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The PhD Discussion Chapter: What It Is & How To Write It

Sep 11, 2023

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Your PhD discussion chapter is your thesis’s intellectual epicenter. Think of it as the scholarly equivalent of a courtroom closing argument, where you summarise the evidence and make your case. Perhaps that’s why it’s so tricky – the skills you need in your discussion chapter aren’t skills you’ve likely had to deploy before: it’s where you start to speak like a Doctor.

In this guide, I want to present a comprehensive guide to the PhD discussion chapter. We’ll look at a number of key topics:

What is the purpose of a PhD Discussion Chapter?

  • Suggested outlines for a discussion chapter:

Advice for improving your discussion chapter

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  The PhD discussion chapter is the place where your findings, research questions, literature, theoretical framework and methodology coalesce into a coherent narrative. A common pitfall is when students see the discussion chapter as a summary of everything that has come before. This isn’t the case. Instead, the PhD discussion chapter offers a deep, analytical synthesis of your research, providing context, interpretation, and evaluation of your findings.

It’s the place in which you engage with existing theories, explore the significance of your work, and directly address the “So What?” question, highlighting the real-world implications and academic contributions of your research.

 Let’s dig down into each of these things.

Summarising and explaining the research

Before you launch into the detail, start by laying out your findings in a clear, easy to follow way. This is typically done in the introduction and the first proper section of the chapter.

Starting the PhD discussion chapter by clearly laying out your findings serves as an anchor for your reader and sets the stage for the more complex discussions that follow. This foundational step ensures that the reader is equipped with all the necessary information to fully grasp the significance and implications of your work. It’s akin to laying the groundwork before building a complex structure; without a solid base, the intricate analyses may lose their impact or be misunderstood.

For example, if you’re a PhD student in environmental science studying the effects of a specific pollutant on marine life, begin by presenting the key data points, such as the pollutant concentration levels in various regions and the corresponding health indices of marine species studied. Use tables, figures, or graphs to help visualise the data and make it more accessible.

  • Laying out Quantitative Findings : If your research is quantitative, use statistical measures to present your results. Clearly state the metrics you’ve considered, such as means, variances, p-values, etc., and what they imply about your research question.
  • Laying out Qualitative Findings : In case of qualitative research, such as ethnographic studies or interviews, narrate the trends, patterns, or themes that have emerged. Use representative quotes or observations as illustrative examples.
  • Mixed-Methods Approach : If you’ve used both quantitative and qualitative methods, start by outlining how these different types of data will be integrated in your discussion. This could involve presenting the qualitative findings as a contextual backdrop for quantitative data or vice versa.

Remember, your objective at this initial stage is not to overwhelm the reader with complexity but to build a transparent, easily-followable narrative of what you’ve found. By starting with a clear presentation of your findings, you’re laying the groundwork for a powerful, credible discussion chapter that can tackle sophisticated analyses and weighty implications, underpinned by a comprehensible and compelling dataset.

There will be a necessary degree of overlap and repetition between this section (and the discussion chapter in general) and the findings chapter. However, there’s a subtle difference in the way in which the data is introduced in the findings and discussion chapters .

In the findings chapter, you’re generally presenting raw data or observations without interpreting what they mean. In the Discussion chapter, you take those same findings and begin to explore their implications, relate them to existing theories, and evaluate their significance. The danger, however, lies in creating excessive repetition between the two chapters, which can fatigue the reader and dilute the impact of your arguments.

To mitigate this, consider employing the following strategies:

  • Selective Highlighting : Choose only the most critical findings to revisit in the Discussion chapter. You don’t need to regurgitate every data point, only those central to the questions you aim to answer in this chapter.
  • Narrative Framing : When you bring up a finding in the Discussion chapter, introduce it as a stepping stone to a broader point or argument, rather than an isolated fact. This technique helps the reader understand why you’re revisiting this information and what new aspects you’ll be unveiling.
  • Use Different Presentation Formats : If the Findings chapter is heavy on tables and figures, consider summarising key points in a narrative form in the Discussion chapter or vice versa.

By thoughtfully selecting what to revisit and framing it within a new context, you can transform what might appear as repetition into a coherent and evolving narrative that adds value to your thesis. Read more about the difference between the findings and discussion chapters here .

Interpreting and Contextualising Results 

It’s in the discussion chapter that you offer the interpretation and context for your research findings.

Here, you transition from being a data ‘gatherer’ to a data ‘interpreter’, weaving together the threads of research questions, data, methods, literature and theory to tell a complex story. While the Results chapter may offer the “what,” the PhD discussion chapter sheds light on the “why” and “how.” 

For example, if you’re a social scientist studying the effects of social media on mental health, your results chapter might show statistical data indicating a correlation between social media use and anxiety. However, it’s in your discussion chapter that you would compare these findings to existing literature, perhaps linking them to existing theories or debates. This adds a layer of depth and context that transcends the numerical data, inviting academic dialogue and potential future research avenues.

There are three ways in which you can synthesise your findings:

  • Interpretation : Begin by interpreting your findings. Use comparisons, contrasts, and correlations to explain the significance of the results. This is where you should also address any unexpected outcomes and explain them.
  • Contextualisation : After interpretation, provide a context to situate your findings within the existing body of knowledge. Link back to your Literature Review and Theoretical Framework to show how your research aligns with or diverges from previous work. More on this below.
  • Evaluation : Finally, critically evaluate your own research. Discuss its limitations, the implications of your findings, and offer recommendations for future research.

Whether you’re in natural sciences exploring a new chemical compound or in humanities dissecting a piece of classical literature, the discussion chapter is your opportunity to show that your research not only answers specific questions but also contributes to a wider understanding of your field. It’s not enough to say, for instance, that a new drug successfully reduced symptoms of depression in 60% of study participants. You must explore what that 60% means.

  • Is it a statistically significant improvement over existing treatments?
  • What might be the physiological or psychological mechanisms at work?
  • Could your research method have influenced these outcomes?

There’s an art to explaining and synthesising your findings [Link to “How to Explain Your Findings”], but think of it this way: this is where you shine a light on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of your findings, delving into the nuances that raw data can’t express.

Evaluating Existing Theories and Models  

Beyond explaining your findings, the PhD discussion chapter allows you to evaluate the existing theories and models that you’ve cited in your literature review  and/or theory framework chapter (not sure of the difference? Click here) . Your results could either reinforce established theories or challenge them, both of which significantly contribute to your field.

  • For instance, did your research on renewable energy technologies confirm the economic theories suggesting that green energy can be cost-effective?
  • Or did your social research provide empirical evidence that contradicts widely held beliefs in your field?

The PhD discussion chapter therefore serves as the space where the theories, concepts, ideas and hypotheses that make up and informed your theory framework and which you touched upon in your literature review intersect with the empirical data you’ve presented.

You’re not just mapping your findings onto the theories and models; you’re dissecting them, affirming or challenging them, and potentially even extending or refining them based on what you’ve discovered.

For instance, if you’re working on a thesis in psychology concerning cognitive development in early childhood, your Literature Review may have discussed Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. However, let’s say your findings indicate some nuances or exceptions to Piaget’s theories, or perhaps children in a certain demographic don’t follow the stages as previously thought.

Your discussion chapter is where you can make the argument that perhaps Piaget’s model, while generally accurate, might require some modification to account for these cases.

  • Affirming Theories : If your data aligns closely with the existing theories and models, the PhD discussion chapter serves to strengthen their credibility. Here, you’re lending empirical support to theoretical frameworks.
  • Challenging Theories : Alternatively, your findings might contradict or challenge the prevailing theories. This is not a shortcoming; instead, it opens the door for re-evaluation and progress in the field, which is just as valuable.
  • Extending or Refining Theories : Perhaps your research uncovers additional variables or conditions that existing models have not accounted for. In such cases, you’re pushing the envelope, extending the current boundaries of understanding.

As you evaluate existing theories and models, be comprehensive yet nuanced. Draw on varied disciplines if relevant. For example, if your thesis is at the intersection of public health and social policy, integrate models from both fields to offer a multi-faceted discussion. Being interdisciplinary can make your discussion richer and more impactful.

Ultimately, the discussion chapter offers you a platform to voice your scholarly interpretation and judgment. You’re participating in a broader academic dialogue, not just narrating your findings but positioning them in a web of knowledge that spans across time, disciplines, and viewpoints.

Discuss Unexpected Results

The discussion chapter is where you also discuss things that didn’t quite work out as planned. In particular, results that were unexpected.

Sometimes the most perplexing data offers the most valuable insights. Don’t shy away from discussing unexpected results; these could be the starting points for future research or even paradigm shifts in your field.

When your research yields findings that diverge from established theories or commonly held beliefs, you’re offered a unique opportunity to challenge and extend existing knowledge.

Take the field of primary education as an illustrative example. Assume you’re researching the efficacy of a specific teaching methodology that prior studies have lauded. However, your data reveals that while the method works wonders for one subgroup of students, it fails to benefit another subgroup. Far from diminishing the value of your research, this unexpected outcome presents an exciting opening. It beckons further inquiry into why the teaching methodology yielded disparate impacts, which could eventually result in more tailored and effective educational strategies.

In the realm of scientific discoveries, the significance of unexpected results cannot be overstated. Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin originated from what appeared to be a ‘failed’ experiment, but it revolutionised medicine. Similarly, the unintended discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation provided pivotal support for the Big Bang theory. In both instances, what seemed like anomalies paved the way for transformative understanding.

The first task when you encounter unexpected findings is to set them apart from the expected outcomes clearly. Delineate a specific section in your discussion chapter to delve into these anomalies, affording them the attention they merit.

Next, engage in hypothesising why these peculiarities emerged. This could be the point where your years of study and your depth of understanding of your subject really shine. Are there confounding variables that weren’t initially apparent? Could there be an entirely unexplored underlying mechanism at play? Take your reader on this exploration with you, and offer educated guesses based on your literature review and study design.

Lastly, don’t forget to consider and discuss the wider implications of these findings. Could they potentially refute longstanding theories or present the need for a shift in the prevailing school of thought? Or perhaps they hint at previously unthought-of applications or solutions to existing problems? Reflect on how these unexpected results might fit into the broader academic conversation and where future research might take these findings.

By earnestly and transparently tackling unexpected results, you exhibit a commitment to rigorous academic research. The willingness to entertain complexity and to follow the research—even when it leads in unpredictable directions—is a mark of scholarly integrity and courage. This holds true irrespective of your academic discipline, from the humanities and social sciences to STEM fields.

Answering the “so what?” Question

 In your findings chapter you would have presented the data. In the discussion chapter, you answer the ‘so what’ question. Make sure to address it explicitly. Why does your research matter? Who benefits from it? How does it advance the scholarly discourse?

 As a PhD student, you’ve already invested a substantial amount of time and effort into your research. Therefore, it’s crucial to articulate its importance not only to validate your own work but also to contribute meaningfully to your field and, in some cases, to society at large.

 Answering the “so what?” question means connecting the dots between your isolated research findings and the larger intellectual landscape. It requires you to extend your analysis beyond the specifics of your study, considering how it advances the scholarly discourse in your field. For instance, if your research closes a significant gap in the literature, makes a theoretical breakthrough,

Example in Public Health : If your research finds that community-led sanitation programs are far more effective than government-implemented ones, then the “So What?” is clear: policy-makers need to see this data. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still need to discuss it.

Example in Literature : If your research uncovers previously unnoticed patterns of symbolism in 19th-century Russian literature, the “So What?” could be a deeper understanding of how literature reflects societal anxieties of the time.

In order to make your discussion chapter compelling and relevant, it’s imperative to always highlight why your research matters. This goes beyond simply reiterating your findings; you need to connect the dots and show how your research fits into the broader academic landscape. Are you challenging existing theories, confirming previous studies, or offering a new perspective? Establishing the academic importance of your work provides a solid footing for its wider application.

Further to establishing academic relevance, also aim to illuminate the real-world implications of your findings. What are the practical outcomes that could arise from your research? Are there specific scenarios or applications where your research could be a game-changer? For instance, if your study uncovers a more effective method of teaching reading to children with dyslexia, explicitly mention how this could revolutionise educational approaches and improve quality of life for those affected. Providing concrete scenarios enhances the applicability of your research, proving that it doesn’t merely exist in the realm of academic abstraction, but has tangible impacts that can affect change.

Limitations and Future Research

 The quest for perfection is more a journey than a destination. This especially holds true in the context of a PhD thesis. Therefore, a well-crafted Discussion chapter should include a section devoted to the limitations of your research, as it establishes the scope, reliability, and validity of your work. Acknowledging limitations is not an act of undermining your research; instead, it embodies scholarly integrity and rigorous academic thinking.

Being upfront about limitations is essentially about being honest, not only with your readers but also with yourself as a researcher. For instance, if you’ve conducted a survey-based study in psychology but only managed to collect a small number of responses, admitting this limitation provides context for your findings. Perhaps the conclusions drawn from such a sample size are not universally applicable but could still offer significant insights into a particular demographic or condition

  • Do not shy away from discussing limitations in fear that it might weaken your arguments.
  • Clearly delineate the scope of your research, specifying what it does and doesn’t address.

For example, in a medical research study, if your sample size predominantly consists of individuals from a particular age group, admitting this limitation helps frame your research within that context. Or, if you’re a literature student, if your analysis focuses solely on the works of a single author, your findings might not be generalisable to broader literary trends.

Discussing limitations openly doesn’t devalue your work; it adds a layer of trustworthiness. It assures the reader—and the academic community at large—that you have a nuanced understanding of your research context. It demonstrates that you can critically evaluate your own work, a skill that is paramount.

how to write a discussion chapter phd

Your PhD Thesis. On one page.

Example outline for a discussion chapter:.

I’ve included a suggested outline for a PhD discussion chapter. It’s important to note that no two PhDs are alike, and yours may well (probably will) diverge from this. The purpose here is to show how all the various factors we’ve discussed above fit together.

Introduction

  • Brief Overview of Research Objectives and Key Findings
  • Purpose of the Discussion Chapter

Summary of Key Findings

  • Brief Restatement of Research Findings
  • Comparison with Initial Hypotheses or Research Questions

Interpretation of Findings

  • Contextualisation of Results
  • Significance and Implications of the Findings

Evaluation of Existing Theories and Models

  • How Your Findings Support or Challenge Previous Work
  • Conceptual Contributions of Your Study
  • Acknowledgment of Study Limitations
  • Suggestions for Future Research
  • Summation of Key Points
  • Broader Implications and Contributions of the Research
  • Final Thoughts and Future Directions

Once you’ve navigated through the complexities of your PhD research, you’re now faced with the challenge of bringing it all together in your discussion chapter. While you’ve already considered various facets like summarising findings, evaluating existing theories, and acknowledging limitations, there are some “easy wins”—small, yet impactful steps—that can help strengthen this critical chapter.

The Power of a Well-Structured Narrative

Begin with a well-structured narrative that clearly outlines your arguments. Tell the reader what the destination is at the outset of the chapter, and then make sure each paragraph is a stepping stone to that destination.

Each paragraph should serve a purpose and should logically follow the previous one. This helps in making your discussion coherent and easy to follow.

  • Use transition sentences between paragraphs to guide the reader through your argument.
  • Make sure each paragraph adds a new dimension to your discussion.

Data Visualisation Tools

Visual aids aren’t just for presentations; they can provide tremendous value in a discussion chapter. Diagrams, charts, or graphs can provide a visual break and help to emphasise your points effectively.

  • Use graphs or charts to represent trends that support your argument.
  • Always caption your visuals and reference them in the text.

Integrate Feedback Actively

It’s often beneficial to have colleagues, advisors, or other experts review your discussion section before finalising it. They can offer fresh perspectives and may catch gaps or ambiguities that you’ve missed.

  • Seek feedback but also know when to filter it, sticking to advice that genuinely enhances your work.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute for feedback; give reviewers ample time.

Highlight the Broader Implications

While you’ll delve into this more in your conclusion, don’t shy away from previewing the broader implications of your work in your discussion. Make it clear why your research matters in a wider context.

  • State the broader implications but keep them tightly related to your research findings.
  • Avoid making grand claims that your research can’t support

In the journey toward a PhD, learning ‘how to write like a doctor’ is more than mastering grammar or honing your prose; it’s about flexing your academic muscles with confidence and authority. It is in the discussion chapter that you really start flexing, and which you really can and need to speak like a doctor.

For many, this is the first instance of challenging the hegemony of existing literature, refuting established theories, or proposing innovative frameworks. It’s an intimidating task; after all, these are the ideas and research paradigms you’ve been learning about throughout your educational journey. Suddenly, you’re not just absorbing knowledge; you’re contributing to it, critiquing it, and perhaps even changing its trajectory. If it feels challenging, remember that’s because it’s new, and that’s why it’s hard. However, you’ve made it this far, and that alone testifies to your academic rigour and capability. You’ve earned the right to be heard; now it’s time to speak with the academic authority that has been years in the making. So, don’t hold back—flex those academic muscles and carve your niche in the scholarly conversation.

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How to Write a Perfect Discussion Chapter for a PhD Thesis

Discussion chapter of a PhD thesis focuses on explaining and analyzing what you have researched, presenting how it is associated with the existing literature. It is also a place for argument supporting your entire discussion. We often find that people seek thesis writing help from experienced editing and proofreading services to prepare a flawless PhD discussion chapter. However, following 9 essential tips can help you design a perfect PhD thesis with an excellent discussion chapter.

how to write a discussion chapter phd

This article provides 9 effective tips for writing a flawless discussion chapter for a PhD thesis. To give you an opportunity to practice proofreading, we have left a few spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors in the text. See if you can spot them! If you spot the errors correctly, you will be entitled to a 10% discount.

Writing a flawless PhD thesis requires much more than only subject matter expertise. It requires expertise, experience, and in-depth thinking, along with sharp intelligence. Though most students add a discussion chapter in their thesis or dissertation, many of them end up messing up the essay or missing out the central issues.

A discussion chapter in a PhD thesis is a place where you have the chance to delving into the analysis, importance, and relevance of your research. This section focuses on explaining and analyzing what you have researched, presenting how it is associated with the existing literature. It is also a place for argument supporting your entire discussion. We often find that people seek thesis writing help from experienced editing and proofreading services to prepare a flawless PhD discussion chapter. However, the following 9 essential tips can help you design a perfect PhD thesis with an excellent discussion chapter.

1. Understand the objective of your PhD thesis

Before setting out to conduct a PhD thesis, researchers design and plan a study with objective(s) in mind. Such objectives inform how the dissertation is conducted. For example, no researcher would just commence by administering questionnaires or setting up laboratory equipment without an objective. It also informs the questions and necessary procedures to undertake. To write a well-conveyed discussion section in PhD thesis, the author must review and ascertain whether the conducted study addressed these objectives. It takes the understanding of the objective to assess the achievement of the objective clearly. Based on the assessment, the author finds the direction of his discussion. The comprehension of this objective is critical to crafting a focused discussion section in scholarly writing.

2. Determine a clear structure

The first step in organizing a perfect discussion chapter for a PhD thesis is to divide them into separate sections that move from a particular result to implications. However, depending on your PhD thesis topics, you may utilize the followings:

Analyze and summarize your main findings.

Evaluate how the results reflect the literature review.

Show if the discussion impacts the original hypothesis and, if yes, how it affects your hypothesis.

3. Usage of grammar and tense

The proper usage of grammar and tense is a key to a seamless PhD thesis. The improper use of grammar and tense can have the worst impact on the entire dissertation, along with the discussion chapter . Depending on the context, the usage of past and present tense should be made. When you are referring to specific data, the present tense can be used. For instance, when the light increases, speed decreases. However, while summarizing the result or concluding something, past tense can be used. For example, between 2013 and 2016, the number of car accidents decreased visibly. However, depending on the context, you can combine two tenses. Also, bear in mind that different manuals might require different tenses.

The tense adopted by the study should be uniform. Try to write the discussion chapter of your PhD thesis in the required tense format of your guideline. For instance, The  APA Publication Manual  provides suggestions on which verb tense is appropriate for various sections of a thesis:

Past tense or present perfect tense for the literature review and "the description of the procedure if the discussion is of past events."

"Use past tense to describe the "

"Use the present tense to discuss the implications of the results and to present the conclusions. By reporting conclusions in the present tense, you allow all readers to join you in deliberating the matter at hand."

As much as possible, try to be consistent with your chosen verb tense within a section as doing so "can help ensure smooth expression."

It is always best to check with your manual to get their opinion on the best approach for your thesis.

4. Referring to hypotheses and literature review

The primary purpose of referring to the literature review is to contextualize your discussion chapter as a part of the debate. For instance, suppose you introduce a theory claiming that speed cameras have zero effect on a road’s fatalities. You need to describe how your findings relate to this assumption. The same applies while making a hypothesis. Never forget this fact while discussing your results.

5. Evaluate your results and compare them with existing studies

While writing the discussion chapter of your PhD thesis, you need to analyze your results rather than just simplifying it. Don’t forget to do complete research on if your results agree or conflict with the previous studies.  You need to evaluate if there are any differences and, if yes, what the differences are. Comparing the development with existing studies helps your research to connect any existing debate. It also offers a solid base of conclusions.

In a well-written discussion chapter of a PhD thesis, an author should compare his/her findings with those of other studies reported in the literature. This aspect is different from a literature review in the sense that the author has data at hand to compare, as against the general overview made about a thesis’s objectives prior to the investigation. In comparing, the author is able to pronounce the authenticity of the results, especially when similar procedures were used in other studies. Any differences in findings can be explained using the different peculiarities between the author’s study and others. If this consideration is carefully made and implemented, the author may likely find evidence-based explanations for his/her findings. Even for novel findings, an author may still find relevant literature that formed the rudiments of the present study to discuss the progress, contribution, and novel dimension of the study. 

6. Why should the findings of your PhD thesis matter?  

After discussing the study results, the author, as part of his goal, must propose the impact of the study’s findings on the problem that informed the idea of the thesis. The reader will be better served if the author describes a roadmap for solving the problem based on the findings. Depending on the nature of the problem, an author may propose solutions to affect policy, behavioral change, or conventional practice. Only after making this contribution will a discussion section expose readers to the specific and general impacts of a PhD thesis.

7. Understand the limitation of your research

It is one of the most important things to evaluate when writing a discussion chapter for your PhD thesis. The discussion chapter of your research paper should involve some acknowledgment of the study limitations. Suppose you have critically assessed similar studies in the literature review; you are free to compare your work against their weakness or strength.

8. Don’t be afraid to be unique

The focus on research may change and evolve with time if you are working on a long-term project. The key to adjusting the focus on the literature review is to reflect these changes. Suppose you may find that specific themes are more prominent than others; it is helpful if you review your literature review and tweak them to emphasize the themes. Never be afraid to be unique to bring the changes.

9. Don’t forget to avail a professional thesis editing and proofreading service

Last but not least, you can seek assistance from professional editing and proofreading services. Taking PhD thesis help from professional editing and proofreading services doesn’t only facilitate the writing process but also helps you execute a flawless PhD thesis with a well-formed and informative discussion chapter. When highly qualified writers take responsibility for your research paper, you don’t need to worry about structure, consistency, flow, tone, grammar, and accuracy.

Writing a PhD thesis is not an easy task. However, systematic thinking and structure can make the process easier. From the introduction to the demonstration of your argument, literature review, and analysis of the result, everything is vital to prepare an outstanding PhD thesis. However, if you want to seek assistance from a professional editing and proofreading service provider to write a seamless discussion chapter and thesis, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help you.

How to Write a Perfect Discussion Chapter for a PhD Thesis

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how to write a discussion chapter phd

How To Write A Discussion Chapter In Your PhD Discussion

If you’re here, you probably got to the part in your thesis or dissertation where you have to work on the discussion chapter. Don’t worry; we’re here to help! In this article, we’ll break down the discussion chapter in simple language and give you lots of examples to make it easier to understand.”

What is the discussion chapter?

The discussion chapter plays a vital role in your thesis or dissertation.

Unlike the results chapter, which presents your analysis findings, whether they are qualitative or quantitative, this chapter is where you really dig into your results.

Here, you’ll interpret and explain your research findings, exploring their significance and implications.

In this section, you’ll connect your research findings with your research questions or hypotheses and link them back to previous studies and literature, as you did in your literature review chapter.

You’ll also assess the relevance and importance of your findings to your field of study and make a persuasive argument for the conclusions you’ve drawn from your analysis.

In essence, the discussion chapter is your opportunity to engage with and elucidate your research findings in a comprehensive and cohesive manner.

What to Incorporate in the Discussion Chapter?

Let’s start with the basics: in certain studies, the results and discussion chapters are merged into a single chapter.

Whether this applies to your work depends on the type of study you conducted, including its nature and chosen methodology, as well as the guidelines set by your university.

In essence, your discussion chapter’s primary purpose is to dissect, delve into the meaning of, and establish the significance of the data you presented in the results chapter. Here, you will infuse your results with significance by critically evaluating and interpreting them.

This process aids in addressing your research questions, achieving your research objectives, and bolstering your overall conclusions. Therefore, your discussion chapter should squarely focus on findings that are directly relevant to your research objectives and questions.

Since this chapter mirrors your results chapter, it’s imperative that you refrain from introducing any new findings.

In simpler terms, you should avoid making claims in this section if you haven’t already presented the pertinent data in the results chapter.

Hence, ensure that each discussion point you raise in this chapter corresponds to the data analysis covered in the results chapter.

Crafting the Discussion Chapter: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you’ve grasped the essence of the discussion chapter and its essential elements let’s delve into structuring this pivotal chapter. In a broad sense, you can break down this chapter into six key components, which serve as sequential steps in the chapter-writing journey.

Step 1: Reiterate Your Research Problem and Questions

When you begin writing your discussion chapter, the first thing to do is remind your reader about what your research is all about, like the main problem you’re trying to solve and what questions you’re trying to answer. This reminder is important because, after reading a bunch of stuff, your reader might forget what your research was really about or get distracted by other things.

Step 2: Sum Up The Main Discoveries

Moving ahead, it’s time to sum up the most important thing you found in your results chapter. Now, this might look different if you did qualitative or quantitative research. Qualitative research could be all about themes and connections, while quantitative research might talk about things like correlations and reasons behind everything happening.

Usually, this part doesn’t need to be long, just a paragraph or two, depending on how many research questions you had. Try to keep it short because you’ll go into more detail later on in the chapter.

Here are some examples of what you might say:

The analysed data suggest that…

The data support/oppose the defined theory that…

The detailed analysis identifies…

Remember, these are just examples. What you say here depends on the questions you were trying to answer in your research, so make sure you address them correctly.

Step 3: Interpret your results

Once you’ve started your research problem and questions and given a quick rundown of what you found, it’s time to explain your discoveries by looking at your results more closely.

But remember, only talk about what you already told them in the results part – don’t bring in new information.

From a structure point of view, it might be a good idea to organise this chapter, kind of like how you did the results one. This makes it easier for your reader to follow along and understand your points better.

Here are a few things to think about while you’re explaining your findings:

  • How do your results match up with what other studies found?
  • If your results are different from other studies, why do you think that happened?
  • What do your results add to your field of research?
  • Are there any other reasons your findings could be the way they are?

When you’re explaining your findings, make sure not to say anything that doesn’t have proof. Every idea you put out there should have something to back it up, like data or facts (and you already put that in the results chapter).

Step 4: Admit the Flaws in Your Research

Now, in the fourth step of making your discussion chapter, it’s time to fess up about the things that didn’t go so well in your study. These could be problems in any part of your study, like how big or small it was, the theories you used, how you did your analysis or even the group of people you studied.

Some folks might feel like talking about what went wrong is like shooting themselves in the foot. But that’s not true! Actually, one of the signs of doing really good research is being honest about what didn’t work out. So, saying what went wrong is actually a strong move, not a weak one.

Step 5: Offer Some Suggestions for What Comes Next

Now, after you’ve talked about your findings and owned up to what didn’t go perfectly, it’s time to think about two important things:

  • How can other students use your findings in real life? Basically, what good can come out of your research in the field or industry? Where can people put this info to use, and how would they do it?
  • What about future research? How can other researchers take what you’ve done and build on it? Maybe they can make your findings even better by dealing with the issues you mentioned earlier. While you’re at it, check if your results match up with what other studies have found, and if not, figure out why.

Final Words

By adhering to these fundamental principles, you will not only construct a well-organised discussion chapter but also contribute significantly to the ongoing discourse in your field. This, in turn, elevates the impact and relevance of your research within the broader academic community.

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How to write a PhD in Biological Sciences: a guide for the uninitiated

Chapter 44 the discussion.

The discussion should be the final section of your manuscript or chapter that you are going to write (given that the abstract will come last). This is because for the discussion you must already know all of the rest of the manuscript, starting with the hypothesis, which dictates what will go into all of the other sections. While writing the other sections, I often make notes under the heading ‘discussion’ so that it acts as an aide memoire to ideas that I’ve had during the study.

Before you start writing your discussion, make a plan and then discuss this plan with your advisor. I’d make this suggestion for all of the sections of your chapter or paper. It doesn’t take that long to do, and it provides an opportunity for you and your advisor to talk about the results of your work and discuss them together. Such discussions should be eye opening for both of you, and they provide a great opportunity for you and your advisor to get excited about the work you’ve done, your results and what they mean. I get a lot of enjoyment during these discussions, especially when sharing the excitement of the results . Sharing thoughts before you start writing is important because by talking about it, you and your advisor are more likely to come to a consensus about the best way in which to interpret your results . Conversely, presenting them with the discussion finished might not be the best way of pitching your ideas.

There is a convention that you do not refer to the tables or figures in the discussion. This is because they have already been referred to in the results , and a reader should have already consulted them there. Occasionally, you may want to have a new conceptual diagram in the discussion, but this is rare. Most often, you do not refer to figures or tables and no new ones appear in the discussion.

In general, the first and last paragraphs of the discussion are key to the reader, but the discussion must also consider caveats and limitations in the experimental design and interpretation of your results , as well as providing a concise discussion of the results in the context of existing literature (Figure 44.1 ). This is also your opportunity to suggest new hypotheses and how they could be tested.

Your discussion needs structure too. Let’s remember that if you are struggling to write, there is the potential to follow a formula, such as the one I outlined previously.

FIGURE 44.1: Your discussion needs structure too. Let’s remember that if you are struggling to write, there is the potential to follow a formula, such as the one I outlined previously.

I’d like to repeat that the convention described above is a formula that is intended to help you getting started with writing. It is not the only way to write, and if you feel confident that another way is better then I encourage you to explore this with the support of your advisor. Be imaginative and don’t feel that you are constrained or compelled to do anything in a formulaic way.

44.1 First paragraph of the discussion

Your discussion begins by you responding to your hypothesis, clearly stating whether or not you accept it, and putting this into the wider context of the study (i.e. paragraph one or two of the introduction with relevant literature). You can then follow these statements by emphasising what you consider to be the most important finding, and explain how it adds to existing knowledge. However, don’t be tempted to over-interpret your results, or claim that they mean more than they do ( see section on speculation below).

This first paragraph of the discussion doesn’t have to be very long (three to four sentences), but you should make sure that you end by providing a link to the following paragraph or explaining how you will move the discussion on in sections.

44.2 To sub-section or not to sub-section the discussion?

My preference is to plan the discussion before you write it, just as you did for the introduction using a bullet-pointed list. This will provide you with logical sub-section headers for the discussion under which you can write the first draft. When your chapter has a simple aim that is easily communicated, I’d suggest deleting these sub-section headings before you finish. However, many studies are more complex and contain multiple experiments or evidential approaches. It is then sometimes wise to leave sub-sections in your discussion so that your reader can more easily follow the text. Where possible, these should be the same sub-sections that you have broken your methods and results into, especially where these relate to specific hypotheses or aims. Or it may be more appropriate to discuss the different approaches separately, specifically when the literature that you refer to falls into different groups.

If you are stuck and can’t decide which way is most appropriate for your work, spend more time on fleshing the outline specifically to include the literature that you want to cite. Try it one way, and then the other, and you should quickly be able to tell which makes more sense. Of course, you should also ask your advisor for their opinion – that’s what they are there for, after all.

When considering what sub-section to write first, go back to the order that you’ve presented the questions or approaches in the rest of your chapter or manuscript. Keeping the order consistent throughout is a really good way of helping your reader follow what you want to communicate. Shuffling the order in each section is almost guaranteed to get them lost and wishing that they hadn’t started reading.

Next you need to discuss!

The discussion is about explaining the meaning of your results to the reader. I often find that people write a lot of inappropriate information in the discussion. Remember that this section is not going to provide background information, and is unlikely to bring up new topics that need introducing. It may be that your results prompt you to introduce a new area of research that wasn’t covered in your introduction , and this is fine. But for the main part, you should discuss your results in the context of existing literature. You can expect that the literature that you use in your discussion will only partially overlap with your introduction , with plenty of new citations. Similarly, it can be that discussing your results will mean that you end up with paragraphs that have no citations.

In order to provide a critical evaluation of your research findings, you really need to present a reasoned argument ( Jenicek, 2006 ) . In some respects, when writing the discussion your walk a tightrope between inferring the meaning of your results for a wider audience, and making claims that are too broad (Table 44.1 ). Overreaching in the discussion (and consequently abstract ) is a common problem that examiners and reviewers regularly ask authors pull back on their claims.

When providing different sides of an argument , try to use your results to conclude that one side is supported more than the other. If your results don’t help with this particular point, then it could be that you are trying to discuss something that isn’t directly related to the work. This is a very common problem in discussions, and a good test is asking yourself how your results add to the point you are trying to discuss. If they don’t leave it out and move on.

44.3 Caveats and limitations

An important aspect of the discussion is to consider how the interpretation of your results may be incorrect. For example, if you have done an experiment, how well controlled was it and how well could it be considered to scale up to real-world interactions? Could you have measured other variables? Almost every study will have caveats and limitations, and it is very important that you report them in a considered approach. You can also add ideas on how to improve your approach to eliminate important caveats that you have identified, even if this means suggesting something that adds evidence from a completely different field of biology.

My preference is not to provide all the caveats and limitations as a separate paragraph. Instead, mention them when you are discussing relevant aspects.

44.4 Should you speculate in the discussion?

Reviewers will often be unhappy with speculation in the discussion section. Speculation isn’t that hard to spot, as it occurs when you make claims for which your results have no foundation. I think that it is healthy to have one or two statements that are speculative, but clearly label them as such. After all, after writing this paper, you are going to be one of the world experts in the topic, and thus your deeper understanding is often worth relating to the reader. However, I suggest that you speculate in combination with suggesting what work could be done in future. Remember, if you really feel that the point has to be made, you must clearly label it as speculative.

Perhaps an easier trap to fall into is over-interpretation. This is when you suggest that your results mean more than they do. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially after setting up the study in relation to key topics in the discipline (presented in paragraph one or two of the introduction ). You will probably find it hard to see where you have over-interpreted, and this is something that having your work read by your advisor, or another colleague, will really help. You may then be asked to ‘tone down’ your claim, or to place it into the direct findings of your results .

Again, my preference is not to place all speculations or future hypotheses in the same paragraph of the discussion. These aspects should appear as the topics they relate to are discussed.

44.5 Don’t beat up on others

Your results may show that other researchers were wrong with their interpretation or findings. Whatever you may think of them, never use your discussion to be disrespectful to other researchers or their work. This has been referred to as the ‘bully pulpit’ or an ad hominem attack . As with all aspects of professional interactions, consider how you would like to be treated, and act accordingly. This is not to say that you shouldn’t point out mistakes that were made before, but be sure not to be emotive or insulting.

Things brings to mind Freud’s narcissism of minor differences, in which he pointed out that bitter fights could start between groups when they, in fact, agree on 90% on issues. So it is likely to be true that someone you might disagree with one one point, is likely to be allied with you on nearly all of their other views and opinions. Making and maintaining allegiances is more likely to get you in a position where you can constructively discuss any minor disagreements. Consider this before you are tempted to launch a negative sounding social media post.

Generally, such comments won’t get through the peer review process, and remember that you might be insulting the examiner of your thesis (or the reviewer of your paper) – which is not likely to go down well!

44.6 Where next?

The ‘where next’ aspect of your discussion is important as it may provide the reader with ideas for their own work. Of course, these are questions that you may wish to pursue in your own career, or they may require corroborating evidence from other disciplines that you will never undertake. Either way, making pointers for continuing aspects of the research is an important component of the discussion. Providing new lines of research may also allow you to speculate about what you consider to be the most important angle of this topic now that you have presented your results . This should be justifiable and not gratuitous. There’s no point in suggesting what other studies could be done just for the sake of it, or just because you happen to have already done them in your thesis. But if there are legitimate parts of your thesis that link to your discussion of your chapter (and this is quite likely), then you should definitely point to them.

44.7 Last paragraph

The last paragraph of the discussion is your take-home message. It’s a summary paragraph that sets out what you aimed to achieve, and what the new state of understanding of the topic is now that your results are out. This should include the key literature that can now be reconsidered.

44.7.1 Never repeat text

Please remember that while this might sound similar to your first paragraph, it is not the same. This final paragraph should not replicate any text that appears elsewhere in your chapter or manuscript (not even the abstract). Never repeat or copy text generally, even within your own chapter (or between chapters). For the reader, it’s very easy to spot and it gives the impression that you have nothing to say and are simply filling space. This is not the kind of impression that you want to give your reader, especially if they are examining your work!

As always, there are a number of other places to look for more advice to write your discussion, and I’d encourage you to read as widely as possible. For example, try Hess ( 2004 ) , Jenicek ( 2006 ) and Şanlı ( 2013 ) .

Still struggling with your discussion? Take advantage of a new workshop that specifically aims to help you write the discussion to your own thesis chapter (click here ).

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  • How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

The discussion section contains the results and outcomes of a study. An effective discussion informs readers what can be learned from your experiment and provides context for the results.

What makes an effective discussion?

When you’re ready to write your discussion, you’ve already introduced the purpose of your study and provided an in-depth description of the methodology. The discussion informs readers about the larger implications of your study based on the results. Highlighting these implications while not overstating the findings can be challenging, especially when you’re submitting to a journal that selects articles based on novelty or potential impact. Regardless of what journal you are submitting to, the discussion section always serves the same purpose: concluding what your study results actually mean.

A successful discussion section puts your findings in context. It should include:

  • the results of your research,
  • a discussion of related research, and
  • a comparison between your results and initial hypothesis.

Tip: Not all journals share the same naming conventions.

You can apply the advice in this article to the conclusion, results or discussion sections of your manuscript.

Our Early Career Researcher community tells us that the conclusion is often considered the most difficult aspect of a manuscript to write. To help, this guide provides questions to ask yourself, a basic structure to model your discussion off of and examples from published manuscripts. 

how to write a discussion chapter phd

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Was my hypothesis correct?
  • If my hypothesis is partially correct or entirely different, what can be learned from the results? 
  • How do the conclusions reshape or add onto the existing knowledge in the field? What does previous research say about the topic? 
  • Why are the results important or relevant to your audience? Do they add further evidence to a scientific consensus or disprove prior studies? 
  • How can future research build on these observations? What are the key experiments that must be done? 
  • What is the “take-home” message you want your reader to leave with?

How to structure a discussion

Trying to fit a complete discussion into a single paragraph can add unnecessary stress to the writing process. If possible, you’ll want to give yourself two or three paragraphs to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of your study as a whole. Here’s one way to structure an effective discussion:

how to write a discussion chapter phd

Writing Tips

While the above sections can help you brainstorm and structure your discussion, there are many common mistakes that writers revert to when having difficulties with their paper. Writing a discussion can be a delicate balance between summarizing your results, providing proper context for your research and avoiding introducing new information. Remember that your paper should be both confident and honest about the results! 

What to do

  • Read the journal’s guidelines on the discussion and conclusion sections. If possible, learn about the guidelines before writing the discussion to ensure you’re writing to meet their expectations. 
  • Begin with a clear statement of the principal findings. This will reinforce the main take-away for the reader and set up the rest of the discussion. 
  • Explain why the outcomes of your study are important to the reader. Discuss the implications of your findings realistically based on previous literature, highlighting both the strengths and limitations of the research. 
  • State whether the results prove or disprove your hypothesis. If your hypothesis was disproved, what might be the reasons? 
  • Introduce new or expanded ways to think about the research question. Indicate what next steps can be taken to further pursue any unresolved questions. 
  • If dealing with a contemporary or ongoing problem, such as climate change, discuss possible consequences if the problem is avoided. 
  • Be concise. Adding unnecessary detail can distract from the main findings. 

What not to do

Don’t

  • Rewrite your abstract. Statements with “we investigated” or “we studied” generally do not belong in the discussion. 
  • Include new arguments or evidence not previously discussed. Necessary information and evidence should be introduced in the main body of the paper. 
  • Apologize. Even if your research contains significant limitations, don’t undermine your authority by including statements that doubt your methodology or execution. 
  • Shy away from speaking on limitations or negative results. Including limitations and negative results will give readers a complete understanding of the presented research. Potential limitations include sources of potential bias, threats to internal or external validity, barriers to implementing an intervention and other issues inherent to the study design. 
  • Overstate the importance of your findings. Making grand statements about how a study will fully resolve large questions can lead readers to doubt the success of the research. 

Snippets of Effective Discussions:

Consumer-based actions to reduce plastic pollution in rivers: A multi-criteria decision analysis approach

Identifying reliable indicators of fitness in polar bears

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How to Write a Dissertation Discussion Chapter: Guide & Examples

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Dissertation discussion section is a chapter that interprets the results obtained from research and offers an in-depth analysis of findings. In this section, students need to analyze the outcomes, evaluate their significance, and compare them to previous research. The discussion section may also explore the limitations of the study and suggest further research perspectives.

If you are stuck with your thesis or dissertation discussion chapter, you are in the right place to complete this section successfully. This article will outline our best solutions and methods on how to write the discussion of a dissertation or thesis. We also will share advanced dissertation discussion examples to help you finalize your PhD work.  Feel like academic writing gives you hassles? Remember that you can always rely on academic experts qualified in your field to get professional dissertation help online .

What Is a Dissertation Discussion?

First and foremost, students need to have a clear understanding of what dissertation discussion is. This is not the same as your results section , where you share data from your research. You are going deeper into the explanation of the existing data in your thesis or dissertation discussion section. In other words, you illustrate practical implications of your research and how the data can be used, researched further, or limited.  What will make your discussion section of a dissertation excellent:

  • clear structure
  • practical implication
  • elaboration on future work on this topic.

This section should go after research methodology and before the dissertation conclusion . It should be directly relevant to questions posed in your introduction.  The biggest mistake you can make is to rewrite your result chapter with other words and add some limitations and recommendation paragraphs. However, this is an entirely different type of writing you need to complete.

Purpose of a Dissertation Discussion Chapter

A dissertation discussion section is critical to explaining students’ findings and the application of data to real-life cases. As we mentioned before, this section will often be read right after the dissertation methods . It evaluates and elaborates on findings and helps to understand the importance of your performed thesis research.  A dissertation discussion opens a new perspective on further research on the same field or topic. It also outlines critical data to consider in subsequent studies. In a nutshell, this is the section where you explain your work to a broad audience.

Structure of a Dissertation Discussion Section

Let’s start your writing journey of this research part with a clear delineation of what it should include and then briefly discuss each component. Here are some basic things you need to consider for an excellent discussion chapter of dissertation :

  • Brief summary It does not mean copying an introduction section. However, the first few paragraphs will make an overview of your findings and topic.
  • Interpretations This is a critical component of your work — elaborate on your results and explain possible ways of using them.
  • Implication Research work is not just 100+ pages of text. Students should explain and illustrate how it could be used for solving practical problems.
  • Constraints This is where you outline your limitations. For instance, your research was done only on students, and it may have different results with elderly people.
  • Recommendations You can also define possible ways of future research on the exact topic when writing a discussion for your thesis or dissertation. Tell readers, for example, that it would be helpful to run similar research in other specific circumstances.

How to Write a Dissertation Discussion Chapter?

One of the most commonly asked questions for our experts is how to write the discussion section of a dissertation or thesis. We understand why it can be complicated to get a clear answer. Students often think that this section is similar to the result chapter and just retells it in other words. But it is not so. Let’s go through all steps to writing a discussion in a dissertation, and share our best examples from academic papers.

1. Remind Your Research Questions & Objectives

Writing the discussion chapter of a dissertation is not a big deal if you understand its aim and each component in a text structure. First of all, you need to evaluate how your results help to answer research questions you defined in the beginning. It is not about repeating the result, you did it in previous paragraphs.  However, dissertation or thesis discussion should underline how your findings help to answer the research problem. Start writing from a brief intro by recalling research questions or hypotheses . Then, show how your results answer them or support a hypothesis in your work.

2. Sum Up Key Findings

Next part of your discussion for dissertation is to provide a short summary of previous data. But do not respite the same summary paragraphs from results or introduction of a dissertation . Here researchers should be more thoughtful and go deeper into the work’s aims.  Try to explain in a few sentences what you get from running research. For instance, starters usually write the statement that “our data proves that…” or “survey results illustrate a clear correlation between a and b that is critical for proving our working hypothesis…”.  A discussion chapter of your dissertation is not just a fixation on results but a more profound summary connected to research goals and purpose. Here is an example: Summary of Findings Example

According to the data, implementing the co-orientation theory was successful and can be used for the same circumstances in the future. As we found, most participants agreed with the importance of those theses on the five fundamental reforms. It means that the results identified a successful government work in choosing the messages to communicate about examined reforms. At the same time, the situation is not so favorable with implementing the principles of two-way symmetrical communications. According to the results, people did not feel that the government had a mutual, open, and equal dialogue with the public about the reforms.

3. Interpret the Results

The most critical part of a discussion section is to explain and enact the results you’ve got. It is the most significant part of any text. Students should be clear about what to include in these paragraphs. Here is some advice to make this elaboration structured:

  • Identify correlations or patterns in the data for dissertation discussion.
  • Underline how results can answer research questions or prove your hypothesis.
  • Emphasize how your findings are connected to the previous topic studies.
  • Point out essential statements you can use in future research.
  • Evaluate the significance of your results and any unexpected data you have.
  • What others can learn from your research and how this work contributes to the field.
  • Consider any possible additional or unique explanation of your findings.
  • Go deeper with options of how results can be applied in practice.

Writing a dissertation discussion chapter can be tough, but here is a great sample to learn from. Example of Interpretations in Disssertation Discussion

Our study underlines the importance of future research on using TikTok for political communication. As discussed above, TikTok is the most commonly used social media platform for many young voters. This means that political discussion will also move to this platform. Our research and typology of political communication content can be used in the future planning of effective political campaigns. For example, we can assume that “play videos” have enormous potential to facilitate complicated topics and provide specific agenda settings. We also identified additional affordances of TikTok used for political communication, such as built-in video editors, playlists for specific topics, a green screen for news explainers, and duets for reflection on news and discussion. It means that these features make TikTok suitable for efficient political communications.

4. Discuss How Your Findings Relate to the Literature

Here we came to the implications of your findings for the dissertation discussion. In other words, this is a few sentences on how your work is connected to other studies on the same research topic or what literature gap you are going to fill with the data and research you launched. Remember to mention how your study address the limitations you have discovered while writing a literature review .  First, outline how your hypothesis relates to theories or previous works in the field. Maybe, you challenged some theories or tried to define your own. Be specific in this section. Second, define a practical implementation of your work. Maybe, it can support recommendations or change legislation.  Discussion chapter of a thesis is a place where you explain your work, make it valuable, and incorporate additional meaning for some specific data.  Example of Implications in Disssertation Discussion

As we pointed out in the literature review, there are few works on using TikTok affordances for political communications, and this topic can be expanded in the future. Government institutions have already understood the importance of this platform for efficient communication with younger audiences, and we will see more political projects on TikTok. That is why expanding research on using TikTok for political communication will be enormous in the following years. Our work is one of the first research on the role of emerging media in war communication and can be used as a practical guide for government's strategic planning in times of emergencies.

5. Mention Possible Limitations

It is pretty tricky to conduct research without limitations. You will always have some, which does not mean that your work is not good. When you write a discussion chapter in a thesis or dissertation, focus on what may influence your results and how changing independent variables can affect your data collection methods and final outcomes.  Here are some points to consider when you structure your dissertation discussion limitation part:

  • If results can change in case you change the reference group?
  • What will happen with data if it changes circumstances?
  • What could influence results?

Critical thinking and analysis can help you to outline possible limitations. It can be the age of the reference group, change of questionnaire in a survey, or specific use of data extraction equipment. Be transparent about what could affect your results.  Example of Complications

Although this study has provided critical first insights into the effects of multimodal disinformation and rebuttals, there are some limitations. First and most importantly, the effects of multimodal disinformation and rebuttals partially depend on the topic of the message. Although fact-checkers reduce credibility of disinformation in both settings, and attitudinal congruence plays a consistent role in conditioning responses to multimodal disinformation, visuals do not have the same impact on affecting the credibility of news on school shootings and refugees.

6. Provide Recommendations for Further Research

Writing a dissertation discussion also makes a connection to possible future research. So, other scientists may complete that. While elaborating on possible implementations of your study, you may also estimate future approaches in topic research.  Here are some points to consider while your discussion in thesis writing:

  • Outline questions related to your topic that you did not answer in defined study or did not outline as research questions. There are other possible gaps to research.
  • Suggest future research based on limitations. For example, if you define surveyed people’s age as a limitation, recommend running another survey for older or younger recipients.

Example of Recommendations

As we mentioned before, our study has some limitations, as the research was conducted based on data from United State citizens. However, for a better understanding of government communication practices, it would be productive to implement the same research in other countries. Some cultural differences can influence the communication strategies the government uses in times of emergency. Another possible way to examine this topic is to conduct research using a specific period of time. For future studies, it will be beneficial to expand the number of survey recipients. 

7. Conclude Your Thesis/ Dissertation Discussion

You are almost done, the last step is to provide a brief summary of a section. It is not the same as a conclusion for whole research. However, you need to briefly outline key points from the dissertation discussion.  To finalize writing the discussion section of a dissertation, go through the text and check if there is no unimportant information. Do not overload the text with relevant data you did not present in the result section. Be specific in your summary paragraphs. It is a holistic view of everything you pointed out. Provide a few sentences to systemize all you outlined in the text. Example of a Concluding Summary in a Dissertation Discussion Section

To summarize, Airbnb has expertise in communicating CSR and CSA campaigns. We defined their communication strategy about the program for Ukrainian refugees as quite successful. They applied all the principles of CSR communication best practices, used dialogic theory to engage with the public on social media, and created clear messaging on applying for the program. Airbnb examples of CSR communication can be used by other businesses to create a communication strategy for unplanned CSR campaigns. Moreover, it can be further researched how Airbnb's CSR campaign influenced the organizational reputation in the future. 

Dissertation Discussion Example

If we need to share one piece of practical advice, it would be to use thesis or dissertation discussion examples when writing your own copy. StudyCrumb provides the best samples from real students' work to help you understand the stylistic and possible structure of this part. It does not mean you need to copy and paste them into your work.  However, you can use a  dissertation discussion example for inspiration and brainstorming ideas for breaking writing blocks. Here’s a doctoral thesis discussion chapter example.

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Dissertation Discussion Writing Tips

Before reading this blog, you should already know how to write a thesis discussion. However, we would share some essential tips you need to have in mind while working on the document. 

  • Be consistent Your dissertation discussion chapter is a part of bigger research, and it should be in line with your whole work.
  • Understand your reader You are writing an academic text that will be analyzed by professionals and experts in the same field. Be sure that you are not trying to simplify your discussion.
  • Be logical Do not jump into a new line of discussion if you did not delineate it as a research question at the beginning.
  • Be clear Do not include any data that was not presented in the result section.
  • Consider word choice Use such terms as “our data indicate…” or “our data suggests…” instead of “the data proves.”
  • Use proper format Follow the formatting rules specified by a specific paper style (e.g., APA style format , MLA format , or Chicago format ) or provided by your instructor.

Bottom Line on Writing a Dissertation Discussion Chapter

At this stage, it should not be a question for you on how to write a discussion chapter in a PhD thesis or dissertation. Let’s make it clear. It is not a result section but still a place to elaborate on data and go deeper with explanations. Dissertation discussion section includes some intro, result interpretations, limitations, and recommendations for future research. Our team encourages you to use examples before starting your own piece of writing. It will help you to realize the purpose and structure of this chapter and inspire better texts! If you have other questions regarding the PhD writing process, check our blog for more insights. From detailed instruction on how to write a dissertation or guide on formatting a dissertation appendix , we’ve got you covered.

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FAQ About Dissertation Discussion Chapter

1. where does a discussion section go in a dissertation.

Dissertation discussion section is used to go right after the result chapter. The logic is simple — you share your data and then go to the elaboration and explanation of it. Check the sample thesis we provide to students for details on structure.

2. How long should a dissertation discussion chapter be?

It is not a surprise that dissertation discussion chapter is extremely significant for the research. Here you will go into the details of your study and interpret results to prove or not your hypothesis. It should take almost 25% of your work. 

3. What tense should I use in a dissertation discussion?

Thesis or dissertation discussion used to have some rules on using tenses. You need to use the present tense when referring to established facts and use the past tense when referring to previous studies. And check your text before submission to ensure that you did not miss something.

4. What not to include in a dissertation discussion section?

The answer is easy. Discussion section of a dissertation should not include any new findings or describe some unsupported claims. Also, do not try to feel all possible gaps with one research. It may be better to outline your ideas for future studies in recommendations.

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Joe Eckel is an expert on Dissertations writing. He makes sure that each student gets precious insights on composing A-grade academic writing.

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Dissertation Genius

12 Steps to Write an Effective Discussion Chapter

November 5, 2016 by Dissertation Genius

This article gives doctoral dissertation students valuable guidance on how to go about writing their Discussion chapter. The article starts by outlining the main goals and writing approaches. Then the article explains 12 specific steps to take to write an effective discussion chapter.

Discussion Chapter: Main Goals and Writing Approaches

You should always keep in mind the main goals when writing your Discussion chapter. These include stating your interpretations, declaring your opinions, explaining the effects of your findings, and making suggestions and predictions for future research.

With the main goals mentioned, it is interesting to note how to go about writing this chapter. To do this, follow three important suggestions:

  • Answer those questions posed in the introduction (central research questions)
  • Show how the answers are supported by the results
  • Explain how the answers fit relative to the existing body of knowledge about the subject

Keep in mind that the Discussion chapter can be considered the most important part of your dissertation. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you may need more than one writing attempt for this chapter.

The 12 Steps to an Effective Discussion Chapter

To make sure your message remains crystal-clear, the Discussion chapter should be short and sweet, but it should fully state, support, elaborate, explain, and defend your conclusions. Take great care to ensure the writing is a commentary and not simply a regurgitation of results. Side (distracting) issues should not be written about because they will cloud the essence of your message. There is no perfect dissertation, but help your reader determine what the facts are and what is speculation.

Here are 12 steps to keep in mind when writing your Discussion Chapter:

  • Always try to structure your Discussion chapter from the ‘specific’ to the ‘general’: expand and transition from the narrow confines of your study to the general framework of your discipline.
  • Make a consistent effort to stick with the same general tone of the introduction. This means using the same key terms, the same tense, and the same point of view as used in your introduction.
  • Start by rewriting your research questions and re-stating your hypothesis (if any) that you previously posed in your introduction. Then declare the answers to your research questions – make sure to support these answers with the findings of your dissertation.
  • Continue by explaining how your results relate to the expectations of your study and to literature. Clearly explain why these results are acceptable and how they consistently fit in with previously published knowledge about the subject. Be sure to use relevant citations.
  • Make sure to give the proper attention for all the results relating to your research questions, this is regardless of whether or not the findings were statistically significant.
  • Don’t forget to tell your audience about the patterns, principles, and key relationships shown by each of your major findings and then put them into perspective. The sequencing of this information is important: 1) state the answer, 2) show the relevant results and 3) cite the work of credible sources. When necessary, point the audience to figures and/or graphs to ‘enhance’ your argument.
  • Make sure to defend your answers. Try to do so in two ways: by explaining the validity of your answer and by showing the shortcomings of others’ answers. You will make your point of view more convincing if you give both sides to the argument.
  • Also make sure to identify conflicting data in your work. Make a good point of discussing and evaluating any conflicting explanations of your results. This is an effective way to win over your audience and make them sympathetic to any true knowledge your study might have to offer.
  • Make sure to include a discussion of any unexpected findings. When doing this, begin with a paragraph about the finding and then describe it. Also identify potential limitations and weaknesses inherent in your study. Then comment on the importance of these limitations to the interpretation of your findings and how they may impact their validity. Do not use an apologetic tone in this section. Every study has limitations.
  • Conduct a brief summary of the principal implications of your findings (do this regardless of any statistical significance). Make sure to provide 1-2 recommendations for potential research in the future.
  • Show how the results of your study and their conclusions are significant and how they impact our understanding of the problem(s) that your dissertation examines.
  • On a final note, discuss everything this is relevant but be brief, specific, and to the point.

Contact Dissertation Genius for Any Other Inquiries or Concerns About Your Dissertation. We can help!

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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up

Acknowledgements

This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

how to write a discussion chapter phd

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

how to write a discussion chapter phd

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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36 Comments

ARUN kumar SHARMA

many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.

Sue

Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!

hayder

what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much

Tim

Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!

Aswathi

Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.

moha

best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?

Rose

Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.

SAIKUMAR NALUMASU

Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Rami

Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!

Luke

My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!

Judy

Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂

Christine

Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course

johnson

This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you

avc

Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?

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Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

From how to choose a topic to writing the abstract and managing work-life balance through the years it takes to complete a doctorate, here we collect expert advice to get you through the PhD writing process

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Embarking on a PhD is “probably the most challenging task that a young scholar attempts to do”, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith in their practical guide to dissertation and thesis writing. After years of reading and research to answer a specific question or proposition, the candidate will submit about 80,000 words that explain their methods and results and demonstrate their unique contribution to knowledge. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about writing a doctoral thesis or dissertation.

What’s the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

Whatever the genre of the doctorate, a PhD must offer an original contribution to knowledge. The terms “dissertation” and “thesis” both refer to the long-form piece of work produced at the end of a research project and are often used interchangeably. Which one is used might depend on the country, discipline or university. In the UK, “thesis” is generally used for the work done for a PhD, while a “dissertation” is written for a master’s degree. The US did the same until the 1960s, says Oxbridge Essays, when the convention switched, and references appeared to a “master’s thesis” and “doctoral dissertation”. To complicate matters further, undergraduate long essays are also sometimes referred to as a thesis or dissertation.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “thesis” as “a dissertation, especially by a candidate for a degree” and “dissertation” as “a detailed discourse on a subject, especially one submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of a degree or diploma”.

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The title “doctor of philosophy”, incidentally, comes from the degree’s origins, write Dr Felix, an associate professor at Mahidol University in Thailand, and Dr Smith, retired associate professor of education at the University of Sydney , whose co-authored guide focuses on the social sciences. The PhD was first awarded in the 19th century by the philosophy departments of German universities, which at that time taught science, social science and liberal arts.

How long should a PhD thesis be?

A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length ) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) – from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion.

The structure of a dissertation will vary depending on discipline (humanities, social sciences and STEM all have their own conventions), location and institution. Examples and guides to structure proliferate online. The University of Salford , for example, lists: title page, declaration, acknowledgements, abstract, table of contents, lists of figures, tables and abbreviations (where needed), chapters, appendices and references.

A scientific-style thesis will likely need: introduction, literature review, materials and methods, results, discussion, bibliography and references.

As well as checking the overall criteria and expectations of your institution for your research, consult your school handbook for the required length and format (font, layout conventions and so on) for your dissertation.

A PhD takes three to four years to complete; this might extend to six to eight years for a part-time doctorate.

What are the steps for completing a PhD?

Before you get started in earnest , you’ll likely have found a potential supervisor, who will guide your PhD journey, and done a research proposal (which outlines what you plan to research and how) as part of your application, as well as a literature review of existing scholarship in the field, which may form part of your final submission.

In the UK, PhD candidates undertake original research and write the results in a thesis or dissertation, says author and vlogger Simon Clark , who posted videos to YouTube throughout his own PhD journey . Then they submit the thesis in hard copy and attend the viva voce (which is Latin for “living voice” and is also called an oral defence or doctoral defence) to convince the examiners that their work is original, understood and all their own. Afterwards, if necessary, they make changes and resubmit. If the changes are approved, the degree is awarded.

The steps are similar in Australia , although candidates are mostly assessed on their thesis only; some universities may include taught courses, and some use a viva voce. A PhD in Australia usually takes three years full time.

In the US, the PhD process begins with taught classes (similar to a taught master’s) and a comprehensive exam (called a “field exam” or “dissertation qualifying exam”) before the candidate embarks on their original research. The whole journey takes four to six years.

A PhD candidate will need three skills and attitudes to get through their doctoral studies, says Tara Brabazon , professor of cultural studies at Flinders University in Australia who has written extensively about the PhD journey :

  • master the academic foundational skills (research, writing, ability to navigate different modalities)
  • time-management skills and the ability to focus on reading and writing
  • determined motivation to do a PhD.

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How do I choose the topic for my PhD dissertation or thesis?

It’s important to find a topic that will sustain your interest for the years it will take to complete a PhD. “Finding a sustainable topic is the most important thing you [as a PhD student] would do,” says Dr Brabazon in a video for Times Higher Education . “Write down on a big piece of paper all the topics, all the ideas, all the questions that really interest you, and start to cross out all the ones that might just be a passing interest.” Also, she says, impose the “Who cares? Who gives a damn?” question to decide if the topic will be useful in a future academic career.

The availability of funding and scholarships is also often an important factor in this decision, says veteran PhD supervisor Richard Godwin, from Harper Adams University .

Define a gap in knowledge – and one that can be questioned, explored, researched and written about in the time available to you, says Gina Wisker, head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. “Set some boundaries,” she advises. “Don’t try to ask everything related to your topic in every way.”

James Hartley, research professor in psychology at Keele University, says it can also be useful to think about topics that spark general interest. If you do pick something that taps into the zeitgeist, your findings are more likely to be noticed.

You also need to find someone else who is interested in it, too. For STEM candidates , this will probably be a case of joining a team of people working in a similar area where, ideally, scholarship funding is available. A centre for doctoral training (CDT) or doctoral training partnership (DTP) will advertise research projects. For those in the liberal arts and social sciences, it will be a matter of identifying a suitable supervisor .

Avoid topics that are too broad (hunger across a whole country, for example) or too narrow (hunger in a single street) to yield useful solutions of academic significance, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith. And ensure that you’re not repeating previous research or trying to solve a problem that has already been answered. A PhD thesis must be original.

What is a thesis proposal?

After you have read widely to refine your topic and ensure that it and your research methods are original, and discussed your project with a (potential) supervisor, you’re ready to write a thesis proposal , a document of 1,500 to 3,000 words that sets out the proposed direction of your research. In the UK, a research proposal is usually part of the application process for admission to a research degree. As with the final dissertation itself, format varies among disciplines, institutions and countries but will usually contain title page, aims, literature review, methodology, timetable and bibliography. Examples of research proposals are available online.

How to write an abstract for a dissertation or thesis

The abstract presents your thesis to the wider world – and as such may be its most important element , says the NUI Galway writing guide. It outlines the why, how, what and so what of the thesis . Unlike the introduction, which provides background but not research findings, the abstract summarises all sections of the dissertation in a concise, thorough, focused way and demonstrates how well the writer understands their material. Check word-length limits with your university – and stick to them. About 300 to 500 words is a rough guide ­– but it can be up to 1,000 words.

The abstract is also important for selection and indexing of your thesis, according to the University of Melbourne guide , so be sure to include searchable keywords.

It is the first thing to be read but the last element you should write. However, Pat Thomson , professor of education at the University of Nottingham , advises that it is not something to be tackled at the last minute.

How to write a stellar conclusion

As well as chapter conclusions, a thesis often has an overall conclusion to draw together the key points covered and to reflect on the unique contribution to knowledge. It can comment on future implications of the research and open up new ideas emanating from the work. It is shorter and more general than the discussion chapter , says online editing site Scribbr, and reiterates how the work answers the main question posed at the beginning of the thesis. The conclusion chapter also often discusses the limitations of the research (time, scope, word limit, access) in a constructive manner.

It can be useful to keep a collection of ideas as you go – in the online forum DoctoralWriting SIG , academic developer Claire Aitchison, of the University of South Australia , suggests using a “conclusions bank” for themes and inspirations, and using free-writing to keep this final section fresh. (Just when you feel you’ve run out of steam.) Avoid aggrandising or exaggerating the impact of your work. It should remind the reader what has been done, and why it matters.

How to format a bibliography (or where to find a reliable model)

Most universities use a preferred style of references , writes THE associate editor Ingrid Curl. Make sure you know what this is and follow it. “One of the most common errors in academic writing is to cite papers in the text that do not then appear in the bibliography. All references in your thesis need to be cross-checked with the bibliography before submission. Using a database during your research can save a great deal of time in the writing-up process.”

A bibliography contains not only works cited explicitly but also those that have informed or contributed to the research – and as such illustrates its scope; works are not limited to written publications but include sources such as film or visual art.

Examiners can start marking from the back of the script, writes Dr Brabazon. “Just as cooks are judged by their ingredients and implements, we judge doctoral students by the calibre of their sources,” she advises. She also says that candidates should be prepared to speak in an oral examination of the PhD about any texts included in their bibliography, especially if there is a disconnect between the thesis and the texts listed.

Can I use informal language in my PhD?

Don’t write like a stereotypical academic , say Kevin Haggerty, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta , and Aaron Doyle, associate professor in sociology at Carleton University , in their tongue-in-cheek guide to the PhD journey. “If you cannot write clearly and persuasively, everything about PhD study becomes harder.” Avoid jargon, exotic words, passive voice and long, convoluted sentences – and work on it consistently. “Writing is like playing guitar; it can improve only through consistent, concerted effort.”

Be deliberate and take care with your writing . “Write your first draft, leave it and then come back to it with a critical eye. Look objectively at the writing and read it closely for style and sense,” advises THE ’s Ms Curl. “Look out for common errors such as dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and inconsistency. If you are too involved with the text to be able to take a step back and do this, then ask a friend or colleague to read it with a critical eye. Remember Hemingway’s advice: ‘Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.’ Clarity is key.”

How often should a PhD candidate meet with their supervisor?

Since the PhD supervisor provides a range of support and advice – including on research techniques, planning and submission – regular formal supervisions are essential, as is establishing a line of contact such as email if the candidate needs help or advice outside arranged times. The frequency varies according to university, discipline and individual scholars.

Once a week is ideal, says Dr Brabazon. She also advocates a two-hour initial meeting to establish the foundations of the candidate-supervisor relationship .

The University of Edinburgh guide to writing a thesis suggests that creating a timetable of supervisor meetings right at the beginning of the research process will allow candidates to ensure that their work stays on track throughout. The meetings are also the place to get regular feedback on draft chapters.

“A clear structure and a solid framework are vital for research,” writes Dr Godwin on THE Campus . Use your supervisor to establish this and provide a realistic view of what can be achieved. “It is vital to help students identify the true scientific merit, the practical significance of their work and its value to society.”

How to proofread your dissertation (what to look for)

Proofreading is the final step before printing and submission. Give yourself time to ensure that your work is the best it can be . Don’t leave proofreading to the last minute; ideally, break it up into a few close-reading sessions. Find a quiet place without distractions. A checklist can help ensure that all aspects are covered.

Proofing is often helped by a change of format – so it can be easier to read a printout rather than working off the screen – or by reading sections out of order. Fresh eyes are better at spotting typographical errors and inconsistencies, so leave time between writing and proofreading. Check with your university’s policies before asking another person to proofread your thesis for you.

As well as close details such as spelling and grammar, check that all sections are complete, all required elements are included , and nothing is repeated or redundant. Don’t forget to check headings and subheadings. Does the text flow from one section to another? Is the structure clear? Is the work a coherent whole with a clear line throughout?

Ensure consistency in, for example, UK v US spellings, capitalisation, format, numbers (digits or words, commas, units of measurement), contractions, italics and hyphenation. Spellchecks and online plagiarism checkers are also your friend.

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How do you manage your time to complete a PhD dissertation?

Treat your PhD like a full-time job, that is, with an eight-hour working day. Within that, you’ll need to plan your time in a way that gives a sense of progress . Setbacks and periods where it feels as if you are treading water are all but inevitable, so keeping track of small wins is important, writes A Happy PhD blogger Luis P. Prieto.

Be specific with your goals – use the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely).

And it’s never too soon to start writing – even if early drafts are overwritten and discarded.

“ Write little and write often . Many of us make the mistake of taking to writing as one would take to a sprint, in other words, with relatively short bursts of intense activity. Whilst this can prove productive, generally speaking it is not sustainable…In addition to sustaining your activity, writing little bits on a frequent basis ensures that you progress with your thinking. The comfort of remaining in abstract thought is common; writing forces us to concretise our thinking,” says Christian Gilliam, AHSS researcher developer at the University of Cambridge ’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Make time to write. “If you are more alert early in the day, find times that suit you in the morning; if you are a ‘night person’, block out some writing sessions in the evenings,” advises NUI Galway’s Dermot Burns, a lecturer in English and creative arts. Set targets, keep daily notes of experiment details that you will need in your thesis, don’t confuse writing with editing or revising – and always back up your work.

What work-life balance tips should I follow to complete my dissertation?

During your PhD programme, you may have opportunities to take part in professional development activities, such as teaching, attending academic conferences and publishing your work. Your research may include residencies, field trips or archive visits. This will require time-management skills as well as prioritising where you devote your energy and factoring in rest and relaxation. Organise your routine to suit your needs , and plan for steady and regular progress.

How to deal with setbacks while writing a thesis or dissertation

Have a contingency plan for delays or roadblocks such as unexpected results.

Accept that writing is messy, first drafts are imperfect, and writer’s block is inevitable, says Dr Burns. His tips for breaking it include relaxation to free your mind from clutter, writing a plan and drawing a mind map of key points for clarity. He also advises feedback, reflection and revision: “Progressing from a rough version of your thoughts to a superior and workable text takes time, effort, different perspectives and some expertise.”

“Academia can be a relentlessly brutal merry-go-round of rejection, rebuttal and failure,” writes Lorraine Hope , professor of applied cognitive psychology at the University of Portsmouth, on THE Campus. Resilience is important. Ensure that you and your supervisor have a relationship that supports open, frank, judgement-free communication.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter .

Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation (2003), by Patrick Dunleavy

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998), by Joan Balker

Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (2015), by Noelle Sterne

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how to write a discussion chapter phd

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Writing a compelling integrated discussion: a guide for integrated discussions in article-based theses and dissertations

  • Krystina B. Lewis , Ian D. Graham , Laura Boland and Dawn Stacey

Article-based theses and dissertations are increasingly being used in nursing and the health sciences as an alternate format to the traditional five-chapter monograph. A unique chapter in the article-based thesis is the integrated discussion, which differs in breadth and depth as compared to the discussion for a traditional thesis monograph or journal article. For many students and faculty, the integrated discussion is a challenging chapter to write, with minimal or no published guidance available. In this article, we offer a four-step approach with templates for planning and writing an integrated discussion. We also share several lessons learned with examples from published theses and dissertations. Writing an integrated discussion can be facilitated and written more efficiently by developing a clear and detailed outline of the chapter and broad discussion points prior to drafting the text, to achieve a higher-level synthesis, analysis, and interpretation of the overall significance of the thesis findings.

Introduction

An increasing number of university graduate programs in nursing and the health sciences offer the option of writing an article-based thesis or dissertation as an alternate format to the traditional five-chapter monograph ( De Jong, Moser, & Hall, 2005 ; Graves et al., 2018 ; Robinson & Dracup, 2008 ; Smaldone, Heitkemper, Jackman, Joanne Woo, & Kelson, 2019 ). This format has gained traction internationally to facilitate the earlier and more frequent publication of graduate student research for the timelier advancement of knowledge and impact on clinical practice ( Evans, Amaro, Herbert, Blossom, & Roberts, 2018 ; Maynard, Vaughn, Sarteschi, & Berglund, 2012 ; Smaldone et al., 2019 ). An article-based thesis, also known as the manuscript option, thesis-by manuscript, integrated thesis, or PhD by published works, typically includes one or more articles suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals and bounded together with an introduction chapter and integrated discussion chapter ( Baggs, 2011 ). The integrated discussion is a unique chapter in an article-based thesis. Integrated (2020) is defined as “ many different parts [that] are closely connected and work successfully together ” (“Integrated,” 2020). The general purpose of the integrated discussion chapter is to provide an overall synthesis and demonstrate high level abstraction, analysis, and interpretation of the thesis findings. It is an opportunity to showcase the thesis’ findings, the student’s reflections about the findings, and its implications ( Smith, 2015 ).

Requirements and expectations for the integrated discussion chapter vary by institution and department. Supervising faculty within individual institutions may also have differing approaches and expectations. We found no general rules or expectations in the literature for writing an integrated discussion. An inquiry of select institutional guidance documents in various international jurisdictions revealed that academic institutions provide few details about this chapter. Descriptions focus more on the overall contribution of the integrated discussion chapter to the thesis, rather than guidance on how to write it ( Table 1 ).

Examples of institutional guidelines for the integrated discussion chapter in an article-based thesis.

Writing a compelling integrated discussion can be challenging, and there is a scarcity of resources, instructions, or published guidance for students and supervising faculty on this subject. Existing guidance is focused primarily on writing discussions for a single journal article or a traditional thesis monograph. Yet, the integrated discussion chapter differs in breadth and depth. In journal articles, a discussion usually consists of a statement of the main findings, interpretation of the results in the context of the broader literature, strengths and limitations of the study, and implications for potential users of the findings (clinicians, administrators, policy makers, and others), the discipline, and future research ( Makar, Foltz, Lendner, & Vaccaro, 2018 ). The discussion section of the traditional monograph thesis has a similar format to that of a journal article as it discusses a single study but is often more detailed. In comparison, the integrated discussion chapter of the article-based thesis provides students with a space in which to weave the results and discussion points from the individual articles comprising the thesis, elaborate on the logic and linkages between them, and convincingly argue for the unified, coherent, and original nature of their findings and contributions to the field-at-large. Smith (2015) refers to this as the golden thread. Grant (2011) refers to it as the logic of connectivity . Ultimately, it is about how the student links the key ideas from the individual papers and articulates the connectedness between them, so as to make readers understand the thesis’ broader meaning which make it accessible to a larger audience ( Smith, 2015 ).

The educational value of conceptualizing and writing an integrated discussion can be best classified at the highest level of Bloom’s revised taxonomy of educational objectives, to Create  — formerly known as Synthesis in Bloom’s original taxonomy — whereby parts are combined in novel ways to produce a coherent whole and to formulate new points of view ( Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001 ; Bloom, 1956 ). According to the taxonomy, the integrated discussion represents the pinnacle of cognitive tasks and processes by requiring higher-order thinking and critical reflections expected of graduate level students. Hence, the integrated discussion chapter provides the graduate student an opportunity to synthesize, integrate, and raise the discussion to a higher level of abstraction; allowing them to demonstrate the coherence between all articles reported in the thesis. It is often in the integrated discussion where thesis advisory committee members and examiners can assess the student’s depth of theoretical and applied knowledge of the subject matter, capacity for critical inquiry, and judge the overall value of the student’s conclusions and contributions to the substantive area of study ( Gould, 2016 ). Specifically in nursing, this higher-level thinking can be articulated by discussing how the knowledge generated advances nursing practice, education and research, and how it contributes to the delivery of high quality health care, and improved health and health system outcomes ( Institute of Medicine [US] Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, 2011 ). Yet, with little guidance available on how to think about and write an integrated discussion, graduate students may miss the opportunity to engage in this higher-order thinking and critical reflections.

In this paper, we offer a practical four-step approach with templates for writing an integrated discussion for article-based theses. KBL initially developed the steps and templates as she conceptualized and wrote her integrated discussion for her PhD dissertation. The steps and templates were refined as a result of (a) her own integrated discussion writing process; (b) discussion with her thesis supervisor and thesis advisory committee members; and, (c) feedback from several graduate students who have used it successfully. As recent doctoral graduates and faculty supervisors, we are sharing this approach and our lessons learned with examples from published theses and dissertations.

Writing an integrated discussion chapter

Step 1: outlining the integrated discussion chapter.

To begin, we propose drafting an outline for the integrated discussion chapter with six major sections ( Table 2 ). First, provide an opening paragraph introducing the information to be presented in the chapter. Second, present a summary of the overall purpose of the thesis as a unified piece of work and a brief summary of each individual article prepared for publication. Each article summary should include the study aim, study design, and key results. Keep in mind that by the time supervisors, thesis advisory committee members, and examiners read the integrated discussion chapter, they have probably just finished reading the previous chapters and articles, so there is no need to repeat information in detail. Rather, the purpose of this section is to refresh the readers’ focus and to begin demonstrating how the articles logically link to each other. Third, outline the main points of the integrated discussion as clearly and concisely as possible (see Step 2 and 3 for more details). Fourth, discuss the strengths and limitations of the thesis, as a whole, if applicable. Typically, strengths and limitations are only presented at the individual article level, but if there are broader strengths or limitations that apply to the thesis, they can be discussed in this chapter. Fifth, discuss the implications of the thesis for the specific discipline (e.g., nursing, medicine, population health, epidemiology, rehabilitation) in terms of the findings’ applicability to practice, education, leadership, and/or policy. Sixth, describe implications for future research. Finally, this chapter should end with a strong, clear, and logical conclusion summarizing the entire work across all elements of the thesis. The conclusions should clearly state the original contribution(s) to the advancement of knowledge and overall significance for the field at-large.

Suggested structure for an integrated discussion.

a Approximate length based on 12-point type font, double spacing, left-justified, 1-inch margins, and format for 8 ½ × 11 paper.

Step 2. Mapping individual articles’ findings to inform the integrated discussion

The next step is to draft the main integrated discussion points. Using Template I, capture the main discussion points from each individual article ( Table 3 ). If there is only one article in the thesis, these can be generated from the literature review, guiding theoretical framework, and/or chosen methodology. This exercise is intended to facilitate the student’s thinking about how to build convincing overarching discussion points and explore the key messages they want readers to come away with after reading the thesis.

Template I to summarize individual article discussion points to identify overarching discussion points.

a If there is only one article in the thesis, additional discussion points/contributions/implications can come from the literature review, guiding theoretical framework, and/or chosen methodology. b Whether these implications are included in the individual article or not, this explicitly offers a starting point to think of the implications arising from individual articles.

The last row in this template is reserved for listing the actual and potential disciplinary implications arising from each article, which may address any of the following domains: practice, education, leadership, policy and/or research. Depending on journal requirements, these implications may be directly discussed in the individual articles. If not, this section offers the student a starting point for thinking about the disciplinary implications arising from their thesis as a whole.

Completing Template I as individual articles are finalized, and sharing it with a faculty supervisor or thesis advisory committee can facilitate discussion about the evolving integrated discussion points. It can also facilitate requisite critical thinking and reflection necessary for linking findings across the individual articles.

Step 3. Drafting the main integrated discussion points

Consider the discussion points and disciplinary implications across all individual articles of the thesis to identify commonalities or differences;

Draft main integrated discussion points, logically connecting the individual articles;

Identify findings from, ideally, two individual articles that support (or refute) the proposed main integrated discussion points (aiming for evidence from two articles helps achieve a higher level integrated discussion); and

Identify and classify theoretical and empirical literature relevant to the main integrated discussion points. Select regional, national, and international empirical studies, theoretical works, clinical practice guidelines, technical reports, and/or policy documents; highlight what the thesis adds to the field (of knowledge) and how it will enhance understanding of the subject.

Template II to build the main integrated discussion points from the individual articles and summarize implications.

a If there is only one article in the thesis, the supporting contributions/arguments can come from the literature review, guiding theoretical framework, and/or chosen methodology. b Broader literature can include empirical studies, theoretical works, practice guidelines, technical reports, and/or policy documents. c List the disciplinary implications identified across all articles. This explicitly offers a starting point to think of the disciplinary implications arising across the individual articles’ findings and discussion points.

This exercise is intended to help organize the content of the integrated discussion early in the writing process. We recommend sharing the evolving Templates I and II with the faculty supervisor or thesis advisory committee and use it as a tool for discussion before writing the integrated discussion chapter. As supervisors (DS, IDG), we also initiate Template I in discussion with our graduate students – often using a blank piece of paper. This reflective exercise may save time in the long run, as it facilitates staying focused on the key points and avoids repeating elements of the discussions within the individual papers. The more detailed the completed templates, the more content is available to transform into text.

Step 4. Writing the integrated discussion chapter

The final step is to turn the planned outline (Step 1) and the drafted main integrated discussion points (Step 3) into narrative prose. To remain focused, start by adding subheadings from the outline and lower level subheadings for each of the main integrated discussion points. A compelling integrated discussion is often preceded by multiple revisions. It should not be written when rushing to meet the thesis submission deadline as writing this chapter requires considerable reflection and introspection. For these reasons, we remind students that the integrated discussion is the last chapter their examiners will read, and it will leave a lasting impression. Getting this chapter right allows the student to demonstrate their mastery of the totality of their thesis work and sets the stage for the examination. In our experience, when an integrated discussion is well-written, the examiners’ comments indicate that the integrated discussion chapter tied all elements of the thesis together and helped them understand the thesis in its entirety.

Lessons learned

When applying this approach for writing our own integrated discussions, or when guiding graduate students through the process, we have learned several lessons. To exemplify these lessons, we offer examples of published theses and dissertations in nursing and other health professions.

Lesson 1. Use stepwise approach with templates to plan and structure the chapter

Using the attached templates and proposed stepwise approach to structure the writing process reduces the inclination to simply repeat the discussion points found in the individual articles. The templates may also help graduate students overcome procrastination resulting from not knowing where to start with the integrated discussion. Further, Templates I and II may be used to guide discussions between graduate student and faculty supervisor, allowing for progress to be monitored prior to writing. Another advantage to doing this early is that some supervisors are less familiar with the article-based thesis format and may have little experience guiding their students in writing the integrated discussion. As such, using the template to walk through this process may be helpful for both parties.

Lesson 2. Think ahead

Avoid delaying until all the individual thesis articles are written before thinking about the integrated discussion. We recommend filling out the templates as individual articles are completed. When analyzing the results for individual articles and thinking about the discussion sections for these, we often identified relevant discussion points that were too broad for the articles. Keeping a log of discussions with faculty supervisors and thesis advisory committee members throughout the thesis writing process, and keeping record of personal reflections that were beyond the scope of individual articles, may help gather ideas early. For example, when first considering her integrated discussion, Hoefel (2019) chose the Walker and Avant (2011) theory testing approach to validate the decisional needs concept and test the main hypothesis of the Ottawa Decision Support Framework ( O’Connor et al., 1998 ). For her thesis, Hoefel (2019) wrote two articles based upon this framework. Her first was a systematic review article on decisional needs of people making health decisions and the second was a sub-analysis of a systematic review on patient decision aids. Hence, evidence from these articles contributed to the higher level discussion about validating the concepts and testing the hypotheses in the framework.

Lesson 3. Dedicate sufficient time

Dedicating sufficient time to writing the integrated discussion is important. For many students, the integrated discussion is a challenging chapter to write. It calls for a different style of writing than that which is required for individual research study articles. It requires conveying abstract and conceptual ideas to generate broader insights. Prior to developing and using these templates, our experience with many students has been that it can take many months of re-writing the integrated discussion chapter for it to adequately reflect the breadth and depth of the student’s thesis work and its vital contribution to the field. We have found that our stepwise approach involves more careful planning and conceptualizing of the integrated discussion prior to drafting the chapter, and therefore results in a more efficient writing and editing process.

Lesson 4. Consider theoretical and methodological implications

Theoretical and methodological implications may be considered as integrated discussion points. A student may choose to closely examine their selected theoretical perspective in light of their thesis findings. For example, in Lewis’ (2018) integrated discussion, she provided a discourse on the use of complementary theoretical frameworks across individual studies: the Ottawa Decision Support Framework ( O’Connor et al., 1998 ) and Normalization Process Theory ( May et al., 2009 ). This provided a link between intervention development and implementation planning, proposing a novel theory-informed approach for the development of decision support interventions ( Lewis, 2018 ). Likewise, methodological implications may be discussed in cases where a student’s thesis advances methods, or to discuss the influence of chosen methodology on key findings where similar research questions are answered using distinct study designs. Wu’s (2014) integrated discussion focused on the methods used for conducting a survey for data collection. He used a set of reminders, with the last reminder being a courier package and return envelope. He then discussed how testing this reminder strategy in his thesis study contributed to survey design methods.

Lesson 5. An integrated discussion is feasible with one article

In cases where there is only one article comprising an article-based thesis, key findings from a more detailed literature review, a theoretical framework guiding the entire research project, or chosen methodology can provide the additional linkages to build the main integrated discussion points. For instance, in her Master of Nursing thesis integrated discussion, Demery Varin (2018) compared and contrasted her secondary analysis findings on the predictors of nurses’ research use in long-term care settings (as reported in one published article) with her review of the literature on the individual and contextual factors to nurses’ research use in all settings.

Lesson 6. Integrated discussions are publishable

The integrated discussion (or elements of it) may be publishable in its own right. When written well, the integrated discussion often results in an important academic contribution to the body of knowledge. Some graduate students have used the integrated discussion as the basis for a commentary paper or an updated theoretical framework paper. In her integrated discussion chapter of her doctoral thesis, Jull (2014) described the development of a collaborative framework for community-research partnerships co-produced by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women’s community members and researchers. This framework was based on her findings and experience conducting the studies comprising her thesis. Jull et al. (2018) subsequently published a paper based on her integrated discussion.

Lesson 7. Integrated discussions can lay the foundation for subsequent research

Many students who are completing a Master’s or PhD thesis also intend to pursue further research. A well thought out and articulated integrated discussion can inform subsequent research projects, grant proposals, or programs of research. For example, Boland (2018) drew from her PhD integrated discussion to identify evidence-practice gaps and potential solutions in pediatric shared decision-making, which she used to underpin a successful Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellowship and guide the establishment of her research program.

In this paper, we propose an approach to writing an integrated discussion chapter for an article-based thesis. Our advice provided in this paper is intended to position graduate students to adequately plan and produce a unified, coherent, and higher-level synthesis of the articles comprising their thesis. Challenges in writing an integrated discussion include avoiding repetition of discussion points already included within the individual articles comprising the thesis and achieving a higher-level discussion to integrate findings across the individual articles. Writing an integrated discussion can be facilitated by developing a clear and detailed outline of the chapter and, in particular, by identifying broader, more overarching points of discussion, than those presented within the individual articles. We encourage graduate students, faculty supervisors and thesis advisory committees to use the templates provided and share their experiences.

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank the graduate students who have used this approach, reported that it was useful, and offered feedback to improve it. The authors also wish to thank the reviewers. Their critical read and constructive comments strengthened this manuscript.

Research funding: The authors received no financial support for the authorship and publication of this manuscript. IDG is a recipient of a CIHR Foundation Grant (FDN# 143237). DS holds a University Research Chair in Knowledge Translation to Patients at the University of Ottawa.

Author contributions: All authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this manuscript and approved its submission.

Competing interest: Authors state no conflict of interest.

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  1. How to Write a Discussion Section

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  4. Write a Dissertation Discussion Chapter in Twelve Easy Steps

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  1. WHAT TO WRITE IN CHAPTER 1 IN A PHD/DBA DISSERTATION?

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  3. How To Write Your PhD Research Proposal

  4. Writing Chapter 5: Discussion and Conclusions

  5. Dissertation discussion chapter

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  1. How To Write A Dissertation Discussion Chapter

    Step 4: Acknowledge the limitations of your study. The fourth step in writing up your discussion chapter is to acknowledge the limitations of the study. These limitations can cover any part of your study, from the scope or theoretical basis to the analysis method (s) or sample.

  2. PhD Discussion Chapter: What It Is And How To Write It

    The PhD Discussion Chapter: What It Is & How To Write It. Sep 11, 2023. Your PhD discussion chapter is your thesis's intellectual epicenter. Think of it as the scholarly equivalent of a courtroom closing argument, where you summarise the evidence and make your case. Perhaps that's why it's so tricky - the skills you need in your ...

  3. How to Write a Dissertation Discussion Chapter

    Here are some examples of how to present the summary of your findings; "The data suggests that", "The results confirm that", "The analysis indicates that", "The research shows a relationship between", etc. 2. Interpretations of Results. Your audience will expect you to provide meanings of the results, although they might seem ...

  4. How to Write a Discussion Section

    Table of contents. What not to include in your discussion section. Step 1: Summarize your key findings. Step 2: Give your interpretations. Step 3: Discuss the implications. Step 4: Acknowledge the limitations. Step 5: Share your recommendations. Discussion section example. Other interesting articles.

  5. How to write your PhD thesis discussion and conclusion chapters

    The discussion chapter digs into the details of your findings and how you got them. The conclusion chapter zooms out to look at the broader implications and what comes next. As you tackle these chapters, remember to keep things clear and straightforward. Take the time to really think about what your research means and why it matters.

  6. How to Write a Perfect Discussion Chapter for a PhD Thesis

    2. Determine a clear structure. The first step in organizing a perfect discussion chapter for a PhD thesis is to divide them into separate sections that move from a particular result to implications. However, depending on your PhD thesis topics, you may utilize the followings: Analyze and summarize your main findings.

  7. How to write a discussion chapter for your masters degree or PhD thesis

    The main body of your discussion chapter is where the depth of your analysis unfolds. Revisit the existing literature from your literature review, examining your findings in this context. Consider the shift from theory to contribution and develop new headings based on the major takeaways from your study.

  8. How To Write A Discussion Chapter In Your PhD Discussion

    Hence, ensure that each discussion point you raise in this chapter corresponds to the data analysis covered in the results chapter. Crafting the Discussion Chapter: A Step-by-Step Guide. Now that you've grasped the essence of the discussion chapter and its essential elements let's delve into structuring this pivotal chapter. In a broad ...

  9. Dissertation Discussion Chapter: How To Write It In 6 Steps (With

    Learn exactly how to write a clear and compelling discussion chapter or section for your dissertation, thesis or research project. We explain how to craft th...

  10. Chapter 43 The Discussion

    Chapter 43. The Discussion. The discussion should be the final section of your manuscript or chapter that you are going to write (given that the abstract will come last). This is because for the discussion you must already know all of the rest of the manuscript, starting with the hypothesis, which dictates what will go into all of the other ...

  11. How to Write Discussions and Conclusions

    Begin with a clear statement of the principal findings. This will reinforce the main take-away for the reader and set up the rest of the discussion. Explain why the outcomes of your study are important to the reader. Discuss the implications of your findings realistically based on previous literature, highlighting both the strengths and ...

  12. Reporting and discussion thesis chapters

    Reporting and discussion thesis chapters. The reporting and discussion thesis chapters deal with the central part of the thesis. This is where you present the data that forms the basis of your investigation, shaped by the way you have interpreted it and developed your argument or theories about it. In other words, you tell your readers the ...

  13. How to write the discussion chapter in a PhD thesis

    Do you find it daunting to draft the discussion chapter of your thesis?In this video I share some tips on how to craft the discussion (and conclusions) chapt...

  14. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Discussion & Examples

    Let's go through all steps to writing a discussion in a dissertation, and share our best examples from academic papers. 1. Remind Your Research Questions & Objectives. Writing the discussion chapter of a dissertation is not a big deal if you understand its aim and each component in a text structure.

  15. 12 Steps to Write an Effective Discussion Chapter

    Here are 12 steps to keep in mind when writing your Discussion Chapter: Always try to structure your Discussion chapter from the 'specific' to the 'general': expand and transition from the narrow confines of your study to the general framework of your discipline. Make a consistent effort to stick with the same general tone of the ...

  16. PDF Writing up your PhD (Qualitative Research)

    This is for PhD students working on a qualitative thesis who have completed their data collection and analysis and are at the stage of writing up. The materials should also be useful if you are writing up a 'mixed-methods' thesis, including chapters of analysis and discussion of qualitative data.

  17. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    Time to recap…. And there you have it - the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows: Title page. Acknowledgments page. Abstract (or executive summary) Table of contents, list of figures and tables.

  18. Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

    A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) - from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion. The structure of a dissertation will vary depending on discipline (humanities, social ...

  19. Writing a compelling integrated discussion: a guide for integrated

    Article-based theses and dissertations are increasingly being used in nursing and the health sciences as an alternate format to the traditional five-chapter monograph. A unique chapter in the article-based thesis is the integrated discussion, which differs in breadth and depth as compared to the discussion for a traditional thesis monograph or journal article. For many students and faculty ...

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    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating ...

  21. The difficult discussion chapter

    The discussion chapter is the problem child of the thesis. The chapter most likely to provoke fear, uncertainty and doubt. Not everyone writes a chapter called "discussion", but everyone has to do discussiony bits because, well - that's where the creative magic of the PhD happens. The discussion section is scary because you have to make ...