8 Way to identify the research gap for your PhD and MS/MPhil:ย 

A research gap is an unanswered question or problem in your field. Answering this question or solving this problem will be the objective of your PhD/MS research.

Here is one way to identify the gap.

๐Ÿ. ๐ˆ๐๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐ฒ ๐ซ๐ž๐ฌ๐ž๐š๐ซ๐œ๐ก ๐š๐ซ๐ž๐š:ย Before identifying the gap, you need to identify the area. This is quite easy. The area can either come from your previous interests or your supervisors can give it to you. For example, detecting cyber-attacks is a research area.

๐Ÿ. ๐‘๐ž๐š๐ ๐Ÿ“-๐Ÿ๐ŸŽ ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฏ๐ข๐ž๐ฐ๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐š๐ซ๐ž๐š: Once the area is identified, search for 5-10 most relevant literature reviews/secondary studies in the area. These papers have already reported a summarized view of the existing primary studies. Read these papers carefully to understand what literature already exists in the area.

๐Ÿ‘. ๐…๐จ๐œ๐ฎ๐ฌ ๐จ๐ง ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐Ÿ๐ฎ๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฌ๐ž๐š๐ซ๐œ๐ก ๐ข๐ง ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฏ๐ข๐ž๐ฐ๐ฌ: While reading these 5-10 literature reviews, focus on the future research areas, open challenges, and discussion section. Identify 3-5 research directions from these literature reviews. Detecting data exfiltration attacks is a research direction.

Are you about to start writing your PhD thesis?

๐Ÿ’. ๐‚๐ก๐ž๐œ๐ค ๐ž๐ฑ๐ข๐ฌ๐ญ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฅ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐ญ๐จ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ข๐๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐๐ข๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ฌ: Just to make sure that you don’t end up doing something that already exists, search primary studies related to the research directions. Drop the ones where exactly similar works exist.

๐Ÿ“. ๐ƒ๐ข๐ฌ๐œ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ข๐๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐๐ข๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ฌ ๐ฐ๐ข๐ญ๐ก ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐ฌ๐ฎ๐ฉ๐ž๐ซ๐ฏ๐ข๐ฌ๐จ๐ซ๐ฌ: Make a few slides to present the remaining directions to your supervisors. From here, you should pick the direction where you and your supervisor see the most potential.

๐Ÿ”. ๐‚๐จ๐ง๐๐ฎ๐œ๐ญ ๐š ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฏ๐ข๐ž๐ฐ ๐จ๐ง ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ข๐๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐ข๐ž๐ ๐๐ข๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง: Once the direction is picked, do a literature review on the specific direction. If no paper exists at all in this direction, this could mean two things – either the topic is not worth doing research or the topic is good but too new.

๐Ÿ•. ๐ˆ๐๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ข๐Ÿ๐ฒ ๐œ๐ซ๐ข๐ฉ๐ฌ ๐ ๐š๐ฉ๐ฌ ๐ฏ๐ข๐š ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฏ๐ข๐ž๐ฐ: This literature review process should get you the crisp gap. However, it won’t come automatically. While reading each paper, note down the points that you think could be worth future research. This will become part of your discussion or future research section. For example, detecting data exfiltration attacks in real-time is a gap.

๐Ÿ–. ๐‚๐ก๐ž๐œ๐ค ๐ซ๐ž๐ฌ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ๐œ๐ž๐ฌ ๐ซ๐ž๐ช๐ฎ๐ข๐ซ๐ž๐ ๐ญ๐จ ๐Ÿ๐ข๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ ๐š๐ฉ: Once you have identified the research gap, check what kind of resources, data, infrastructure, etc, you need to conduct this research. Make sure that you can have access to these resources before you start working on the gap.

Writer: Faheem Ullah
Assistant Professor
Computer Science, Australia

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