What is a Research Gap?
A research gap is a research question or issue that has not been effectively or at all addressed in a certain field of study. It is an area in which further studies and research are required. There may be a research gap if all of the existing research is outdated and requires new/updated research.
The research gap makes your research publishable. Because it demonstrates that you are not simply repeating current research; it demonstrates that you have a thorough understanding of the state of the body of knowledge in your chosen topic; and, ultimately, it demonstrates that you did research that fills a gap in the literature.
Challenges faced while identifying research gaps
Researchers, particularly those seeking a Master’s or PhD, frequently struggle to detect gaps in the corpus of knowledge in their respective professions. The first and most critical stage in creating a research paper is to identify gaps and generate research questions. Of course, there are numerous techniques of solving this challenge, but identifying original and novel topics as well as gaps in the literature is never an easy task. There are various ways to take, and not all researchers, particularly younger ones, are not aware of them.
Here is a list of difficulties you may encounter while detecting research gaps in your chosen field of study:
1. Effort spent in working with a massive volume of information: In a subject that interests you, there may be numerous unresolved questions. As a result, you may become overwhelmed by the number of research gaps you come across and be unsure of which one to prioritise.
2. Difficulty in arranging search results: Some researchers may find it difficult to organise the material they have acquired. Ideas can quickly be lost if they are not adequately documented.
3. Hesitation in questioning established norms: Some researchers are unwilling to challenge current knowledge in their field and may be hesitant to challenge what others have claimed in their study.
Steps for identifying research gaps
1. Focus your Research Area
Before you begin attempting to uncover gaps in the literature, you must first determine your area of interest, and then focus and narrow that research field. You’ll wind up having to research everything if you don’t limit down your initial research area of interest. You’ll be overwhelmed by all the research gaps you discover because there are still many unsolved research topics out there.
2. Look for ideas in published works.
Read books and articles on the topics that interest you the most. This will take time, but you will need to study a lot of research publications in your research subject to become an expert in it. This will not only help you understand the depth of work done by researchers in your area, but it will also allow you to ask questions that may lead you to a research gap.
Keep a record of what the authors conveyed to you and the questions that arise anytime you read anything – an article, a book, a book chapter, a dissertation, etc.
You can ask yourself questions like:
- What is the significance of this research to my work or the broader field?
- How can this article help me formulate my research questions?
- Does the author’s argument require more clarification?
- What issues or questions has the author not addressed?
- Is there a different perspective that I can consider?
- What other factors could have influenced the results?
- Are the methods or procedures used outdated or no longer considered valid in your field? Is there scope for you to test the findings using a better-than-current approach?
3. One helpful tip is to look at the “suggestions for future study” or conclusion part of previous studies on your issue. Often, the authors will suggest areas where they believe there is a research gap and what studies they think should be conducted in the future.
4. Read meta-analyses and review papers to understand more about research advancements and trends in your chosen field across time. This will allow you to become acquainted with previously investigated problems as well as trending questions on areas of interest to you.
5. Research gap table
The research gap table is another method for locating the research problem. The first column in the table contains the category, which comprises characteristics, presentation of the study problem, and so on. The second column has sub-categories with knowledge gaps, non-matching evidence, resource conflict, and so forth. The third column comprises the definition, which includes the origins of the research problem, the reasons for the presence of the research gap, and how to display your findings in the research table. The final column, which is nothing but research gaps, displays the number of gaps in the research.
6. Check the websites of influential journals
The websites of important journals frequently include a section called ‘key concepts,’ in which experts in a field emphasise the key ideas in that discipline. Reading through this part can help you obtain a significant number of new ideas and concepts. Furthermore, you should read the reference section of these papers because it can link you to useful resources on the subject.
7. Another form of paper is known as “State of the Art” paper. State of the Art papers summarise the current state of knowledge on a particular topic. They define research frontiers and highlight fruitful and prospective future research fields. They fall under the category of systematic review papers.
8. Look for digital tools or the most cited academic papers using digital tools.
Use digital tools to cut time and expand the scope of your search for a research gap while becoming familiar with the popular questions in your field. Knowing which subjects are deemed important can be greatly helped by websites like Essential Science Indicator that list the most cited articles in an area along with the new branches, significant authors, publications, and countries in that field. To find out more about the most often asked questions about your research area, you may also use Google Trends. Your quest for an unexplored region in your subject of study will be facilitated by this.
Other websites and applications, like Social Mention, Springer, Google Ads, and BroadReader, offer more sophisticated details about the queries, including their popularity, various bars and charts that show trends over time, the most recent articles that have been downloaded, and their associated tag advertisements, etc.