Expert Tips on How To Write a Discussion for a Scientific Paper
The discussion is the part of a scientific paper in which the researcher has the opportunity to interpret a study’s results for readers, so the discussion section is extremely important, and knowing how to write a discussion for a scientific paper is a vital skill for professional scientists. A thoughtful and persuasive discussion can convey the meaning and implications of scientific research in a clear and engaging manner, whereas a poorly conceived and poorly written discussion section can undermine an investigation by failing to highlight the significance and value of the research findings. Whether a scientist struggles to construct a few necessary sentences of critical thought and insightful interpretation or rambles on so readily about the meaning of his or her research that serious editing is required to remain within word limits, writing an effective discussion is never easy. The best approaches and the most appropriate kinds of information vary considerably from paper to paper, yet certain basic ingredients are always essential to a successful scientific discussion. Recognising them and their importance is therefore crucial when determining how to write the best possible discussion for a scientific paper.
A clear restatement of key findings is usually an excellent place to begin. The idea is not to reiterate or repeat the detailed report of results that has been presented in the results section of the paper, but to summarise as concisely as possible the major or most important findings of the study. The importance of specific results should be determined in relation to the primary research question or problem as established in the introduction or background section of the paper, so explaining how a finding answers the research question, resolves the problem under investigation, fills a noticeable gap in knowledge or otherwise contributes to understanding the topic is the goal. Starting with the major or most significant result and then working in a descending order of importance through interpretations of all findings that relate to the question or problem can be an effective strategy, but so can mentioning and interpreting the results in the sequence in which they were originally reported in the results section, especially if several or all of the findings are of equal importance or a chronological or other order established in the results section remains important for the discussion. Objectivity must be consciously exercised during interpretation to avoid bias and ensure that discovery takes priority over the desire to meet personal expectations or prove a particular hypothesis. Alternative explanations for specific results and larger patterns should therefore always be seriously considered.
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Research results should also be discussed in relation to previously published studies that are relevant to the current findings, with the goal being to highlight the implications and contributions of the new research. The discussion section is not the place for a literature review or a general introduction to the scholarship in a field – if one of these is necessary, it should already have been done in an earlier part of the paper – so citations for the discussion should be highly selective. Studies with results that confirm the findings of the present research are particularly useful and can both support and be supported by the new paper, but results that contradict the current findings should never be ignored. Differences may be difficult to explain, but the attempt is necessary and should make specific reference to the current research design and procedures. Convincing the reader that an innovative study design and its more appropriate methods led to better results might be ideal, but scientific explanations are rarely so straightforward, and the exact nature of a study’s contribution to the field should always be clarified for readers. Unexpected results often prove particularly challenging to explain and interpret in relation to the published literature, so taking the time to consider and develop all the possibilities is an important aspect of how to write a successful discussion for a scientific paper.
In some cases these unexpected results may be related to the limitations of a scientific study, but limitations need not contribute to unexpected results to warrant mention in the discussion section. Understanding that research limitations must be acknowledged is essential to knowing how to write a discussion for a scientific paper – so essential, in fact, that if the author does not acknowledge the limitations of a study, a professor, instructor, editor, reviewer or other critical reader who assesses the paper is sure to do so. Some limitations may be deliberately built into a study design, whereas others only become clear as the research is conducted, but all scientific research has limitations, so the key is to be honest and self-critical, but not to adopt an apologetic tone. Instead, the limitations should be clearly stated and discussed in terms of how they might affect the validity of the findings so that future researchers can avoid any associated problems or errors as they plan their work. Suggesting possible improvements or modifications for the research design in order to eliminate undesirable limitations or enable the generalisation of results can also be helpful aspects of a discussion for a scientific paper.
Research limitations, like unexpected results, can sometimes reveal problems, raise questions or expose gaps in knowledge that had not been anticipated when a study was originally designed. These issues might even prove worthy of future investigation, in which case they can be integrated into the scientist’s suggestions and recommendations for further research. Such suggestions and recommendations constitute another essential aspect of a discussion for a scientific paper and are often combined with suggestions or recommendations for clinical or other forms of practice or procedure when relevant. The importance and implications of a study and its findings can be made particularly clear through precise recommendations that have an immediate impact on the ways in which researchers and practitioners do their work. Suggestions and recommendations also tend to be especially effective when they are directly connected to the primary objectives of the research as stated in the paper’s introductory material.
Finally, while deciding exactly how to write a discussion for a scientific paper, be sure to plan concluding thoughts that lay emphasis on the most important messages for readers. Unless a separate conclusion is required, the end of the discussion will also be the end of the paper, so it is the right place for briefly restating primary interpretations and principal implications as well as presenting overall conclusions. Limitations and other shortcomings should already have been discussed, so there is usually no need to repeat them in the final thoughts. Try instead to end on a strong and positive note that neither underestimates nor overestimates the significance and value of the findings, but focuses with objective clarity on the study’s actual contributions to knowledge and practice.
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