What is the Scope of the Study?
The scope of the study refers to the boundaries within which your research project will be performed; this is sometimes also called the scope of research. To define the scope of the study is to define all aspects that will be considered in your research project. It is also just as important to make clear what aspects will not be covered; i.e. what is outside of the scope of the study.
Why is the Scope of the Study Important?
The scope of the study is always considered and agreed upon in the early stages of the project, before any data collection or experimental work has started. This is important because it focuses the work of the proposed study down to what is practically achievable within a given timeframe.
A well-defined research or study scope enables a researcher to give clarity to the study outcomes that are to be investigated. It makes clear why specific data points have been collected whilst others have been excluded.
Without this, it is difficult to define an end point for a research project since no limits have been defined on the work that could take place. Similarly, it can also make the approach to answering a research question too open ended.
How do you Write the Scope of the Study?
In order to write the scope of the study that you plan to perform, you must be clear on the research parameters that you will and won’t consider. These parameters usually consist of the sample size, the duration, inclusion and exclusion criteria, the methodology and any geographical or monetary constraints.
Each of these parameters will have limits placed on them so that the study can practically be performed, and the results interpreted relative to the limitations that have been defined. These parameters will also help to shape the direction of each research question you consider.
The term limitations’ is often used together with the scope of the study to describe the constraints of any parameters that are considered and also to clarify which parameters have not been considered at all. Make sure you get the balance right here between not making the scope too broad and unachievable, and it not being too restrictive, resulting in a lack of useful data.
The sample size is a commonly used parameter in the definition of the research scope. For example, a research project involving human participants may define at the start of the study that 100 participants will be recruited. This number will be determined based on an understanding of the difficulty in recruiting participants to studies and an agreement of an acceptable period of time in which to recruit this number.
Any results that are obtained by the research group can then be interpreted by others with the knowledge that the study was capped to 100 participants and an acceptance of this as a limitation of the study. In other words, it is acknowledged that recruiting 100 rather than 1,000 participants has limited the amount of data that could be collected, however this is an acceptable limitation due to the known difficulties in recruiting so many participants (e.g. the significant period of time it would take and the costs associated with this).
Example of a Scope of the Study
The follow is a (hypothetical) example of the definition of the scope of the study, with the research question investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.
Whilst the immediate negative health problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been well documented, the impact of the virus on the mental health (MH) of young adults (age 18-24 years) is poorly understood. The aim of this study is to report on MH changes in population group due to the pandemic.
The scope of the study is limited to recruiting 100 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 24 who will be contacted using their university email accounts. This recruitment period will last for a maximum of 2 months and will end when either 100 volunteers have been recruited or 2 months have passed. Each volunteer to the study will be asked to complete a short questionnaire in order to evaluate any changes in their MH.
From this example we can immediately see that the scope of the study has placed a constraint on the sample size to be used and/or the time frame for recruitment of volunteers. It has also introduced a limitation by only opening recruitment to people that have university emails; i.e. anyone that does not attend university will be excluded from this study.
This may be an important factor when interpreting the results of this study; the comparison of MH during the pandemic between those that do and do not attend university, is therefore outside the scope of the study here. We are also told that the methodology used to assess any changes in MH are via a questionnaire. This is a clear definition of how the outcome measure will be investigated and any other methods are not within the scope of research and their exclusion may be a limitation of the study.
The scope of the study is important to define as it enables a researcher to focus their research to within achievable parameters.