Psychology: Research Limitations

Being able to explain the limitations to your proposed research is another way to show a potential thesis director that you thoroughly understand your topic and your proposed investigation.

When studying human subjects, there will always be compromises.

Dirty windows are better than no windows.

Lizette Peterson, in accepting the Early Career Award in Pediatric Psychology

It is understood that:

  • You cannot place participants at more than minimal risk
  • Harvard's CUHS must approve your work prior to any data collection
  • You cannot have access to every possible piece of information that may impact your results

Other limitations specific to thesis research include:

  • Time (generally 9-12 months)
  • Budget (compensation for research subjects is typically quite small, such as a drawing for a gift card)
  • Access to samples
  • Restricted tests (there are many psychometric tests that cannot be purchased without a license in psychology or a related mental health field)
  • Access to data covered under HIPPA
  • Level of training needed to learn specific therapies or research techniques

In the final section of your proposal, you should describe these limitations, explaining any steps you will be taking to ameliorate the shortcomings in your design.

You cannot, however, simply collect data from a sample that is too small to provide sufficient statistical power to test your hypothesis - you must show that you have adjusted your research design or modified your research in a thoughtful, appropriate manner.

By carefully considering any research limitations now, you will save time and frustration later.