Dissertation Chapter 5: Discussion

While your dissertation’s Discussion Chapter has been years in the making—you have arguably been working toward it your entire life—now is certainly not the time to relax.  Even though all of the so-called “hard” work may be in the past, those who have not mentored you through the entire research process may not care to review the entirety of your manuscript.  Sure, your committee members will have time to read, critique, and respond to what you have poured over, time and time again.  However, for the many readers who approach your study post-publication, your Discussion Chapter may very well be the only chapter they read.  As such, do not lose heart, for this actually gives you purpose:  Recognizing all of this makes the Discussion Chapter perhaps the most important piece of your dissertation to hone and perfect; getting it right can give you staying power that you may not otherwise garner.

Now, at a high level, your Discussion Chapter must provide an explanation of your contribution to the body of knowledge in your field, yet it needs to do so by offering a compact review of your dissertation as a whole.  In order to accomplish this, your committee will likely look for you to cover several key pieces, at the least.  To start, you will necessarily need a summary of Chapters 1 and 3 wherein you reiterate the essential points from both Chapters.  This will certainly include highlighting the importance of your study and its limitations and delimitations, before then explaining your study’s design and any potential flaws therein.  Notably, all of this gets couched in the context of the related literature.

Next, you will need to provide a summary of your study and what it encompassed, including your findings and conclusions.  Additionally, you will likely want to organize this information by research question and its related hypotheses.  In fact, this organizing structure works out nicely: After you discuss each research question and its related hypotheses, you can smoothly integrate your conclusions (i.e., follow each discussion of a research question and its related hypotheses with the relevant findings and conclusions).  Importantly, you must take care here—your committee will want you to use language that makes this last part clear such that no ambiguity remains concerning what comprises your conclusions.

Furthermore, be sure to dedicate sections to discussing your results, always as they relate to the literature, as well as a section on the limitations of your results.  Thoroughly addressing these sections solidifies your position in your readers’ eyes as the expert.  You will then want to use this positioning to lay out all of the implications you recognize your results have for actual practice, while also providing insight into any recommendations you have for additional research.

Need help with your Discussion?

Schedule a time to speak with an expert using the calendar below.

Note that in your implications section, you will want to make a broader connection to the social significance of your study, especially as it relates to professional practice or applied settings.  Alternatively, in the recommendations section, you should consider what your research necessarily implies, and what your data support investigating further.  Of course, a natural place to delve into here starts with your study’s delimitations—since these represent places you did not go in your investigation—as well as areas related to the study that the current research data did not support.  Ideally, you will provide readers with a proposed methodology and design that you feel fits each recommendation.  In short, this section of your Discussion Chapter provides you with a place to help guide future efforts that emanate from what you are now polishing.

Finally, once you have all of these pieces assembled, you will need to elegantly compose a conclusion section to your Discussion Chapter that includes an overview of the chapter and your research findings.  Typically, a final description of the findings related to the research questions, along with a suggestion for how the study may further the understanding of the problem, also gets included.  Essentially, you should treat your conclusion section as your final opportunity to share a concise overview of your findings and your conclusions.

To review, your Discussion Chapter should be treated with care, and not simply because you, your mentor, and your committee want you to; it, in fact, may be the only opportunity you get to impress upon readers just how integral your study has been to advancing the knowledge in your field.  In other words, this chapter may very well be the only one people read post-publication.  And while you certainly want to be thorough, you also want to aim for a well-informed succinctness that simultaneously avoids watering down the power of what you have to offer.

Now, hopefully the overview provided above illuminates not just the importance of the Discussion Chapter, but also the groundwork necessary to build it up to the level required for high-impact value.  Still, many more best practices remain, all of which cannot be covered in an endeavor like this since they were discovered after writing and rewriting thousands of dissertation manuscripts.  Nevertheless, if you would like to discuss any additional points, or even if you would like some clarity on any of the above, Statistics Solutions would be happy to answer the call—feel free to fill out the contact request form and one of our dissertation specialists will be in touch for a Free 30-minute consultation.  We love nothing more than using our decades of experience to help dissertation students get the results we know they are capable of!