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The Research Gap (Literature Gap)

Everything you need to know to find a quality research gap

By: Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | Expert Reviewed By: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | November 2022

If you’re just starting out in research, chances are you’ve heard about the elusive research gap (also called a literature gap). In this post, we’ll explore the tricky topic of research gaps. We’ll explain what a research gap is, look at the four most common types of research gaps, and unpack how you can go about finding a suitable research gap for your dissertation, thesis or research project.

Overview: Research Gap 101

  • What is a research gap
  • Four common types of research gaps
  • Practical examples
  • How to find research gaps
  • Recap & key takeaways

What (exactly) is a research gap?

Well, at the simplest level, a research gap is essentially an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space. Alternatively, a research gap can also exist when there’s already a fair deal of existing research, but where the findings of the studies pull in different directions , making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

For example, let’s say your research aims to identify the cause (or causes) of a particular disease. Upon reviewing the literature, you may find that there’s a body of research that points toward cigarette smoking as a key factor – but at the same time, a large body of research that finds no link between smoking and the disease. In that case, you may have something of a research gap that warrants further investigation.

Now that we’ve defined what a research gap is – an unanswered question or unresolved problem – let’s look at a few different types of research gaps.

A research gap is essentially an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, reflecting a lack of existing research.

Types of research gaps

While there are many different types of research gaps, the four most common ones we encounter when helping students at Grad Coach are as follows:

  • The classic literature gap
  • The disagreement gap
  • The contextual gap, and
  • The methodological gap

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1. The Classic Literature Gap

First up is the classic literature gap. This type of research gap emerges when there’s a new concept or phenomenon that hasn’t been studied much, or at all. For example, when a social media platform is launched, there’s an opportunity to explore its impacts on users, how it could be leveraged for marketing, its impact on society, and so on. The same applies for new technologies, new modes of communication, transportation, etc.

Classic literature gaps can present exciting research opportunities , but a drawback you need to be aware of is that with this type of research gap, you’ll be exploring completely new territory . This means you’ll have to draw on adjacent literature (that is, research in adjacent fields) to build your literature review, as there naturally won’t be very many existing studies that directly relate to the topic. While this is manageable, it can be challenging for first-time researchers, so be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.

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2. The Disagreement Gap

As the name suggests, the disagreement gap emerges when there are contrasting or contradictory findings in the existing research regarding a specific research question (or set of questions). The hypothetical example we looked at earlier regarding the causes of a disease reflects a disagreement gap.

Importantly, for this type of research gap, there needs to be a relatively balanced set of opposing findings . In other words, a situation where 95% of studies find one result and 5% find the opposite result wouldn’t quite constitute a disagreement in the literature. Of course, it’s hard to quantify exactly how much weight to give to each study, but you’ll need to at least show that the opposing findings aren’t simply a corner-case anomaly .

research gap or problem

3. The Contextual Gap

The third type of research gap is the contextual gap. Simply put, a contextual gap exists when there’s already a decent body of existing research on a particular topic, but an absence of research in specific contexts .

For example, there could be a lack of research on:

  • A specific population – perhaps a certain age group, gender or ethnicity
  • A geographic area – for example, a city, country or region
  • A certain time period – perhaps the bulk of the studies took place many years or even decades ago and the landscape has changed.

The contextual gap is a popular option for dissertations and theses, especially for first-time researchers, as it allows you to develop your research on a solid foundation of existing literature and potentially even use existing survey measures.

Importantly, if you’re gonna go this route, you need to ensure that there’s a plausible reason why you’d expect potential differences in the specific context you choose. If there’s no reason to expect different results between existing and new contexts, the research gap wouldn’t be well justified. So, make sure that you can clearly articulate why your chosen context is “different” from existing studies and why that might reasonably result in different findings.

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4. The Methodological Gap

Last but not least, we have the methodological gap. As the name suggests, this type of research gap emerges as a result of the research methodology or design of existing studies. With this approach, you’d argue that the methodology of existing studies is lacking in some way , or that they’re missing a certain perspective.

For example, you might argue that the bulk of the existing research has taken a quantitative approach, and therefore there is a lack of rich insight and texture that a qualitative study could provide. Similarly, you might argue that existing studies have primarily taken a cross-sectional approach , and as a result, have only provided a snapshot view of the situation – whereas a longitudinal approach could help uncover how constructs or variables have evolved over time.

research gap or problem

Practical Examples

Let’s take a look at some practical examples so that you can see how research gaps are typically expressed in written form. Keep in mind that these are just examples – not actual current gaps (we’ll show you how to find these a little later!).

Context: Healthcare

Despite extensive research on diabetes management, there’s a research gap in terms of understanding the effectiveness of digital health interventions in rural populations (compared to urban ones) within Eastern Europe.

Context: Environmental Science

While a wealth of research exists regarding plastic pollution in oceans, there is significantly less understanding of microplastic accumulation in freshwater ecosystems like rivers and lakes, particularly within Southern Africa.

Context: Education

While empirical research surrounding online learning has grown over the past five years, there remains a lack of comprehensive studies regarding the effectiveness of online learning for students with special educational needs.

As you can see in each of these examples, the author begins by clearly acknowledging the existing research and then proceeds to explain where the current area of lack (i.e., the research gap) exists.

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How To Find A Research Gap

Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of the different types of research gaps, the next question is of course, “how do you find these research gaps?” .

Well, we cover the process of how to find original, high-value research gaps in a separate post . But, for now, I’ll share a basic two-step strategy here to help you find potential research gaps.

As a starting point, you should find as many literature reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses as you can, covering your area of interest. Additionally, you should dig into the most recent journal articles to wrap your head around the current state of knowledge. It’s also a good idea to look at recent dissertations and theses (especially doctoral-level ones). Dissertation databases such as ProQuest, EBSCO and Open Access are a goldmine for this sort of thing. Importantly, make sure that you’re looking at recent resources (ideally those published in the last year or two), or the gaps you find might have already been plugged by other researchers.

Once you’ve gathered a meaty collection of resources, the section that you really want to focus on is the one titled “ further research opportunities ” or “further research is needed”. In this section, the researchers will explicitly state where more studies are required – in other words, where potential research gaps may exist. You can also look at the “ limitations ” section of the studies, as this will often spur ideas for methodology-based research gaps.

By following this process, you’ll orient yourself with the current state of research , which will lay the foundation for you to identify potential research gaps. You can then start drawing up a shortlist of ideas and evaluating them as candidate topics . But remember, make sure you’re looking at recent articles – there’s no use going down a rabbit hole only to find that someone’s already filled the gap 🙂

Let’s Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Here are the key takeaways:

  • A research gap is an unanswered question or unresolved problem in a field, which reflects a lack of existing research in that space.
  • The four most common types of research gaps are the classic literature gap, the disagreement gap, the contextual gap and the methodological gap. 
  • To find potential research gaps, start by reviewing recent journal articles in your area of interest, paying particular attention to the FRIN section .

If you’re keen to learn more about research gaps and research topic ideation in general, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . Alternatively, if you’re looking for 1-on-1 support with your dissertation, thesis or research project, be sure to check out our private coaching service .

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This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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32 Comments

ZAID AL-ZUBAIDI

This post is REALLY more than useful, Thank you very very much

Abdu Ebrahim

Very helpful specialy, for those who are new for writing a research! So thank you very much!!

Zinashbizu

I found it very helpful article. Thank you.

fanaye

Just at the time when I needed it, really helpful.

Tawana Ngwenya

Very helpful and well-explained. Thank you

ALI ZULFIQAR

VERY HELPFUL

A.M Kwankwameri

We’re very grateful for your guidance, indeed we have been learning a lot from you , so thank you abundantly once again.

ahmed

hello brother could you explain to me this question explain the gaps that researchers are coming up with ?

Aliyu Jibril

Am just starting to write my research paper. your publication is very helpful. Thanks so much

haziel

How to cite the author of this?

kiyyaa

your explanation very help me for research paper. thank you

Bhakti Prasad Subedi

Very important presentation. Thanks.

Best Ideas. Thank you.

Getachew Gobena

I found it’s an excellent blog to get more insights about the Research Gap. I appreciate it!

Juliana Otabil

Kindly explain to me how to generate good research objectives.

Nathan Mbandama

This is very helpful, thank you

Salome Makhuduga Serote

How to tabulate research gap

Favour

Very helpful, thank you.

Vapeuk

Thanks a lot for this great insight!

Effie

This is really helpful indeed!

Guillermo Dimaligalig

This article is really helpfull in discussing how will we be able to define better a research problem of our interest. Thanks so much.

Yisa Usman

Reading this just in good time as i prepare the proposal for my PhD topic defense.

lucy kiende

Very helpful Thanks a lot.

TOUFIK

Thank you very much

Dien Kei

This was very timely. Kudos

Takele Gezaheg Demie

Great one! Thank you all.

Efrem

Thank you very much.

Rev Andy N Moses

This is so enlightening. Disagreement gap. Thanks for the insight.

How do I Cite this document please?

Emmanuel

Research gap about career choice given me Example bro?

Mihloti

I found this information so relevant as I am embarking on a Masters Degree. Thank you for this eye opener. It make me feel I can work diligently and smart on my research proposal.

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Identifying Research Gaps to Pursue Innovative Research

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This article is an excerpt from a lecture given by my Ph.D. guide, a researcher in public health. She advised us on how to identify research gaps to pursue innovative research in our fields.

What is a Research Gap?

Today we are talking about the research gap: what is it, how to identify it, and how to make use of it so that you can pursue innovative research. Now, how many of you have ever felt you had discovered a new and exciting research question , only to find that it had already been written about? I have experienced this more times than I can count. Graduate studies come with pressure to add new knowledge to the field. We can contribute to the progress and knowledge of humanity. To do this, we need to first learn to identify research gaps in the existing literature.

A research gap is, simply, a topic or area for which missing or insufficient information limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question. It should not be confused with a research question, however. For example, if we ask the research question of what the healthiest diet for humans is, we would find many studies and possible answers to this question. On the other hand, if we were to ask the research question of what are the effects of antidepressants on pregnant women, we would not find much-existing data. This is a research gap. When we identify a research gap, we identify a direction for potentially new and exciting research.

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How to Identify Research Gap?

Considering the volume of existing research, identifying research gaps can seem overwhelming or even impossible. I don’t have time to read every paper published on public health. Similarly, you guys don’t have time to read every paper. So how can you identify a research gap?

There are different techniques in various disciplines, but we can reduce most of them down to a few steps, which are:

  • Identify your key motivating issue/question
  • Identify key terms associated with this issue
  • Review the literature, searching for these key terms and identifying relevant publications
  • Review the literature cited by the key publications which you located in the above step
  • Identify issues not addressed by  the literature relating to your critical  motivating issue

It is the last step which we all find the most challenging. It can be difficult to figure out what an article is  not  saying. I like to keep a list of notes of biased or inconsistent information. You could also track what authors write as “directions for future research,” which often can point us towards the existing gaps.

Different Types of Research Gaps

Identifying research gaps is an essential step in conducting research, as it helps researchers to refine their research questions and to focus their research efforts on areas where there is a need for more knowledge or understanding.

1. Knowledge gaps

These are gaps in knowledge or understanding of a subject, where more research is needed to fill the gaps. For example, there may be a lack of understanding of the mechanisms behind a particular disease or how a specific technology works.

2. Conceptual gaps

These are gaps in the conceptual framework or theoretical understanding of a subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to understand the relationship between two concepts or to refine a theoretical framework.

3. Methodological gaps

These are gaps in the methods used to study a particular subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to develop new research methods or to refine existing methods to address specific research questions.

4. Data gaps

These are gaps in the data available on a particular subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to collect data on a specific population or to develop new measures to collect data on a particular construct.

5. Practical gaps

These are gaps in the application of research findings to practical situations. For example, there may be a need for more research to understand how to implement evidence-based practices in real-world settings or to identify barriers to implementing such practices.

Examples of Research Gap

Limited understanding of the underlying mechanisms of a disease:.

Despite significant research on a particular disease, there may be a lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the disease. For example, although much research has been done on Alzheimer’s disease, the exact mechanisms that lead to the disease are not yet fully understood.

Inconsistencies in the findings of previous research:

When previous research on a particular topic has inconsistent findings, there may be a need for further research to clarify or resolve these inconsistencies. For example, previous research on the effectiveness of a particular treatment for a medical condition may have produced inconsistent findings, indicating a need for further research to determine the true effectiveness of the treatment.

Limited research on emerging technologies:

As new technologies emerge, there may be limited research on their applications, benefits, and potential drawbacks. For example, with the increasing use of artificial intelligence in various industries, there is a need for further research on the ethical, legal, and social implications of AI.

How to Deal with Literature Gap?

Once you have identified the literature gaps, it is critical to prioritize. You may find many questions which remain to be answered in the literature. Often one question must be answered before the next can be addressed. In prioritizing the gaps, you have identified, you should consider your funding agency or stakeholders, the needs of the field, and the relevance of your questions to what is currently being studied. Also, consider your own resources and ability to conduct the research you’re considering. Once you have done this, you can narrow your search down to an appropriate question.

Tools to Help Your Search

There are thousands of new articles published every day, and staying up to date on the literature can be overwhelming. You should take advantage of the technology that is available. Some services include  PubCrawler ,  Feedly ,  Google Scholar , and PubMed updates. Stay up to date on social media forums where scholars share new discoveries, such as Twitter. Reference managers such as  Mendeley  can help you keep your references well-organized. I personally have had success using Google Scholar and PubMed to stay current on new developments and track which gaps remain in my personal areas of interest.

The most important thing I want to impress upon you today is that you will struggle to  choose a research topic  that is innovative and exciting if you don’t know the existing literature well. This is why identifying research gaps starts with an extensive and thorough  literature review . But give yourself some boundaries.  You don’t need to read every paper that has ever been written on a topic. You may find yourself thinking you’re on the right track and then suddenly coming across a paper that you had intended to write! It happens to everyone- it happens to me quite often. Don’t give up- keep reading and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Class dismissed!

How do you identify research gaps? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

A research gap can be identified by looking for a topic or area with missing or insufficient information that limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.

Identifying a research gap is important as it provides a direction for potentially new research or helps bridge the gap in existing literature.

Gap in research is a topic or area with missing or insufficient information. A research gap limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.

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Thank u for your suggestion.

Very useful tips specially for a beginner

Thank you. This is helpful. I find that I’m overwhelmed with literatures. As I read on a particular topic, and in a particular direction I find that other conflicting issues, topic a and ideas keep popping up, making me more confused.

I am very grateful for your advice. It’s just on point.

The clearest, exhaustive, and brief explanation I have ever read.

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Thank you very much.The work is brief and understandable

Thank you it is very informative

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Thanks for sharing this educative article

Thank you for such informative explanation.

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Nice one! I thank you for this as it is just what I was looking for!😃🤟

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Robinson KA, Akinyede O, Dutta T, et al. Framework for Determining Research Gaps During Systematic Review: Evaluation [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2013 Feb.

Cover of Framework for Determining Research Gaps During Systematic Review: Evaluation

Framework for Determining Research Gaps During Systematic Review: Evaluation [Internet].

Introduction.

The identification of gaps from systematic reviews is essential to the practice of “evidence-based research.” Health care research should begin and end with a systematic review. 1 - 3 A comprehensive and explicit consideration of the existing evidence is necessary for the identification and development of an unanswered and answerable question, for the design of a study most likely to answer that question, and for the interpretation of the results of the study. 4

In a systematic review, the consideration of existing evidence often highlights important areas where deficiencies in information limit our ability to make decisions. We define a research gap as a topic or area for which missing or inadequate information limits the ability of reviewers to reach a conclusion for a given question. A research gap may be further developed, such as through stakeholder engagement in prioritization, into research needs. Research needs are those areas where the gaps in the evidence limit decision making by patients, clinicians, and policy makers. A research gap may not be a research need if filling the gap would not be of use to stakeholders that make decisions in health care. The clear and explicit identification of research gaps is a necessary step in developing a research agenda. Evidence reports produced by Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs) have always included a future research section. However, in contrast to the explicit and transparent steps taken in the completion of a systematic review, there has not been a systematic process for the identification of research gaps.

In a prior methods project, our EPC set out to identify and pilot test a framework for the identification of research gaps. 5 , 6 We searched the literature, conducted an audit of EPC evidence reports, and sought information from other organizations which conduct evidence synthesis. Despite these efforts, we identified little detail or consistency in the frameworks used to determine research gaps within systematic reviews. In general, we found no widespread use or endorsement of a specific formal process or framework for identifying research gaps using systematic reviews.

We developed a framework to systematically identify research gaps from systematic reviews. This framework facilitates the classification of where the current evidence falls short and why the evidence falls short. The framework included two elements: (1) the characterization the gaps and (2) the identification and classification of the reason(s) for the research gap.

The PICOS structure (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome and Setting) was used in this framework to describe questions or parts of questions inadequately addressed by the evidence synthesized in the systematic review. The issue of timing, sometimes included as PICOTS, was considered separately for Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome. The PICOS elements were the only sort of framework we had identified in an audit of existing methods for the identification of gaps used by EPCs and other related organizations (i.e., health technology assessment organizations). We chose to use this structure as it is one familiar to EPCs, and others, in developing questions.

It is not only important to identify research gaps but also to determine how the evidence falls short, in order to maximally inform researchers, policy makers, and funders on the types of questions that need to be addressed and the types of studies needed to address these questions. Thus, the second element of the framework was the classification of the reasons for the existence of a research gap. For each research gap, the reason(s) that most preclude conclusions from being made in the systematic review is chosen by the review team completing the framework. To leverage work already being completed by review teams, we mapped the reasons for research gaps to concepts from commonly used evidence grading systems. Briefly, these categories of reasons, explained in detail in the prior JHU EPC report 5 , are:

  • Insufficient or imprecise information
  • Biased information
  • Inconsistent or unknown consistency results
  • Not the right information

The framework facilitates a systematic approach to identifying research gaps and the reasons for those gaps. The identification of where the evidence falls short and how the evidence falls short is essential to the development of important research questions and in providing guidance in how to address these questions.

As part of the previous methods product, we developed a worksheet and instructions to facilitate the use of the framework when completing a systematic review (See Appendix A ). Preliminary evaluation of the framework and worksheet was completed by applying the framework to two completed EPC evidence reports. The framework was further refined through peer review. In this current project, we extend our work on this research gaps framework.

Our objective in this project was to complete two types of further evaluation: (1) application of the framework across a larger sample of existing systematic reviews in different topic areas, and (2) implementation of the framework by EPCs. These two objectives were used to evaluate the framework and instructions for usability and to evaluate the application of the framework by others, outside of our EPC, including as part of the process of completing an EPC report. Our overall goal was to produce a revised framework with guidance that could be used by EPCs to explicitly identify research gaps from systematic reviews.

  • Cite this Page Robinson KA, Akinyede O, Dutta T, et al. Framework for Determining Research Gaps During Systematic Review: Evaluation [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2013 Feb. Introduction.
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What is a Research Gap

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Table of Contents

If you are a young researcher, or even still finishing your studies, you’ll probably notice that your academic environment revolves around certain research topics, probably linked to your department or to the interest of your mentor and direct colleagues. For example, if your department is currently doing research in nanotechnology applied to medicine, it is only natural that you feel compelled to follow this line of research. Hopefully, it’s something you feel familiar with and interested in – although you might take your own twists and turns along your career.

Many scientists end up continuing their academic legacy during their professional careers, writing about their own practical experiences in the field and adapting classic methodologies to a present context. However, each and every researcher dreams about being a pioneer in a subject one day, by discovering a topic that hasn’t been approached before by any other scientist. This is a research gap.

Research gaps are particularly useful for the advance of science, in general. Finding a research gap and having the means to develop a complete and sustained study on it can be very rewarding for the scientist (or team of scientists), not to mention how its new findings can positively impact our whole society.

How to Find a Gap in Research

How many times have you felt that you have finally formulated THAT new and exciting question, only to find out later that it had been addressed before? Probably more times than you can count.

There are some steps you can take to help identify research gaps, since it is impossible to go through all the information and research available nowadays:

  • Select a topic or question that motivates you: Research can take a long time and surely a large amount of physical, intellectual and emotional effort, therefore choose a topic that can keep you motivated throughout the process.
  • Find keywords and related terms to your selected topic: Besides synthesizing the topic to its essential core, this will help you in the next step.
  • Use the identified keywords to search literature: From your findings in the above step, identify relevant publications and cited literature in those publications.
  • Look for topics or issues that are missing or not addressed within (or related to) your main topic.
  • Read systematic reviews: These documents plunge deeply into scholarly literature and identify trends and paradigm shifts in fields of study. Sometimes they reveal areas or topics that need more attention from researchers and scientists.

How to find a Gap in Research

Keeping track of all the new literature being published every day is an impossible mission. Remember that there is technology to make your daily tasks easier, and reviewing literature can be one of them. Some online databases offer up-to-date publication lists with quite effective search features:

  • Elsevier’s Scope
  • Google Scholar

Of course, these tools may be more or less effective depending on knowledge fields. There might be even better ones for your specific topic of research; you can learn about them from more experienced colleagues or mentors.

Find out how FINER research framework can help you formulate your research question.

Literature Gap

The expression “literature gap” is used with the same intention as “research gap.” When there is a gap in the research itself, there will also naturally be a gap in the literature. Nevertheless, it is important to stress out the importance of language or text formulations that can help identify a research/literature gap or, on the other hand, making clear that a research gap is being addressed.

When looking for research gaps across publications you may have noticed sentences like:

…has/have not been… (studied/reported/elucidated) …is required/needed… …the key question is/remains… …it is important to address…

These expressions often indicate gaps; issues or topics related to the main question that still hasn’t been subject to a scientific study. Therefore, it is important to take notice of them: who knows if one of these sentences is hiding your way to fame.

Language Editing Services by Elsevier Author Services:

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A research problem is a definite or clear expression [statement] about an area of concern, a condition to be improved upon, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling question that exists in scholarly literature, in theory, or within existing practice that points to a need for meaningful understanding and deliberate investigation. A research problem does not state how to do something, offer a vague or broad proposition, or present a value question. In the social and behavioral sciences, studies are most often framed around examining a problem that needs to be understood and resolved in order to improve society and the human condition.

Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 10 (2007): 5-20; Guba, Egon G., and Yvonna S. Lincoln. “Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 105-117; Pardede, Parlindungan. “Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem." Research in ELT: Module 4 (October 2018): 1-13; Li, Yanmei, and Sumei Zhang. "Identifying the Research Problem." In Applied Research Methods in Urban and Regional Planning . (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2022), pp. 13-21.

Importance of...

The purpose of a problem statement is to:

  • Introduce the reader to the importance of the topic being studied . The reader is oriented to the significance of the study.
  • Anchors the research questions, hypotheses, or assumptions to follow . It offers a concise statement about the purpose of your paper.
  • Place the topic into a particular context that defines the parameters of what is to be investigated.
  • Provide the framework for reporting the results and indicates what is probably necessary to conduct the study and explain how the findings will present this information.

In the social sciences, the research problem establishes the means by which you must answer the "So What?" question. This declarative question refers to a research problem surviving the relevancy test [the quality of a measurement procedure that provides repeatability and accuracy]. Note that answering the "So What?" question requires a commitment on your part to not only show that you have reviewed the literature, but that you have thoroughly considered the significance of the research problem and its implications applied to creating new knowledge and understanding or informing practice.

To survive the "So What" question, problem statements should possess the following attributes:

  • Clarity and precision [a well-written statement does not make sweeping generalizations and irresponsible pronouncements; it also does include unspecific determinates like "very" or "giant"],
  • Demonstrate a researchable topic or issue [i.e., feasibility of conducting the study is based upon access to information that can be effectively acquired, gathered, interpreted, synthesized, and understood],
  • Identification of what would be studied, while avoiding the use of value-laden words and terms,
  • Identification of an overarching question or small set of questions accompanied by key factors or variables,
  • Identification of key concepts and terms,
  • Articulation of the study's conceptual boundaries or parameters or limitations,
  • Some generalizability in regards to applicability and bringing results into general use,
  • Conveyance of the study's importance, benefits, and justification [i.e., regardless of the type of research, it is important to demonstrate that the research is not trivial],
  • Does not have unnecessary jargon or overly complex sentence constructions; and,
  • Conveyance of more than the mere gathering of descriptive data providing only a snapshot of the issue or phenomenon under investigation.

Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 10 (2007): 5-20; Brown, Perry J., Allen Dyer, and Ross S. Whaley. "Recreation Research—So What?" Journal of Leisure Research 5 (1973): 16-24; Castellanos, Susie. Critical Writing and Thinking. The Writing Center. Dean of the College. Brown University; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. "Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem." Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Selwyn, Neil. "‘So What?’…A Question that Every Journal Article Needs to Answer." Learning, Media, and Technology 39 (2014): 1-5; Shoket, Mohd. "Research Problem: Identification and Formulation." International Journal of Research 1 (May 2014): 512-518.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Types and Content

There are four general conceptualizations of a research problem in the social sciences:

  • Casuist Research Problem -- this type of problem relates to the determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analyzing moral dilemmas through the application of general rules and the careful distinction of special cases.
  • Difference Research Problem -- typically asks the question, “Is there a difference between two or more groups or treatments?” This type of problem statement is used when the researcher compares or contrasts two or more phenomena. This a common approach to defining a problem in the clinical social sciences or behavioral sciences.
  • Descriptive Research Problem -- typically asks the question, "what is...?" with the underlying purpose to describe the significance of a situation, state, or existence of a specific phenomenon. This problem is often associated with revealing hidden or understudied issues.
  • Relational Research Problem -- suggests a relationship of some sort between two or more variables to be investigated. The underlying purpose is to investigate specific qualities or characteristics that may be connected in some way.

A problem statement in the social sciences should contain :

  • A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the study,
  • A declaration of originality [e.g., mentioning a knowledge void or a lack of clarity about a topic that will be revealed in the literature review of prior research],
  • An indication of the central focus of the study [establishing the boundaries of analysis], and
  • An explanation of the study's significance or the benefits to be derived from investigating the research problem.

NOTE :   A statement describing the research problem of your paper should not be viewed as a thesis statement that you may be familiar with from high school. Given the content listed above, a description of the research problem is usually a short paragraph in length.

II.  Sources of Problems for Investigation

The identification of a problem to study can be challenging, not because there's a lack of issues that could be investigated, but due to the challenge of formulating an academically relevant and researchable problem which is unique and does not simply duplicate the work of others. To facilitate how you might select a problem from which to build a research study, consider these sources of inspiration:

Deductions from Theory This relates to deductions made from social philosophy or generalizations embodied in life and in society that the researcher is familiar with. These deductions from human behavior are then placed within an empirical frame of reference through research. From a theory, the researcher can formulate a research problem or hypothesis stating the expected findings in certain empirical situations. The research asks the question: “What relationship between variables will be observed if theory aptly summarizes the state of affairs?” One can then design and carry out a systematic investigation to assess whether empirical data confirm or reject the hypothesis, and hence, the theory.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives Identifying a problem that forms the basis for a research study can come from academic movements and scholarship originating in disciplines outside of your primary area of study. This can be an intellectually stimulating exercise. A review of pertinent literature should include examining research from related disciplines that can reveal new avenues of exploration and analysis. An interdisciplinary approach to selecting a research problem offers an opportunity to construct a more comprehensive understanding of a very complex issue that any single discipline may be able to provide.

Interviewing Practitioners The identification of research problems about particular topics can arise from formal interviews or informal discussions with practitioners who provide insight into new directions for future research and how to make research findings more relevant to practice. Discussions with experts in the field, such as, teachers, social workers, health care providers, lawyers, business leaders, etc., offers the chance to identify practical, “real world” problems that may be understudied or ignored within academic circles. This approach also provides some practical knowledge which may help in the process of designing and conducting your study.

Personal Experience Don't undervalue your everyday experiences or encounters as worthwhile problems for investigation. Think critically about your own experiences and/or frustrations with an issue facing society or related to your community, your neighborhood, your family, or your personal life. This can be derived, for example, from deliberate observations of certain relationships for which there is no clear explanation or witnessing an event that appears harmful to a person or group or that is out of the ordinary.

Relevant Literature The selection of a research problem can be derived from a thorough review of pertinent research associated with your overall area of interest. This may reveal where gaps exist in understanding a topic or where an issue has been understudied. Research may be conducted to: 1) fill such gaps in knowledge; 2) evaluate if the methodologies employed in prior studies can be adapted to solve other problems; or, 3) determine if a similar study could be conducted in a different subject area or applied in a different context or to different study sample [i.e., different setting or different group of people]. Also, authors frequently conclude their studies by noting implications for further research; read the conclusion of pertinent studies because statements about further research can be a valuable source for identifying new problems to investigate. The fact that a researcher has identified a topic worthy of further exploration validates the fact it is worth pursuing.

III.  What Makes a Good Research Statement?

A good problem statement begins by introducing the broad area in which your research is centered, gradually leading the reader to the more specific issues you are investigating. The statement need not be lengthy, but a good research problem should incorporate the following features:

1.  Compelling Topic The problem chosen should be one that motivates you to address it but simple curiosity is not a good enough reason to pursue a research study because this does not indicate significance. The problem that you choose to explore must be important to you, but it must also be viewed as important by your readers and to a the larger academic and/or social community that could be impacted by the results of your study. 2.  Supports Multiple Perspectives The problem must be phrased in a way that avoids dichotomies and instead supports the generation and exploration of multiple perspectives. A general rule of thumb in the social sciences is that a good research problem is one that would generate a variety of viewpoints from a composite audience made up of reasonable people. 3.  Researchability This isn't a real word but it represents an important aspect of creating a good research statement. It seems a bit obvious, but you don't want to find yourself in the midst of investigating a complex research project and realize that you don't have enough prior research to draw from for your analysis. There's nothing inherently wrong with original research, but you must choose research problems that can be supported, in some way, by the resources available to you. If you are not sure if something is researchable, don't assume that it isn't if you don't find information right away--seek help from a librarian !

NOTE:   Do not confuse a research problem with a research topic. A topic is something to read and obtain information about, whereas a problem is something to be solved or framed as a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution, or explained as a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. In short, a research topic is something to be understood; a research problem is something that needs to be investigated.

IV.  Asking Analytical Questions about the Research Problem

Research problems in the social and behavioral sciences are often analyzed around critical questions that must be investigated. These questions can be explicitly listed in the introduction [i.e., "This study addresses three research questions about women's psychological recovery from domestic abuse in multi-generational home settings..."], or, the questions are implied in the text as specific areas of study related to the research problem. Explicitly listing your research questions at the end of your introduction can help in designing a clear roadmap of what you plan to address in your study, whereas, implicitly integrating them into the text of the introduction allows you to create a more compelling narrative around the key issues under investigation. Either approach is appropriate.

The number of questions you attempt to address should be based on the complexity of the problem you are investigating and what areas of inquiry you find most critical to study. Practical considerations, such as, the length of the paper you are writing or the availability of resources to analyze the issue can also factor in how many questions to ask. In general, however, there should be no more than four research questions underpinning a single research problem.

Given this, well-developed analytical questions can focus on any of the following:

  • Highlights a genuine dilemma, area of ambiguity, or point of confusion about a topic open to interpretation by your readers;
  • Yields an answer that is unexpected and not obvious rather than inevitable and self-evident;
  • Provokes meaningful thought or discussion;
  • Raises the visibility of the key ideas or concepts that may be understudied or hidden;
  • Suggests the need for complex analysis or argument rather than a basic description or summary; and,
  • Offers a specific path of inquiry that avoids eliciting generalizations about the problem.

NOTE:   Questions of how and why concerning a research problem often require more analysis than questions about who, what, where, and when. You should still ask yourself these latter questions, however. Thinking introspectively about the who, what, where, and when of a research problem can help ensure that you have thoroughly considered all aspects of the problem under investigation and helps define the scope of the study in relation to the problem.

V.  Mistakes to Avoid

Beware of circular reasoning! Do not state the research problem as simply the absence of the thing you are suggesting. For example, if you propose the following, "The problem in this community is that there is no hospital," this only leads to a research problem where:

  • The need is for a hospital
  • The objective is to create a hospital
  • The method is to plan for building a hospital, and
  • The evaluation is to measure if there is a hospital or not.

This is an example of a research problem that fails the "So What?" test . In this example, the problem does not reveal the relevance of why you are investigating the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., perhaps there's a hospital in the community ten miles away]; it does not elucidate the significance of why one should study the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., that hospital in the community ten miles away has no emergency room]; the research problem does not offer an intellectual pathway towards adding new knowledge or clarifying prior knowledge [e.g., the county in which there is no hospital already conducted a study about the need for a hospital, but it was conducted ten years ago]; and, the problem does not offer meaningful outcomes that lead to recommendations that can be generalized for other situations or that could suggest areas for further research [e.g., the challenges of building a new hospital serves as a case study for other communities].

Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. “Generating Research Questions Through Problematization.” Academy of Management Review 36 (April 2011): 247-271 ; Choosing and Refining Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; D'Souza, Victor S. "Use of Induction and Deduction in Research in Social Sciences: An Illustration." Journal of the Indian Law Institute 24 (1982): 655-661; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. "Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem." Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); How to Write a Research Question. The Writing Center. George Mason University; Invention: Developing a Thesis Statement. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Procter, Margaret. Using Thesis Statements. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Shoket, Mohd. "Research Problem: Identification and Formulation." International Journal of Research 1 (May 2014): 512-518; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Pardede, Parlindungan. “Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem." Research in ELT: Module 4 (October 2018): 1-13; Walk, Kerry. Asking an Analytical Question. [Class handout or worksheet]. Princeton University; White, Patrick. Developing Research Questions: A Guide for Social Scientists . New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009; Li, Yanmei, and Sumei Zhang. "Identifying the Research Problem." In Applied Research Methods in Urban and Regional Planning . (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2022), pp. 13-21.

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  • How to Define a Research Problem | Ideas & Examples

How to Define a Research Problem | Ideas & Examples

Published on 8 November 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George.

A research problem is a specific issue or gap in existing knowledge that you aim to address in your research. You may choose to look for practical problems aimed at contributing to change, or theoretical problems aimed at expanding knowledge.

Some research will do both of these things, but usually the research problem focuses on one or the other. The type of research problem you choose depends on your broad topic of interest and the type of research you think will fit best.

This article helps you identify and refine a research problem. When writing your research proposal or introduction , formulate it as a problem statement and/or research questions .

Table of contents

Why is the research problem important, step 1: identify a broad problem area, step 2: learn more about the problem, frequently asked questions about research problems.

Having an interesting topic isn’t a strong enough basis for academic research. Without a well-defined research problem, you are likely to end up with an unfocused and unmanageable project.

You might end up repeating what other people have already said, trying to say too much, or doing research without a clear purpose and justification. You need a clear problem in order to do research that contributes new and relevant insights.

Whether you’re planning your thesis , starting a research paper , or writing a research proposal , the research problem is the first step towards knowing exactly what you’ll do and why.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

As you read about your topic, look for under-explored aspects or areas of concern, conflict, or controversy. Your goal is to find a gap that your research project can fill.

Practical research problems

If you are doing practical research, you can identify a problem by reading reports, following up on previous research, or talking to people who work in the relevant field or organisation. You might look for:

  • Issues with performance or efficiency
  • Processes that could be improved
  • Areas of concern among practitioners
  • Difficulties faced by specific groups of people

Examples of practical research problems

Voter turnout in New England has been decreasing, in contrast to the rest of the country.

The HR department of a local chain of restaurants has a high staff turnover rate.

A non-profit organisation faces a funding gap that means some of its programs will have to be cut.

Theoretical research problems

If you are doing theoretical research, you can identify a research problem by reading existing research, theory, and debates on your topic to find a gap in what is currently known about it. You might look for:

  • A phenomenon or context that has not been closely studied
  • A contradiction between two or more perspectives
  • A situation or relationship that is not well understood
  • A troubling question that has yet to be resolved

Examples of theoretical research problems

The effects of long-term Vitamin D deficiency on cardiovascular health are not well understood.

The relationship between gender, race, and income inequality has yet to be closely studied in the context of the millennial gig economy.

Historians of Scottish nationalism disagree about the role of the British Empire in the development of Scotland’s national identity.

Next, you have to find out what is already known about the problem, and pinpoint the exact aspect that your research will address.

Context and background

  • Who does the problem affect?
  • Is it a newly-discovered problem, or a well-established one?
  • What research has already been done?
  • What, if any, solutions have been proposed?
  • What are the current debates about the problem? What is missing from these debates?

Specificity and relevance

  • What particular place, time, and/or group of people will you focus on?
  • What aspects will you not be able to tackle?
  • What will the consequences be if the problem is not resolved?

Example of a specific research problem

A local non-profit organisation focused on alleviating food insecurity has always fundraised from its existing support base. It lacks understanding of how best to target potential new donors. To be able to continue its work, the organisation requires research into more effective fundraising strategies.

Once you have narrowed down your research problem, the next step is to formulate a problem statement , as well as your research questions or hypotheses .

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement.

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarise the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

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Library Guide to Capstone Literature Reviews: Find a Research Gap

Find a research gap: tips to get started.

Finding a research gap is not an easy process and there is no one linear path. These tips and suggestions are just examples of possible ways to begin. 

In Ph.D. dissertations, students identify a gap in research. In other programs, students identify a gap in practice. The literature review for a gap in practice will show the context of the problem and the current state of the research. 

Research gap definition

A research gap exists when:

  • a question or problem has not been answered by existing studies/research in the field 
  • a concept or new idea has not been studied at all
  • all the existing literature on a topic is outdated 
  • a specific population/location/age group etc has not been studied 

A research gap should be:

  • grounded in the literature
  • amenable to scientific study
  • Litmus Test for a Doctoral-Level Research Problem (Word) This tool helps students determine if they have identified a doctoral level research problem.

Identify a research gap

To find a gap you must become very familiar with a particular field of study. This will involve a lot of research and reading, because a gap is defined by what does (and does not) surround it.

  • Search the research literature and dissertations (search all university dissertations, not just Walden!).
  • Understand your topic! Review background information in books and encyclopedias . 
  • Look for literature reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses.
  • Take notes on concepts, themes, and subject terms . 
  • Look closely at each article's limitations, conclusions, and recommendations for future research. 
  • Organize, analyze, and repeat! 

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  • Quick Answer: How do I find dissertations on a topic?

Start with broad searches

Use the Library Search (formerly Thoreau)  to do a broad search with just one concept at a time . Broad searches give you an idea of the academic conversation surrounding your topic.

  • Try the terms you know (keywords) first.
  • Look at the Subject Terms (controlled language) to brainstorm terms. 
  • Subject terms help you understand what terms are most used, and what other terms to try.
  • No matter what your topic is, not every researcher will be using the same terms. Keep an eye open for additional ways to describe your topic.
  • Guide: Subject Terms & Index Searches: Index Overview

Keep a list of terms

  • Create a list of terms
  • Example list of terms

This list will be a record of what terms are: 

  • related to or represent your topic
  • synonyms or antonyms
  • more or less commonly used
  • keywords (natural language) or subject terms (controlled language)
  • Synonyms & antonyms (database search skills)
  • Turn keywords into subject terms

Term I started with:

culturally aware 

Subject terms I discovered:

cultural awareness (SU) 

cultural sensitivity (SU) 

cultural competence (SU) 

Search with different combinations of terms

  • Combine search terms list
  • Combine search terms table
  • Video: Search by Themes

Since a research gap is defined by the absence of research on a topic, you will search for articles on everything that relates to your topic. 

  • List out all the themes related to your gap.
  • Search different combinations of the themes as you discover them (include search by theme video at bottom) 

For example, suppose your research gap is on the work-life balance of tenured and tenure-track women in engineering professions. In that case, you might try searching different combinations of concepts, such as: 

  • women and STEM 
  • STEM or science or technology or engineering or mathematics
  • female engineering professors 
  • tenure-track women in STEM
  • work-life balance and women in STEM
  • work-life balance and women professors
  • work-life balance and tenure 

Topic adapted from one of the award winning Walden dissertations. 

  • Walden University Award Winning Dissertations
  • Gossage, Lily Giang-Tien, "Work-Life Balance of Tenured and Tenure-Track Women Engineering Professors" (2019). Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies. 6435.

Break your topic into themes and try combining the terms from different themes in different ways. For example: 

Theme 1 and Theme 4

Theme 2 and Theme 1

Theme 3 and Theme 4

Video: Search by Themes (YouTube)

(2 min 40 sec) Recorded April 2014 Transcript

Track where more research is needed

Most research articles will identify where more research is needed. To identify research trends, use the literature review matrix to track where further research is needed. 

  • Download or create your own Literature Review Matrix (examples in links below).
  • Do some general database searches on broad topics.
  • Find an article that looks interesting.
  • When you read the article, pay attention to the conclusions and limitations sections.
  • Use the Literature Review Matrix to track where  'more research is needed' or 'further research needed'. NOTE:  you might need to add a column to the template.
  • As you fill in the matrix you should see trends where more research is needed.

There is no consistent section in research articles where the authors identify where more research is needed. Pay attention to these sections: 

  • limitations
  • conclusions
  • recommendations for future research 
  • Literature Review Matrix Templates: learn how to keep a record of what you have read
  • Literature Review Matrix (Excel) with color coding Sample template for organizing and synthesizing your research
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Research Method

Home » Research Problem – Examples, Types and Guide

Research Problem – Examples, Types and Guide

Table of Contents

Research Problem

Research Problem

Definition:

Research problem is a specific and well-defined issue or question that a researcher seeks to investigate through research. It is the starting point of any research project, as it sets the direction, scope, and purpose of the study.

Types of Research Problems

Types of Research Problems are as follows:

Descriptive problems

These problems involve describing or documenting a particular phenomenon, event, or situation. For example, a researcher might investigate the demographics of a particular population, such as their age, gender, income, and education.

Exploratory problems

These problems are designed to explore a particular topic or issue in depth, often with the goal of generating new ideas or hypotheses. For example, a researcher might explore the factors that contribute to job satisfaction among employees in a particular industry.

Explanatory Problems

These problems seek to explain why a particular phenomenon or event occurs, and they typically involve testing hypotheses or theories. For example, a researcher might investigate the relationship between exercise and mental health, with the goal of determining whether exercise has a causal effect on mental health.

Predictive Problems

These problems involve making predictions or forecasts about future events or trends. For example, a researcher might investigate the factors that predict future success in a particular field or industry.

Evaluative Problems

These problems involve assessing the effectiveness of a particular intervention, program, or policy. For example, a researcher might evaluate the impact of a new teaching method on student learning outcomes.

How to Define a Research Problem

Defining a research problem involves identifying a specific question or issue that a researcher seeks to address through a research study. Here are the steps to follow when defining a research problem:

  • Identify a broad research topic : Start by identifying a broad topic that you are interested in researching. This could be based on your personal interests, observations, or gaps in the existing literature.
  • Conduct a literature review : Once you have identified a broad topic, conduct a thorough literature review to identify the current state of knowledge in the field. This will help you identify gaps or inconsistencies in the existing research that can be addressed through your study.
  • Refine the research question: Based on the gaps or inconsistencies identified in the literature review, refine your research question to a specific, clear, and well-defined problem statement. Your research question should be feasible, relevant, and important to the field of study.
  • Develop a hypothesis: Based on the research question, develop a hypothesis that states the expected relationship between variables.
  • Define the scope and limitations: Clearly define the scope and limitations of your research problem. This will help you focus your study and ensure that your research objectives are achievable.
  • Get feedback: Get feedback from your advisor or colleagues to ensure that your research problem is clear, feasible, and relevant to the field of study.

Components of a Research Problem

The components of a research problem typically include the following:

  • Topic : The general subject or area of interest that the research will explore.
  • Research Question : A clear and specific question that the research seeks to answer or investigate.
  • Objective : A statement that describes the purpose of the research, what it aims to achieve, and the expected outcomes.
  • Hypothesis : An educated guess or prediction about the relationship between variables, which is tested during the research.
  • Variables : The factors or elements that are being studied, measured, or manipulated in the research.
  • Methodology : The overall approach and methods that will be used to conduct the research.
  • Scope and Limitations : A description of the boundaries and parameters of the research, including what will be included and excluded, and any potential constraints or limitations.
  • Significance: A statement that explains the potential value or impact of the research, its contribution to the field of study, and how it will add to the existing knowledge.

Research Problem Examples

Following are some Research Problem Examples:

Research Problem Examples in Psychology are as follows:

  • Exploring the impact of social media on adolescent mental health.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating anxiety disorders.
  • Studying the impact of prenatal stress on child development outcomes.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to addiction and relapse in substance abuse treatment.
  • Examining the impact of personality traits on romantic relationships.

Research Problem Examples in Sociology are as follows:

  • Investigating the relationship between social support and mental health outcomes in marginalized communities.
  • Studying the impact of globalization on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of gentrification in urban neighborhoods.
  • Investigating the impact of family structure on social mobility and economic outcomes.
  • Examining the effects of social capital on community development and resilience.

Research Problem Examples in Economics are as follows:

  • Studying the effects of trade policies on economic growth and development.
  • Analyzing the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on labor markets and employment opportunities.
  • Investigating the factors that contribute to economic inequality and poverty.
  • Examining the impact of fiscal and monetary policies on inflation and economic stability.
  • Studying the relationship between education and economic outcomes, such as income and employment.

Political Science

Research Problem Examples in Political Science are as follows:

  • Analyzing the causes and consequences of political polarization and partisan behavior.
  • Investigating the impact of social movements on political change and policymaking.
  • Studying the role of media and communication in shaping public opinion and political discourse.
  • Examining the effectiveness of electoral systems in promoting democratic governance and representation.
  • Investigating the impact of international organizations and agreements on global governance and security.

Environmental Science

Research Problem Examples in Environmental Science are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of air pollution on human health and well-being.
  • Investigating the effects of deforestation on climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Analyzing the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs.
  • Studying the relationship between urban development and ecological resilience.
  • Examining the effectiveness of environmental policies and regulations in promoting sustainability and conservation.

Research Problem Examples in Education are as follows:

  • Investigating the impact of teacher training and professional development on student learning outcomes.
  • Studying the effectiveness of technology-enhanced learning in promoting student engagement and achievement.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to achievement gaps and educational inequality.
  • Examining the impact of parental involvement on student motivation and achievement.
  • Studying the effectiveness of alternative educational models, such as homeschooling and online learning.

Research Problem Examples in History are as follows:

  • Analyzing the social and economic factors that contributed to the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
  • Investigating the impact of colonialism on indigenous societies and cultures.
  • Studying the role of religion in shaping political and social movements throughout history.
  • Analyzing the impact of the Industrial Revolution on economic and social structures.
  • Examining the causes and consequences of global conflicts, such as World War I and II.

Research Problem Examples in Business are as follows:

  • Studying the impact of corporate social responsibility on brand reputation and consumer behavior.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of leadership development programs in improving organizational performance and employee satisfaction.
  • Analyzing the factors that contribute to successful entrepreneurship and small business development.
  • Examining the impact of mergers and acquisitions on market competition and consumer welfare.
  • Studying the effectiveness of marketing strategies and advertising campaigns in promoting brand awareness and sales.

Research Problem Example for Students

An Example of a Research Problem for Students could be:

“How does social media usage affect the academic performance of high school students?”

This research problem is specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular area of interest, which is the impact of social media on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on social media usage and academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because it addresses a current and important issue that affects high school students.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use various methods, such as surveys, interviews, and statistical analysis of academic records. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between social media usage and academic performance, which could help educators and parents develop effective strategies for managing social media use among students.

Another example of a research problem for students:

“Does participation in extracurricular activities impact the academic performance of middle school students?”

This research problem is also specific, measurable, and relevant. It is specific because it focuses on a particular type of activity, extracurricular activities, and its impact on academic performance. It is measurable because the researcher can collect data on students’ participation in extracurricular activities and their academic performance to evaluate the relationship between the two variables. It is relevant because extracurricular activities are an essential part of the middle school experience, and their impact on academic performance is a topic of interest to educators and parents.

To conduct research on this problem, the researcher could use surveys, interviews, and academic records analysis. The results of the study could provide insights into the relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, which could help educators and parents make informed decisions about the types of activities that are most beneficial for middle school students.

Applications of Research Problem

Applications of Research Problem are as follows:

  • Academic research: Research problems are used to guide academic research in various fields, including social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and engineering. Researchers use research problems to identify gaps in knowledge, address theoretical or practical problems, and explore new areas of study.
  • Business research : Research problems are used to guide business research, including market research, consumer behavior research, and organizational research. Researchers use research problems to identify business challenges, explore opportunities, and develop strategies for business growth and success.
  • Healthcare research : Research problems are used to guide healthcare research, including medical research, clinical research, and health services research. Researchers use research problems to identify healthcare challenges, develop new treatments and interventions, and improve healthcare delivery and outcomes.
  • Public policy research : Research problems are used to guide public policy research, including policy analysis, program evaluation, and policy development. Researchers use research problems to identify social issues, assess the effectiveness of existing policies and programs, and develop new policies and programs to address societal challenges.
  • Environmental research : Research problems are used to guide environmental research, including environmental science, ecology, and environmental management. Researchers use research problems to identify environmental challenges, assess the impact of human activities on the environment, and develop sustainable solutions to protect the environment.

Purpose of Research Problems

The purpose of research problems is to identify an area of study that requires further investigation and to formulate a clear, concise and specific research question. A research problem defines the specific issue or problem that needs to be addressed and serves as the foundation for the research project.

Identifying a research problem is important because it helps to establish the direction of the research and sets the stage for the research design, methods, and analysis. It also ensures that the research is relevant and contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field.

A well-formulated research problem should:

  • Clearly define the specific issue or problem that needs to be investigated
  • Be specific and narrow enough to be manageable in terms of time, resources, and scope
  • Be relevant to the field of study and contribute to the existing body of knowledge
  • Be feasible and realistic in terms of available data, resources, and research methods
  • Be interesting and intellectually stimulating for the researcher and potential readers or audiences.

Characteristics of Research Problem

The characteristics of a research problem refer to the specific features that a problem must possess to qualify as a suitable research topic. Some of the key characteristics of a research problem are:

  • Clarity : A research problem should be clearly defined and stated in a way that it is easily understood by the researcher and other readers. The problem should be specific, unambiguous, and easy to comprehend.
  • Relevance : A research problem should be relevant to the field of study, and it should contribute to the existing body of knowledge. The problem should address a gap in knowledge, a theoretical or practical problem, or a real-world issue that requires further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem should be feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It should be realistic and practical to conduct the study within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem should be novel or original in some way. It should represent a new or innovative perspective on an existing problem, or it should explore a new area of study or apply an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem should be important or significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It should have the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Manageability : A research problem should be manageable in terms of its scope and complexity. It should be specific enough to be investigated within the available time and resources, and it should be broad enough to provide meaningful results.

Advantages of Research Problem

The advantages of a well-defined research problem are as follows:

  • Focus : A research problem provides a clear and focused direction for the research study. It ensures that the study stays on track and does not deviate from the research question.
  • Clarity : A research problem provides clarity and specificity to the research question. It ensures that the research is not too broad or too narrow and that the research objectives are clearly defined.
  • Relevance : A research problem ensures that the research study is relevant to the field of study and contributes to the existing body of knowledge. It addresses gaps in knowledge, theoretical or practical problems, or real-world issues that require further investigation.
  • Feasibility : A research problem ensures that the research study is feasible in terms of the availability of data, resources, and research methods. It ensures that the research is realistic and practical to conduct within the available time, budget, and resources.
  • Novelty : A research problem ensures that the research study is original and innovative. It represents a new or unique perspective on an existing problem, explores a new area of study, or applies an existing theory to a new context.
  • Importance : A research problem ensures that the research study is important and significant in terms of its potential impact on the field or society. It has the potential to produce new knowledge, advance existing theories, or address a pressing societal issue.
  • Rigor : A research problem ensures that the research study is rigorous and follows established research methods and practices. It ensures that the research is conducted in a systematic, objective, and unbiased manner.

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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  • Open access
  • Published: 16 May 2024

Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and funding: reflections from a digital manufacturing research network

  • Oliver J. Fisher 1 ,
  • Debra Fearnshaw   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6498-9888 2 ,
  • Nicholas J. Watson 3 ,
  • Peter Green 4 ,
  • Fiona Charnley 5 ,
  • Duncan McFarlane 6 &
  • Sarah Sharples 2  

Research Integrity and Peer Review volume  9 , Article number:  5 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

146 Accesses

Metrics details

Equal, diverse, and inclusive teams lead to higher productivity, creativity, and greater problem-solving ability resulting in more impactful research. However, there is a gap between equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) research and practices to create an inclusive research culture. Research networks are vital to the research ecosystem, creating valuable opportunities for researchers to develop their partnerships with both academics and industrialists, progress their careers, and enable new areas of scientific discovery. A feature of a network is the provision of funding to support feasibility studies – an opportunity to develop new concepts or ideas, as well as to ‘fail fast’ in a supportive environment. The work of networks can address inequalities through equitable allocation of funding and proactive consideration of inclusion in all of their activities.

This study proposes a strategy to embed EDI within research network activities and funding review processes. This paper evaluates 21 planned mitigations introduced to address known inequalities within research events and how funding is awarded. EDI data were collected from researchers engaging in a digital manufacturing network activities and funding calls to measure the impact of the proposed method.

Quantitative analysis indicates that the network’s approach was successful in creating a more ethnically diverse network, engaging with early career researchers, and supporting researchers with care responsibilities. However, more work is required to create a gender balance across the network activities and ensure the representation of academics who declare a disability. Preliminary findings suggest the network’s anonymous funding review process has helped address inequalities in funding award rates for women and those with care responsibilities, more data are required to validate these observations and understand the impact of different interventions individually and in combination.

Conclusions

In summary, this study offers compelling evidence regarding the efficacy of a research network's approach in advancing EDI within research and funding. The network hopes that these findings will inform broader efforts to promote EDI in research and funding and that researchers, funders, and other stakeholders will be encouraged to adopt evidence-based strategies for advancing this important goal.

Peer Review reports

Introduction

Achieving equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is an underpinning contributor to human rights, civilisation and society-wide responsibility [ 1 ]. Furthermore, promoting and embedding EDI within research environments is essential to make the advancements required to meet today’s research challenges [ 2 ]. This is evidenced by equal, diverse and inclusive teams leading to higher productivity, creativity and greater problem-solving ability [ 3 ], which increases the scientific impact of research outputs and researchers [ 4 ]. However, there remains a gap between EDI research and the everyday implementation of inclusive practices to achieve change [ 5 ]. This paper presents and reflects on the EDI measures trialled by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded digital manufacturing research network, Connected Everything (grant number: EP/S036113/1) [ 6 ]. The EPSRC is a UK research council that funds engineering and physical sciences research. By sharing these reflections, this work aims to contribute to the wider effort of creating an inclusive research culture. The perceptions of equality, diversity, and inclusion may vary among individuals. For the scope of this study, the following definitions are adopted:

Equality: Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. No one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.

Diversity: Diversity concerns understanding that each individual is unique, recognising our differences, and exploring these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing way to value each other as individuals.

Inclusion: Inclusion is an effort and practice in which groups or individuals with different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted, welcomed and treated equally. This concerns treating each person as an individual, making them feel valued, and supported and being respectful of who they are.

Research networks have varied goals, but a common purpose is to create new interdisciplinary research communities, by fostering interactions between researchers and appropriate scientific, technological and industrial groups. These networks aim to offer valuable career progression opportunities for researchers, through access to research funding, forming academic and industrial collaborations at network events, personal and professional development, and research dissemination. However, feedback from a 2021 survey of 19 UK research networks, suggests that these research networks are not always diverse, and whilst on the face of it they seem inclusive, they are perceived as less inclusive by minority groups (including non-males, those with disabilities, and ethnic minority respondents) [ 7 ]. The exclusivity of these networks further exacerbates the inequality within the academic community as it prevents certain groups from being able to engage with all aspects of network activities.

Research investigating the causes of inequality and exclusivity has identified several suggestions to make research culture more inclusive, including improving diverse representation within event programmes and panels [ 8 , 9 ]; ensuring events are accessible to all [ 10 ]; providing personalised resources and training to build capacity and increase engagement [ 11 ]; educating institutions and funders to understand and address the barriers to research [ 12 ]; and increasing diversity in peer review and funding panels [ 13 ]. Universities, research institutions and research funding bodies are increasingly taking responsibility to ensure the health of the research and innovation system and to foster inclusion. For example, the EPSRC has set out their own ‘Expectation for EDI’ to promote the formation of a diverse and inclusive research culture [ 14 ]. To drive change, there is an emphasis on the importance of measuring diversity and links to measured outcomes to benchmark future studies on how interventions affect diversity [ 5 ]. Further, collecting and sharing EDI data can also drive aspirations, provide a target for actions, and allow institutions to consider common issues. However, there is a lack of available data regarding the impact of EDI practices on diversity that presents an obstacle, impeding the realisation of these benefits and hampering progress in addressing common issues and fostering diversity and inclusion [ 5 ].

Funding acquisition is important to an academic’s career progression, yet funding may often be awarded in ways that feel unequal and/or non-transparent. The importance of funding in academic career progression means that, if credit for obtaining funding is not recognised appropriately, careers can be damaged, and, as a result of the lack of recognition for those who have been involved in successful research, funding bodies may not have a complete picture of the research community, and are unable to deliver the best value for money [ 15 ]. Awarding funding is often a key research network activity and an area where networks can have a positive impact on the wider research community. It is therefore important that practices are established to embed EDI consideration within the funding process and to ensure that network funding is awarded without bias. Recommendations from the literature to make the funding award process fairer include: ensuring a diverse funding panel; funders instituting reviewer anti-bias training; anonymous review; and/or automatic adjustments to correct for known biases [ 16 ]. In the UK, the government organisation UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), tasked with overseeing research and innovation funding, has pledged to publish data to enhance transparency. This initiative aims to furnish an evidence base for designing interventions and evaluating their efficacy. While the data show some positive signs (e.g., the award rates for male and female PI applicants were equal at 29% in 2020–21), Ottoline Leyser (UKRI Chief Executive) highlights the ‘persistent pernicious disparities for under-represented groups in applying for and winning research funding’ [ 17 ]. This suggests that a more radical approach to rethinking the traditional funding review process may be required.

This paper describes the approach taken by the ‘Connected Everything’ EPSRC-funded Network to embed EDI in all aspects of its research funding process, and evaluates the impact of this ambition, leading to recommendations for embedding EDI in research funding allocation.

Connected everything’s equality diversity and inclusion strategy

Connected Everything aims to create a multidisciplinary community of researchers and industrialists to address key challenges associated with the future of digital manufacturing. The network is managed by an investigator team who are responsible for the strategic planning and, working with the network manager, to oversee the delivery of key activities. The network was first funded between 2016–2019 (grant number: EP/P001246/1) and was awarded a second grant (grant number: EP/S036113/1). The network activities are based around three goals: building partnerships, developing leadership and accelerating impact.

The Connected Everything network represents a broad range of disciplines, including manufacturing, computer science, cybersecurity, engineering, human factors, business, sociology, innovation and design. Some of the subject areas, such as Computer Science and Engineering, tend to be male-dominated (e.g., in 2021/22, a total of 185,42 higher education student enrolments in engineering & technology subjects was broken down as 20.5% Female and 79.5% Male [ 18 ]). The networks also face challenges in terms of accessibility for people with care responsibilities and disabilities. In 2019, Connected Everything committed to embedding EDI in all its network activities and published a guiding principle and goals for improving EDI (see Additional file 1 ). When designing the processes to deliver the second iteration of Connected Everything, the team identified several sources of potential bias/exclusion which have the potential to impact engagement with the network. Based on these identified factors, a series of mitigation interventions were implemented and are outlined in Table  1 .

Connected everything anonymous review process

A key Connected Everything activity is the funding of feasibility studies to enable cross-disciplinary, foresight, speculative and risky early-stage research, with a focus on low technology-readiness levels. Awards are made via a short, written application followed by a pitch to a multidisciplinary diverse panel including representatives from industry. Six- to twelve-month-long projects are funded to a maximum value of £60,000.

The current peer-review process used by funders may reveal the applicants’ identities to the reviewer. This can introduce dilemmas to the reviewer regarding (a) deciding whether to rely exclusively on information present within the application or search for additional information about the applicants and (b) whether or not to account for institutional prestige [ 34 ]. Knowing an applicant’s identity can bias the assessment of the proposal, but by focusing the assessment on the science rather than the researcher, equality is more frequently achieved between award rates (i.e., the proportion of successful applications) [ 15 ]. To progress Connected Everything’s commitment to EDI, the project team created a 2-stage review process, where the applicants’ identity was kept anonymous during the peer review stage. This anonymous process, which is outlined in Fig.  1 , was created for the feasibility study funding calls in 2019 and used for subsequent funding calls.

figure 1

Connected Everything’s anonymous review process [EDI: Equality, diversity, and inclusion]

To facilitate the anonymous review process, the proposal was submitted in two parts: part A the research idea and part B the capability-to-deliver statement. All proposals were first anonymously reviewed by a random selection of two members from the Connected Everything executive group, which is a diverse group of digital manufacturing experts and peers from academia, industry and research institutions that provide guidance and leadership on Connected Everything activities. The reviewers rated the proposals against the selection criteria (see Additional file 1 , Table 1) and provided overall comments alongside a recommendation on whether or not the applicant should be invited to the panel pitch. This information was summarised and shared with a moderation sift panel, made up of a minimum of two Connected Everything investigators and a minimum of one member of the executive group, that tensioned the reviewers’ comments (i.e. comments and evaluations provided by the peer reviewers are carefully considered and weighed against each other) and ultimately decided which proposals to invite to the panel. This tension process included using the identifying information to ensure the applicants did have the capability to deliver the project. If this remained unclear, the applicants were asked to confirm expertise in an area the moderation sift panel thought was key or asked to bring in additional expertise to the project team during the panel pitch.

During stage two the applicants were invited to pitch their research idea to a panel of experts who were selected to reflect the diversity of the community. The proposals, including applicants’ identities, were shared with the panel at least two weeks ahead of the panel. Individual panel members completed a summary sheet at the end of the pitch session to record how well the proposal met the selection criteria (see Additional file 1 , Table 1). Panel members did not discuss their funding decision until all the pitches had been completed. A panel chair oversaw the process but did not declare their opinion on a specific feasibility study unless the panel could not agree on an outcome. The panel and panel chair were reminded to consider ways to manage their unconscious bias during the selection process.

Due to the positive response received regarding the anonymous review process, Connected Everything extended its use when reviewing other funded activities. As these awards were for smaller grant values (~ £5,000), it was decided that no panel pitch was required, and the researcher’s identity was kept anonymous for the entire process.

Data collection and analysis methods

Data collection.

Equality, diversity and inclusion data were voluntarily collected from applicants for Connected Everything research funding and from participants who won scholarships to attend Connected Everything funded activities. Responses to the EDI data requests were collected from nine Connected Everything coordinated activities between 2019 and 2022. Data requests were sent after the applicant had applied for Connected Everything funding or had attended a Connected Everything funded activity. All data requests were completed voluntarily, with reassurance given that completion of the data requested in no way affected their application. In total 260 responses were received, of which the three feasibility study calls comprised 56.2% of the total responses received. Overall, there was a 73.8% response rate.

To understand the diversity of participants engaging with Connected Everything activities and funding, the data requests asked for details of specific diversity characteristics: gender, transgender, disability, ethnicity, age, and care responsibilities. Although sex and gender are terms that are often used interchangeably, they are two different concepts. To clarify, the definitions used by the UK government describe sex as a set of biological attributes that is generally limited to male or female, and typically attributed to individuals at birth. In contrast, gender identity is a social construction related to behaviours and attributes, and is self-determined based on a person’s internal perception, identification and experience. Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth. Respondents were first asked to identify their gender and then whether their gender was different from their birth sex.

For this study, respondents were asked to (voluntarily) self-declare whether they consider themselves to be disabled or not. Ethnicity within the data requests was based on the 2011 census classification system. When reporting ethnicity data, this study followed the AdvanceHE example to aggregate the census categories into six groups to enable benchmarking against the available academic ethnicity data. AdvanceHE is a UK charity that works to improve the higher education system for staff, students and society. However, it was acknowledged that there were limitations with this grouping, including the assumption that minority ethnic staff or students are a homogenous group [ 16 ]. Therefore, this study made sure to breakdown these groups during the discussion of the results. The six groups are:

Asian: Asian/Asian British: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and any other Asian background;

Black: Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: African, Caribbean, and any other Black/African/Caribbean background;

Other ethnic backgrounds, including Arab.

White: all white ethnic groups.

Benchmarking data

Published data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency [ 26 ] (a UK organisation responsible for collecting, analysing, and disseminating data related to higher education institutions and students), UKRI funding data [ 19 , 35 ] and 2011 census data [ 36 ] were used to benchmark the EDI data collected within this study. The responses to the data collected were compared to the engineering and technology cluster of academic disciplines, as this is most represented by Connected Everything’s main funded EPSRC. The Higher Education Statistics Agency defines the engineering and technology cluster as including the following subject areas: general engineering; chemical engineering; mineral, metallurgy & materials engineering; civil engineering; electrical, electronic & computer engineering; mechanical, aero & production engineering and; IT, systems sciences & computer software engineering [ 37 ].

When assessing the equality in funding award rates, previous studies have focused on analysing the success rates of only the principal investigators [ 15 , 16 , 38 ]; however, Connected Everything recognised that writing research proposals is a collaborative task, so requested diversity data from the whole research team. The average of the last six years of published principal investigator and co-investigator diversity data for UKRI and EPSRC funding awards (2015–2021) was used to benchmark the Connected Everything funding data [ 35 ]. The UKRI and EPSRC funding review process includes a peer review stage followed by panel pitch and assessment stage; however, the applicant's track record is assessed during the peer review stage, unlike the Connected Everything review process.

The data collected have been used to evaluate the success of the planned migrations to address EDI factors affecting the higher education research ecosystem, as outlined in Table  1 (" Connected Everything’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Strategy " Section).

Dominance of small number of research-intensive universities receiving funding from network

The dominance of a small number of research-intensive universities receiving funding from a network can have implications for the field of research, including: the unequal distribution of resources; a lack of diversity of research, limited collaboration opportunities; and impact on innovation and progress. Analysis of published EPSRC funding data between 2015 and 2021 [ 19 ], shows that the funding has been predominately (74.1%, 95% CI [71.%, 76.9%] out of £3.98 billion) awarded to Russell Group universities. The Russell Group is a self-selected association of 24 research-intensive universities (out of the 174 universities) in the UK, established in 1994. Evaluation of the universities that received Connected Everything feasibility study funding between 2016–2019, shows that Connected Everything awarded just over half (54.6%, 95% CI [25.1%, 84.0%] out of 11 awards) to Russell Group universities. Figure  2 shows that the Connected Everything funding awarded to Russell Group universities reduced to 44.4%, 95% CI [12.0%, 76.9%] of 9 awards between 2019–2022.

figure 2

A comparison of funding awarded by EPSRC (total = £3.98 billion) across Russell Group universities and non-Russell Group universities, alongside the allocations for Connected Everything I (total = £660 k) and Connected Everything II (total = £540 k)

Dominance of successful applications from men

The percentage point difference between the award rates of researchers who identified as female, those who declare a disability, or identified as ethnic minority applicants and carers and their respective counterparts have been plotted in Fig.  3 . Bars to the right of the axis mean that the award rate of the female/declared-disability/ethnic-minority/carer applicants is greater than that of male/non- disability/white/not carer applicants.

figure 3

Percentage point (PP) differences in award rate by funding provider for gender, disability status, ethnicity and care responsibilities (data not collected by UKRI and EPSRC [ 35 ]). The total number of applicants for each funder are as follows: Connected Everything = 146, EPSRC = 37,960, and UKRI = 140,135. *The numbers of applicants were too small (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion

Figure  3 (A) shows that between 2015 and 2021 research team applicants who identified as male had a higher award rate than those who identified as female when applying for EPSRC and wider UKRI research council funding. Connected Everything funding applicants who identified as female achieved a higher award rate (19.4%, 95% CI [6.5%, 32.4%] out of 146) compared to male applicants (15.6%, 95% CI [8.8%, 22.4%] out of 146). These data suggest that biases have been reduced by the Connected Everything review process and other mitigation strategies (e.g., visible gender diversity in panel pitch members and publishing CE principal and goals to demonstrate commitment to equality and fairness). This finding aligns with an earlier study that found gender bias during the peer review process, resulting in female investigators receiving less favourable evaluations than their male counterparts [ 15 ].

Over-representation of people identifying as male in engineering and technology academic community

Figure  4 shows the response to the gender question, with 24.2%, 95% CI [19.0%, 29.4%] of 260 responses identifying as female. This aligns with the average for the engineering and technology cluster (21.4%, 95% CI [20.9%, 21.9%] female of 27,740 academic staff), which includes subject areas representative of our main funder, EPSRC [ 22 ]. We also sought to understand the representation of transgender researchers within the network. However, following the rounding policy outlined by UK Government statistics policies and procedures [ 39 ], the number of responses that identified as a different sex to birth was too low (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion.

figure 4

Gender question responses from a total of 260 respondents

Dominance of successful applications from white academics

Figure  3 (C) shows that researchers with a minority ethnicity consistently have a lower award rate than white researchers when applying for EPSRC and UKRI funding. Similarly, the results in Fig.  3 (C) indicate that white researchers are more successful (8.0% percentage point, 95% CI [-8.6%, 24.6%]) when applying for Connected Everything funding. These results indicate that more measures should be implemented to support the ethnic minority researchers applying for Connected Everything funding, as well as sense checking there is no unconscious bias in any of the Connected Everything funding processes. The breakdown of the ethnicity diversity of applicants at different stages of the Connected Everything review process (i.e. all applications, applicants invited to panel pitch and awarded feasibility studies) has been plotted in Fig.  5 to help identify where more support is needed. Figure  5 shows an increase in the proportion of white researchers from 54%, 95% CI [45.4%, 61.8%] of all 146 applicants to 66%, 95% CI [52.8%, 79.1%] of the 50 researchers invited to the panel pitch. This suggests that stage 1 of the Connected Everything review process (anonymous review of written applications) may favour white applicants and/or introduce unconscious bias into the process.

figure 5

Ethnicity questions responses from different stages during the Connected Everything anonymous review process. The total number of applicants is 146, with 50 at the panel stage and 23 ultimately awarded

Under-representation of those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds

Connected Everything appears to have a wide range of ethnic diversity, as shown in Fig.  6 . The ethnicities Asian (18.3%, 95% CI [13.6%, 23.0%]), Black (5.1%, 95% CI [2.4%, 7.7%]), Chinese (12.5%, 95% CI [8.4%, 16.5%]), mixed (3.5%, 95% CI [1.3%, 5.7%]) and other (7.8%, 95% CI [4.5%, 11.1%]) have a higher representation among the 260 individuals engaging with network’s activities, in contrast to both the engineering and technology academic community and the wider UK population. When separating these groups into the original ethnic diversity answers, it becomes apparent that there is no engagement with ‘Black or Black British: Caribbean’, ‘Mixed: White and Black Caribbean’ or ‘Mixed: White and Asian’ researchers within Connected Everything activities. The lack of engagement with researchers from a Caribbean heritage is systemic of a lack of representation within the UK research landscape [ 25 ].

figure 6

Ethnicity question responses from a total of 260 respondents compared to distribution of the 13,085 UK engineering and technology (E&T) academic staff [ 22 ] and 56 million people recorded in the UK 2011 census data [ 36 ]

Under-representation of disabilities, chronic conditions, invisible illnesses and neurodiversity in funded activities and events.

Figure  7 (A) shows that 5.7%, 95% CI [2.4%, 8.9%] of 194 responses declared a disability. This is higher than the average of engineering and technology academics that identify as disabled (3.4%, 95% CI [3.2%, 3.7%] of 27,730 academics). Between Jan-March 2022, 9.0 million people of working age (16–64) within the UK were identified as disabled by the Office for National Statistics [ 40 ], which is 21% of the working age population [ 27 ]. Considering these statistics, there is a stark under-representation of disabilities, chronic conditions, invisible illnesses and neurodiversity amongst engineering and technology academic staff and those engaging in Connected Everything activities.

figure 7

Responses to A  Disability and B  Care responsibilities questions colected from a total of 194 respondents

Between 2015 and 2020 academics that declared a disability have been less successful than academics without a disability in attracting UKRI and EPSRC funding, as shown in Fig.  3 (B). While Fig.  3 (B) shows that those who declare a disability have a higher Connected Everything funding award rate, the number of applicants who declared a disability was too small (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion regarding this result.

Under-representation of those with care responsibilities in funded activities and events

In response to the care responsibilities question, Fig.  7 (B) shows that 27.3%, 95% CI [21.1%, 33.6%] of 194 respondents identified as carers, which is higher than the 6% of adults estimated to be providing informal care across the UK in a UK Government survey of the 2020/2021 financial year [ 41 ]. However, the ‘informal care’ definition used by the 2021 survey includes unpaid care to a friend or family member needing support, perhaps due to illness, older age, disability, a mental health condition or addiction [ 41 ]. The Connected Everything survey included care responsibilities across the spectrum of care that includes partners, children, other relatives, pets, friends and kin. It is important to consider a wide spectrum of care responsibilities, as key academic events, such as conferences, have previously been demonstrably exclusionary sites for academics with care responsibilities [ 42 ]. Breakdown analysis of the responses to care responsibilities by gender in Fig.  8 reveals that 37.8%, 95% CI [25.3%, 50.3%] of 58 women respondents reported care responsibilities, compared to 22.6%, 95% CI [61.1%, 76.7%] of 136 men respondents. Our findings reinforce similar studies that conclude the burden of care falls disproportionately on female academics [ 43 ].

figure 8

Responses to care responsibilities when grouped by A  136 males and B  58 females

Figure  3 (D) shows that researchers with careering responsibilities applying for Connected Everything funding have a higher award rate than those researchers applying without care responsibilities. These results suggest that the Connected Everything review process is supportive of researchers with care responsibilities, who have faced barriers in other areas of academia.

Reduced opportunities for ECRs

Early-career researchers (ECRs) represent the transition stage between starting a PhD and senior academic positions. EPSRC defines an ECR as someone who is either within eight years of their PhD award, or equivalent professional training or within six years of their first academic appointment [ 44 ]. These periods exclude any career break, for example, due to family care; health reasons; and reasons related to COVID-19 such as home schooling or increased teaching load. The median age for starting a PhD in the UK is 24 to 25, while PhDs usually last between three and four years [ 45 ]. Therefore, these data would imply that the EPSRC median age of ECRs is between 27 and 37 years. It should be noted, however, that this definition is not ideal and excludes ECRs who may have started their research career later in life.

Connected Everything aims to support ECRs via measures that include mentoring support, workshops, summer schools and podcasts. Figure  9 shows a greater representation of researchers engaging with Connected Everything activities that are aged between 30–44 (62.4%, 95% CI [55.6%, 69.2%] of 194 respondents) when compared to the wider engineering and technology academic community (43.7%, 95% CI [43.1%, 44.3%] of 27,780 academics) and UK population (26.9%, 95% CI [26.9%, 26.9%]).

figure 9

Age question responses from a total of 194 respondents compared to distribution of the 27,780 UK engineering and technology (E&T) academic staff [ 22 ] and 56 million people recorded in the UK 2011 census data [ 36 ]

High competition for funding has a greater impact on ECRs

Figure  10 shows that the largest age bracket applying for and winning Connected Everything funding is 31–45, whereas 72%, CI 95% [70.1%, 74.5%] of 12,075 researchers awarded EPSRC grants between 2015 and 2021 were 40 years or older. These results suggest that measures introduced by Connected Everything has been successful at providing funding opportunities for researchers who are likely to be early-mid career stage.

figure 10

Age of researchers at applicant and awarded funding stages for A  Connected Everything between 2019–2022 (total of 146 applicants and 23 awarded) and B  EPSRC funding between 2015–2021 [ 35 ] (total of 35,780 applicants and 12,075 awarded)

The results of this paper provide insights into the impact that Connected Everything’s planned mitigations have had on promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research and funding. Collecting EDI data from individuals who engage with network activities and apply for research funding enabled an evaluation of whether these mitigations have been successful in achieving the intended outcomes outlined at the start of the study, as summarised in Table  2 .

The results in Table  2 indicate that Connected Everything’s approach to EDI has helped achieve the intended outcome to improve representation of women, ECRs, those with a declared disability and black/minority ethnic backgrounds engaging with network events when compared to the engineering and technology academic community. In addition, the network has helped raise awareness of the high presence of researchers with care responsibilities at network events, which can help to track progress towards making future events inclusive and accessible towards these carers. The data highlights two areas for improvement: (1) ensuring a gender balance; and (2) increasing representation of those with declared disabilities. Both these discrepancies are indicative of the wider imbalances and underrepresentation of these groups in the engineering and technology academic community [ 26 ], yet represent areas where networks can strive to make a difference. Possible strategies include: using targeted outreach; promoting greater representation of these groups in event speakers; and going further to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. One barrier that can disproportionately affect women researchers is the need to balance care responsibilities with attending network events [ 46 ]. This was reflected in the Connected Everything data that reported 37.8%, 95% CI [25.3%, 50.3%] of women engaging with network activities had care responsibilities, compared to 22.6%, 95% CI [61.1%, 76.7%] of men. Providing accommodations such as on-site childcare, flexible scheduling, or virtual attendance options can therefore help to promote inclusivity and allow more women researchers to attend.

Only 5.7%, 95% CI [2.4%, 8.9%] of responses engaging with Connected Everything declared a disability, which is higher than the engineering and technology academic community (3.4%, 95% CI [3.2%, 3.7%]) [ 26 ], but unrepresentative of the wider UK population. It has been suggested that academics can be uncomfortable when declaring disabilities because scholarly contributions and institutional citizenship are so prized that they feel they cannot be honest about their issues or health concerns and keep them secret [ 47 ]. In research networks, it is important to be mindful of this hidden group within higher education and ensure that measures are put in place to make the network’s activities inclusive to all. Future considerations for accommodations to improve research events inclusivity include: improving physical accessibility of events; providing assistive technology such as screen readers, audio descriptions, and captioning can help individuals with visual or hearing impairments to access and participate; providing sign language interpreters; offering flexible scheduling options; and the provision of quiet rooms, written materials in accessible formats, and support staff trained to work with individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Connected Everything introduced measures (e.g., anonymised reviewing process, Q&A sessions before funding calls, inclusive design of panel pitch) to help address inequalities in how funding is awarded. Table 2 shows success in reducing the dominance of researchers who identify as male and research-intensive universities in winning research funding and that researchers with care responsibilities were more successful at winning funding than those without care responsibilities. The data revealed that the proposed measures were unable to address the inequality in award rates between white and ethnic minority researchers, which is an area to look to improve. The inequality appears to occur during the anonymous review stage, with a greater proportion of white researchers being invited to panel. Recommendations to make the review process fairer include: ensuring greater diversity of reviewers; reviewer anti-bias training; and automatic adjustments to correct for known biases in writing style [ 16 , 32 ].

When reflecting on the development of a strategy to embed EDI throughout the network, Connected Everything has learned several key lessons that may benefit other networks undergoing a similar activity. These include:

EDI is never ‘done’: There is a constant need to review approaches to EDI to ensure they remain relevant to the network community. Connected Everything could review its principles to include the concept of justice in its approach to diversity and inclusion. The concept of justice concerning EDI refers to the removal of systematic barriers that stop fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities among all members of society, regardless of their individual characteristics or backgrounds. The principles and subsequent actions could be reviewed against the EDI expectations [ 14 ], paying particular attention to areas where barriers may still be present. For example, shifting from welcoming people into existing structures and culture to creating new structures and culture together, with specific emphasis on decision or advisory mechanisms within the network. This activity could lend itself to focusing more on tailored support to overcome barriers, thus achieving equity, if it is not within the control of the network to remove the barrier itself (justice).

Widen diversity categories: By collecting data on a broad range of characteristics, we can identify and address disparities and biases that might otherwise be overlooked. A weakness of this dataset is that ignores the experience of those with intersectional identities, across race, ethnicity, gender, class, disability and/ or LGBTQI. The Wellcome Trust noted how little was known about the socio-economic background of scientists and researchers [ 48 ].

Collect data on whole research teams: For the first two calls for feasibility study funding, Connected Everything only asked the Principal Investigator to voluntarily provide their data. We realised that this was a limited approach and, in the third call, asked for the data regarding the whole research team to be shared anonymously. Furthermore, we do not currently measure the diversity of our event speakers, panellists or reviewers. Collecting these data in the future will help to ensure the network is accountable and will ensure that all groups are represented during our activities and in the funding decision-making process.

High response rate: Previous surveys measuring network diversity (e.g., [ 7 ]) have struggled to get responses when surveying their memberships; whereas, this study achieved a response rate of 73.8%. We attribute this high response rate to sending EDI data requests on the point of contact with the network (e.g., on submitting funding proposals or after attending network events), rather than trying to survey the entire network membership at anyone point in time.

Improve administration: The administration associated with collecting EDI data requires a commitment to transparency, inclusivity, and continuous improvement. For example, during the first feasibility funding call, Connected Everything made it clear that the review process would be anonymous, but the application form was not in separate documents. This made anonymising the application forms extremely time-consuming. For the subsequent calls, separate documents were created – Part A for identifying information (Principal Investigator contact details, Project Team and Industry collaborators) and Part B for the research idea.

Accepting that this can be uncomfortable: Trying to improve EDI can be uncomfortable because it often requires challenging our assumptions, biases, and existing systems and structures. However, it is essential if we want to make real progress towards equity and inclusivity. Creating processes to support embedding EDI takes time and Connected Everything has found it is rare to get it right the first time. Connected Everything is sharing its learning as widely as possible both to support others in their approaches and continue our learning as we reflect on how to continually improve, even when it is challenging.

Enabling individual engagement with EDI: During this work, Connected Everything recognised that methods for engaging with such EDI issues in research design and delivery are lacking. Connected Everything, with support from the Future Food Beacon of Excellence at the University of Nottingham, set out to develop a card-based tool [ 49 ] to help researchers and stakeholders identify questions around how their work may promote equity and increase inclusion or have a negative impact towards one or more protected groups and how this can be overcome. The results of this have been shared at conference presentations [ 50 ] and will be published later.

While this study provides insights into how EDI can be improved in research network activities and funding processes, it is essential to acknowledge several limitations that may impact the interpretation of the findings.

Sample size and generalisability: A total of 260 responses were received, which may not be representative of our overall network of 500 + members. Nevertheless, this data provides a sense of the current diversity engaging in Connected Everything activities and funding opportunities, which we can compare with other available data to steer action to further diversify the network.

Handling of missing data: Out of the 260 responses, 66 data points were missing for questions regarding age, disability, and caring responsibilities. These questions were mistakenly omitted from a Connected Everything summer school survey, contributing to 62 missing data points. While we assumed the remainer of missing data to be at random during analysis, it's important to acknowledge it could be related to other factors, potentially introducing bias into our results.

Emphasis on quantitative data: The study relies on using quantitative data to evaluate the impact of the EDI measures introduced by Connected Everything. However, relying solely on quantitative metrics may overlook nuanced aspects of EDI that cannot be easily quantified. For example, EDI encompasses multifaceted issues influenced by historical, cultural, and contextual factors. These nuances may not be fully captured by numbers alone. In addition, some EDI efforts may not yield immediate measurable outcomes but still contribute to a more inclusive environment.

Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous: The study proposes 21 measures to contribute towards creating an equal, diverse and inclusive research culture and collects diversity data to measure the impact of these measures. However, while diversity is simpler to monitor, increasing diversity alone does not guarantee equality or inclusion. Even with diverse research groups, individuals from underrepresented groups may still face barriers, microaggressions, or exclusion.

Balancing anonymity and rigour in grant reviews:The proposed anonymous review process proposed by Connected Everything removes personal and organisational details from the research ideas under reviewer evaluation. However, there exists a possibility that a reviewer could discern the identity of the grant applicant based on the research idea. Reviewers are expected to be subject matter experts in the field relevant to the grant proposal they are evaluating. Given the specialised nature of scientific research, it is conceivable that a well-known applicant could be identified through the specifics of the work, the methodologies employed, and even the writing style.

Expanding gender identity options: A limitation of this study emerged from the restricted gender options (male, female, other, prefer not to say) provided to respondents when answering the gender identity question. This limitation reflects the context of data collection in 2018, a time when diversity monitoring guidance was still limited. As our understanding of gender identity evolves beyond binary definitions, future data collection efforts should embrace a more expansive and inclusive approach, recognising the diverse spectrum of gender identities.

In conclusion, this study provides evidence of the effectiveness of a research network's approach to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research and funding. By collecting EDI data from individuals who engage with network activities and apply for research funding, this study has shown that the network's initiatives have had a positive impact on representation and fairness in the funding process. Specifically, the analysis reveals that the network is successful at engaging with ECRs, and those with care responsibilities and has a diverse range of ethnicities represented at Connected Everything events. Additionally, the network activities have a more equal gender balance and greater representation of researchers with disabilities when compared to the engineering and technology academic community, though there is still an underrepresentation of these groups compared to the national population.

Connected Everything introduced measures to help address inequalities in how funding is awarded. The measures introduced helped reduce the dominance of researchers who identified as male and research-intensive universities in winning research funding. Additionally, researchers with care responsibilities were more successful at winning funding than those without care responsibilities. However, inequality persisted with white researchers achieving higher award rates than those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Recommendations to make the review process fairer include: ensuring greater diversity of reviewers; reviewer anti-bias training; and automatic adjustments to correct for known biases in writing style.

Connected Everything’s approach to embedding EDI in network activities has already been shared widely with other EPSRC-funded networks and Hubs (e.g. the UKRI Circular Economy Hub and the UK Acoustics Network Plus). The network hopes that these findings will inform broader efforts to promote EDI in research and funding and that researchers, funders, and other stakeholders will be encouraged to adopt evidence-based strategies for advancing this important goal.

Availability of data and materials

The data collected was anonymously, however, it may be possible to identify an individual by combining specific records of the data request form data. Therefore, the study data has been presented in aggregate form to protect the confidential of individuals and the data utilised in this study cannot be made openly accessible due to ethical obligations to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the data providers.

Abbreviations

Early career researcher

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Engineering physical sciences research council

UK research and innovation

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the support Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [grant number EP/S036113/1], Connected Everything II: Accelerating Digital Manufacturing Research Collaboration and Innovation. The authors would also like to gratefully acknowledge the Connected Everything Executive Group for their contribution towards developing Connected Everything’s equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

This work was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [grant number EP/S036113/1].

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School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Nicholas J. Watson

School of Engineering, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

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Centre for Circular Economy, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

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Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

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OJF analysed and interpreted the data, and was the lead author in writing and revising the manuscript. DF led the data acquisition and supported the interpretation of the data. DF was also a major contributor to the design of the equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy proposed in this work. NJW supported the design of the EDI strategy and was a major contributor in reviewing and revising the manuscript. PG supported the design of the EDI strategy, and was a major contributor in reviewing and revising the manuscript. FC supported the design of the EDI strategy and the interpretation of the data. DM supported the design of the EDI strategy. SS led the development EDI strategy proposed in this work, and was a major contributor in data interpretation and reviewing and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Debra Fearnshaw .

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Fisher, O.J., Fearnshaw, D., Watson, N.J. et al. Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and funding: reflections from a digital manufacturing research network. Res Integr Peer Rev 9 , 5 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-024-00144-w

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Nursing students’ stressors and coping strategies during their first clinical training: a qualitative study in the United Arab Emirates

  • Jacqueline Maria Dias 1 ,
  • Muhammad Arsyad Subu 1 ,
  • Nabeel Al-Yateem 1 ,
  • Fatma Refaat Ahmed 1 ,
  • Syed Azizur Rahman 1 , 2 ,
  • Mini Sara Abraham 1 ,
  • Sareh Mirza Forootan 1 ,
  • Farzaneh Ahmad Sarkhosh 1 &
  • Fatemeh Javanbakh 1  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  322 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Metrics details

Understanding the stressors and coping strategies of nursing students in their first clinical training is important for improving student performance, helping students develop a professional identity and problem-solving skills, and improving the clinical teaching aspects of the curriculum in nursing programmes. While previous research have examined nurses’ sources of stress and coping styles in the Arab region, there is limited understanding of these stressors and coping strategies of nursing students within the UAE context thereby, highlighting the novelty and significance of the study.

A qualitative study was conducted using semi-structured interviews. Overall 30 students who were undergoing their first clinical placement in Year 2 at the University of Sharjah between May and June 2022 were recruited. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and analyzed for themes.

During their first clinical training, nursing students are exposed to stress from different sources, including the clinical environment, unfriendly clinical tutors, feelings of disconnection, multiple expectations of clinical staff and patients, and gaps between the curriculum of theory classes and labatories skills and students’ clinical experiences. We extracted three main themes that described students’ stress and use of coping strategies during clinical training: (1) managing expectations; (2) theory-practice gap; and (3) learning to cope. Learning to cope, included two subthemes: positive coping strategies and negative coping strategies.

Conclusions

This qualitative study sheds light from the students viewpoint about the intricate interplay between managing expectations, theory practice gap and learning to cope. Therefore, it is imperative for nursing faculty, clinical agencies and curriculum planners to ensure maximum learning in the clinical by recognizing the significance of the stressors encountered and help students develop positive coping strategies to manage the clinical stressors encountered. Further research is required look at the perspective of clinical stressors from clinical tutors who supervise students during their first clinical practicum.

Peer Review reports

Nursing education programmes aim to provide students with high-quality clinical learning experiences to ensure that nurses can provide safe, direct care to patients [ 1 ]. The nursing baccalaureate programme at the University of Sharjah is a four year program with 137 credits. The programmes has both theoretical and clinical components withs nine clinical courses spread over the four years The first clinical practicum which forms the basis of the study takes place in year 2 semester 2.

Clinical practice experience is an indispensable component of nursing education and links what students learn in the classroom and in skills laboratories to real-life clinical settings [ 2 , 3 , 4 ]. However, a gap exists between theory and practice as the curriculum in the classroom differs from nursing students’ experiences in the clinical nursing practicum [ 5 ]. Clinical nursing training places (or practicums, as they are commonly referred to), provide students with the necessary experiences to ensure that they become proficient in the delivery of patient care [ 6 ]. The clinical practicum takes place in an environment that combines numerous structural, psychological, emotional and organizational elements that influence student learning [ 7 ] and may affect the development of professional nursing competencies, such as compassion, communication and professional identity [ 8 ]. While clinical training is a major component of nursing education curricula, stress related to clinical training is common among students [ 9 ]. Furthermore, the nursing literature indicates that the first exposure to clinical learning is one of the most stressful experiences during undergraduate studies [ 8 , 10 ]. Thus, the clinical component of nursing education is considered more stressful than the theoretical component. Students often view clinical learning, where most learning takes place, as an unsupportive environment [ 11 ]. In addition, they note strained relationships between themselves and clinical preceptors and perceive that the negative attitudes of clinical staff produce stress [ 12 ].

The effects of stress on nursing students often involve a sense of uncertainty, uneasiness, or anxiety. The literature is replete with evidence that nursing students experience a variety of stressors during their clinical practicum, beginning with the first clinical rotation. Nursing is a complex profession that requires continuous interaction with a variety of individuals in a high-stress environment. Stress during clinical learning can have multiple negative consequences, including low academic achievement, elevated levels of burnout, and diminished personal well-being [ 13 , 14 ]. In addition, both theoretical and practical research has demonstrated that increased, continual exposure to stress leads to cognitive deficits, inability to concentrate, lack of memory or recall, misinterpretation of speech, and decreased learning capacity [ 15 ]. Furthermore, stress has been identified as a cause of attrition among nursing students [ 16 ].

Most sources of stress have been categorized as academic, clinical or personal. Each person copes with stress differently [ 17 ], and utilizes deliberate, planned, and psychological efforts to manage stressful demands [ 18 ]. Coping mechanisms are commonly termed adaptation strategies or coping skills. Labrague et al. [ 19 ] noted that students used critical coping strategies to handle stress and suggested that problem solving was the most common coping or adaptation mechanism used by nursing students. Nursing students’ coping strategies affect their physical and psychological well-being and the quality of nursing care they offer. Therefore, identifying the coping strategies that students use to manage stressors is important for early intervention [ 20 ].

Studies on nursing students’ coping strategies have been conducted in various countries. For example, Israeli nursing students were found to adopt a range of coping mechanisms, including talking to friends, engaging in sports, avoiding stress and sadness/misery, and consuming alcohol [ 21 ]. Other studies have examined stress levels among medical students in the Arab region. Chaabane et al. [ 15 ], conducted a systematic review of sudies in Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Oman, Palestine and Bahrain, and reported that stress during clinical practicums was prevalent, although it could not be determined whether this was limited to the initial clinical course or occurred throughout clinical training. Stressors highlighted during the clinical period in the systematic review included assignments and workload during clinical practice, a feeling that the requirements of clinical practice exceeded students’ physical and emotional endurance and that their involvement in patient care was limited due to lack of experience. Furthermore, stress can have a direct effect on clinical performance, leading to mental disorders. Tung et al. [ 22 ], reported that the prevalence of depression among nursing students in Arab countries is 28%, which is almost six times greater than the rest of the world [ 22 ]. On the other hand, Saifan et al. [ 5 ], explored the theory-practice gap in the United Arab Emirates and found that clinical stressors could be decreased by preparing students better for clinical education with qualified clinical faculty and supportive preceptors.

The purpose of this study was to identify the stressors experienced by undergraduate nursing students in the United Arab Emirates during their first clinical training and the basic adaptation approaches or coping strategies they used. Recognizing or understanding different coping processes can inform the implementation of corrective measures when students experience clinical stress. The findings of this study may provide valuable information for nursing programmes, nurse educators, and clinical administrators to establish adaptive strategies to reduce stress among students going clinical practicums, particularly stressors from their first clinical training in different healthcare settings.

A qualitative approach was adopted to understand clinical stressors and coping strategies from the perspective of nurses’ lived experience. Qualitative content analysis was employed to obtain rich and detailed information from our qualitative data. Qualitative approaches seek to understand the phenomenon under study from the perspectives of individuals with lived experience [ 23 ]. Qualitative content analysis is an interpretive technique that examines the similarities and differences between and within different areas of text while focusing on the subject [ 24 ]. It is used to examine communication patterns in a repeatable and systematic way [ 25 ] and yields rich and detailed information on the topic under investigation [ 23 ]. It is a method of systematically coding and categorizing information and comprises a process of comprehending, interpreting, and conceptualizing the key meanings from qualitative data [ 26 ].

Setting and participants

This study was conducted after the clinical rotations ended in April 2022, between May and June in the nursing programme at the College of Health Sciences, University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates. The study population comprised undergraduate nursing students who were undergoing their first clinical training and were recruited using purposive sampling. The inclusion criteria for this study were second-year nursing students in the first semester of clinical training who could speak English, were willing to participate in this research, and had no previous clinical work experience. The final sample consisted of 30 students.

Research instrument

The research instrument was a semi structured interview guide. The interview questions were based on an in-depth review of related literature. An intensive search included key words in Google Scholar, PubMed like the terms “nursing clinical stressors”, “nursing students”, and “coping mechanisms”. Once the questions were created, they were validated by two other faculty members who had relevant experience in mental health. A pilot test was conducted with five students and based on their feedback the following research questions, which were addressed in the study.

How would you describe your clinical experiences during your first clinical rotations?

In what ways did you find the first clinical rotation to be stressful?

What factors hindered your clinical training?

How did you cope with the stressors you encountered in clinical training?

Which strategies helped you cope with the clinical stressors you encountered?

Data collection

Semi-structured interviews were chosen as the method for data collection. Semi structured interviews are a well-established approach for gathering data in qualitative research and allow participants to discuss their views, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs in a positive environment [ 27 ]. This approach allows for flexibility in questioning thereby ensuring that key topics related to clinical learning stressors and coping strategies would be explored. Participants were given the opportunity to express their views, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs in a positive environment, encouraging open communication. These semi structured interviews were conducted by one member of the research team (MAS) who had a mental health background, and another member of the research team who attended the interviews as an observer (JMD). Neither of these researchers were involved in teaching the students during their clinical practicum, which helped to minimize bias. The interviews took place at the University of Sharjah, specifically in building M23, providing a familiar and comfortable environment for the participant. Before the interviews were all students who agreed to participate were provided with an explanation of the study’s purpose. The time and location of each interview were arranged. Before the interviews were conducted, all students who provided consent to participate received an explanation of the purpose of the study, and the time and place of each interview were arranged to accommodate the participants’ schedules and preferences. The interviews were conducted after the clinical rotation had ended in April, and after the final grades had been submitted to the coordinator. The timings of the interviews included the month of May and June which ensured that participants have completed their practicum experience and could reflect on the stressors more comprehensively. The interviews were audio-recorded with the participants’ consent, and each interview lasted 25–40 min. The data were collected until saturation was reached for 30 students. Memos and field notes were also recorded as part of the data collection process. These additional data allowed for triangulation to improve the credibility of the interpretations of the data [ 28 ]. Memos included the interviewers’ thoughts and interpretations about the interviews, the research process (including questions and gaps), and the analytic progress used for the research. Field notes were used to record the interviewers’ observations and reflections on the data. These additional data collection methods were important to guide the researchers in the interpretation of the data on the participants’ feelings, perspectives, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. Finally, member checking was performed to ensure conformability.

Data analysis

The study used the content analysis method proposed by Graneheim and Lundman [ 24 ]. According to Graneheim and Lundman [ 24 ], content analysis is an interpretive technique that examines the similarities and differences between distinct parts of a text. This method allows researchers to determine exact theoretical and operational definitions of words, phrases, and symbols by elucidating their constituent properties [ 29 ]. First, we read the interview transcripts several times to reach an overall understanding of the data. All verbatim transcripts were read several times and discussed among all authors. We merged and used line-by-line coding of words, sentences, and paragraphs relevant to each other in terms of both the content and context of stressors and coping mechanisms. Next, we used data reduction to assess the relationships among themes using tables and diagrams to indicate conceptual patterns. Content related to stress encountered by students was extracted from the transcripts. In a separate document, we integrated and categorized all words and sentences that were related to each other in terms of both content and context. We analyzed all codes and units of meaning and compared them for similarities and differences in the context of this study. Furthermore, the emerging findings were discussed with other members of the researcher team. The final abstractions of meaningful subthemes into themes were discussed and agreed upon by the entire research team. This process resulted in the extraction of three main themes in addition to two subthemes related to stress and coping strategies.

Ethical considerations

The University of Sharjah Research Ethics Committee provided approval to conduct this study (Reference Number: REC 19-12-03-01-S). Before each interview, the goal and study procedures were explained to each participant, and written informed consent was obtained. The participants were informed that participation in the study was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the study at any time. In the event they wanted to withdraw from the study, all information related to the participant would be removed. No participant withdrew from the study. Furthermore, they were informed that their clinical practicum grade would not be affected by their participation in this study. We chose interview locations in Building M23that were private and quiet to ensure that the participants felt at ease and confident in verbalizing their opinions. No participant was paid directly for involvement in this study. In addition, participants were assured that their data would remain anonymous and confidential. Confidentiality means that the information provided by participants was kept private with restrictions on how and when data can be shared with others. The participants were informed that their information would not be duplicated or disseminated without their permission. Anonymity refers to the act of keeping people anonymous with respect to their participation in a research endeavor. No personal identifiers were used in this study, and each participant was assigned a random alpha-numeric code (e.g., P1 for participant 1). All digitally recorded interviews were downloaded to a secure computer protected by the principal investigator with a password. The researchers were the only people with access to the interview material (recordings and transcripts). All sensitive information and materials were kept secure in the principal researcher’s office at the University of Sharjah. The data will be maintained for five years after the study is completed, after which the material will be destroyed (the transcripts will be shredded, and the tapes will be demagnetized).

In total, 30 nursing students who were enrolled in the nursing programme at the Department of Nursing, College of Health Sciences, University of Sharjah, and who were undergoing their first clinical practicum participated in the study. Demographically, 80% ( n  = 24) were females and 20% ( n  = 6) were male participants. The majority (83%) of study participants ranged in age from 18 to 22 years. 20% ( n  = 6) were UAE nationals, 53% ( n  = 16) were from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, while 20% ( n  = 6) hailed from Africa and 7% ( n  = 2) were of South Asian descent. 67% of the respondents lived with their families while 33% lived in the hostel. (Table  1 )

Following the content analysis, we identified three main themes: (1) managing expectations, (2) theory-practice gap and 3)learning to cope. Learning to cope had two subthemes: positive coping strategies and negative coping strategies. An account of each theme is presented along with supporting excerpts for the identified themes. The identified themes provide valuable insight into the stressors encountered by students during their first clinical practicum. These themes will lead to targeted interventions and supportive mechanisms that can be built into the clinical training curriculum to support students during clinical practice.

Theme 1: managing expectations

In our examination of the stressors experienced by nursing students during their first clinical practicum and the coping strategies they employed, we identified the first theme as managing expectations.

The students encountered expectations from various parties, such as clinical staff, patients and patients’ relatives which they had to navigate. They attempted to fulfil their expectations as they progressed through training, which presented a source of stress. The students noted that the hospital staff and patients expected them to know how to perform a variety of tasks upon request, which made the students feel stressed and out of place if they did not know how to perform these tasks. Some participants noted that other nurses in the clinical unit did not allow them to participate in nursing procedures, which was considered an enormous impediment to clinical learning, as noted in the excerpt below:

“…Sometimes the nurses… They will not allow us to do some procedures or things during clinical. And sometimes the patients themselves don’t allow us to do procedures” (P5).

Some of the students noted that they felt they did not belong and felt like foreigners in the clinical unit. Excerpts from the students are presented in the following quotes;

“The clinical environment is so stressful. I don’t feel like I belong. There is too little time to build a rapport with hospital staff or the patient” (P22).

“… you ask the hospital staff for some guidance or the location of equipment, and they tell us to ask our clinical tutor …but she is not around … what should I do? It appears like we do not belong, and the sooner the shift is over, the better” (P18).

“The staff are unfriendly and expect too much from us students… I feel like I don’t belong, or I am wasting their (the hospital staff’s) time. I want to ask questions, but they have loads to do” (P26).

Other students were concerned about potential failure when working with patients during clinical training, which impacted their confidence. They were particularly afraid of failure when performing any clinical procedures.

“At the beginning, I was afraid to do procedures. I thought that maybe the patient would be hurt and that I would not be successful in doing it. I have low self-confidence in doing procedures” (P13).

The call bell rings, and I am told to answer Room No. XXX. The patient wants help to go to the toilet, but she has two IV lines. I don’t know how to transport the patient… should I take her on the wheelchair? My eyes glance around the room for a wheelchair. I am so confused …I tell the patient I will inform the sister at the nursing station. The relative in the room glares at me angrily … “you better hurry up”…Oh, I feel like I don’t belong, as I am not able to help the patient… how will I face the same patient again?” (P12).

Another major stressor mentioned in the narratives was related to communication and interactions with patients who spoke another language, so it was difficult to communicate.

“There was a challenge with my communication with the patients. Sometimes I have communication barriers because they (the patients) are of other nationalities. I had an experience with a patient [who was] Indian, and he couldn’t speak my language. I did not understand his language” (P9).

Thus, a variety of expectations from patients, relatives, hospital staff, and preceptors acted as sources of stress for students during their clinical training.

Theme 2: theory-practice gap

Theory-practice gaps have been identified in previous studies. In our study, there was complete dissonance between theory and actual clinical practice. The clinical procedures or practices nursing students were expected to perform differed from the theory they had covered in their university classes and skills lab. This was described as a theory–practice gap and often resulted in stress and confusion.

“For example …the procedures in the hospital are different. They are different from what we learned or from theory on campus. Or… the preceptors have different techniques than what we learned on campus. So, I was stress[ed] and confused about it” (P11).

Furthermore, some students reported that they did not feel that they received adequate briefing before going to clinical training. A related source of stress was overload because of the volume of clinical coursework and assignments in addition to clinical expectations. Additionally, the students reported that a lack of time and time management were major sources of stress in their first clinical training and impacted their ability to complete the required paperwork and assignments:

“…There is not enough time…also, time management at the hospital…for example, we start at seven a.m., and the handover takes 1 hour to finish. They (the nurses at the hospital) are very slow…They start with bed making and morning care like at 9.45 a.m. Then, we must fill [out] our assessment tool and the NCP (nursing care plan) at 10 a.m. So, 15 only minutes before going to our break. We (the students) cannot manage this time. This condition makes me and my friends very stressed out. -I cannot do my paperwork or assignments; no time, right?” (P10).

“Stressful. There is a lot of work to do in clinical. My experiences are not really good with this course. We have a lot of things to do, so many assignments and clinical procedures to complete” (P16).

The participants noted that the amount of required coursework and number of assignments also presented a challenge during their first clinical training and especially affected their opportunity to learn.

“I need to read the file, know about my patient’s condition and pathophysiology and the rationale for the medications the patient is receiving…These are big stressors for my learning. I think about assignments often. Like, we are just focusing on so many assignments and papers. We need to submit assessments and care plans for clinical cases. We focus our time to complete and finish the papers rather than doing the real clinical procedures, so we lose [the] chance to learn” (P25).

Another participant commented in a similar vein that there was not enough time to perform tasks related to clinical requirements during clinical placement.

“…there is a challenge because we do not have enough time. Always no time for us to submit papers, to complete assessment tools, and some nurses, they don’t help us. I think we need more time to get more experiences and do more procedures, reduce the paperwork that we have to submit. These are challenges …” (P14).

There were expectations that the students should be able to carry out their nursing duties without becoming ill or adversely affected. In addition, many students reported that the clinical environment was completely different from the skills laboratory at the college. Exposure to the clinical setting added to the theory-practice gap, and in some instances, the students fell ill.

One student made the following comment:

“I was assisting a doctor with a dressing, and the sight and smell from the oozing wound was too much for me. I was nauseated. As soon as the dressing was done, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I asked myself… how will I survive the next 3 years of nursing?” (P14).

Theme 3: learning to cope

The study participants indicated that they used coping mechanisms (both positive and negative) to adapt to and manage the stressors in their first clinical practicum. Important strategies that were reportedly used to cope with stress were time management, good preparation for clinical practice, and positive thinking as well as engaging in physical activity and self-motivation.

“Time management. Yes, it is important. I was encouraging myself. I used time management and prepared myself before going to the clinical site. Also, eating good food like cereal…it helps me very much in the clinic” (P28).

“Oh yeah, for sure positive thinking. In the hospital, I always think positively. Then, after coming home, I get [to] rest and think about positive things that I can do. So, I will think something good [about] these things, and then I will be relieved of stress” (P21).

Other strategies commonly reported by the participants were managing their breathing (e.g., taking deep breaths, breathing slowly), taking breaks to relax, and talking with friends about the problems they encountered.

“I prefer to take deep breaths and breathe slowly and to have a cup of coffee and to talk to my friends about the case or the clinical preceptor and what made me sad so I will feel more relaxed” (P16).

“Maybe I will take my break so I feel relaxed and feel better. After clinical training, I go directly home and take a long shower, going over the day. I will not think about anything bad that happened that day. I just try to think about good things so that I forget the stress” (P27).

“Yes, my first clinical training was not easy. It was difficult and made me stressed out…. I felt that it was a very difficult time for me. I thought about leaving nursing” (P7).

I was not able to offer my prayers. For me, this was distressing because as a Muslim, I pray regularly. Now, my prayer time is pushed to the end of the shift” (P11).

“When I feel stress, I talk to my friends about the case and what made me stressed. Then I will feel more relaxed” (P26).

Self-support or self-motivation through positive self-talk was also used by the students to cope with stress.

“Yes, it is difficult in the first clinical training. When I am stress[ed], I go to the bathroom and stand in the front of the mirror; I talk to myself, and I say, “You can do it,” “you are a great student.” I motivate myself: “You can do it”… Then, I just take breaths slowly several times. This is better than shouting or crying because it makes me tired” (P11).

Other participants used physical activity to manage their stress.

“How do I cope with my stress? Actually, when I get stressed, I will go for a walk on campus” (P4).

“At home, I will go to my room and close the door and start doing my exercises. After that, I feel the negative energy goes out, then I start to calm down… and begin my clinical assignments” (P21).

Both positive and negative coping strategies were utilized by the students. Some participants described using negative coping strategies when they encountered stress during their clinical practice. These negative coping strategies included becoming irritable and angry, eating too much food, drinking too much coffee, and smoking cigarettes.

“…Negative adaptation? Maybe coping. If I am stressed, I get so angry easily. I am irritable all day also…It is negative energy, right? Then, at home, I am also angry. After that, it is good to be alone to think about my problems” (P12).

“Yeah, if I…feel stress or depressed, I will eat a lot of food. Yeah, ineffective, like I will be eating a lot, drinking coffee. Like I said, effective, like I will prepare myself and do breathing, ineffective, I will eat a lot of snacks in between my free time. This is the bad side” (P16).

“…During the first clinical practice? Yes, it was a difficult experience for us…not only me. When stressed, during a break at the hospital, I will drink two or three cups of coffee… Also, I smoke cigarettes… A lot. I can drink six cups [of coffee] a day when I am stressed. After drinking coffee, I feel more relaxed, I finish everything (food) in the refrigerator or whatever I have in the pantry, like chocolates, chips, etc” (P23).

These supporting excerpts for each theme and the analysis offers valuable insights into the specific stressors faced by nursing students during their first clinical practicum. These insights will form the basis for the development of targeted interventions and supportive mechanisms within the clinical training curriculum to better support students’ adjustment and well-being during clinical practice.

Our study identified the stressors students encounter in their first clinical practicum and the coping strategies, both positive and negative, that they employed. Although this study emphasizes the importance of clinical training to prepare nursing students to practice as nurses, it also demonstrates the correlation between stressors and coping strategies.The content analysis of the first theme, managing expectations, paves the way for clinical agencies to realize that the students of today will be the nurses of tomorrow. It is important to provide a welcoming environment where students can develop their identities and learn effectively. Additionally, clinical staff should foster an environment of individualized learning while also assisting students in gaining confidence and competence in their repertoire of nursing skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills [ 8 , 15 , 19 , 30 ]. Another challenge encountered by the students in our study was that they were prevented from participating in clinical procedures by some nurses or patients. This finding is consistent with previous studies reporting that key challenges for students in clinical learning include a lack of clinical support and poor attitudes among clinical staff and instructors [ 31 ]. Clinical staff with positive attitudes have a positive impact on students’ learning in clinical settings [ 32 ]. The presence, supervision, and guidance of clinical instructors and the assistance of clinical staff are essential motivating components in the clinical learning process and offer positive reinforcement [ 30 , 33 , 34 ]. Conversely, an unsupportive learning environment combined with unwelcoming clinical staff and a lack of sense of belonging negatively impact students’ clinical learning [ 35 ].

The sources of stress identified in this study were consistent with common sources of stress in clinical training reported in previous studies, including the attitudes of some staff, students’ status in their clinical placement and educational factors. Nursing students’ inexperience in the clinical setting and lack of social and emotional experience also resulted in stress and psychological difficulties [ 36 ]. Bhurtun et al. [ 33 ] noted that nursing staff are a major source of stress for students because the students feel like they are constantly being watched and evaluated.

We also found that students were concerned about potential failure when working with patients during their clinical training. Their fear of failure when performing clinical procedures may be attributable to low self-confidence. Previous studies have noted that students were concerned about injuring patients, being blamed or chastised, and failing examinations [ 37 , 38 ]. This was described as feeling “powerless” in a previous study [ 7 , 12 ]. In addition, patients’ attitudes towards “rejecting” nursing students or patients’ refusal of their help were sources of stress among the students in our study and affected their self-confidence. Self-confidence and a sense of belonging are important for nurses’ personal and professional identity, and low self-confidence is a problem for nursing students in clinical learning [ 8 , 39 , 40 ]. Our findings are consistent with a previous study that reported that a lack of self-confidence was a primary source of worry and anxiety for nursing students and affected their communication and intention to leave nursing [ 41 ].

In the second theme, our study suggests that students encounter a theory-practice gap in clinical settings, which creates confusion and presents an additional stressors. Theoretical and clinical training are complementary elements of nursing education [ 40 ], and this combination enables students to gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to provide nursing care. This is consistent with the findings of a previous study that reported that inconsistencies between theoretical knowledge and practical experience presented a primary obstacle to the learning process in the clinical context [ 42 ], causing students to lose confidence and become anxious [ 43 ]. Additionally, the second theme, the theory-practice gap, authenticates Safian et al.’s [ 5 ] study of the theory-practice gap that exists United Arab Emirates among nursing students as well as the need for more supportive clinical faculty and the extension of clinical hours. The need for better time availability and time management to complete clinical tasks were also reported by the students in the study. Students indicated that they had insufficient time to complete clinical activities because of the volume of coursework and assignments. Our findings support those of Chaabane et al. [ 15 ]. A study conducted in Saudi Arabia [ 44 ] found that assignments and workload were among the greatest sources of stress for students in clinical settings. Effective time management skills have been linked to academic achievement, stress reduction, increased creativity [ 45 ], and student satisfaction [ 46 ]. Our findings are also consistent with previous studies that reported that a common source of stress among first-year students was the increased classroom workload [ 19 , 47 ]. As clinical assignments and workloads are major stressors for nursing students, it is important to promote activities to help them manage these assignments [ 48 ].

Another major challenge reported by the participants was related to communicating and interacting with other nurses and patients. The UAE nursing workforce and population are largely expatriate and diverse and have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Therefore, student nurses encounter difficulty in communication [ 49 ]. This cultural diversity that students encounter in communication with patients during clinical training needs to be addressed by curriculum planners through the offering of language courses and courses on cultural diversity [ 50 ].

Regarding the third and final theme, nursing students in clinical training are unable to avoid stressors and must learn to cope with or adapt to them. Previous research has reported a link between stressors and the coping mechanisms used by nursing students [ 51 , 52 , 53 ]. In particular, the inability to manage stress influences nurses’ performance, physical and mental health, attitude, and role satisfaction [ 54 ]. One such study suggested that nursing students commonly use problem-focused (dealing with the problem), emotion-focused (regulating emotion), and dysfunctional (e.g., venting emotions) stress coping mechanisms to alleviate stress during clinical training [ 15 ]. Labrague et al. [ 51 ] highlighted that nursing students use both active and passive coping techniques to manage stress. The pattern of clinical stress has been observed in several countries worldwide. The current study found that first-year students experienced stress during their first clinical training [ 35 , 41 , 55 ]. The stressors they encountered impacted their overall health and disrupted their clinical learning. Chaabane et al. [ 15 ] reported moderate and high stress levels among nursing students in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Another study from Bahrain reported that all nursing students experienced moderate to severe stress in their first clinical placement [ 56 ]. Similarly, nursing students in Spain experienced a moderate level of stress, and this stress was significantly correlated with anxiety [ 30 ]. Therefore, it is imperative that pastoral systems at the university address students’ stress and mental health so that it does not affect their clinical performance. Faculty need to utilize evidence-based interventions to support students so that anxiety-producing situations and attrition are minimized.

In our study, students reported a variety of positive and negative coping mechanisms and strategies they used when they experienced stress during their clinical practice. Positive coping strategies included time management, positive thinking, self-support/motivation, breathing, taking breaks, talking with friends, and physical activity. These findings are consistent with those of a previous study in which healthy coping mechanisms used by students included effective time management, social support, positive reappraisal, and participation in leisure activities [ 57 ]. Our study found that relaxing and talking with friends were stress management strategies commonly used by students. Communication with friends to cope with stress may be considered social support. A previous study also reported that people seek social support to cope with stress [ 58 ]. Some students in our study used physical activity to cope with stress, consistent with the findings of previous research. Stretching exercises can be used to counteract the poor posture and positioning associated with stress and to assist in reducing physical tension. Promoting such exercise among nursing students may assist them in coping with stress in their clinical training [ 59 ].

Our study also showed that when students felt stressed, some adopted negative coping strategies, such as showing anger/irritability, engaging in unhealthy eating habits (e.g., consumption of too much food or coffee), or smoking cigarettes. Previous studies have reported that high levels of perceived stress affect eating habits [ 60 ] and are linked to poor diet quality, increased snacking, and low fruit intake [ 61 ]. Stress in clinical settings has also been linked to sleep problems, substance misuse, and high-risk behaviors’ and plays a major role in student’s decision to continue in their programme.

Implications of the study

The implications of the study results can be grouped at multiple levels including; clinical, educational, and organizational level. A comprehensive approach to addressing the stressors encountered by nursing students during their clinical practicum can be overcome by offering some practical strategies to address the stressors faced by nursing students during their clinical practicum. By integrating study findings into curriculum planning, mentorship programs, and organizational support structures, a supportive and nurturing environment that enhances students’ learning, resilience, and overall success can be envisioned.

Clinical level

Introducing simulation in the skills lab with standardized patients and the use of moulage to demonstrate wounds, ostomies, and purulent dressings enhances students’ practical skills and prepares them for real-world clinical scenarios. Organizing orientation days at clinical facilities helps familiarize students with the clinical environment, identify potential stressors, and introduce interventions to enhance professionalism, social skills, and coping abilities Furthermore, creating a WhatsApp group facilitates communication and collaboration among hospital staff, clinical tutors, nursing faculty, and students, enabling immediate support and problem-solving for clinical situations as they arise, Moreover, involving chief nursing officers of clinical facilities in the Nursing Advisory Group at the Department of Nursing promotes collaboration between academia and clinical practice, ensuring alignment between educational objectives and the needs of the clinical setting [ 62 ].

Educational level

Sharing study findings at conferences (we presented the results of this study at Sigma Theta Tau International in July 2023 in Abu Dhabi, UAE) and journal clubs disseminates knowledge and best practices among educators and clinicians, promoting awareness and implementation of measures to improve students’ learning experiences. Additionally we hold mentorship training sessions annually in January and so we shared with the clinical mentors and preceptors the findings of this study so that they proactively they are equipped with strategies to support students’ coping with stressors during clinical placements.

Organizational level

At the organizational we relooked at the available student support structures, including counseling, faculty advising, and career advice, throughout the nursing program emphasizing the importance of holistic support for students’ well-being and academic success as well as retention in the nursing program. Also, offering language courses as electives recognizes the value of communication skills in nursing practice and provides opportunities for personal and professional development.

For first-year nursing students, clinical stressors are inevitable and must be given proper attention. Recognizing nursing students’ perspectives on the challenges and stressors experienced in clinical training is the first step in overcoming these challenges. In nursing schools, providing an optimal clinical environment as well as increasing supervision and evaluation of students’ practices should be emphasized. Our findings demonstrate that first-year nursing students are exposed to a variety of different stressors. Identifying the stressors, pressures, and obstacles that first-year students encounter in the clinical setting can assist nursing educators in resolving these issues and can contribute to students’ professional development and survival to allow them to remain in the profession. To overcome stressors, students frequently employ problem-solving approaches or coping mechanisms. The majority of nursing students report stress at different levels and use a variety of positive and negative coping techniques to manage stress.

The present results may not be generalizable to other nursing institutions because this study used a purposive sample along with a qualitative approach and was limited to one university in the Middle East. Furthermore, the students self-reported their stress and its causes, which may have introduced reporting bias. The students may also have over or underreported stress or coping mechanisms because of fear of repercussions or personal reasons, even though the confidentiality of their data was ensured. Further studies are needed to evaluate student stressors and coping now that measures have been introduced to support students. Time will tell if these strategies are being used effectively by both students and clinical personnel or if they need to be readdressed. Finally, we need to explore the perceptions of clinical faculty towards supervising students in their first clinical practicum so that clinical stressors can be handled effectively.

Data availability

The data sets are available with the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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The authors are grateful to all second year nursing students who voluntarily participated in the study.

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Jacqueline Maria Dias, Muhammad Arsyad Subu, Nabeel Al-Yateem, Fatma Refaat Ahmed, Syed Azizur Rahman, Mini Sara Abraham, Sareh Mirza Forootan, Farzaneh Ahmad Sarkhosh & Fatemeh Javanbakh

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Contributions

JMD conceptualized the idea and designed the methodology, formal analysis, writing original draft and project supervision and mentoring. MAS prepared the methodology and conducted the qualitative interviews and analyzed the methodology and writing of original draft and project supervision. NY, FRA, SAR, MSA writing review and revising the draft. SMF, FAS, FJ worked with MAS on the formal analysis and prepared the first draft.All authors reviewed the final manuscipt of the article.

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The Research Ethics Committee (REC) under) the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies UOS approved this study (REC 19-12-03-01-S). Additionally, a written consent was obtained from all participants and the process followed the recommended policies and guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Dr Fatma Refaat Ahmed is an editorial board member in BMC Nursing. Other authors do not have any conflict of interest

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Dias, J.M., Subu, M.A., Al-Yateem, N. et al. Nursing students’ stressors and coping strategies during their first clinical training: a qualitative study in the United Arab Emirates. BMC Nurs 23 , 322 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-01962-5

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  1. What Is A Research Gap (With Examples)

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    How to Define a Research Problem | Ideas & Examples. Published on November 2, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on May 31, 2023. A research problem is a specific issue or gap in existing knowledge that you aim to address in your research. You may choose to look for practical problems aimed at contributing to change, or theoretical problems aimed at expanding knowledge.

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    establish the research problem and scope of the study. determine the scope of funding opportunities. Identifying research gaps: A challenge for early researchers Coming up with original, innovative ideas in your chosen area of research can be tricky, especially if you are an early career researcher, for the following reasons: 3,4

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  14. Identify a Doctoral Research Problem: Finding a Gap

    If there is no gap, then the research problem is not viable. Professional doctorates will vary from this a bit depending upon the program, but you, too, will have to find existing empirical research surrounding your research problem in order to give your study context. We know that many of you have a passion about a particular issue in your ...

  15. How to Define a Research Problem

    A research problem is a specific issue or gap in existing knowledge that you aim to address in your research. You may choose to look for practical problems aimed at contributing to change, or theoretical problems aimed at expanding knowledge. Some research will do both of these things, but usually the research problem focuses on one or the other.

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    Finding a research gap is not an easy process and there is no one linear path. These tips and suggestions are just examples of possible ways to begin. ... The literature review for a gap in practice will show the context of the problem and the current state of the research. Research gap definition. A research gap exists when:

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    Problem statement: Once a researcher finds a research gap, the next step is the formation of problem statement. A problem statement is a description of research gap and can be constructed based on ...

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    October 15, 2022. by Hasa. 4 min read. The main difference between research gap and research problem is that a research gap identifies a gap in knowledge about a subject, whereas a research problem identifies and articulates the need for research. Research gap and research problem are two very similar elements of a research study.

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    Understanding the stressors and coping strategies of nursing students in their first clinical training is important for improving student performance, helping students develop a professional identity and problem-solving skills, and improving the clinical teaching aspects of the curriculum in nursing programmes. While previous research have examined nurses' sources of stress and coping styles ...