This article gives doctoral dissertation students valuable guidance on how to go about writing their Discussion chapter. The article starts by outlining the main goals and writing approaches. Then the article explains 12 specific steps to take to write an effective discussion chapter.
Discussion Chapter: Main Goals and Writing Approaches
You should always keep in mind the main goals when writing your Discussion chapter. These include stating your interpretations, declaring your opinions, explaining the effects of your findings, and making suggestions and predictions for future research.
With the main goals mentioned, it is interesting to note how to go about writing this chapter. To do this, follow three important suggestions:
- Answer those questions posed in the introduction (central research questions)
- Show how the answers are supported by the results
- Explain how the answers fit relative to the existing body of knowledge about the subject
Keep in mind that the Discussion chapter can be considered the most important part of your dissertation. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you may need more than one writing attempt for this chapter.
The 12 Steps to an Effective Discussion Chapter
To make sure your message remains crystal-clear, the Discussion chapter should be short and sweet, but it should fully state, support, elaborate, explain, and defend your conclusions. Take great care to ensure the writing is a commentary and not simply a regurgitation of results. Side (distracting) issues should not be written about because they will cloud the essence of your message. There is no perfect dissertation, but help your reader determine what the facts are and what is speculation.
Here are 12 steps to keep in mind when writing your Discussion Chapter:
- Always try to structure your Discussion chapter from the ‘specific’ to the ‘general’: expand and transition from the narrow confines of your study to the general framework of your discipline.
- Make a consistent effort to stick with the same general tone of the introduction. This means using the same key terms, the same tense, and the same point of view as used in your introduction.
- Start by rewriting your research questions and re-stating your hypothesis (if any) that you previously posed in your introduction. Then declare the answers to your research questions – make sure to support these answers with the findings of your dissertation.
- Continue by explaining how your results relate to the expectations of your study and to literature. Clearly explain why these results are acceptable and how they consistently fit in with previously published knowledge about the subject. Be sure to use relevant citations.
- Make sure to give the proper attention for all the results relating to your research questions, this is regardless of whether or not the findings were statistically significant.
- Don’t forget to tell your audience about the patterns, principles, and key relationships shown by each of your major findings and then put them into perspective. The sequencing of this information is important: 1) state the answer, 2) show the relevant results and 3) cite the work of credible sources. When necessary, point the audience to figures and/or graphs to ‘enhance’ your argument.
- Make sure to defend your answers. Try to do so in two ways: by explaining the validity of your answer and by showing the shortcomings of others’ answers. You will make your point of view more convincing if you give both sides to the argument.
- Also make sure to identify conflicting data in your work. Make a good point of discussing and evaluating any conflicting explanations of your results. This is an effective way to win over your audience and make them sympathetic to any true knowledge your study might have to offer.
- Make sure to include a discussion of any unexpected findings. When doing this, begin with a paragraph about the finding and then describe it. Also identify potential limitations and weaknesses inherent in your study. Then comment on the importance of these limitations to the interpretation of your findings and how they may impact their validity. Do not use an apologetic tone in this section. Every study has limitations.
- Conduct a brief summary of the principal implications of your findings (do this regardless of any statistical significance). Make sure to provide 1-2 recommendations for potential research in the future.
- Show how the results of your study and their conclusions are significant and how they impact our understanding of the problem(s) that your dissertation examines.
- On a final note, discuss everything this is relevant but be brief, specific, and to the point.
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