Monday, 3 October 2016

What goes in our Discussion Chapter?

What goes in our discussion chapter? How, as undergraduates, do we get this right?

First, bridging from the findings chapter summary, we introduce our reader to what we are going to be doing in this chapter.

Next, Skills You Need (n.d.) propose a four step checklist for writing the body of our discussion:
1. Interpret and explain your results
2. Answer your research question
3. Justify your approach
4. Critically evaluate [our] study
In order to 'interpret and explain', we need to develop argument that make sense of our findings, exploring correlations and links between and within the data that we took apart and described in our previous chapter.

We show the reader how we are creating meaning from the data set which we described in our findings. We apply our management theory. We also talk about where the literature experts are largely in agreement and disagreement, and how your research appears positioned within the gaps.

We now probe and tie off alternate explanations, and follow up all leads and tie off any loose ends which we first explored in our literature review, linking firmly to our literature review by referencing.

We then must ensure that we answer our question. Bryman and Bell detail very clearly what we should focus on this. They say (2010, p. 703):
that good discussion goes back "to the research questions and spells out the implications of the findings for them and for the theories examined earlier on in the paper. This is an important element. It is easy to forget that you should think of the research process as closing a circle in which you must return unambiguously to your research questions. There is no point inserting extraneous findings if they do not illuminate your research questions. Digressions of this kind can be confusing to readers, who might be inclined to wonder about the significance of the extraneous findings. In this section there is an attempt to consider the limitations of the study, in addition to its strengths, and to identify possibilities for further research. In addition, because business and management are an applied field of research, it is also common at this stage to draw attention to practical implications that arise from the study."
Next we need to ensure that we have created logical argument, justifying each section and point that we explore within our discussion section. We don't just "dump and run": we underpin each element of our discussion chapter with sound and careful links to our literature review, our method and our findings. We clearly link meaning with evidence.

Lastly we must critique. We start to probe our limitations, and - therefore - which parts of our question we will not be able to answer fully. We criticise our methods; explaining how we now understand what worked, what didn’t, and what modifications may be needed for creating more meaningful results. This also creates a gap for future research.

Within our discussion, we may find that we have missing lines of inquiry: that we have missed exploring a major section of research, theory, or method. The only thing you need to think about is "do I back-fill or not?"

In general, at undergraduate level, we can say "No". By simply identifying the gap, this becomes part of our learning as a researcher, and provided we've explained that we have identified it and why, we will have done enough to satisfy our course requirements.

However, there are some questions we can ask ourselves, to help ourselves decide:
  • How big will the fill-in job be?
  • Is it material?
  • Will it affect the outcome?
  • Will it affect the client?
  • Can we tie it off via methodology critique?
Then we conclude our chapter with a quick summary, in order to prepare the reader for our conclusion section to come.

What we shouldn't include in our discussion chapter is: findings; unanswered loose ends; biased reporting; any falsification of methods; no sweeping statements or absolutes; and lastly, no new material that is not already been explored in your literature review, methodology, or findings.

Hope that helps!


Sam

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