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Result And Discussion In Thesis Statement

When writing a dissertation or thesis, the results and discussion sections can be both the most interesting as well as the most challenging sections to write.

You may choose to write these sections separately, or combine them into a single chapter, depending on your university’s guidelines and your own preferences.

There are advantages to both approaches.

Writing the results and discussion as separate sections allows you to focus first on what results you obtained and set out clearly what happened in your experiments and/or investigations without worrying about their implications.

This can focus your mind on what the results actually show and help you to sort them in your head.

However, many people find it easier to combine the results with their implications as the two are closely connected.

Check your university’s requirements carefully before combining the results and discussions sections as some specify that they must be kept separate.


Results Section

The Results section should set out your key experimental results, including any statistical analysis and whether or not the results of these are significant.

You should cover any literature supporting your interpretation of significance. It does not have to include everything you did, particularly for a doctorate dissertation. However, for an undergraduate or master's thesis, you will probably find that you need to include most of your work.

You should write your results section in the past tense: you are describing what you have done in the past.

Warning!


Every result included MUST have a method set out in the methods section. Check back to make sure that you have included all the relevant methods.

Conversely, every method should also have some results given so, if you choose to exclude certain experiments from the results, make sure that you remove mention of the method as well.

 

If you are unsure whether to include certain results, go back to your research questions and decide whether the results are relevant to them. It doesn’t matter whether they are supportive or not, it’s about relevance. If they are relevant, you should include them.

Having decided what to include, next decide what order to use. You could choose chronological, which should follow the methods, or in order from most to least important in the answering of your research questions, or by research question and/or hypothesis.

You also need to consider how best to present your results: tables, figures, graphs, or text. Try to use a variety of different methods of presentation, and consider your reader: 20 pages of dense tables are hard to understand, as are five pages of graphs, but a single table and well-chosen graph that illustrate your overall findings will make things much clearer.

Make sure that each table and figure has a number and a title. Number tables and figures in separate lists, but consecutively by the order in which you mention them in the text. If you have more than about two or three, it’s often helpful to provide lists of tables and figures alongside the table of contents at the start of your dissertation.

Top Tip


Summarise your results in the text, drawing on the figures and tables to illustrate your points.

The text and figures should be complementary, not repeat the same information. You should refer to every table or figure in the text. Any that you don’t feel the need to refer to can safely be moved to an appendix, or even removed.

 

Make sure that you including information about the size and direction of any changes, including percentage change if appropriate. Statistical tests should include details of p values or confidence intervals and limits.

While you don’t need to include all your primary evidence in this section, you should as a matter of good practice make it available in an appendix, to which you should refer at the relevant point.

For example:

Details of all the interview participants can be found in Appendix A, with transcripts of each interview in Appendix B.

You will, almost inevitably, find that you need to include some slight discussion of your results during this section. This discussion should evaluate the quality of the results and their reliability, but not stray too far into discussion of how far your results support your hypothesis and/or answer your research questions, as that is for the discussion section.

See our pages: Analysing Qualitative Data and Simple Statistical Analysis for more information on analysing your results.


Discussion Section

This section has four purposes, it should:

  1. Interpret and explain your results

  2. Answer your research question

  3. Justify your approach

  4. Critically evaluate your study

The discussion section therefore needs to review your findings in the context of the literature and the existing knowledge about the subject.

You also need to demonstrate that you understand the limitations of your research and the implications of your findings for policy and practice. This section should be written in the present tense.

The Discussion section needs to follow from your results and relate back to your literature review. Make sure that everything you discuss is covered in the results section.

Warning!


Some universities require a separate section on recommendations for policy and practice and/or for future research, while others allow you to include this in your discussion, so check the guidelines carefully.

Starting the Task

Most people are likely to write this section best by preparing an outline, setting out the broad thrust of the argument, and how your results support it.

You may find techniques like mind mapping are helpful in making a first outline; check out our page: Creative Thinking for some ideas about how to think through your ideas. You should start by referring back to your research questions, discuss your results, then set them into the context of the literature, and then into broader theory.

Top Tip


This is likely to be one of the longest sections of your dissertation, and it’s a good idea to break it down into chunks with sub-headings to help your reader to navigate through the detail.

Fleshing Out the Detail

Once you have your outline in front of you, you can start to map out how your results fit into the outline.

This will help you to see whether your results are over-focused in one area, which is why writing up your research as you go along can be a helpful process. For each theme or area, you should discuss how the results help to answer your research question, and whether the results are consistent with your expectations and the literature.

The Importance of Understanding Differences

If your results are controversial and/or unexpected, you should set them fully in context and explain why you think that you obtained them.

Your explanations may include issues such as a non-representative sample for convenience purposes, a response rate skewed towards those with a particular experience, or your own involvement as a participant for sociological research.

You do not need to be apologetic about these, because you made a choice about them, which you should have justified in the methodology section. However, you do need to evaluate your own results against others’ findings, especially if they are different. A full understanding of the limitations of your research is part of a good discussion section.

Top Tip


At this stage, you may want to revisit your literature review, unless you submitted it as a separate submission earlier, and revise it to draw out those studies which have proven more relevant.


Conclude by summarising the implications of your findings in brief, and explain why they are important for researchers and in practice, and provide some suggestions for further work.

You may also wish to make some recommendations for practice. As before, this may be a separate section, or included in your discussion.

Conclusion

The results and discussion, including conclusion and recommendations, are probably the most substantial sections of your dissertation. Once completed, you can begin to relax slightly: you are on to the last stages of writing!

I.  General Rules

These are the general rules you should adopt when composing your discussion of the results:

  • Do not be verbose or repetitive
  • Be concise and make your points clearly
  • Avoid using jargon
  • Follow a logical stream of thought; in general, interpret and discuss the significance of your findings in the same sequence you described them in your results section
  • Use the present verb tense, especially for established facts; however, refer to specific works or prior studies in the past tense
  • If needed, use subheadings to help organize your discussion or to categorize your interpretations into themes

II.  The Content

The content of the discussion section of your paper most often includes:

  1. Explanation of results: comment on whether or not the results were expected for each set of results; go into greater depth when explaining findings that were unexpected or especially profound. If appropriate, note any unusual or unanticipated patterns or trends that emerged from your results and explain their meaning in relation to the research problem.
  2. References to previous research: either compare your results with the findings from other studies or use the studies to support a claim. This can include re-visiting key sources already cited in your literature review section, or, save them to cite later in the discussion section if they are more important to compare with your results instead of being a part of the general literature review of research used to provide context and background information. Note that you can make this decision to highlight specific studies after you have begun writing the discussion section.
  3. Deduction: a claim for how the results can be applied more generally. For example, describing lessons learned, proposing recommendations that can help improve a situation, or highlighting best practices.
  4. Hypothesis: a more general claim or possible conclusion arising from the results [which may be proved or disproved in subsequent research]. This can be framed as new research questions that emerged as a result of your analysis.

III. Organization and Structure

Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper:

  1. Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice [if appropriate].
  2. Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense [present] that you used when when describing the research problem in your introduction.
  3. Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction.
  4. Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major findings and place them in proper perspective. The sequence of this information is important; first state the answer, then the relevant results, then cite the work of others. If appropriate, refer the reader to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data [either within the text or as an appendix]. The order of interpreting each major finding should be in the same order as they were described in your results section.
  5. A good discussion section includes analysis of any unexpected findings. This part of the discussion should begin with a description of any unanticipated findings, followed by a brief interpretation as to why you believe it appeared and, if necessary, its possible significance in relation to the overall study. If more than one unexpected finding emerged during the study, describe each them in the order they appeared as you gathered or analyzed the data. The exception to discussing findings in the same order you described them in the results section would be to begin by highlighting the implications of a particularly unexpected or significant finding that emerged from the study, followed by a discussion of the remaining findings.
  6. Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses if you do not plan to do so in the conclusion. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings. Avoid using an apologetic tone; however, be honest and self-critical [e.g., in retrospective, you believe including a particular question in a survey instrument could have revealed additional data].
  7. The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of significance. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. However, do not offer recommendations which could have been easily addressed within the study. This would demonstrate to the reader that you have inadequately examined and interpreted the data.

IV.  Overall Objectives

The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

I.  Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings

Briefly reiterate the research problem or problems you are investigating and the methods you used to investigate them, then move quickly to describe the major findings of the study. You should write a direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results, usually in one paragraph.

II.  Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important

Consider the likelihood that no one has thought as long and hard about your study as you have. Systematically explain the underlying meaning of your findings and state why you believe they are significant. After reading the discussion section, you want the reader to think critically about the results [“why didn't I think of that?”]. You don’t want to force the reader to go through the paper multiple times to figure out what it all means. If applicable, begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most significant or unanticipated finding first, then systematically review each finding. Otherwise, follow the general order you reported the findings in the results section.

III.  Relate the Findings to Similar Studies

No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for your research. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps to support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your study differs from other research about the topic. Note that any significant or unanticipated finding is often because there was no prior research to indicate the finding could occur. If there is prior research to indicate this, you need to explain why it was significant or unanticipated.

IV.  Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings

It is important to remember that the purpose of research in the social sciences is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. This is especially important when describing the discovery of significant or unanticipated findings.

V.  Acknowledge the Study’s Limitations

It is far better for you to identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor! Note any unanswered questions or issues your study did not address and describe the generalizability of your results to other situations. If a limitation is applicable to the method chosen to gather information, then describe in detail the problems you encountered and why.

VI.  Make Suggestions for Further Research

You may choose to conclude the discussion section by making suggestions for further research [this can be done in the overall conclusion of your paper]. Although your study may offer important insights about the research problem, this is where you can address other questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or highlight previously hidden questions that were revealed as a result of conducting your research. You should frame your suggestions by linking the need for further research to the limitations of your study [e.g., in future studies, the survey instrument should include more questions that ask..."] or to critical issues revealed from the data that were not considered initially in your research.

NOTE: Besides the literature review section, the preponderance of references to sources is usually found in the discussion section. A few historical references may be helpful for perspective but most of the references should be relatively recent and included to aid in the interpretation of your results or used to link to similar studies. If a study that you cited disagrees with your findings, don't ignore it--clearly explain why your research findings differ from theirs.


V.  Problems to Avoid

  • Do not waste time restating your results. Should you need to remind the reader of a finding to be discussed, use "bridge sentences" that relate the result to the interpretation. An example would be: “In the case of determining available housing to single women with children in rural areas of Texas, the findings suggest that access to good schools is important," then move on to explaining this finding.
  • Recommendations for further research can be included in either the discussion or conclusion of your paper, but do not repeat your recommendations in the both sections. Think about the overall narrative flow of your paper to determine where best to locate this information.
  • Do not introduce new results in the discussion section. Be wary of mistaking the reiteration of a specific finding for an interpretation because it may confuse the reader. The description of findings [results] and the interpretation of their significance [discussion] should be distinct sections of your paper. If you choose to combine the results section and the discussion section into a single narrative, you must be clear in how you report the information discovered and your own interpretation of each finding.
  • Use of the first person is generally acceptable. Using first person can help emphasize a point or illustrate a contrasting finding. However, keep in mind that too much use of the first person can actually distract the reader from the main points [i.e., I know you're telling me this; just tell me!].

Analyzing vs. Summarizing. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Discussion. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Hess, Dean R. "How to Write an Effective Discussion." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004); Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sauaia, A. et al. "The Anatomy of an Article: The Discussion Section: "How Does the Article I Read Today Change What I Will Recommend to my Patients Tomorrow?” The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 74 (June 2013): 1599-1602; Research Limitations & Future Research. Lund Research Ltd., 2012; Summary: Using it Wisely. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Discussion. Writing in Psychology course syllabus. University of Florida; Yellin, Linda L. A Sociology Writer's Guide. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009.

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