I'm writing a classroom research paper and this is the sentence I'm struggling with:

"...From this point of view, although just a drop in the bucket, the present research helps form a solid conviction on the best way to approach SLA vocabulary instruction."

I think a drop in the bucket is not appropriate in this context. Is there a formal way to say this? Preferably keep the idiomatic aspect in mind.

Thank you.

  • Are you looking for a word like "insignificant", or a common phrase that is more formal?
    – fixer1234
    Apr 7, 2017 at 7:56
  • @fixer1234 I want to use an expression or idiom to give the sentence some color but if there isn't anything in particular then a more formal word is better.
    – Yuri
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:24
  • You're making the point that it actually has value, though small. Perhaps something along the lines of "although only a small contribution,..."
    – fixer1234
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:45
  • helps forming... ??
    – TimR
    Apr 7, 2017 at 9:02
  • @TRomano Correct. that was a mistake. in my comment i used form or to form :) i'll edit that right away.
    – Yuri
    Apr 7, 2017 at 9:34

3 Answers 3


a drop in the bucket
An insufficient or inconsequential amount in comparison with what is required. (The Free Dictionary)

There are a few words to choose from: minute, minuscule, and their various synonyms. But I think the definition above gives a good possibility:

not enough in amount, strength, or quality; less than is needed:
There was insufficient evidence, so we had to find him not guilty.
(Cambridge Dictionary)

This implies that the current research is not enough to prove that it's the best approach, but that the research does suggest it.

Another possibility is incomplete:

lacking some parts, or not finished:
The polls have closed but the results of the election are still incomplete.
(Cambridge Dictionary)

This implies that the research is somehow not finished, but that there is enough to suggest that this method is best.

  • If I want to use your suggestion in my sentence I think i have to change it into an adverb: "From this point of view, although insufficiently, the present research helps..." Am I right?
    – Yuri
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:37
  • "inconsequential" is probably the best word in your answer, that's actually the meaning of the expression. As a phrase: "although of little consequence,..."
    – fixer1234
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:39
  • @Yuri Interesting. It's possible. My version emphasizes that the research is insufficient/"not enough", but it's good enough to use; whereas I think your version emphasizes that the research suggests that it is best, but "poorly"/insufficiently. By the way, I assume in your post that you mean my version. Please clarify if I have assumed incorrectly.
    – Em.
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:45
  • @fixer1234 The dictionary states insufficient or inconsequential. I proposed insufficient because inconsequential to me implies that the research had no value.
    – Em.
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:49
  • You're right. It dawned on me that "drop in the bucket" probably isn't a good starting point for exactly that reason.
    – fixer1234
    Apr 7, 2017 at 8:51

In British English the expression a drop in the ocean is more widely used... and IMHO sounds more formal.

This NGram shows the relative frequencies in British English.


You could say

... although it is only a start, ...

... although it is only a step in the right direction, ...

... although it is only a beginning, ...

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