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Importance of writing the Scope and Delimitations of your study

A different level of detail is required for different sections of a research paper or different chapters of a thesis. For example, the Materials and Methods section of a research paper or thesis would describe what was done and how it was done in substantial detail. However, in addition to providing detailed information where relevant, it is important to state the broader parameters and boundaries of the research. This forms the scope and delimitations of a study and helps to contextualise the research for the reader so they can better anticipate the extent of the details to come.

Scope explained

The main purpose of stating the scope of the study is to set the context early on so that readers can interpret the results and discussions with the given context in mind.

The scope of the study is given in broad terms and identifies any of the following elements:

Element Examples
Area or region
  • A study carried out in winter
  • A study carried out over five years
  • A study carried out in a lab
  • Adults between 41 and 60 years old
  • A given species of insects
  • A given species of bacteria 
  • A pilot study as a prelude to a more detailed study
  • A rapid survey to plan a more detailed survey

Delimitations explained

You could think of delimitations as EITHER of the following:

  • Stating what was not done 
  • A more detailed and variant exposition of the scope, which is expressed in terms of exclusion rather than inclusion – i.e. a description of what is not included or considered or studied within the given piece of research

Some examples of delimitations are:

Type of Study Example of Delimitation
Questionnaire survey Incomplete or illegible forms were discarded.
Interview Participants who had been residents in the chosen area for less than one year were excluded. 
Experiment Samples with impurities amounting to more than 0.1% by weight were not analysed.

 Importance of stating scope and delimitations

  • Clarifying the scope and delimitations of a study is helpful for interpreting the results because the results are influenced by the scope and materials (delimitations). For instance, agricultural field experiments conducted under irrigated conditions can give very different results from the experiments conducted without irrigation.
  • Scope and delimitations also help to make the study more replicable by specifying what was excluded. For example, in the example mentioned earlier for delimitations, the results can be very different if samples with greater impurities are not discarded.
  • In the field of medicine, the gender bias is becoming increasingly evident, which is why it is becoming important to state – even when a sample of subjects was selected at random – the proportion of men and women in the sample.

Writing the scope and delimitations in the paper

Considering that it is given in broader terms, the scope can form part of the Introduction, whereas delimitations, being more detailed, rightfully belong to the Methods section.

Delimitations vs. limitations

Finally, note that delimitations of a study are different from its limitations: the latter can be thought of as shortcomings, typically mentioned to address in anticipation any objections from the reviewers of a manuscript. (Learn more about limitations here: How to write the Limitations of your research)

End note

The above explanation and examples should convince you of the need to include scope and delimitations while writing a research paper, a thesis or even a research proposal. Do not hesitate to include them because if you do not point them out, somebody else will!


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