How to Write a Good Discussion Section
The discussion section is a very important part of your dissertation or research paper. It is also one of the most difficult parts to write, and sometimes the longest. Yet, many students write it in a rushed manner. Eager to reach the finishing line, they miss the opportunity to fully explore their findings and put them in the context of other research in the field. The first rule that applies to writing your discussion is therefore to allow enough time to give it the credit that it deserve. Your discussion section allows you to take a fresh perspective on your findings, so you can dig deep and provide new and original ideas from your research.
Here are some of the common mistakes people make when writing their discussion section:
- Simply repeating their results section, with little reference to existing literature.
- Making conclusions that cannot be made from their data — you need to be able to differentiate between strong and weak results (do not exaggerate your findings).
- Focusing too much on the limitations of the study, which can make readers question the relevance of the work. In contrast, some can completely forget to acknowledge the limitations of their study.
- Repeating what was already said in the introduction without linking it to the results.
- Providing no conclusions.
- Introducing topics that were not covered by the study’s results/findings.
To avoid these mistakes, bear in mind that in your discussion section you are expected to interpret and explain your results, link them to other studies, answer your research question(s) and evaluate your study. You can consider following this sequence: (1) refer to your research question; (2) provide the answer; (3) justify it with relevant results; (4) link your work to the work of others.
Your discussion section is a review of your findings, and it should show you really understand them. It is generally written in the present tense, and can have subheadings to make it easier to read.
The following strategies can help you draft a good discussion:
- Explain how your findings/results relate to what is already known in the field as well as to what you expected to find. You should refer back to your introduction and establish if what you found was consistent with the existing literature, or if it was somewhat unexpected or controversial.
- If your findings were unexpected and/or contradictory, you need to explain why you think that was. Did your sampling method contribute to it? Or your choice of methodology? At this point, make sure you have sufficiently justified your methodological decisions in the methodology part of your thesis. Unusual findings can be good, but they might also elicit more questions from the committee and other readers, so make sure you have all the answers.
- Try to show both sides of your argument. Be your own devil’s advocate. This will give your conclusions more credence.
- Again, somewhere in your discussion section show that you are aware of the limitations of your study.
- Provide one or two recommendations for future research or follow-up studies.
- Make sure you address all your results, including those that were not statistically significant.
- You might also want to revisit your introduction section at this point and put more emphasis on studies that have proven relevant for the interpretation of your results.
What is the difference between a discussion section and your conclusion?
There are some similarities between the terms discussion and conclusion in academic writing. These two terms usually represent two separate concepts. While you might have noticed some similarities between the two, they both generally have a different purpose. The discussion is a detailed presentation of your findings and provides scientific back-up for your arguments. It explains your findings and interprets them in context of previous work, as well as provides some suggestions for future research. The conclusion, on the other hand, is generally brief and provides just the main points of your dissertation; i.e. the take-home message. It can be seen as a summary of your discussion and tells the reader why your research matters. For a more thorough description of the term conclusion as it applies to academic writing, you can refer to this post. If you decide to combine these two concepts, it is important that you cover all of your required topics in a systematic way. At all times, cultivate creative thinking and make sure you are telling the reader a coherent narrative that is hopefully making them excited about your results.