Having presented the results of a study, it is pivotal to discuss their significance to the field and single out any problems related to their interpretation. Students should devote enough time to working on this part of their research project because the quality of the discussion section is indicative of the researchers’ critical thinking and academic integrity.
Goals and Importance of the Discussion Section
The discussion section is among the most important parts of any research paper. It is concerned with the interpretation of findings and helps to establish their significance to the chosen topic, as well as the general research field. Significantly, this section should touch upon the findings of other researchers within the related topic area, and compare different results and approaches to the problem. The importance of the discussion section cannot be overstated because it provides answers to the research questions, acting as “the last chance to sell the paper” (Bavdekar 40). As such, working on this section, researchers should analyze and present their final arguments in a clear and consistent manner.
Components of the Discussion Section
An effective discussion section should present statements that are consistent with what has been said earlier and, at the same time, add something new and valuable to the topic. The key components to be included in the section may vary, depending on the scientific field and the type of study, and this is why there are many successful approaches to the organization of discussions. However, according to modern researchers, a universal formula that helps to organize effective discussions includes the following five components:
- Summary of findings – the presentation of the most important findings in a clear and organized way, and consistent with the previously identified research questions;
- Limitations of the study – the interpretation of the presented results, with special attention to external factors and mistakes that can impact the credibility and applicability of findings (sample size, data collection difficulties, subject biases, timing issues, access to resources, etc.);
- Discussion of future research directions – the presentation of statements devoted to the aspects of the problem that are still under researched;
- Implications – the presented findings placed in the context of similar studies and discussed with special attention to their role in studying the topic;
- Conclusions – statements that summarize the subsections listed above and restate the facts that make the findings significant and thought-provoking (Fiske 112).
Discussion of Limitations
As is clear from the previous section, it is especially important to include actual and potential limitations in the discussion section. In fact, the failure to implement this recommendation can be detrimental to the researchers’ position within the scientific community. For instance, if an author fails to recognize and present factors that can reduce the credibility of findings, she or he can be suspected of data fabrication or similar actions. In addition, by listing and explaining the potential influence of some issues on final results, researchers can prevent their work from being unfairly criticized or misused in future projects. For students, this point is also extremely important because thoroughly discussed limitations demonstrate their intellectual integrity, responsibility, and critical thinking, thus impacting on the grading process. To provide an effective discussion of limitations, students can implement the following recommendations:
- Present all limitations that are relevant to the situation and use this information to provide future researchers with recommendations (for instance, from credibility considerations, the study may need to be replicated with larger/more diverse samples);
- Properly define limitations to facilitate the identification of any existing research gaps;
- The potential limitations should not be overemphasized – it can damage the study’s credibility and call into question the study results;
- Avoid listing all limitations without also providing an explanation for their actual/potential impact on any conclusions;
- All limitations should be analyzed with attention to their impact on the results, and it is important to use this “rating” to choose the key issues that warrant discussion;
- Close attention should be paid to cognitive biases if the study uses interviews or various forms of self-reports (Bavdekar 41);
- The absence of previous studies focusing on the chosen topic is an important limitation in itself, and the failure to discuss this issue will negatively impact on the quality of the current paper.
Mistakes and Ways to Avoid Them
In order to write an effective discussion of research results, students are expected to be aware of potential key mistakes related to this part of a research paper. Common mistakes made by inexperienced researchers primarily relate to the contents of the section and the consistency of statements previously mentioned elsewhere in the study. Mistakes to avoid when working on the discussion section and improvement recommendations are presented in the table below:
|Use of long and overly general arguments (Bavdekar 41).||Revisions with focused attention to the following:|
|Discussion of any findings that are new and have not been presented earlier.|
|Failure to discuss the findings compared to the expected results (Bavdekar 41).|
|Repetition of the discussion in the introduction.|
|Historical background and other researchers’ conclusions are overemphasized.|
|The presence of unjustified speculations (Fiske 114).|
|Inconsistent use of terminology.|
In conclusion, the ability to provide a well-organized discussion that presents and analyzes findings in an objective manner is crucial for any successful research study. The discussion section defines the quality of the paper and the applicability of results, critical for receiving any high level grade. At the same time, the degree to which the researcher is transparent and consistent in defining the limitations they faced impacts on his or her reputation in the general scientific community. In order to make the discussion section as effective as possible, students are advised to focus on 3 key areas: consistency, transparency, and clarity.