Friday, 11 October 2019

Discussion errors to avoid

In previous posts about discussion (here), I have discussed what should go in the discussion chapter, and have offered some ideas for structuring it, but I haven't talked about what we should leave out.

This bridging chapter performs the essential function of showing the connection between the literature in which our research is grounded, and our newly collected research data. We should have described our results (findings) in the findings chapter, and in the discussion chapter we turn to applying meaning to those findings. 

  1. We do not restate our results: instead we briefly summarise our findings then link them to literature review to explain, interpret and set our research outcomes in context.
  2. We should leave out discussion of findings which do not contribute to a clear overall message. By this I do not mean that we falsify our results; I am referring to extraneous findings which obscure, rather than clarify. Other findings can be held back for a second paper, or for further research.
  3. We do not have raw data in our discussion section. If there is any merit in including raw data at all, it will only appear in our findings chapter (though it is not usual to include data which has not been sorted, grouped and organised). It is more likely that any of our own research data used in this chapter will be summarised even more so than that used in our findings.
  4. There is no need to work through each and every item of literature cited in literature review within our discussion chapter. Instead only pick up those threads of literature which link to our findings as we develop our argument (and, therefore, show the value of our research).
  5. New information should not appear in the discussion section. All elements will have already been either: explored in the literature review; appear in the methodology; or have been described in the findings, before appearing, set in context, in the discussion. The discussion section is here to develop argument. We cannot arrive at the point where we set out to create that argument, or to demonstrate significance, if we have key elements missing.
  6. Critiquing our findings or method is usually explored fairly fully in this chapter, then summarised in the conclusions section. This is especially important where a number of issues or limitations need to be explored. The conclusions section should contain no surprises, so without having explored these elements in the discussion chapter, the reader may be very surprised to hear about key limitations for the first time in the concluding statements.


I hope these ideas help!


Sam

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