Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Structuring the Discussion Chapter

In the social sciences, discussion is where we connect our summarised findings with the literature, explore the meaning behind our findings, and carefully build and develop argument. We need to clearly show how our research moves the field forward, and illustrate what questions remain unanswered. I have written before about discussion (here), but I have not really talked about how we can structure the discussion chapter.

There are a number of overall approaches (Mewburn, 2012; University of Southern California, 14 August 2019):
  1. Importance: the most normal of approaches is to start with the most significant finding and discuss this fully, then move through the remainder of our findings to those of lesser and lesser importance.
  2. Themes: some researchers organise their literature review into themes, then tackle their findings in the same order, which means they can tackle their discussion in the same pattern. This repeating structure, where material is very complex, can make it easier for the reader to follow. 
  3. Dataset: if we have collected a number of different data sets, we could approach our discussion in order of: data collection; time; geographical area; participant group; or importance.
  4. Theory: if we are exploring a number of theories, we could work through our discussion theory by theory; or -  if we were using ethnography or grounded theory - emergent theory by emergent theory. 
  5. Tales of the Unexpected: some researchers centre their research around findings which were unexpected outcomes of the research. For experienced researchers of sound reputation, this can lead to fascinating, thought-provoking publications. For those of us who are more junior researchers, there is a real danger that we will appear to lack the ability to construct a reliable, replicable and appropriate method. Handle this approach with care!
Before we finish our chapter, we also need to ensure we have covered the following elements (Mewburn, 2016; University of Southern California, 14 August 2019), that we have:
  • Restated the research problem, tying it to our the key findings
  • Applied meaning to our findings, ensuring we carefully explore alternative explanations
  • Clearly highlighted the most significant findings 
  • Showed the connection of our findings with other relevant, reliable research studies
  • Illustrated data which doesn't fit, or is contrary to previous findings
  • Objectively examined the limitations our research, which will in turn allow us to make suggestions for future research (or to researchers).
Good luck!



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