The discussion section is where you dig deeper into the meaning, importance, and relevance of your findings. Writing the discussion helps focus on explaining and evaluating what you found, showing how it relates to your literature review, and presenting an argument in support of your conclusion general. It shouldn't be a second section of results.
There are different ways to write this section, but you can focus your writing around these key elements:
- Summary: A brief summary of your main findings
- Interpretations: What do your results mean?
- Implications: Why are your results important?
- Limits: what can't your results tell us?
- Recommendations: Avenues for additional studies or analyzes
There is often some overlap between your discussion and your conclusion, but they are usually separate sections. However, in some cases, these two sections are combined.
If you're unsure of best practices for your field, consult sample essays in your field or your department's guidelines.
There are a few common mistakes to avoid when writing the discussion section of your article.
- Do not introduce new results: you should only discuss data that you have already reported in your results section.
- Don't make overstated claims: Avoid overinterpretation and speculation that isn't directly supported by your data.
- Don't undermine your research: The discussion of limitations should be about building your credibility, not emphasizing weaknesses or failures.
Summary of your main results
Begin this section by reiterating your research problem and concisely summarizing your main conclusions. Don't just repeat all the data you've already reported, aim for a clear statement of the overall result that directly answers your main research question. It shouldn't be more than a paragraph.
Many searchers are unaware of the differences between a discussion section and a results section. The crux of the matter is that your results sections should present your results, and your discussion section should assess them subjectively. Try not to mix things up in these two sections, to keep your paper neat.
Give the interpretation of the results
What your results mean may seem obvious to you, but it's important to spell out what they mean to your reader, showing exactly how they answer your research question.
The form of your interpretations will depend on the type of research, but some typical approaches to interpreting data include:
- Identify correlations, patterns and relationships between data
- Discuss whether the results met your expectations or supported your assumptions
- Contextualize your findings within previous research and theories
- Explain unexpected results and assess their significance
- Consider other possible explanations and argue your position
You can organize your discussion around key themes, hypotheses or research questions, following the same structure as the results section. Alternatively, you can also start by highlighting the most significant or unexpected results.
In addition to giving your own interpretations, be sure to relate your findings to the academic work you reviewed in the literature review. The discussion should show how your findings fit with existing knowledge, what new insights they bring, and what implications they have for theory or practice.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do your results support or challenge existing theories?
- If they support existing theories, what new information do they provide?
- If they challenge existing theories, why do you think that is?
- Are there any practical implications?
Your overall goal is to show the reader exactly what your research has yielded and why they should care.
Give the limits
Even the best research has its limits. Recognizing them is important to demonstrate your credibility. Limitations are not about listing your mistakes, but about providing an accurate picture of what can and cannot be concluded from your study.
Limitations may be due to the overall design of your research, specific methodological choices, or unforeseen obstacles that have arisen during your research process.
You should only mention limitations directly related to your research objectives. Then, share the impact they had on achieving your research goals.
Here are some common possibilities:
- If your sample size was small or limited to a specific group of people, explain how generalizability is limited.
- If you have encountered any problems while collecting ordata analysis, explain how these influenced the results.
- If there are potential confounding variables that you could not control, acknowledge the effect they may have had.
After noting the limitations, you can reiterate why the results are nonetheless valid for the purpose of answering your research question.
Give an opening
Based on the discussion of your results, you can make recommendations for practical implementation or further research. Sometimes recommendations are saved for conclusion.
Suggestions for further research can flow directly from the limitations. Don't just say that more studies should be done, give concrete ideas on how future work can build on areas that your own research hasn't been able to address.