Language for discussing the limitations of your research – part 2

Language for discussing the limitations of your research – part 2

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In this article, we will look at more language for talking about things negatively. We have included useful synonyms to help give your writing variety. When writing an academic article, it is important use a range of language and avoids repetition in order to keep your reader engaged.

Adverbs with a similar meaning to ‘only’

merely (meaning: only OR simply)

  • This adverb can be used to say emphasise how unimportant or small something is. It can also be used to say a situation is not as serious, negative or important others may think.
  • The two letter ‘e’s in this word create different vowel sounds – /ˈmɪəli/

E.g. We can note a distinct change in voter attitude merely by looking at recent polls. 

solely (meaning: only – and not involving anyone/anything else

  • The two letter ‘l’s combine to make one /l/ sound – /ˈsəʊlli/

E.g. I worked solely on this project for six months. 

purely (meaning: completely, only and for no other reason)

  • Pronunciation: There is an intrusive /j/ sound in this word, and the ‘r’ is silent. – /ˈpjʊəli/

E.g. Personal details were taken for purely scientific purposes. 


  • used to say how simple basic or easy something is, similar to ‘just’

E.g. We simply placed the samples in a clean vial and stored them until it was time for analysis.

  • When something is done in a way that is easy to understand and not complicated

E.g. The report explains the situation simply and without the use of jargon.

  • in a way that is plain or very ordinary

E.g. They were simply dressed, in practical, hard-wearing clothes.

  • (in spoken English) used to emphasize the speaker’s statement

E.g. The situation is simply untenable and and must be rectified!

  • with the exception of (meaning: except – used to show that something/someone is not included)

E.g. With the exception of the capital, all major cities in the country are experiencing issues with distribution.

Adjectives for saying things are incorrect

erroneous (meaning: incorrect or based on incorrect information)

  • The first sound in this word is /ɪ / (not /e/) – /ɪˈrəʊniəs/

E.g. It was recently discovered that previous studies used erroneous data.

misguided (meaning: based on opinions or judgements that are incorrect – often used to describe an action or an idea)

  • This adjective is often used with the following adverbs: dangerously, deeply, fundamentally, profoundly, somewhat, rather
  • This adjective is often used with the following nouns: an impression, a perception, an assumption, a belief, a notion, an attempt, loyalty

E.g. Certain media outlets have supported deeply misguided perceptions regarding the true impact of immigration on local resources. 

unfounded (meaning: not based on evidence or facts)

  • This adjective is often used with the following adverbs: largely, completely, entirely, wholly
  • This adjective is often used with the following nouns: rumour, speculation, assumption, belief, claim, concern, fear, accusation, allegation, criticism

E.g. The recent criticism of their methodology appears to be wholly unfounded.

Adjectives for talking about a lack of something

Insufficient (meaning: less than is needed OR not strong or important enough – similar to ‘inadequate’)

E.g. There was insufficient evidence to fully prove or disprove our hypothesis. 

meagre (meaning: less than or smaller than is wanted or needed – and often poor in quality)

  • Pronunciation: This word contains a long /i:/ sound, and the ‘r’ is usually not pronounced – /ˈmiːɡə(r)/

E.g. There was a meagre water supply and a severe lack of sanitation.

scant (meaning: very little/few and not as much as is needed)

E.g. There remains scant evidence to support this claim. 

scarce (meaning: when there is not very much of something – often used to describe resources)

  • This word contains the/eə/ sound (not the /ɑː/ sound) – /skeəs/

E.g. Due to the extended period of drought, water was scarce.

Examples of this language in use

This extract from different parts of the same article show how some of this language can be used.

2.2. Empirical analysis

The study analyses the trends of economic growth amongst EAC member countries to identify whether their economies are converging or diverging using the Coefficient of variation (CV) and weighted beta tests. The study has chosen GDP as an indicator of economic growth because it is renowned as the best measure in displaying the economic performance of a country [61]. It summarizes all economic activities in particular units of money over a specified period. The total GDP is then decomposed by value adding activities to pinpoint activities which either decrease or increase “income-inequality.” The decomposition analysis also allows assessment of contributions to GDP growth and identification of individual value adding activities which have an equalizing effect on GDP per capita [62].


The individual value adding activities were tested if they increase or decrease income inequality using the approach proposed by Adams [63]. This was useful because conventionally, most studies have often attempted to evaluate the distributional impact of certain types of GDP sources by merely comparing the individual shares or sizes of distribution of the sources with that of the total GDP as a whole [63,64]. Because it neglects the twin issues of GDP weights and covariance between its sources, any approach, which solely compares the size distribution of one particular source with that of total GDP, is likely to arrive at erroneous conclusions regarding the distributional impact of that particular source or value adding activity [64,65].

… …

The decomposition of total GDP by value adding activities was deemed important because there have been emerged arguments which indicated changing patterns and contribution of key value adding activities in EAC. EADB [66], for example, reported that with the exception of Tanzania the contribution of the industrial sector to regional GDP growth has generally slowed down in almost all EAC countries. The declining contribution of the industrial sector in EAC is attributed to insufficient investment in industrial transformation by the East Africa Development Bank (EADB) [ibid].

This extract is taken from: 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 describing the limitations of your research, Language for negative results
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