Writing the analysis/discussion

The analysis/discussion is a major section. This is where you pull your whole thesis together, where you show your contribution to knowledge. Your conclusions derive from the discussion section and need to be linked to the research question, the literature, methodologies and the findings and include limitations, implications and suggestions for further research.

As mentioned in the page on results, in some fields results and discussions are merged. This is fine, as long as there is an analytical discussion.

The discussion can NOT be:

  • a presentation of endless raw data, or
  • a summary of the findings.

The discussion is often difficult as it requires creative thinking (Evans & Gruba, 2002) and the confidence to pull out implications and conclusions from results. This is where new ideas emerge through comparing results with the following:

  • with results
  • with what could have been expected from theory
  • with the literature.

The discussion should be a result of an argument built through the thesis. You are now interpreting your findings and as you do that you steer your writing in the direction of achieving or revising your research aims and objectives (Murray, 2003, p 232) and move back from specific to the general (Foss and Waters 2007, p 224) and possibly proceed to generalisations/transferability of findings and implications.

When you are discussing your results, you are:

  • explaining
  • comparing results
  • commenting on whether the results are expected or unexpected
  • commenting on data
  • drawing implications (for theory or practice).

In the discussion section

  • Explain what you have learned from the study. This needs to also be present in the title, abstract and introduction which then prepares the reader to your discussion/point of view.
  • Do not slowly build up to a strong point by starting with the weakest findings. Lead with the most important bit; it gives you a strategy for discussion. Remember the aim of the research.
  • Do not just repeat what is in the results.

An outstanding discussion is stimulating and insightful. It places the work in context, draws out its importance, significance and implications (Lovitts 2007, p 47).

Discussions generally include a:

  • reminder of original purpose
  • background information as a reminder
  • reference to the methodology
  • statement of results, with examples from data used to introduce the discussion which draws together your research questions and your own research results.
  • reference to theory
  • how your findings answer your question
  • possible conclusion(s) – deductions, hypotheses
  • possible explanations for or speculations about the findings
  • an indication of the significance of the findings?
  • whether results where expected or not and why?
  • limitations of study
  • implications (for theory, applications, policy…) for further research and recommendations. Implications, recommendations and practical applications may also be provided in a separate chapter or in the final conclusion.

In a discussion you need to go back and compare your findings with previous research.  Since your research aims to make a contribution to knowledge, it is essential to show how your results fit in with other work that has been done in your field. Remember the following points:

  • How do your findings align with the literature: do they agree, extend or contradict? Can you explain? Point out the agreements and disagreements between your data and that of others. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of alternative interpretations from the literature.
  • You need to move backwards and forwards between others’ research and your own research, making it clear what was done by others, what was been done by you and how this is complementary (or not).

Using the right verb tense

In the discussion section you are expected to use a range of tenses depending on:

  • whether results are being discussed, or
  • whether claims or generalisations based on the results are being made.

A general rule:

  • Use present tense when making statements about how things are (interpreting the results),
  • Use past tense when making statements about what was found (referring to results).

Examples

The research attempted to assess …

We originally assumed that …

The participants in the restorative program did not …

These results are in substantial agreement with those of …

It appears that …

The approach outlined in this study should be replicated in other settings…

We recommend that the approach outlined in this study be replicated in other …

References

Bern, D. (2003). ‘Writing the empirical journal article’ in Darley,J.M., Zanna, M.P. & RoedigerIII, H.L. (eds) (2003). The complete academic. A practical guide for the beginning social scientist (2nd ed), American Psychological Association: Washington.

Evans, D & Gruba, P. (2002). How to write a better thesis. Melbourne University Press: Carlton South, Vic.

Foss, S. & Waters, W. (2007). Destination dissertation. A traveler’s guide to a done dissertation. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers: Lanham.

Lovitts. Barbara E.(2007). Making the implicit explicit. Creating performance expectation for the dissertation. Stylus Publishing: Sterling Virginia.  (UC Library LB 2369.L6.2007)

Murray, R. (2003). How to write a thesis. Open University Press Maidenhead.