Integrating Literature into your Discussion

Dissertation Defense

The discussion portion of the dissertation can seem as if it is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part to write. Oftentimes, the biggest issue in tackling the discussion is that students overthink it. They feel an obligation to find the most significant part of their study, then look for a way to shine some sort of spotlight on it. Well, the truth of the matter is that sometimes results are not significant. But do not panic because getting non-significant results is significant in and of itself.

The discussion chapter is your opportunity to show your understanding of where your research fits into the existing body of literature. Perhaps your research aligns with, and therefore supports, what is already out there – strengthening what has been found on the problem. Or, perhaps your results are the opposite of what has been found in the extant of the literature; this is great as it means that there is still much to figure out regarding this particular problem (in other words, further research is warranted). Or, maybe your findings fall somewhere in between… that is ok too.

The point of presenting your results this way is to try to explain why your results turned out the way they did. For example, if your study (like one million other studies) found transformational leadership to be most effective in motivating employees, it may be because of the positive attributes portrayed by a transformational leader. The key here is not only to discuss whether your results are the same or different, but why your results are the same or different.

What if your results are different from the literature? What if the employees did not respond or perform well under a transformational leader despite the fact that it seems as if every other study has found the opposite? This could be because of the population you are studying, the geographical region of your study, or maybe the cultural context of your study. Also, think strategically about differences in research design, sample, instrument, or anything else that could impact results, and discuss how or why this could have caused your findings to turn out differently from other studies. The easiest way to approach this is to write it as if you are discussing your study with a peer and contemplating why things turned out as they did.

Most of all, do not forget that you conducted this study. No one knows it better than you do, and no one can discuss it better than you. Discussing your results this way also serves as good preparation for your defense.

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