Identifying a research gap for your thesis or dissertation

If you have an upcoming dissertation, thesis, or research project, it is crucial to find an appropriate research gap as one of your initial and significant steps. This article will provide you with a simple technique for discovering high-quality and unique research gaps in a time-effective manner. Because finding a relevant research gap first is one of the best thesis writing tips to give in the beginning!

What is a research gap?

To begin, let’s establish what we mean by the term “research gap” so that we are all on the same page. The expression is often used loosely by both students and academics. Essentially, a research gap is a space where there is a deficiency of reliable and widely accepted research on a particular topic, issue, or occurrence. This implies that there is an absence of established knowledge and, as a result, further investigation is required.

The fundamental idea is that a research gap indicates an absence of well-established understanding concerning a particular subject. With this absence, there is a chance for researchers like yourself to step in and bridge the gap.

Is it the same as a research topic? Not entirely, they are related though. A research gap pertains to an area where there is still no conclusive research whereas a research topic identifies the focus of a particular study. Though separate in concept, they are connected because research gaps are the starting point of research topics. Hence, by determining a clear research gap, one can establish the foundation from which a research topic for a particular study can be formed. While a single study may not completely resolve the entire research gap, it can contribute to it.

6 steps towards identifying a research gap

In order to discover potential research topics, it is essential to understand what a research gap is and how to find it. It is important to note that there are various ways to find a research gap, and this is just one of them. Although it may not be the best method, it is a relatively quick way to identify opportunities.

Step 1: Focus on an area of interest

The first step is to choose a general area of interest. It is unnecessary to be very specific at this stage, but it is vital to ensure that the university approves of the chosen area. Many students make the mistake of exploring a topic without checking if it meets the required criteria.

Step 2: Scoping search

In order to begin your research on a particular area of interest, the second step is to conduct a preliminary search of academic literature using Google Scholar. This tool enables you to search for academic materials on a wide range of topics by utilizing Google’s advanced search capabilities. Although it’s not the definitive search tool, it is a good starting point. When you enter Google Scholar, you should use relevant keywords that are specific to your area of interest. Try experimenting with different keywords to see which ones yield the most relevant results. Once you conduct initial searches, you will need to refine the results by choosing the most recent papers from the filtering options in the top left of the screen.

It is generally a good idea to limit your search results to the last few years, particularly if you are researching a rapidly-evolving topic. However, there may be instances where your search needs to be more inclusive.

Step 3: Evaluate and narrow down articles that capture your attention.

After conducting multiple searches with varying keywords and phrases, you should skim through the results to determine which articles are most relevant and interesting to you. At this point, you may solely observe the titles and abstracts without delving into the actual content. From there, choose around 5 to 10 articles that pique your interest and access them.

Step 4: Selective reading

In Step 4, you should begin reading your selected articles. You do not need to read them in their entirety, but instead focus on certain sections such as the abstract, introduction, and discussion or conclusion. These sections will provide you with a general understanding of the study’s context, research aims, and findings. Skimming through these sections for each article on your list should not take long and will save you from going into excessive detail.

Step 5: FRIN

Step 5 involves searching for specific phrases known as FRIN (further research is needed) in the articles on your shortlist. The FRIN section is where researchers explain what other researchers can do to build on their study or research area. It provides fresh opportunities for novel research and is usually found towards the end of the article. While it doesn’t provide a complete list of research gaps, it highlights avenues worth exploring and helps shortcut the gap-hunting process. Examples of FRIN phrases include future research, research opportunities, and research directions.

To find interesting research gaps, use the FRIN-seeking process on your shortlisted articles. Be prepared to read through a large number of articles and allow your area of interest to shift naturally. Once you have shortlisted potential research gaps, double-check Google Scholar to ensure that no fresh studies have recently addressed the gap. However, even if someone has already addressed the gap, there could still be a unique angle that you could explore. It is important to determine your university’s specific requirements for originality, which may differ based on the level of study. You can get a clear understanding of your university’s expectations by reviewing past dissertations and theses for your specific programme, which are available in the university library or by asking the faculty.

Step 6: Evaluate and decide

Once you have identified several possible research gaps and topics that interest you, it is necessary to carefully assess them to determine the best option. This evaluation process requires consideration of various factors such as the originality and potential value of the topic, the accessibility of necessary data, potential costs associated with data collection and analysis, time constraints, and the availability of a supportive supervisor.


The post covers a lot of information. Here are the main points:

  • A research gap refers to an area lacking solid, agreed-upon research on a specific topic, issue, or phenomenon.
  • Unique research topics arise from research gaps, so it is important to first identify high-quality research gaps before defining a topic.
  • To find potential research gaps, search for recent journal articles on Google Scholar, paying attention to the FRIN section to identify new opportunities.
  • Once a shortlist of potential research gaps and topic ideas is created, systematically evaluate them using a broad set of criteria.