Discussion Section

The discussion section is a crucial section of your dissertation. The discussion section links the results of your research to the conclusions you are drawing, explaining how you use your data to explain your results.

Before you present your data, you should explain again, very briefly, the purpose and scope of your research study.

  • What did you set out to study?
  • What did you expect to find?
  • What was the basic theoretical framework in which you approached the study?
  • What context did previous research provide your research?
  • What methods did you use?
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Then, when you report your data, you should not simply list the data. For example, results of a survey should not follow each survey question and the report of data for each. Instead, data and findings should be presented in a logical way that makes sense in light of your research purpose and the questions or problems you were investigating. Be careful to organize your discussion by themes rather than the output of statistical analysis. One purpose of your discussion section is to make clear what your findings mean in relation to the purposes of your research. A simple narrative account of your data is not a discussion.

In order to present your data meaningfully, you will need to examine your data and find meaningful patterns. You may need to organize your data in a way that is different from the way in which your surveys or other instruments were organized. Data that make the same point could be grouped together and discussed as a cluster. You might draw on striking examples from your data to illustrate a single point. Use your research questions or hypotheses to structure your discussion. Do not discuss F and p values but rather discuss how the data either support or do not support your hypotheses. If you can discern relationships between variables, explain how you are able to do so and what those relationships are.

  • Were any of your results unexpected?
  • How did your data compare to data found in previous research?
  • Do they support or contradict it?

If you can think of possible explanations for unusual findings, present those explanations. It may be that the data reveal weaknesses in your research design and methodology. It may be that you findings are so difficult to explain that you will only be able to recommend further research.

To demonstrate your methodological rigor, you must be very careful and logical in moving from what you found to what you can reasonably conclude, infer, or deduce from that. The discussion section should not include your opinion or bias or personal feelings. It should treat only the data and what can be logically concluded from the data.

In general, the discussion section should show you thinking about your data and what your data mean for your purpose in doing the research and the questions or hypotheses you were exploring or testing. The discussion should help move the reader from the simple facts of the data analysis to the more general, theoretical, or contextual statements of your conclusion.