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Experiment!: Planning, Implementing and Interpreting by Oivind Andersson

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10.5 Determining the Scope

Most problems are complex. One of the most important tasks in planning is, therefore, to break problems down into smaller pieces that can be handled. A Ph.D. project that aims to solve world hunger, find a general cure for cancer or to find an infinite source of clean energy will almost certainly fail. This is not because these problems are impossible to solve but because they are too extensive for a limited project. The problem is very old. How does one eat a mammoth? It obviously has to be done one bite at a time. (In the end, it turns out, we actually managed to eat them all.)

The scope defines the limits of the work to be done. It involves choosing what to do and, also, what not to do. The simple reason for keeping ambitions at a realistic level is that it increases the chances of success. The problem of a Ph.D. thesis should not be too difficult to solve. The purpose of research studies is to learn the craftsmanship of research. Ph.D. students demonstrate this knowledge by making an original contribution to knowledge, but if they were expected to revolutionize their research fields, very few doctors would be graduated. This is not to say that the research problem should be trivial. The point is that you learn better by doing something that can actually be done. Almost every important problem must be broken down, scoped and treated bit by bit in order to reach a solution.

Scoping a research project has three important aspects. The first is the scientific ...

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