Q: Can I use the terms 'scope' and 'delimitations' interchangeably?

Detailed Question -

I have seen some answers on this website that imply that the terms 'scope' and 'delimitations' can be used interchangeably. As it is impossible to study every facet of the topic, researchers need to mention what they have included and what they have excluded. In many research papers, scholars include these statements under the section 'Scope of the study.' However, delimitations can refer to the same thing, as one needs to mention what they have excluded and what they have included. Creswell (2012) states that delimitations narrow the scope of the study. To me, it seems the same thing.

1 Answer to this question

Hello Safaa – Welcome back to the forum! Yes, you are right. On the forum, we have often referred to ‘scope’ and ‘delimitations’ as one when speaking in larger terms. However, academically and technically, there is a difference between them.

So, although both scope and delimitations imply defining boundaries, scope is the broader term and describes (in the context of a research paper or thesis) what the study in question covers in broad terms. Here are some examples:

  • The scope of the present study extends to the effects of strenuous physical exercise on the elderly.
  • Our research will be confined to crops cultivated in greenhouses.
  • This investigation will focus on metal alloys in which one of the metals is copper.

Delimitations describe (in greater detail and within the boundaries defined by scope) what will be included and what will be excluded. In the examples given above, delimitations can be, respectively:

  • The kind of strenuous exercise (running uphill, lifting heavy weights, or sprinting), elaboration of the term elderly (60 years or more, 70 years or more, etc.), and, perhaps, other attributes such as healthy men or healthy women versus those recovering from a heart attack
  • The kind of crops, namely flowers, leafy vegetables, herbs, and so on
  • Specific alloys of copper, whether bronze, brass, gunmetal, sterling silver, and so on; the properties that will be studied, namely conductivity, ductility, resistance to rust, and so on; or the treatments to which the alloys will be subjected, namely heating at high temperatures, exposure to strong acids, abrasion, and so on.

Simply put, imagine two concentric circles: scope is the outer circle, whereas delimitations form the inner circle.

Hope that helps. As you may have already gone through the resources we have on scope and delimitations, we won’t be sharing those here. Instead, you may refer to the following resources, which are about the section of a paper in which scope/delimitations are discussed:

[With inputs from Yateendra Joshi]