I. General Rules
These are the general rules you should adopt when composing your discussion of the results:
- Do not be verbose or repetitive
- Be concise and make your points clearly
- Avoid using jargon
- Follow a logical stream of thought; in general, interpret and discuss the significance of your findings in the same sequence you described them in your results section
- Use the present verb tense, especially for established facts; however, refer to specific works or prior studies in the past tense
- If needed, use subheadings to help organize your discussion or to categorize your interpretations into themes
II. The Content
The content of the discussion section of your paper most often includes:
- Explanation of results: comment on whether or not the results were expected for each set of results; go into greater depth when explaining findings that were unexpected or especially profound. If appropriate, note any unusual or unanticipated patterns or trends that emerged from your results and explain their meaning in relation to the research problem.
- References to previous research: either compare your results with the findings from other studies or use the studies to support a claim. This can include re-visiting key sources already cited in your literature review section, or, save them to cite later in the discussion section if they are more important to compare with your results instead of being a part of the general literature review of research used to provide context and background information. Note that you can make this decision to highlight specific studies after you have begun writing the discussion section.
- Deduction: a claim for how the results can be applied more generally. For example, describing lessons learned, proposing recommendations that can help improve a situation, or highlighting best practices.
- Hypothesis: a more general claim or possible conclusion arising from the results [which may be proved or disproved in subsequent research]. This can be framed as new research questions that emerged as a result of your analysis.
III. Organization and Structure
Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper:
- Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice [if appropriate].
- Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense [present] that you used when when describing the research problem in your introduction.
- Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction.
- Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major findings and place them in proper perspective. The sequence of this information is important; first state the answer, then the relevant results, then cite the work of others. If appropriate, refer the reader to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data [either within the text or as an appendix]. The order of interpreting each major finding should be in the same order as they were described in your results section.
- A good discussion section includes analysis of any unexpected findings. This part of the discussion should begin with a description of any unanticipated findings, followed by a brief interpretation as to why you believe it appeared and, if necessary, its possible significance in relation to the overall study. If more than one unexpected finding emerged during the study, describe each them in the order they appeared as you gathered or analyzed the data. The exception to discussing findings in the same order you described them in the results section would be to begin by highlighting the implications of a particularly unexpected or significant finding that emerged from the study, followed by a discussion of the remaining findings.
- Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses if you do not plan to do so in the conclusion. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings. Avoid using an apologetic tone; however, be honest and self-critical [e.g., in retrospective, you believe including a particular question in a survey instrument could have revealed additional data].
- The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of significance. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. However, do not offer recommendations which could have been easily addressed within the study. This would demonstrate to the reader that you have inadequately examined and interpreted the data.
IV. Overall Objectives
The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:
I. Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings
Briefly reiterate the research problem or problems you are investigating and the methods you used to investigate them, then move quickly to describe the major findings of the study. You should write a direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results, usually in one paragraph.
II. Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important
Consider the likelihood that no one has thought as long and hard about your study as you have. Systematically explain the underlying meaning of your findings and state why you believe they are significant. After reading the discussion section, you want the reader to think critically about the results [“why didn't I think of that?”]. You don’t want to force the reader to go through the paper multiple times to figure out what it all means. If applicable, begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most significant or unanticipated finding first, then systematically review each finding. Otherwise, follow the general order you reported the findings in the results section.
III. Relate the Findings to Similar Studies
No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for your research. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps to support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your study differs from other research about the topic. Note that any significant or unanticipated finding is often because there was no prior research to indicate the finding could occur. If there is prior research to indicate this, you need to explain why it was significant or unanticipated.
IV. Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings
It is important to remember that the purpose of research in the social sciences is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. This is especially important when describing the discovery of significant or unanticipated findings.
V. Acknowledge the Study’s Limitations
It is far better for you to identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor! Note any unanswered questions or issues your study did not address and describe the generalizability of your results to other situations. If a limitation is applicable to the method chosen to gather information, then describe in detail the problems you encountered and why.
VI. Make Suggestions for Further Research
You may choose to conclude the discussion section by making suggestions for further research [this can be done in the overall conclusion of your paper]. Although your study may offer important insights about the research problem, this is where you can address other questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or highlight previously hidden questions that were revealed as a result of conducting your research. You should frame your suggestions by linking the need for further research to the limitations of your study [e.g., in future studies, the survey instrument should include more questions that ask..."] or to critical issues revealed from the data that were not considered initially in your research.
NOTE: Besides the literature review section, the preponderance of references to sources is usually found in the discussion section. A few historical references may be helpful for perspective but most of the references should be relatively recent and included to aid in the interpretation of your results or used to link to similar studies. If a study that you cited disagrees with your findings, don't ignore it--clearly explain why your research findings differ from theirs.
V. Problems to Avoid
- Do not waste time restating your results. Should you need to remind the reader of a finding to be discussed, use "bridge sentences" that relate the result to the interpretation. An example would be: “In the case of determining available housing to single women with children in rural areas of Texas, the findings suggest that access to good schools is important," then move on to explaining this finding.
- Recommendations for further research can be included in either the discussion or conclusion of your paper, but do not repeat your recommendations in the both sections. Think about the overall narrative flow of your paper to determine where best to locate this information.
- Do not introduce new results in the discussion section. Be wary of mistaking the reiteration of a specific finding for an interpretation because it may confuse the reader. The description of findings [results] and the interpretation of their significance [discussion] should be distinct sections of your paper. If you choose to combine the results section and the discussion section into a single narrative, you must be clear in how you report the information discovered and your own interpretation of each finding.
- Use of the first person is generally acceptable. Using first person can help emphasize a point or illustrate a contrasting finding. However, keep in mind that too much use of the first person can actually distract the reader from the main points [i.e., I know you're telling me this; just tell me!].
Analyzing vs. Summarizing. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Discussion. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Hess, Dean R. "How to Write an Effective Discussion." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004); Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sauaia, A. et al. "The Anatomy of an Article: The Discussion Section: "How Does the Article I Read Today Change What I Will Recommend to my Patients Tomorrow?” The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 74 (June 2013): 1599-1602; Research Limitations & Future Research. Lund Research Ltd., 2012; Summary: Using it Wisely. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Discussion. Writing in Psychology course syllabus. University of Florida; Yellin, Linda L. A Sociology Writer's Guide. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009.
Overview | Abstract| Introduction |Literature Review | Materials & Methods | Results & Discussion | Conclusion & Future Work | Acknowledgements & Appendix
The results and discussion sections are one of the challenging sections to write. It is important to plan this section carefully as it may contain a large amount of scientific data that needs to be presented in a clear and concise fashion. The purpose of a Results section is to present the key results of your research. Results and discussions can either be combined into one section or organized as separate sections depending on the requirements of the journal to which you are submitting your research paper. Use subsections and subheadings to improve readability and clarity. Number all tables and figures with descriptive titles. Present your results as figures and tables and point the reader to relevant items while discussing the results. This section should highlight significant or interesting findings along with P values for statistical tests. Be sure to include negative results and highlight potential limitations of the paper. You will be criticised by the reviewers if you don’t discuss the shortcomings of your research. This often makes up for a great discussion section, so do not be afraid to highlight them.
The results and discussion section of your research paper should include the following:
- Comparison with prior studies
- Limitations of your work
- Casual arguments
- Deductive arguments
Academic Phrases, Sentences & Vocabulary
From the short review above, key findings emerge: __
We describe the results of __, which show __
This suggests that __
We showed that __
Our findings on __ at least hint that __
This is an important finding in the understanding of the __
The present study confirmed the findings about __
Another promising finding was that __
Our results demonstrated that __
This result highlights that little is known about the __
A further novel finding is that __
Together, the present findings confirm __
The implications of these findings are discussed in __
The results demonstrate two things. First, __. Second, __
The results of the experiment found clear support for the __
This analysis found evidence for __
Planned comparisons revealed that __
Our results casts a new light on __
This section summarises the findings and contributions made.
It performs well, giving good results.
This gives clearly better results than __
The results confirm that this a good choice for __
From the results, it is clear that __
In this section, we will illustrate some experimental results.
This delivers significantly better results due to __
The result now provides evidence to __
It leads to good results, even if the improvement is negligible.
This yields increasingly good results on data.
The result of this analysis is then compared with the __
The applicability of these new results are then tested on __
This is important to correctly interpret the results.
The results are substantially better than __
The results lead to similar conclusion where __
Superior results are seen for __
From these results it is clear that __
Extensive results carried out show that this method improves __
We obtain good results with this simple method.
However, even better results are achieved when using our algorithm.
It is worth discussing these interesting facts revealed by the results of __
Overall, our method was the one that obtained the most robust results.
Slightly superior results are achieved with our algorithm.
The result is equal to or better than a result that is currently accepted.
2. Comparison with prior studies:
The results demonstrated in this chapter match state of the art methods.
Here we compare the results of the proposed method with those of the traditional methods.
These results go beyond previous reports, showing that __
In line with previous studies __
This result ties well with previous studies wherein __
Contrary to the findings of __ we did not find __
They have demonstrated that __
Others have shown that __ improves __
By comparing the results from __, we hope to determine __
However, in line with the ideas of __, it can be concluded that __
When comparing our results to those of older studies, it must be pointed out that __
We have verified that using __ produces similar results
Overall these findings are in accordance with findings reported by __
Even though we did not replicate the previously reported __, our results suggest that __
A similar conclusion was reached by __
However, when comparing our results to those of older studies, it must be pointed out __
This is consistent with what has been found in previous __
A similar pattern of results was obtained in __
The findings are directly in line with previous findings
These basic findings are consistent with research showing that __
Other results were broadly in line with __
3. Limitations of your work:
Because of the lack of __ we decided to not investigate __
One concern about the findings of __ was that __
Because of this potential limitation, we treat __
The limitations of the present studies naturally include __
Regarding the limitations of __, it could be argued that __
Another limitation of this __
This limitation is apparent in many __
Another limitation in __ involves the issue of __
The main limitation is the lack of __
One limitation is found in this case.
One limitation of these methods however is that they __
It presents some limitations such as __
Although widely accepted, it suffers from some limitations due to __
An apparent limitation of the method is __
There are several limitations to this approach.
One limitation of our implementation is that it is __
A major source of limitation is due to __
The approach utilised suffers from the limitation that __
The limitations are becoming clear __
It suffers from the same limitations associated with a __
4. Casual arguments:
A popular explanation of __ is that __
It is by now generally accepted that __
A popular explanation is that __
As it is not generally agreed that __
These are very small and difficult to observe.
It is important to highlight the fact that __
It is notable that __
An important question associated with __ is __
This did not impair the __
This is important because there is __
This implies that __ is associated with __
This is indicative for lack of __
This will not be biased by __
There were also some important differences in __
It is interesting to note that, __
It is unlikely that __
This may alter or improve aspects of __
In contrast, this makes it possible to __
This is particularly important when investigating __
This has been used to successfully account for __
This introduces a possible confound in __
This was included to verify that __
However, we acknowledge that there are considerable discussions among researchers as to __
We speculate that this might be due to __
There are reasons to doubt this explanation of __
It remains unclear to which degree __ are attributed to __
However, __ does seem to improve __
This does seem to depend on __
It is important to note, that the present evidence relies on __
The results show that __ does not seem to impact the __
However, the extent to which it is possible to __ is unknown
Alternatively, it could simply mean that __
It is difficult to explain such results within the context of __
It is unclear whether this is a suitable for __
This appears to be a case of __
From this standpoint, __ can be considered as __
To date, __remain unknown
Under certain assumptions, this can be construed as __
Because of this potential limitation, we treat __
In addition, several questions remain unanswered.
At this stage of understanding, we believe__
Therefore, it remains unclear whether __
This may explain why __
6. Deductive Arguments:
A difference between these __ can only be attributable to __
Nonetheless, we believe that it is well justified to __
This may raise concerns about __ which can be addressed by __
As discussed, this is due to the fact that __
Results demonstrate that this is not necessarily true.
These findings support the notion that __ is not influenced by __
This may be the reason why we did not find __
In order to test whether this is equivalent across __, we __
Therefore, __ can be considered to be equivalent for __
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