Answered By: Elyse Wolf
Last Updated: Apr 18, 2019     Views: 23

What is it?

A research gap is a question or a problem that has not been answered by any of the existing studies or research within your field. Sometimes, a research gap exists when there is a concept or new idea that hasn't been studied at all. Sometimes you'll find a research gap if all the existing research is outdated and in need of new/updated research (studies on Internet use in 2001, for example). Or, perhaps a specific population has not been well studied (perhaps there are plenty of studies on teenagers and video games, but not enough studies on toddlers and video games, for example). These are just a few examples, but any research gap you find is an area where more studies and more research need to be conducted. Please view this video clip from our Sage Research Methods database for more helpful information: How Do You Identify Gaps in Literature?

How do I find one?

It will take a lot of research and reading.  You'll need to be very familiar with all the studies that have already been done, and what those studies contributed to the overall body of knowledge about that topic. Make a list of any questions you have about your topic and then do some research to see if those questions have already been answered satisfactorily. If they haven't, perhaps you've discovered a gap!  Here are some strategies you can use to make the most of your time:

  1. One useful trick is to look at the “suggestions for future research” or conclusion section of existing studies on your topic. Many times, the authors will identify areas where they think a research gap exists, and what studies they think need to be done in the future.
     
  2. As you are researching, you will most likely come across citations for seminal works in your research field. These are the research studies that you see mentioned again and again in the literature.  In addition to finding those and reading them, you can use a database like Web of Science to follow the research trail and discover all the other articles that have cited these.  There are instructions in this FAQ on how to do this. One way to quickly track down these seminal works is to use a database like SAGE Navigator, a social sciences literature review tool. It is one of the products available via our SAGE Knowledge database.
     
  3. Read meta-analyses, literature reviews, and systematic reviews on your topic.  These types of papers provide a thorough overview of the literature in your field as well as examining the trends and changes over a long period of time and summarizing previous research findings.
     
    1. In the PsycINFO and PsycARTICLES databases, you can select literature review, systematic review, and meta analysis under the Methodology section in the advanced search to quickly locate these.  This FAQ has instructions on how to find the Methodology section in these two databases.
       
    2. In CINAHL, you can select Systematic review under the Publication Type field in the advanced search. 
       
    3. In Web of Science, check the box beside Review under the Document Type heading in the “Refine Results” sidebar to the right of the list of search hits.
       
    4. If the database you are searching does not offer a way to filter your results by document type, publication type, or methodology in the advanced search, you can include these phrases (“literature reviews,” meta-analyses, or “systematic reviews”) in your search string.  For example, “video games” AND “literature reviews” could be a possible search that you could try.

Please give these suggestions a try and contact a librarian for additional assistance.


Content authored by: GS

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