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Research Process

These pages offer an introduction to the research process at a very general level.

What is a ‘gap in the literature’?

The gap, also considered the missing piece or pieces in the research literature, is the area that has not yet been explored or is under-explored. This could be a population or sample (size, type, location, etc.), research method, data collection and/or analysis, or other research variables or conditions.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that just because you identify a gap in the research, it doesn't necessarily mean that your research question is worthy of exploration. You will want to make sure that your research will have valuable practical and/or theoretical implications. In other words, answering the research question could either improve existing practice and/or inform professional decision-making (Applied Degree), or it could revise, build upon, or create theoretical frameworks informing research design and practice (Ph.D Degree). See the Dissertation Center for additional information about dissertation criteria at NU.

For a additional information on gap statements, see the following:

How do you identify the gaps?

Conducting an exhaustive literature review is your first step. As you search for journal articles, you will need to read critically across the breadth of the literature to identify these gaps. You goal should be to find a ‘space’ or opening for contributing new research. The first step is gathering a broad range of research articles on your topic. You may want to look for research that approaches the topic from a variety of methods – qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. 

See the videos below for further instruction on identifying a gap in the literature.

Identifying a Gap in the Literature - Dr. Laurie Bedford

How Do You Identify Gaps in Literature? - SAGE Research Methods

Literature Gap & Future Research - Library Workshop

This workshop presents effective search techniques for identifying a gap in the literature and recommendations for future research.

Where can you locate research gaps?

As you begin to gather the literature, you will want to critically read for what has, and has not, been learned from the research. Use the Discussion and Future Research sections of the articles to understand what the researchers have found and where they point out future or additional research areas. This is similar to identifying a gap in the literature, however, future research statements come from a single study rather than an exhaustive search. You will want to check the literature to see if those research questions have already been answered.

Screenshot of an article PDF with the "Suggestions for Future Research and Conclusion" section highlighted.

Continue to ask critical questions of your topic – who, what, when, where and how – about the population or setting, conditions or variables, methods or analysis, and measurement or outcomes. Also consider what has not been explored in the study and what may be a possible ‘gap’ or opening for your potential research and contribution to the topic. Use organizational tools such as charts or Venn diagrams to map out the research you find from scholarly articles. These methods may be helpful to organize what information you have found and what is shared among the literature, as well as to identify what areas may be missing in the research.

Roadrunner Search

Identifying the gap in the research relies on an exhaustive review of the literature. Remember, researchers may not explicitly state that a gap in the literature exists; you may need to thoroughly review and assess the research to make that determination yourself.

However, there are techniques that you can use when searching in NavigatorSearch to help identify gaps in the literature. You may use search terms such as "literature gap" or "future research" "along with your subject keywords to pinpoint articles that include these types of statements.

Screenshot of the Roadrunner Advanced Search with an example search for "future research" or gap.

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