AcWriMo: Writing a Discussion

The focus of this post is on how to write a Discussion section.

The first consideration when planning your Discussion is to check whether the journal asks for separate Discussion and Conclusion sections.  Sometimes, journals simply ask for a Conclusion section, not a Discussion.  This is often the case in argument-based papers where there are no data-based findings to discuss; however, this should not be seen as a rule because there is tremendous variation within disciplines and across journals. If your chosen journal requires a Discussion section and no Conclusion, remember to include some form of overall concluding comment at the end of your Discussion section.

So, what’s the purpose of the Discussion?  Essentially, it’s the section where you highlight the value of your findings to your readership.  This means that you need to pick out the key findings/results that you have probably referred to, amongst others, in your Results/Analysis section, and show how those findings move the field forward.  The reader wants to know how your key findings contribute to the literature (or if you are in engineering, the state-of-the-art).  You will also probably need to acknowledge limitations of your study, but the main purpose is to highlight your contribution.  A word of warning –   make sure the findings you discuss are directly relevant to the part of your study you are presenting in the paper. The same point applies to all sections of the paper. If you forget this point, you may well end up with a Discussion section that does not really connect with the other sections of the paper.

A few more tips on writing the Discussion section:

  1. Be explicit about your contribution. To do this, you might choose to use language such as: ‘This study contributes to the field in numerous ways …’, or ‘The value of our findings is three-fold …’
  2. Remember to relate your findings back to the literature/state-of the art. It helps the reader if you explicitly state how your findings differ from, or enhance, the findings of other studies. Another point worth mentioning here is that when you’ve written your Discussion, have another read of your review of the literature, and check that there is a direct connection between what you’ve said in the review and the literature you are referring to in the Discussion. Also double-check that the literature you’ve referred to is directly relevant to the small part of your doctoral study that you are focussing on in the journal paper.
  3. Bear in mind your choice of tense in the Discussion section. This is the section where you will probably use quite a mix of tenses. For example, you will probably use the present tense and/or modal verbs/future tense (e.g. may, might, should, need to must, will) when talking about the contribution of your findings to the field. When referring back to what you said in your literature review section (if you have one), you may well use the past tense.

If you want to find out more about modal verbs, click on this link to the British Council: British Council: Modal verbs

  1. Think about how cautious or confident you are about your findings. This is where modal verbs come in again. Your level of caution will be shaped not just by your personal confidence in your findings, but also by the field that you are in (or the field that the journal sits in). For example, journals in Social Sciences where qualitative research is presented sometimes expect a more cautious discussion of findings than journals in subjects where quantitative research methods are used.