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How to Write the Discussion Chapter for a Dissertation

A lot of students would say that writing the discussion section of a dissertation is one of the most difficult aspects of such a project. This is particularly true when your head is full of data, as you get closer to the results. A good approach to writing up a discussion section is to take several steps back from all the data and look at the complete picture. You could even imagine explaining your work in narrative form to a friend or peer. Without using figures, tables, charts or numbers, just tell them:  

  • What work you did (in brief terms).
  • What you found – describe your most important and memorable discoveries and what the implications are.
  • Why do you believe you made these discoveries? How do you account for your findings?
  • Are the findings or results you described important, useful or significant, and why? How might they be put to use and by whom?

This part of the exercise involves you “selling” your project. However, some caution is advisable:

  • Did anything go wrong?
  • Is there anything your readers should bear in mind when “buying” into what you are selling? In other words, what are the limitations? This merits its own section.

A discussion section can be compared to a report’s executive summary. If it is the only part that is read, the reader should be able to understand what it was you discovered and why your findings are important. Using narrative, explain clearly, what you found without repeating your full results.

While talking about the discussion section, it is also worth mentioning your paper’s conclusion.

This chapter should aim to achieve two significant things, which are: 

  • A summarization of your entire research project, which can be compared to a longer version of the abstract. Reiterate the purpose of your project i.e. what you intended at the outset, what you actually did i.e. your methodologies, and what you discovered i.e. the most important results.
  • Offer suggestions about any research that may be needed or would be beneficial in the future. Here, your thinking should extend beyond repeating your research and getting around any limitations. Ask yourself if there is a better way that the same questions could be addressed. With the results now known, are there any other important questions that could or should be addressed? Does your work give rise to any other questions or issues?
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