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If you’re wondering what the difference between these two terms is, don’t worry—you’re not alone!In a previous article , we covered what goes into the limitations, delimitations, and assumptions sections of your thesis or dissertation.These other questions may be interesting and important, but, again, they are .
By choosing to focus your research on a particular problem or question, you are necessarily choosing not to examine other problems or questions.
Remember: You can’t answer all possible questions with one project.
Perhaps you’ll narrow your focus even more to elementary school teachers in a particular school district who have been teaching for a particular length of time. These are choices you will need to make, both for practical reasons (i.e., the population you have access to) and for the questions you are trying to answer. It just means that, for the purposes of your project and your research questions, you’re interested in the experience of the teachers, so you’re excluding anyone who does not meet those criteria.
Of course, for this particular example, this does not mean that it wouldn’t be interesting to also know what principals think about the new curriculum. Having delimitations to your population of interest also means that you won’t be able to answer any questions about the experiences of those other populations; this is ok because those populations are .
For example, you won’t be able to infer causality from a correlational study or generalize to an entire population from a case study.
Likewise, while an experimental study allows you to draw causal conclusions, it may require a level of experimental control that looks very different from the real world (thus lowering external validity).If you are working on a thesis, dissertation, or other formal research project, chances are your advisor or committee will ask you to address the delimitations of your study.When faced with this request, many students respond with a puzzled look and then go on to address what are actually the study’s limitations.You might think that would be a very interesting question, but it will have to wait for another study.In narrowing the focus of your research questions, you limit your ability to answer other questions, and again, that’s ok.You don’t have to (and can’t) do it all in one project.Similarly, the focus of the research problem itself (and the associated research questions) is another common source of delimitations.Here, we will dive a bit deeper into the differences between limitations and delimitations and provide some helpful tips for addressing them in your research project—whether you are working on a quantitative or qualitative study. Defining Boundaries These concepts are easy to get confused because both limitations and delimitations restrict (or limit) the questions you’ll be able to answer with your study, most notably in terms of generalizability.However, the biggest difference between limitations and delimitations is the degree of control you have over them—that is, how much they are based in conscious, intentional choices you made in designing your study.While this may seem obvious, it’s worth acknowledging.There may be other related problems or questions that are equally worthy of study, but you must choose which one(s) you are and which ones you are not looking into with your project.