The evidence (results of the study) needs an explanation. The explanation of the evidence is the discussion. The Discussion section of the article demonstrates how the evidence in form of the results helps to find answer to the questions put forth in the introduction.
The Discussion is possibly the “backbone” of the article and the most difficult section to write. It is also the section which also can validate the author's understanding of the topic and skill of writing. It also reveals the hard work of the authors in terms of literature search and time spent by the authors to read the relevant material related to their research topic. It is the inversion of the introduction and may well be suggestive that the introduction and the discussion sections when combined together form an “hour-glass.”
The discussion passes through various stages to put the results in context. The various stages of discussion deliberate what the results demonstrate with relation to hypotheses or research questions; if any innovative methods have been used, did they have any role in investigating the unknown of the research topic; the comparisons of results to the outcomes of other investigators; the practical applications of the results; and the drawbacks of the current study and future directions for the research.
That's why, it is recommended that the discussion should be laid out in different paragraphs (approx. 6-8) so that all that is required to be discussed is not cramped in one long paragraph leading to confusion and monotony for the readers.
There are multiple schools of thought (purpose/finding/procedure) on how to start writing the discussion. Certain authors start the discussion by providing a general idea about the study, what was done in the study and why the results of the study are important. This is purpose based opening. The authors who follow the finding based opening method start the discussion directly with important results without repeating the results. In procedure based openings, although which is not very common, authors discuss the important aspects of methodology before moving on to key results.
The middle paragraphs of the discussion emphasize on the comparison of the findings with others work. Ideally the discussion of each finding should follow the order in which the findings have been mentioned in the result section.
This comparison demonstrates the support and opposition to your results. It is important to support your findings and demonstrate the importance of the results of your study This would amalgamate your findings with the rest of the literature. It is of utmost importance that the contradictory findings of your study are discussed. Any interesting findings should also find a mention with probable reasons. The discussion should critically analyze all these aspect and explains the reasons behind obtaining the similar, divergent and interesting (if any) findings. It is important to note that the results obtained (values) should not be repeated in this section as they have already been stated in the results section.
The last paragraphs (1-2) include the strengths and the limitations of the study with the emphasis on the conclusion that could be drawn from the limitations.
Additionally, the gap in the research which still remains, needs to be stated. The authors should mention the precise issues the additional research should address and why this gap needs to be filled. “Further studies are needed” or any other similar lackluster declaration should never be the concluding statement of the discussion.
The discussion is a “task” even for experienced writers. The authors sense of judgement comes into play while writing the discussion. They need to segregate consequential results from inconsequential while discussing and need to display the understanding of results and their consequences in a way that goes beyond the boundaries of the research and reflect the relative importance of the research in a broader perspective.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.”
- Joseph Joubert
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