The 7 Research Gaps

Photorealistic portrait of a female academic University Professor starting a 7 black holes and the void.
Fascinated professor staring into the void of research opportunities.

Academics must maintain the validity of their research, and creating false contributions can have dire consequences, such as losing trust from peers and having a publication retracted.

To ensure that your research is relevant, focused, and feasible, you should conduct a thorough literature review to identify any knowledge gaps or areas that have not yet been explored fully. Identifying these gaps will enable you to create new and innovative research to fill them. For example, if you are researching the impact of climate change on bird migration, you may find that many studies have been conducted on the subject, but none have focused on a particular species of bird. This could be an opportunity to explore the topic in more depth.

Finding a gap doesn't necessarily mean choosing a completely different topic from what has already been researched, but rather identifying aspects within existing topics that have yet to be examined in-depth or from different angles.

Prior to moving forward with your research project, it's crucial to verify that a gap in the field is feasible. When designing your study, take into account resources and time constraints to avoid creating unrealistic results.

As part of the research process, I recommend prioritizing honesty and integrity, identifying knowledge gaps and considering their feasibility.

1. Evidence Gap

  • Study results are conclusive but conflicting when viewed abstractly. For example, VR studies may have demonstrated that virtual reality can benefit cognitive development. However, other studies have suggested that it can be detrimental to physical health. This evidence gap requires further exploration to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of VR technology's potential impacts.
  • New research defies conventional wisdom. For example, there has been a growing interest in AI-powered chatbots for healthcare applications such as symptom tracking and personalized health advice. This is a research gap that has yet to be fully explored in the HCI literature, as most existing studies focus on chatbot usability and user experience, rather than their potential applications in healthcare.
  • Provocative exceptions arise. For example, human-computer interaction studies have indicated that assisted technologies, such as voice or gesture-based interaction, can improve user experience and performance. However, there is a lack of research into how these technologies may harm users' privacy. This could be an area of research where more research is needed to understand the potential risks of using such technologies.

Identifying these gaps requires the analysis of each study. Pair the pieces together to identify the conflicting findings.

Example of how to write this:

  • We identified an evidence gap in prior research concerning [X]. Previous research has addressed several aspects of [X]: 1, 2, 3 (w/ citations). However, it has not addressed contradictions in the findings concerning the prior research. We identified this gap: [Describe].
  • Prior research has generally found that [X] is beneficial for [Y], but other studies have found contradictory evidence. Our study sought to bridge this gap by investigating the differences between the prior research findings.

2. Knowledge Gap

Two knowledge void settings are possible:

  1. Desired research results don't exist. Theories or literature from similar fields may not exist in the field. For example, in the games literature, there is a knowledge gap in understanding how cognitive skills such as problem solving and critical thinking can be improved through playing video games. While there have been studies exploring the potential benefits of playing video games, there is still a dearth of research into the cognitive benefits of playing specific types of video games.
  2. Unexpected study results. For instance, one study may have found that playing an action game improved cognitive performance in older adults, while a previous study found that playing a game designed to improve executive functioning had no effect on cognitive abilities.

This is a common gap in previous research.

Example of how to write this:

  • We identified a knowledge gap in prior research concerning [X]. Furthermore, it did not address the subject of [Y]. This includes several new dimensions with research attention in other disciplines. [Y] should be explored to see why [X] has a different effect.
  • Research should consider how [Y] affects the outcomes of [X], such as the impact of cultural differences on the effectiveness of [X].

3. Practical Knowledge Gap

  • Professionals publicly promote one action but perform another. For example, a doctor may publicly encourage patients to make healthy lifestyle choices, but privately prescribe medication as the only solution.
  • Professional practices differ from research or are unstudied. For example, a lawyer may tell a client that they should proceed with a certain strategy in a court case, but the outcome of such a strategy may not have been studied and could have a variety of unexpected outcomes.

The scope and causes of a conflict can be discovered through research. This situation is known as an action-knowledge conflict.

Example of how to write this:

  • Prior research lacked practical expertise and rigour. Unexplored areas of [X] seem to be lacking in [Y] field practice. Theoretical studies dominate [Y]. Thus, [Y] has few practical studies. This matters in [X]. Because [...]. Theory studies focused on [X] & little on [Y].
  • There have been few field studies of [X] in relation to [Y], making it difficult to assess the potential of [Y] to improve [X].

4. Methodological Gap

Researchers may encounter methodological gaps if their sampling, measurement, and data analysis methods are different. Observation methods and self-reported survey responses might differ when studying social behaviour. Methodological problems can lead to inconsistencies and contradictory findings, making it hard for other researchers to validate the study's conclusions. We are better able to understand many phenomena and make better policy decisions if we address these methodological gaps.

  • Addresses issues with existing research methodologies. For example, mixed methodologies can provide a more holistic look at the phenomenon being studied. They can also help to identify underlying factors that might not be seen with one specific methodology.
  • Proposes an innovative research direction. For example, an HCI research direction could explore the impact of AI-enabled technology on user experience, such as voice recognition effects on user engagement and user satisfaction.

New insights can only be gained by changing research methodologies for this gap.

Example of how to write this:

  • We found a methodological gap in past studies. [Y] lacks [X] research designs. We identified little prior research on [X] designs based on our study design. This study investigates [X] research designs. We overcome methodology inadequacies with [Z] to expand research.
  • We employed a longitudinal field study design with qualitative interviews to explore the impact of [X] on [Y], which had only been studied in experimental settings.

5. Empirical Gap

A major challenge for scholars is empirical validation. Literature and expert opinion can lead to theories and models, but they must be tested and proven. Empirical research is characterized by rigorous conception, implementation, and analysis. It is essential for reliable outcomes, but many fields lack it. Many reasons exist for this. Researchers from different domains must collaborate and invest in data gathering and processing infrastructure to close empirical gaps. It aids in social problem-solving and understanding human behaviour.

  • Conflicts were not assessed empirically in any prior research endeavour. For example, the 2016 US presidential election provided an unprecedented opportunity to empirically assess the effects of political discourse polarization on voter behaviour. This was a conflict that had likely not been examined in any prior research endeavour.
  • Research results must be confirmed. To confirm research results, additional studies should be conducted using different methodologies and data sets to corroborate the original findings. This validates that the outcomes of the original study are not due to chance or misinterpretation of the data.

The focus here is on problems that have not been studied.

Example of how to write this:

  • Prior research had an empirical gap. In the context of [Y], there are some unexplored [X] that seem relevant. Because [...], empirical research is crucial. Qualitative research on [X] has thrived. No study has directly assessed [X] through empirical research.
  • No study has looked at the relationship between [X] and [Y] in a laboratory setting, which would provide a more direct measure of the effect of [X] on [Y].

6. Theoretical Gap

  • Related work lacks theory. For example, few studies have sought to explain the observed relationships between diversity and resilience through an underlying theory of the mechanisms at play.
  • Multiple theoretical models explain the same phenomenon causing a theoretical conflict. Examine which theory can best address the research gap. An example of a theoretical conflict in psychology is the debate between behaviourists and cognitive psychologists regarding the primary cause of behaviour. Behaviourists argue that behaviour is primarily caused by external factors, while cognitive psychologists believe behaviour is determined by internal mental processes.

The application of theory to research concerns will allow you to gain fresh insights.

Example of how to write this:

  • Current investigations show that [X] theory is outdated. Some earlier theory seems essential. However, [X] and theoretical development need scrutiny. This is essential because [...]. To strengthen theories, existing theoretical models must incorporate research in [Y].
  • [X] theory has traditionally failed to consider the role of [ Y ] in the decision-making process, a factor that has been increasingly shown to be essential in the past decade.

7. Population Gap

Underserved populations are always understudied. For example, people of colour are disproportionately underrepresented in clinical trials and medical research studies. This results in an inadequate understanding of their needs and health risks. Research on under-represented or under-researched populations can include:

  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Etc

These groups are often neglected or overlooked in research, and their experiences and perspectives can provide invaluable insights into a wide range of topics. Addressing gaps like this will help us better understand these groups' needs and perspectives. We can use this knowledge to inform better policy decisions and create more equitable societies.


  • Some sub-populations have been overlooked and under-researched. It is important to investigate the [X] in the context of the [Y]. It is crucial to investigate this group because [...] Previous research has mainly focused on [Z].
  • Research into the [X] group has only recently gained traction, with studies such as [study], which identified [findings] related to [Y].

Further reading

Miles, D. A. (2017, August). A taxonomy of research gaps: Identifying and defining the seven research gaps. In Doctoral student workshop: finding research gaps-research methods and strategies, Dallas, Texas (pp. 1-15).