The Discussion & Conclusion section of a research article/thesis/dissertation is probably the trickiest part of a project to write. Unlike the other parts of a paper, the Discussion & Conclusions are hard to plan in advance as it depends on the results. In addition, since this is the end of a paper the writer is often excited and wants to finish it quickly, which can lead to superficial analysis.
This post will discuss common components of the Discussion & Conclusion section of a paper. Not all disciplines have all of these components nor do they use the same terms as the ones mentioned below.
The discussion is often a summary of the findings of a paper. For a thesis/dissertation, you would provide the purpose of the study again but you probably would not need to share this in a short article. In addition, you also provide highlights of what you learn with interpretation. In the results section of a paper, you simply state the statistical results. In the discussion section, you can now explain what those results mean for the average person.
The ordering of the summary matters as well. Some recommend that you go from the most important finding to the least important. Personally, I prefer to share the findings by the order in which the research questions are presented. This maintains a cohesiveness across sections of a paper that a reader can appreciate. However, there is nothing superior to either approach. Just remember to connect the findings with the purpose of the study as this helps to connect the themes of the paper together.
What really makes this a discussion is to compare/contrast your results with the results of other studies and to explain why the results are similar and or different. You also can consider how your results extend the works of other writers. This takes a great deal of critical thinking and familiarity with the relevant literature.
The next component of this final section of the paper is either recommendations or implications but almost never both. Recommendations are practical ways to apply the results of this study through action. For example, if your study finds that sleeping 8 hours a night improves test scores then the recommendation would be that students should sleep 8 hours a night to improve their test scores. This is not an amazing insight but the recommendations must be grounded in the results and not just opinion.
Implications, on the other hand, explain why the results are important. Implications are often more theoretical in nature and lack the application of recommendations. Often implications are used when it is not possible to provide a strong recommendation.
The terms conclusion and implications are often used interchangeably in different disciplines and this is highly confusing. Therefore, keep in mind your own academic background when considering what these terms mean.
There is one type of recommendation that is almost always present in a study and that is recommendations for further study. This is self-explanatory but recommendations for further study are especially important if the results are preliminary in nature. A common way to recommend further studies is to deal with inconclusive results in the current study. In other words, if something weird happened in your current paper or if something surprised you this could be studied in the future. Another term for this is “suggestions for further research.”
Limitations involve discussing some of the weaknesses of your paper. There is always some sort of weakness with a sampling method, statistical analysis, measurement, data collection etc. This section is an opportunity to confess these problems in a transparent matter that further researchers may want to control for.
Finally, the conclusion of the Discussion & Conclusion is where you try to summarize the results in a sentence or two and connect them with the purpose of the study. In other words, trying to shrink the study down to a one-liner. If this sounds repetitive it is and often the conclusion just repeats parts of the discussion.
This post provides an overview of writing the final section of a research paper. The explanation here provides just one view on how to do this. Every discipline and every researcher has there own view on how to construct this section of a paper.