6 Expert Tips on How To Write a Research Paper Discussion
Whether you are writing a research paper for journal publication, for university credit or simply for sharing with an interested online audience, you will need to include a discussion. A research paper discussion serves to explain and interpret the evidence gathered by the author. Without a discussion, the evidence reported in a research paper is not exactly meaningless, but readers are left to draw their own conclusions, valid or otherwise, about its meaning and value. In a research paper discussion, the author, who is necessarily more informed about the topic than most readers are, has the opportunity to discuss his or her thoughts about the findings and their implications. This must be done in an appropriate and scholarly fashion, and although what is appropriate for one discipline might not be so for another, there are basic principles and concerns that apply to all research paper discussions. These principles and concerns are outlined in the following list of six practical tips on how to write a research paper discussion.
1. Start planning how to write your research paper discussion by determining exactly what kind of discussion is required. This means deciding which aspects of your research and findings are particularly significant and worthy of discussion, but it also means learning about what is expected and required by the instructor, publisher or other venue or audience for which you are writing. Most academic and scientific journals, for instance, have guidelines for authors, many university professors and departments have style sheets for students, and most disciplines make use of excellent style manuals. The advice and recommendations in these sources will usually indicate that the discussion section of a research paper should be separate from the report of evidence and results, but not always: in some fields interpretation is routinely blended with the presentation of evidence. If in doubt about that or any other aspect of the research discussion you need to write, such as its length, content, heading or position in the paper, remember that the articles you read while conducting your research can serve as excellent models. If you are submitting your paper to a journal for publication, research articles recently published by the journal will be especially relevant.
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2. Begin your research paper discussion with a major if not the most important piece of evidence your research produced, collected or uncovered. In a long thesis or monograph the most significant or persuasive evidence is sometimes saved for later in the discussion, but in a short research paper discussion space is limited and it is usually most effective to work from the most important information or finding down through all the evidence to the least important. Interpretation and explanation of what the evidence means are the goals in all cases, so try to avoid simple repetition of research data and research questions that does not contribute to these goals. You need to tell readers exactly why your discoveries are meaningful and valuable; to answer the question(s) or resolve the problem(s) outlined in the paper’s introduction; to demonstrate precisely how your findings fill any gaps in current knowledge that you exposed in the literature review. Take the time to ponder and analyse your evidence from as many angles as possible, considering alternative interpretations and explanations as well as your main points.
3. Do not forget to consider your research in relation to published scholarship. Although the discussion should not digress into a literature review, discussing studies that are directly relevant to your research findings and their meaning is recommended. Comparing and contrasting the evidence and results produced by other investigators with your own findings can clarify and deepen your understanding of your research and its unique contribution to knowledge in your field. Certainly this approach will speak to fellow researchers, university instructors and peer reviewers in the kind of scholarly language they understand. Be sure to include and discuss in relation to your work any previous studies that do not agree with or support your findings and interpretations as well as studies that do. Finally, whenever you make use of the work of other authors and researchers you must provide appropriate in-text citations as well as complete references in a final list using the specific documentation style required for the research paper.
4. Pay particular attention as you plan how to write your research paper discussion to any unexpected findings produced by your research and to findings from published studies that contradict or do not support your research discoveries. Are the surprises in your research or the differences between your own work and that of others due to improvements you made to a standard research design or method? If so, those improvements should certainly be emphasised as an important contribution. Are the surprises or differences the intentional or unintentional consequences of the limitations of your research? If so, that too should be explained. Acknowledging and describing limitations, errors and weaknesses in the research design and process tend to be essential aspects of a research paper discussion because these issues can affect the validity of the evidence and thus its interpretation and meaning. All research projects have limitations, so there is no shame in revealing them; in fact, a clear and critical assessment of your study’s limitations will demonstrate your ability to evaluate your own research objectively.
5. Ensure that the implications of the findings produced by your research are clearly articulated for your readers. While it is imperative not to overestimate the importance and value of what is, after all, only a short research paper, likely with a rather narrow focus, it is also essential to explain the realistic implications of your discoveries with precision. Do your findings suggest productive directions for further research? Could your findings have an effect on how practitioners do their jobs? Might your findings affect other aspects of human lives such as healthcare, politics or education? Keep the facts soundly in mind and remember that even small discoveries can have a big impact. This is particularly the case when the information is relevant to the audience, so determining who your readers are likely to be and paying special attention to implications and applications that will interest and affect them in professional and personal ways is a sound strategy for how to write an engaging research paper discussion.
6. Use the discussion to establish coherence and sustain an argument throughout your research paper. Since a research paper discussion is all about the meaning of the research and its findings, it is the perfect place to tie the elements of the paper together. Pick up key ideas from the paper’s introductory and background material – compelling reasons for the research, for example, questions and problems that had to be addressed, and hypotheses that required testing. Remind readers of any particularly innovative or important methods you used and why they made such a difference. Mention striking details and trends in the findings and refer back to visual aids such as tables, graphs and maps to reaffirm information vital to the discussion. If a separate conclusion is required, bring the primary interpretations and implications from the discussion forward to formulate overall conclusions. If not, final thoughts and key messages for the reader should be offered in the last paragraph or two of the research paper’s discussion.
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