gap in the literature related to what parents know about STEM education.

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  16. One of the things I find myself saying quite often is that a research problem is "broadly right without being anywhere near helpful enough." I don't know your literature but it could well be true that parental knowledge of STEM education is an issue ... but it could be worded in a way that implies some sense of direction to the resolution of the problem. Two things spring to mind (based on the other posting on research questions). First, your problem needs to deserve its "?" in grammatical terms ... and it currently doesn't. Second, it is unclear to me what the phenomenon of interest here is in theoretical terms ... with limited knowledge of your field I might guess that the theory here might relate to disseminating complex messages, learning, communications theory, etc. Dealing with these two issues would move you from broadly right to bang on track for me ... but the ultimate test is what does your own supervisor think. Good luck

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    1. What is the difference in "filling a gap in the literature" and moving "towards a paradigm shift?". I feel my work may be pointing towards a new line of research that explains an anomaly which the current theories can not.


      Phd Student who is going crazy

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    2. Think modest. Think small scale. Think incremental. They're all safer than a new paradigm. Leave that complicated stuff for post PhD ...

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    3. Good advice, I understand...but what's the difference between "filling a gap" and "moving towards a paradigm shift"?


      Phd Student who is not as crazy now as he was 2 weeks ago : )

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    4. For me the former works on the basis that you're going to elaborate, refine, modify ... but stick within the basic worldview (read ontology and epistemology) of the existing literature. The latter implies that you are going to transcend, supercede, overthrow the existing othorodoxy. For a book seller, finding better retail locations is the former ... Amazon's new approach was the latter. In the context of an assessment process where, by definition, the examiners have to some extent flourished with the old paradigm ... it might be a tough ask to sell them a new one. That comes down to risk assessment and conviction.

      Robert

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  17. Hello Robert,

    Your blog is really helpful....

    Well, can you suggest some current topics related to management on which research can be done. I searched for many but am unable to find an appealing topic...

    Kindly suggest.


    Regards,
    Dipti

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  18. Dipti

    I remember very clearly the panic of trying to think of a killer topic for my PhD ... as time passed, and in particular, as my PhD passed I began to realise that you can make a PhD out of almost anything. Fortunately, almost every journal editor encourages authors to think about implications for future research ... therefore almost every paper you read suggests several lines of future research ... these should offer some good clues. Pick a line of work you like and see hat they recommend

    Good luck

    Robert

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  19. Hi Robert. Great blog. I've got a couple of questions:

    1. How certain can you be or how strong can you make your statements to demonstrate that what you are doing has not been researched before?

    2. What is the best way of tackling a Cross-disciplinary research? I'm evaluating communication levels within construction projects that are using a specific technology (BIM) but my background is in computer and information sciences. So I'm looking at construction procedures, BIM itself and the projects that have been using BIM but also looking at e-mail,e-communication and collaboration theories from information systems point of view. How could I map out the literature and identify the gap?

    Many Thanks
    Sonia

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  20. Sonia

    Q1 is every PhD student's nightmare ... these days, a structured review of the literature is your best way of avoiding it. At least now you can use online databases to see who cited what, etc.

    Q2 relates to Q1 ... set up a matrix which checks against three dimensions ... (i) concepts / theories used (ii) technologies / processes applied and (iii) sectors / contexts / firm sizes / geographies. This will allow you to map existing work from your lit review and place it into the map. You're looking for an empty space rather like a prospector looking for a good place to dig a well. However, bear in mind that the first dimension is the most important ... what theoretical contribution will you be able to make ? Just saying no-one's every tried this in 2 person firms in Alaska isn't in and of itself interesting enough. Make a point of trying to connect the dots in a way that sheds light on the theoretical issue. What do existing models / theories say ? Have most scholars looked at the same phenomenon with the same theoretical apparatus ? What do you learn when you trade the microscope for a UV filter ?

    Good luck

    Robert

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    1. Hi Robert,
      My concern is similar to Q2 of Sonia's above concerning cross disciplinary research. Ive been trawling the literature four months now gap searching only to be made aware that research on the construct i want to explore is almost conclusive. Now i am a little dissapointed and thinking about linking two disciplines to find out if something new and interesting could come out. Im doing management - HR research and my question is how to approach the three dimensions you are mentioning above. How will i be sure that it is feasible to link disciplines? Issues of methodology will come up as a catch later.

      Delete
  21. Anon

    linking ... or perhaps better, juxtaposing, two disciplines may be helpful. Try to tease out the difference between (a) contexts of application ... e.g. in HR versus Marketing versus product development and (b) the theories that you're dealing with ... e.g. an economics view and a sociological view of strategy development is something that people in my own field have found useful. You could add another column or dimension to the matrix I described earlier to reflect this ... and another to deal with methodological differences.

    Again, it is vital that you get some epistemological and ontological sympathy if not similarity across whichever dimensions you choose to span. I'd focus on the basic question "what's the phenomenon of interest here?" ... then I'd think about mapping what we know/don't know about the phenomenon by checking which sectors, geographies, sizes of site, technologies and methods that have been used to study that phenomenon ... then finally I'd look to map which theories have been used to explain the phenomenon. In doing all that, I'd be amazed if you can't find some clear space where a particular combination hasn't been covered. BUT ... that is a conversation with your supervisor, who will be better able to comment on the veracity of your mapping since they should know the terrain.

    Don't get too disheartened

    Robert

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  22. Thanks Robert for your helpful comments.

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  23. Sir,I'm interested in researching on income inequality in developing countries but am very confused as the latest database available is till 2006 so will it be worth to go with this topic or not as my phd will be completed 2-3 yrs down the line?
    Thanks

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  24. Hi Robert, I come once more for guidance. Thank you for your invaluable help above on ways of going about finding the literature gap.I really found it very useful and of course i stopped being too disheartened. I have found what exactly i want to inquire the next three years( or rather 2.5 yrs now) I want to do a comparative study on one of the positive organisational behavior constructs (employee engagement) between the public and private sector. My supervisor seems to be agreeing with my ideas but the problem is that he just told me that the way i stated the topic is not good as it does not look too engaging for PhD study? How best can i craft my topic so that its catchy>

    Thank you once more

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  25. thanks for your explaination on the literature gap. i am BBA in business economics in Malaysia. now, i am doing a thesis for economy fields.

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  26. Anon (of 15 July 2012) ... I'm afraid that your area of interest isn't in my area of expertise. If the most recent publicly available data is 6 years old that may be acceptable. You could look at the data sets used in recent journal publications to try and gauge the lag between survey data and publication ... and / or you could try contacting potential supervisors in that area who woul dbe better placed to tell you whether this is an insurmountable problem or not. Good Luck

    Robert

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  27. Anon (of 24 July 2012) ... your supervisor is the one who needs to sign off on the "catchy-ness" or otherwise of your topic. However, to me you have an interesting topic. Engagement is one of the buzzwords of the decade ... and comparing public and private sector practices / levels of engagement and the consequences sounds to me like the kind of thing employers and journal editors should be interested in.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  28. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!









    PhD research guidance

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  29. Hi Dr,

    I am going through all what you've listed above. I have my defence due in 6 weeks and I still do not have a conceptual model. I have the gaps listed but mostly it's not operationisable. The area of my interest is customer defection. And, the ability to predict the defection behaviour using past data. I am not sure if the topic is sexy enough.. Any suggestion?

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    Replies
    1. Wow ... if your defense is due in 6 weeks you're leaving it a little late to define a conceptual model. I'd urge you to speak to your supervisor(s) and get on top of this. Sexy / Not Sexy is much less important than having a clear line of argument over what your contribution is ... look at the posting on PhD Assessment criteria. Good luck

      Robert

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  30. Hi,
    I am in need of some assistance. I think I have a pretty good understanding of what a research gap is. However it is my understanding that this can be further classified into; empirical, theoretical and descriptive gap. Can you please shed some light?

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  31. I'd agree with thinking about a gap in terms of two of the three dimensions that you identify e.g. empirical and theoretical. However, I'd err much more on the need to specify a theoretical gap or development that your thesis might develop insights around. An empirical addition but no theory development might trip up at viva (see the PhD assessment criteria posting). Further, I'm not sure what a descriptive gap might look like. It could be that this varies by field, and I only have my own experiences to work with from the field of management and organization studies. Good luck

    Robert

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  32. pls sir can one add theories in discussing conceptual issues?

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    1. being able to explain what a theory is ... what grand theory and mid range theory looks like in your field ... and then drawing in conceptual issues would be a great idea. If you're clear about how you categorise and approach these labels then you're likely to impress the examiner(s). And you're likely to make it easier to set out and defend contribution claims (see the PhD Assessment Criteria post)

      Good luck

      Robert

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  33. Resp Sir,

    I sometimes get so confused...that it appears as if whatever gap i found..is being somehow done/treated in one or two papers..what should i do ?? i dont wnt to change my topic now bcoz i hv really put lot of effort in reading almost all relevant papers to my topic...plz advise me something how can i get something gud of it to work on as u said one can do Phd from anything.....

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  34. The biggest fear of most doctoral students as they approach write up is that they'll find a paper that does the same thing as their own thesis. In my experience, there is always something that you can do to differentiate your own work. Think about sector, sample size, methodolody, theoretical angle, mode of data analysis, etc. You'll usually find that the study you've conducted differs on some of these dimensions from the papers that you're reading. Then its a question of asking "what does my study tell me that these papers do not ?" ... the answer to that question should be the basis for a contribution. Think deeply about it. Look for nuances. Discuss with your supervisor and colleagues. Think even about getting in touch with the authors of the papers you're reading if they are very proximate to what you're doing. And most important of all, don't give up.

    Good luck and happy new year

    Robert

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  35. Thank you sir for answering my query!! your advice is of great help to people like me !!

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  36. You are welcome ... glad to help

    Robert

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  37. Sir,
    Sorry if i'm nt directing my ques at right section. Plz tel me how to convey to a professor that i'm not interested in him/her as being my co-supervisor.If i say no directly, i'm afraid h/she might create problems in future for clearance of my degree...plz advise me..and if possible plz plz reply urgently...

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  38. I have been trying to locate a gap in literature on my area of research, which is on the "impact of human resource outsourcing administration on organisational performance". Please how can I locate a gap to further my study.I need every help I can find now please.

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  39. as suggested in the original posting, it is a question of mapping. I'd start by defining the terms in the title sentence e.g. what do you mean by impact, outsourcing, etc. Then I'd start noting down what existing papers say about the phenomena and the relationships ... then look for an "angle" ... i.e. something they don't say. It could be a sector, a theoretical lens, a form of analysis, etc. There's always a gap and it doesn't have to be big.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  40. Sir, could u please explain the meaning of theoritical framework with some example and how to approach it?

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  41. Stripped of all surrounding context, this is not an easy question. What I'd assume is being conveyed by the idea of a "theoretical framework" or "theoretical framing" is that analysis of your data is not done neutrally. Rather, one sees in the data whatever the theoretical framework draws your attention toward. From a set of interviews with organizational members, an identity theorist might see one set of phenomena whilst an institutional theorist would see another. This is precisely what attracts / repels people about grounded theory because in its purest form, GT suggests we can work from the data to a theory without bias. Good luck with your studies

    Robert

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  42. Robert,
    Need your help, I have found a gap but my dissertation committee and the office of academic review says they don't see it. I am obviously not wording something correctly. How do I word it so it can be seen as a gap by all?

    Tahnks

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  43. I'd strongly suggest that you speak to them about it and try to figure out in as much detail what the litearture says we know/don't know then phrase the gap as a researchable questions

    Good luck

    Robert

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  44. hi. Just joined...both your blog and the phd program . Hope I can contribute and gain knowledge here....

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  45. hi robert. Just joined -both your blog and the phd program.......

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  46. Need your help. How can I Identify gaps in literature on the topic "Small Scale Business :A solution to the problem of unemployment".
    Darlington.

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  47. Anon

    I'd start by defining the terms in your topic ... what is "small scale" ... how does it connect to other terms "micro business", "social enterprise", etc. Then ask who writes about unemployment and what is their line of argument i.e. what body of theory do they employ to explain the phenomenon of unemployment ? That shouuld help you surface what the gaps, questions, unknowns are in the field

    Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  48. i am doing Ph.D in Work Life Balance of working women (doctors, nurses, admin staff) in hospitals. please give an idea to prepare the objectives and questionnaire for my research

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  49. Prathipac

    I'd start designing your data collection instrument ... in this case a questionnaire ... by thinking what do you want data about ? One research design might be to compare attitudes and practices across genders, professional groups, etc. Another might look at the link between non-work activities and work. The possibilities are endless and only you and your supervisor would know which kinds of data would allow you to make a contribution based on your findings.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  50. Dear Mr Macintoch,

    I am a master's student and I am currently writing my thesis. I would like to know to which extent is it considered plagiarism to replicate an existing study (which recommends replication at the future research section), where I change approximately 20% of the variables. Also, would using their questionnaire and adapting it to my research, industry, and variables be considered okay?

    Cheers.

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  51. Anonymous

    plagiarism for me is defined by the unacknowledged use of someone else's material. If you replicate an existing study which you are citing then you're not plagiarising UNLESS you also lift large chunks of their text/argument/data without saying that you are doing so. Replicating a study but with a twist ... e.g. the same survey but for a different demographic or geography is something that lots of people do. Amending the variables (to use your phrase) raises a set of questions for me about the purpose of doing this and what you're able to say once you've done it. If for example you amend the variables and get different results, how can you tell what is going on ... is it that the instrument changed or the results or both. My strong advice would be to be as transparent and up-front as possible about what is your thinking and what belongs to other authors ... oh, and speak to your supervisor.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  52. Hello Robert,

    very interesting and insightful blog. I am glad to have found it. I am doing an undergraduate study in Germany and have to write a term paper. The topic was free to choose. Since I am interesting in sustainable agriculture and organic farming, I thought it might be interesting to do see how much influence multinational corporations have on small and medium sized organic farms and farming. We were told to find a research gap, but it has been very difficult for me to find one. My question would be, what if I don´t find one? What if the question I am posing has already been answered? The concept of finding a research gap since very alien to me, particulariy because I cannot do empirical research myself i.e. some kind of field study, etc. I have to rely on secondary data, but they all already deal with the problematic of multinational corporations and their continous pressure on smaller and medium sized organic farming. So some research has been done. How can I find a research gap, when I am heavily relying on secondary data? We don´t have the time, resources or even the ability to start a full scale field study. I would love to travel around the United States and interview farmers across the country, but that´s simply out of the question. I suppose I could find how many organic companies have been taken over by MNCs, but is that really a research gap? Wouldn´t that be more descriptive? Suppose I want to show that MNCs affect organic farming negatively, by describing how many small traditional organic food producers have been taken over by MNCs, is that really a research gap if nobody else has done it? Would it even answer my question, or is that too descriptive?

    ny thoughts or recommendations? Thank you very much!


    Best regards,

    Shawn

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  53. Shawn

    you are studying in a field (forgive the pun) that is not my own. However, two things strike me. First, if there are existing papers, these usually close with "further research" ideas. Second, your point about avoiding being descriptive is on the money. The challenge you face may be made easier by adopting a theoretical angle. Maybe the phenomena of interest has been examined many times but not using theory X. For example, you could apply some international business theory, institutional theory or look at competing institutional logics as a way of explaining existing patterns or existing data. Good luck with the study

    Robert

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  54. Trying to come up with the problem statement and find the gap.

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  55. Keep on keepin' on ... it only works if you work at it.

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  56. Sir..plz give suggestions about how to get your work published ? Quality is more important than quantity ? Should i get the work i'm doing for Phd get published side by side or after completing my PhD ? Give your views...

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  57. Anonymous, you've hit on an important topic. Have a look at the "Thinking about an academic career post" and you'll get the clear message that publication matters. Quality generally matters much more that quantity. If you're doing a management / organizational PhD you need to look at the various journal ranking lists in circulation ... the Association of Business Schools list (ABS) is the one I know best and it ranks journals on a scale of 1 to 4 (with 4 being the best). One or two publications in a 3 or 4 rated outlet are worth much much more than a string of 1 star or unrated outlets. In the UK most decent institutions are looking only at 3 and 4 rated outputs. As for when, it is a matter for your supervisor and you to agree. I tend to favour conference publication early in the PhD followed by aiming for a journal paper nearer the end of your period of study. Good luck, Robert

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  58. Sir,
    I'm a PhD 2nd yr student ...I have done some work for my thesis in which my supervisor gives feedback as it is phd work..now my supervisor encouraged me to send it for publication..but i'm not sure whether i should put my supervisor name as author...or in acknowlegedment...plz guide me about it..

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  59. Anonymous, I am in favour of publishing en-route to PhD completion. I did it myself. However, some supervisors have strong views that it should not happen. It is therefore important to get an agreement with your supervisor about this. The issue of authoring and author ordering is a delicate one and a recurring feature of most academic careers. If your supervisor has been helping shape your argument, offering advice, etc. you may want to include them in the authoring team. If you feel very strongly that this is entirely your own work then you probably need to have an honest and perhaps difficult conversation with them about the publication. I'd start by asking the supervisor what they'd see as appropriate and take it from there. If you're going to have a disagreement, I'd favour doing so explicitly rather than implicitly but that's a personal choice.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  60. sir your blog is site is very help full to me. you have given help about the GAPS in the literature review for Ph.D. program. i just would like you to help me the same in respect of MS or M.Phill level. Please i will be very great full to you.

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  61. Dear Muiz

    the same basic principles apply for UG, MSc, PhD and peer-reviewed journal publications. That said, the standard of analysis required gradually goes up as you go from UG to journal output. Some students have successfully placed their UG dissertation in top ranked journals which proves that it is basically the same process. Good luck with your Masters degree

    Robert

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    Replies
    1. Sir, thank you very much for your help. I will definitely go through with your guidance.

      Delete
  62. Hi,
    I'm writing a doctoral dissertation but I'm consistently told I need to ground my research in theory. Is this the same as finding a gap? Also, my subject is new so I'm having trouble finding previous articles or research on it. I was told to use something general where my topic might have been an issue in another domain and try to fuse the two. Does that sound correct?

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  63. Liv1 ... the two are related. By reading the literature with a critical eye, you are trying to establish what we don't yet know about a particular phenomenon. In order to develop a contribution you need to have identified a "gap" which implies that no-one has yet looked at the thing you're studying using the kinds of data that you've got and/or from the theoretical perspective that you're adopting. Grounded in theory implies to me the need to have a theoretical perspective that you are using to explain, analyse or draw insights about the thing you're studying. You could be studying new ways of people performing literature reviews and you might conduct interviews, use diaries, do documentary analysis or observational work ... you'd still also need a theory with which you could build an explanation of what is going on. Hope that helps. Good luck

    Robert

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  64. Hello Sir,

    I'm a second yr doctoral student of PhD in economics. I have written a paper which have some new ideas and its full of mathematics. I have done my best to do it and write it in proper way as per my supervisor advice. Now i'm sending it for one of the conferences so that if its get selected i can present it. The problem is my supervisor has not read my whole paper. Now, i don't know why but I'm not confident of my own paper. I sometimes feel if i have done something wrong or baseless in it then what will happen and what people will think about me. Please guide me is this a common phenomenon among all PhD students. How can I overcome this ?

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  65. Anonymous ... your post has a familiar ring to it precisely because such uncertainty is commonplace. In fact, you are highlighting two related but different anxieties. First, many students seem to struggle with showing their supervisor written work. I know I did and I know that many of my own students have found it difficult to let me read drafts of material. Try to remember that your supervisor is (a) on your side (b) keen to help and (c) only able to help if they see written material on which they can give written feedback. Nothing is perfect first time around and your work would likely benefit from a critical and more distant reader helping you refine your argument. This is absolutely the norm in an industry dominated by peer review and in an assessment process where it is a written thesis that forms the basis of the examination. So you would be well served by getting used to this early. The second, related but distinct, anxiety you mention is conference audiences. Of course they could savage you and/or your paper. They likely won't. As in many other careers, the moment of truth comes when it is just you, your ideas and an audience. It is the same for actors and performers. What you are describing is common to most people but gets easier the more you repeat the experience. Even a tough audience will help you IF you enter into the process with the mindset that you want to know what could have been done better. If you're just looking for adulation ask your family. If you're looking for improvement, criticism is a valuable resource. Take a deep breath and speak to your supervisor. Take another and present your paper ... then try to listen for the key points of feedback.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  66. HELLO SIR, GLAD TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR BLOG. A Ph.D STUDENT. I NEED DETAILS ON FINDING A GAP PLS. TONY

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  67. Tony ... I am glad that you found the blog useful and wish you luck with your research. The notes under this posting offer my best advice on how to spot a gap in the literature and if you follow this advice and speak to your supervisor you will be fine. Good luck

    Robert

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  68. Hi Mr MacIntosh,
    Thank you for a very useful blog.

    I've got problem in writing my introduction. My supervisor said that it was too empirical in focus.

    My question is, how are we going to bridge the gap with the problem that arise in our study? I can't understand the 'gap' and the 'problem' in research. Which one that we need to tackle. I fail to link between this two concepts.

    Can you shed some light to my understanding?

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  69. Anonymous

    I would tend to agree that empirical material shouldn't find its way into the introduction. Rather, the introduction should set out in lay terms what the phenomenon of interest is in your thesis. This, I would describe as "the problem". Then in chapter 2, when you're reviewing literature you are trying to establish what we know/don't know about the problem. This then demonstrates a gap in our knowledge or, to put it another way, a gap in the literature, or to put it a third way ... a gap in the literature. Your thesis is then presented as plugging that gap. I hope this helps ... speak to your supervisor, agree a way forward and keep going. Good luck

    Robert

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  70. Dear Sir,
    Your blog is an excellent part for novice reasercher, It is very hard findout gap of knowledge from different sources.I am looking for a solution about factor influencing quality of life related reasecrh papers.So plese....................

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  71. I'm glad you find the blog useful ... if you're trying to research quality of life, I'd suggest that you undertake a systematic review of the literature as set out above and map the research techniques and traditions of the papers too ... this will help you identify (a) something to research and (b) a way of researching it that connects to a group of like-minded scholars. Good luck

    Robert

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  72. Sir how we can say that this is a research gap?

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  73. Dear Sir
    How we select a research gap?

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  74. Anonymous ... the question of finding a research gap is covered (at least to the best of my ability) in the blog ... the process of saying that it is a research gap is something that your literature review is supposed to do for you. For me, a gap is in the eye of the beholder in the sense that if, as a reader, I am convinced by your analysis of the literature then I'll be convinced you've found a gap. Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  75. Hi Doc,

    I happened to read your blog. I am currently on the edge of giving up because taking ph.d. and making dissertation is mind blowing. but then is is a challenge for me. and I found your blog very helpful. I would like to ask advice from you because the focus of my research is on the 'implementation of the mother tongue based education policy in relation to the teaching of English in the classroom. I could hardly find a gap. Please advice how to find gap for this. thanks

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous, many successful doctoral students contemplate giving up at points en route to a successful completion. As I have noted in responses to other questions, there are always ways to fashion a gap form a seemingly well established literature. Discuss this with your supervisor, present a thorough take on what the literature already tells you ... combine this with some sense of what data / theory / analysis you plan to work with and craft an argument that says you'll bring a new voice to the conversation. It doesn't have to cure disease, eradicate world hunger or discover a new particle ... it just needs to hang together as an argument.

      Good luck and don't give up

      Robert

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  76. Thank you this is extremely helpful

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  77. I am interested to pursue my studies in phd but i think that my research ground is not strong enough.i just wanna ask you sir,how to differentiate wheather there is still a need for improvement on particular topic because in phd we are intended to develop new theory or improve the existing one...

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  78. Anonymous, one way to think about topics is to look at whether there is still a live, on-going dialogue about the topic in the literature. If no-one is publishing on the topic it may have settled to the point where it is not of wider interest. Ideally you're looking for a topic with a following because there will be other, recent, relevant pieces for you to engage with in your own research. The two extremes are difficult ... (a) no other recent research or (b) too much hype around a particular topic. Even when there is no new research on a topic for decades it might mean that it is ripe for reinvigorating/updating but that might be better tackled by someone post-PhD to minimise your risks.

    Good luck with your search for a topic and a supervisor.

    Robert

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  79. Thanks a lot for sharing such useful information. Great job done keep posting more
    Phd guidance help

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  80. Hi Robert,
    By chance I came across this blog. How insightful. I am a doctoral students, trying to fix my topic on EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY. I am not able to decide on the topic. first I selected differentiated instruction using technology, but could not find enough literature on differentiation, now I am lost. can you please guide me or suggest some topics ?

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  81. Shameen, being lost is not uncommon. Unfortunately educational technology is not my own research area so I cannot help you directly. However, what I would suggest is that you (a) go back to the literature and listen to what is being talked about ... most papers end with a call for further research to help with this process of finding the next thing to look at ... and (b) don't lose sight of the fact that you'll need some theory to hang your contribution around. Ask yourself, what theoretical angles might I use to explain the phenomenon here ? Good luck with your search for a topic ... don't forget that you'll need a supervisor too, so engaging them in the search is a wise move.

    Robert

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  82. Great job that you have done keep posting more information. Thanks a lot for sharing such useful information.
    Phd guidance help

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  83. It sound very good. it will help me alot. It took me very long time to identify the research gap.

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  84. Thank you very much for the post I have been struggling with identifying gaps in about 6 of my articles realting to breastfeeding initiation, I think this will help me .
    cheers

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