Tips for Writing the Discussion Section of a Paper: A Guide for Researchers
As a scientist, your focus is on research. You love designing your studies, collecting the data, analyzing the findings, and making new discoveries. However, to present your findings to the world, you have to compose a clear, concise, and polished research paper, which can be easier said than done. You may find the prospect of having to write up your findings much less exciting, but it’s a necessary part of the process. A good paper is essential for both lending legitimacy to your research and ensuring your work gets circulated within the scientific community, boosting your reputation and academic career.
The discussion is perhaps one of the most challenging and integral sections of a scientific paper. Preceding the conclusion, it should summarize the main points and explain the value and relevance of the findings in the context of the existing literature. The discussion should also acknowledge unresolved points of inquiry and offer insight into the types of questions that should be tackled in further investigative efforts. It can be the most exciting part of your paper—the part where you get to truly showcase your work, the value it provides, and the implications it has for your field or even the world at large—but its importance can make it the trickiest part to write.
Scientific papers employ the classic IMRaD (introduction, methods, results, and discussion) structure. This framework is said to resemble an hourglass because the introduction and discussion sections should make up the bulk of the written text, with less focus on the methods and results sections. The latter are more technical and matter-of-fact, simply laying out how you conducted the study and the raw data you derived from it. On the other hand, the introduction and discussion sections elaborate on the purpose your study serves and interpret your raw results, showing readers what they mean and why they matter.
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What to include in the discussion section
Any good scientific discussion should have the following:
- Capture the essence of your findings in a few lines and demonstrate how your results compare to existing data, particularly if they contradict or bolster current theories. This is an opportunity to critically engage with the results of your research in a succinct manner. Here, you can provide a quick overview of what your results are and what they mean, interpreting them for your readers and identifying how your study fits into the existing literature. If your results contradict existing theories, you can dive deeper into why that might be or what it could imply. If the contradiction can be explained by differences in research methodology, definitely point that out.
- Next, emphasize how your findings advance the field. Explain why and how your results are significant in light of the existing body of knowledge on the subject. This aspect of the discussion is an opportunity to promote your own work and leave a lasting impression on readers. Indeed, this is the most important part of the discussion as it’s your chance to tell the reader why your study matters.
- Much as it is important to support your own findings, it’s equally important to address the weak points in your research, particularly if any of your findings are at odds with those of other scientists or if there are any noteworthy shortcomings in your scientific approach. Acknowledging weaknesses in your research solidifies your plausibility and helps future investigations avoid any pitfalls you may have encountered. If you were less than rigorous in your data collection process, you may not have gathered enough data or your sample may have been biased, which could have major ramifications for the results of your study. Academic integrity demands that you take responsibility for any errors or oversights in the research process.
- Lastly, list any pressing questions that remain unanswered. Does your study raise new questions that researchers could address in the future? Is more research necessary to confirm your results? What changes could other scientists make to the methodology or data collection process to explore this topic more thoroughly? Brainstorm any new avenues of research your study opens up.
- In general, it’s better to use the active voice, even in research papers, but it’s not quite as simple as all the writing experts out there make it seem. Voice is a grammatical concept, not an arbitrary, subjective way to differentiate between “good” and “bad” writing. It refers to the form of the verb, not the nature of the verb itself. Here’s a quick example:
- Similarly, make sure you use the past and present tenses appropriately. Generally, you need the past tense to talk about established results, while the present tense is best for analyzing and interpreting your findings.
What to avoid
To ensure you write a strong, compelling discussion, keep an eye out for these common mistakes:
- “Overwriting” isn’t just about using unnecessarily wordy constructions that boost your word count but impair comprehension and value—it’s also about deviating from the nature of the discussion. Don’t discuss in the results section; similarly, don’t go over the findings in your discussion section—the results section is where you can get into details about your findings. The discussion section should succinctly recap them and dive into their interpretation, including the implications they have for future research or your field and how they fit into the existing body of literature. Avoid redundancy—it’s poor writing and wastes space you could use to provide information that adds value.
- Be equally careful not to introduce brand-new information. The discussion only touches on the findings you’ve already presented in the results section. The value of this section is in the interpretation of those results, not the raw data.
- Try not to rely too much on jargon. While specialists in your field will likely have no trouble understanding your writing, if you want to market your paper to a more general audience, packing it chock-full of technical terms is not the way to go. You can widen your readership by reducing your use of technical language, thus making your paper easier to understand.
Even after taking these guidelines into account, it’s always important to get a second pair of eyes on your work. Typos happen even to the best of writers, and it’s all too easy to overlook an ambiguous passage when you’re extremely familiar with the subject matter. Professional proofreaders and editors know how to strengthen a scientific paper, so if you need some help, order combined proofreading and editing here.