Language for discussing the limitations of your research – part 1

Language for discussing the limitations of your research – part 1

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When discussing research, data and outcomes, it is often necessary to use language that accurately describes aspects of your work in a negative sense.

Nouns to discuss things that do not meet needs or expectations

a negative trend (meaning: a development or change that creates a harmful or downward result)

also: a downward trend

E.g. We have observed a negative trend in inflation rates.

a deficit

  • (in economics) when a company or country has a deficit, they have spent or owe more money than they have

This noun is often used with the following adjectives: forecasted, projected, estimated, substantial, excessive, cumulative, widening

E.g. The company has been in deficit for a number of years.

  • a lack of something (often a skill, ability or quality)

E.g. We noted a cognitive deficit after consistent sleep deprivation. 

  • a trade deficit (meaning: when a country has more imports than exports)

also: trade gap

E.g. Trade deficits in this region are at an all-time high. 

  • a shortfall (meaning: a lack of something that is needed or expected)

E.g. There was an unprecedented shortfall in the availability of certain vegetables. 


  • This noun is often used with these verbs: highlight, illustrate, reveal, demonstrate, expose, recognise, acknowledge, address, overcome
  • when something is not good enough for a particular situation

E.g. Due to the inadequacy of the equipment, the experiment was abandoned.

  • when someone is not confident about their abilities

E.g. Prospective parents often struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

  • when there is a lack of something or a fault in something (usually plural)

E.g. There were substantial inadequacies in the reporting system, which resulted in numerous patient records being misplaced.

inequality (meaning: when people are not equal because some have more money, power and opportunities than others – often the result of an unfair situation)

  • There are many different types of inequality, such as: social, economic, socioeconomic, educational, ethnic, racial, sexual, structural, environmental, geographical, health, income/pay
  • This noun is often used with the following adjectives: existing, current, increasing, widening, increasing, rising, global, regional

E.g. We will look at way of dressing the inequalities in education across different boroughs.

disparity (meaning: when there is a difference between things that is often related to an unfair situation)

E.g. They were questioned regarding the disparity in salary between male and female employees. 

discrepancy (meaning: when there is a difference between two things that should be the same)

E.g. When questioned separately, we found several discrepancies in their accounts of the event. 

Verbs to talk about things getting worse

to deteriorate (meaning: to get worse)

E.g. They were no longer able to travel due to her deteriorating health. 

to decline

  • to become worse, weaker, less/fewer or smaller

E.g. His popularity declined following the scandal.

  • to say no politely and refuse an invitation, offer or request

E.g. Though they declined to comment on the rumours, it was clear that they were true. 

to degrade

  • to treat someone badly so that they appear not worthy of respect

E.g. The book degrades people from the region by portraying them as lazy and incompetent.

  • to make something worse in quality

E.g. The quality of healthcare provision has degraded drastically in recent months.

  • (in chemistry) to change something so that is has a simpler chemical form

E.g. The sample product degraded into proteins and acids. 

to depreciate

  • to lose value over time

Due to an oversaturated market, the property has depreciated in value.

  • to make something appear to have no value

E.g. By claiming the success as their own, the organisation depreciated the contribution of the external research team. 

to recede

  • This verb is often used with the following nouns connected with water: flood, sea, tide, wave, water
  • This verb is often used with the following nouns with negative meanings: threat, fear, pain, danger
  • to move back from a high level or a position

E.g. A few days after the storm, the river had receded

  • to get smaller and weaker (often when talking about a feeling or problem)

E.g. The threat of conflict has receded for the moment.

Examples of this language in use

Examples of language from this article can be found in the following extract.

  1. Discussion

The findings indicate negative trends of net trade for EAC countries. However, negative trends of net trade or current trade deficits cannot necessarily imply deteriorating economies as it can also be an indicative of a strong economy. Trade deficit can also lead to stronger economic growth in the future, especially when coupled with prudent investment decisions [83]. When the economy of a country grows and strengthens, consumers have more wealth to purchase goods from producing countries, which will increase the trade deficit. A strong economy also attracts foreign investment, further enlarging the trade deficit. Thus, a large trade deficit can also indicate economic growth. Even though the changing trend from substantially higher to relatively lower deficits for Tanzania that has occurred between 2013to 2019 deserves noting. One may associate it with the key milestone that the country has achieved in July 2020, when it formally graduated from low-income country to lower-middle-income country status.


Yet, further analysis indicated that in the long term the EAC economies were generally growing in terms of GDP per capita, except for South Sudan which showed a declining trend based on the 2007–2014 data. However, inequality in GDP per capita was increasing in the long term (when South Sudan was excluded) but decreasing in the short to medium term (when South Sudan was included). These results in turn support the argument of Ejones et al. [16] who affirm that RTA or regionalism has heterogeneous effects on economic growth in the EAC. Their findings seem to recognize the on-going efforts to leverage integrated economic development through EAF. Based on the results of analysis, the current study underscores the need to address the issue of huge disparity in GDP per capita which can be quite challenging but as Amogne and Hagiwara [84], argue RTAs can result into positive distributional effects. Of course this will depend on the pre-existing trade share between member countries: the larger the share is, the larger the net trade creation and the smaller the trade diversion effect.

This extract is taken from: Article Source: Trade, GDP value adding activities and income inequality in the East African community
Kadigi RMJ (2022) Trade, GDP value adding activities and income inequality in the East African community. PLOS Sustainability and Transformation 1(12): e0000036. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pstr.0000036

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Lesson tags: English for scientists, Language for discussing limitations of research, Negative results
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