Research Gaps

1.1 Definition

What is a Research Gap?

This term has been defined in diverse manner but the thematic issue is captured in the THREE definitions indicated below.

Definition 1: Research gap is also referred to as Knowledge gap and it is a question or a problem that has not been answered by any of the prevailing studies or research within a certain domain or field.

Definition 2: A Research gap is defined as a thematic issue with missing or inadequate evidence hence limiting researcher from making conclusive research findings.


Definition 3: Research gap is an unanswered question due to unavailability of value adding information which can underpin the postulation or the claim the researcher has. Research gap is also referred to as literature gap for it is in past literature we identify the missing gaps in certain field.


So, from the three definitions, research gap can assume the following perspectives;

A gap in the field’s knowledge whereby there exists something the field has not or have not yet completed researching on.

i)    A case of unexplained scenario in the natural or physical phenomenon. 
ii)    An area of conflict to what is generally or universally accepted. 
iii)    A current discussion that require an answer in the public domain. 
iv)    Based on something that must be (re)evaluated, changed, transformed, constructed or needs new designs. For example, a research problem can originate from how an idea was conceptualized, a variable was operationalized. 
v)    A conflicting theoretical viewpoint from past studies
vi)    A concern of the applicability of research findings in a different context.

Classification of research gaps

Therefore, a research knowledge will be pegged majorly on THREE mainstream Research gaps, namely;

Theoretical Research gaps

Methodological Research gaps

Contextual Research gaps

NB: All these types of knowledge gaps are clarified at the stage of literature review which entails both theoretical and empirical literature review. So, in short a research problem should aim at addressing a gap in knowledge 

How to identify the research gap

Whether the research gaps are of conceptual, methodological, theoretical or contextual, there are generally six steps that a researcher follow when developing research gap. They are as explained below

Step 1: Conceptual Enquiry  

This is the initial stage of the researcher conceptualizing the idea at hand. The guiding principle in this step is the area of interest. A research problem will originate from a missing gap from the previous studies. Researchers have interrogated almost every aspect of behavior of physical and natural phenomenon since time immemorial and there is no way one can claim of reinventing the wheel by establishing a research problem from nowhere. The new knowledge to be arrived at is always pegged on knowledge gaps. The researcher relies on past Published Literature Materials.

Step 2: Theory Analysis

The researcher narrows down to interrogating existing theories which are relevant to the concept he or she has and wish to pursue. Every concept should be underpinned by specific theory. In this step, the theory identified should cover two or more variables whose relational link is under interrogation.

Step 3: Empirical Analysis 

The researcher reviews past literature by other researchers in similar topical or thematic issues. In this step, the researcher notes down the missing gaps as far as conceptual, methodological and contextual perspectives are concerned.

Step 4: Developing the Gaps

At this point, the researcher build his or her case buy critically pinpointing areas of shortage in knowledge, or aspects that are not authoritatively been studied. At this point, the researcher will make a research gap statement to justify the reason why it is necessary to further on that area.

Step 5: Draft a Conceptual Framework

Using the research gaps already identified in step 4, conceptualize a framework that briefly explains the probable correlational links between the study variables identified. At this step, the researcher will also hypothesize the concepts thereof in his or her study. Further, the researcher will operationalize the study variable to make them measurable.

Step 6: Extraction of General and Specific Objectives

Using the step 5 details, the researcher will establish the relevant research objectives, this objectives are in two classification;

General objectives

Specific objectives

In this step, the researcher will develop the topic of the study that will portray the thematic issue being addressed by the study.

Advantages of identifying research gaps  

As a researcher, whether a professional or an academician, the first thing to do in research process is to work on research gaps first. This implies then that the first chapter to start with is Chapter Two instead of Chapter One. The benefits of this approach are;

1.)    Ensure your research is pegged on theoretical foundation
Establishing the research gaps before any other process in your study helps in ensuring that the study has a theoretical backup. That is this activity assists in ensuring that there is a particular theory underpinning the new concept being interrogated. A good study will always have theoretical gaps being filled

2.)    Fosters clarity of research objectives
Identification of the various research gaps as portrayed by past literature and theories helps in avoiding guesswork or concocted research objectives. Giving research gap identification first priority helps in establishing research objective, which have the good quality of being SMART. So if you practically start your research by writing Chapter one, you miss the point.

3.)    Help in operationalization of study variables
With research gap identification, it is a good opportunity to establish from past literature the best way of gauging or measuring your study variables. As we say in research, if you cannot measure a variable, then it does not exist. It is only during the process of research gap identification that the researcher is in apposition to see how other researchers have measured the same variable and can positively critique that or authoritatively adopt a certain measurement methodology.

4.)    Optimal utilization of research resources
Research gap identification helps in ensuring that the objectives identified are achievable as compared to the available research resources. One of the outcomes of research gap identification is definition of the goal or goals to be achieved. Since they are made clear, allocating of the required resources is done in an optimal manner. This avoids resource wastage

5.)    Improve validity of the research findings
Research gap identification boosts validity of data collection for the exercise directs the researcher on the size of the sample size to consider which a true representative of the population is obviously. So there will be minimization of research related errors such as sampling errors

6.)    Enhance hypothesis testing
Hypothesis testing is key in research for it helps the researcher to confirm his or her postulations or claims. To get the right way of hypothesizing, the research gap identification will eliminate cases of type one or type two errors

7.)    Increases the chances of establishing significant research findings
Every researcher wish to correctly identify the appropriate predictor variables that are going to prove the accuracy of his or her postulations. This is evident whet the research findings portray statistically significant results. This objective can be achieved if the researcher start his or her research proposal by identifying the research gaps first.

8.)    Help in decision making 
If research gap identification is successful, specific objectives are correctly established and the research outcome will be well defined such that no confusion on what to recommend on a particular managerial matter covered by the research findings gotten

9.)    Make it easy to add new knowledge to the already existing one
Research gap identification ensures the research is pegged on theoretical foundation which makes it very easy to establish the new knowledge added in the existing body of knowledge. This is because the conceptual gap being filled by the current study will entail what is doable or practical and observable.

Challenges of identifying research gaps

Although research gap identification is beneficial to all the stakeholders of research, there are challenges that the research faces. These include and not limited to;

1.)    Time consuming. 
A lot of time is needed to identify the research gaps which is of variety

2.)    Lack of past literature. 
Some areas of study are a bit new and they do not have adequate past literature. This makes the research gaps not to be clear and if not clear then the research objectives are not clear too and this interfere with the validity of the research.

3.)    Cumbersome exercise. 
Research gap identification is tiresome and the process may result to unreliable gaps that cannot be relied upon to hypothesis the research problem at hand.

4.) Costly 
unlike in a case where one does not necessarily need to identify the gaps first, doing so has financial implications for literature review will entail using money such as for internet and library services to collect information.

5.)    Controversial views amongst scholars
The subject matter of research gap is not universally appreciated by all scholars or researcher in the various fields. Some acknowledge such gaps exists while others do not think of that. Others differ on what encompasses which type of research gap and this controversy make important findings being ignored or adoption of useless research findings. 

About the Author - Dr Geoffrey Mbuva(PhD-Finance) is a lecturer of Finance and Accountancy at Kenyatta University, Kenya. He is an enthusiast of teaching and making accounting & research tutorials for his readers.