The final section of your dissertation is the discussion chapter. Randy L. Joyner, et. al., author of "Writing the Winning Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide" suggests that the discussion chapter is the most important part. It may be the only part of your dissertation that’s read by busy researchers interested in your topic; therefore, it requires careful planning and execution. A good discussion chapter typically includes an explanation of your problem statement, key findings, conclusions, implications, limitations and recommendations for future research.
Restate the Purpose of Your Study
Because readers may not have read your previous chapters, restate the problem you studied or the gap in the literature you hope to fill. Explain the theoretical framework and research underpinning your study. As noted by the University of Texas, Austin School of Journalism, a dissertation must be theoretical. Restate the hypotheses that you tested in a quantitative study. If your dissertation used qualitative methods, identify the research questions you attempted to answer or the argument you defended. Note whether your objective was to posit a new theory or test an existing theory. Briefly summarize your methodology.
Interpret Key Findings
The discussion chapter must include the writer’s subjective interpretation of the results, according to Raymond L. Calabrese, author of "The Dissertation Desk Reference: The Doctoral Student’s Manual to Writing." Don’t simply rehash your findings. This is an opportunity to comment on interesting and meaningful patterns or themes, correlations, and cause and effect relationships. Describe how your findings were similar to or different from the results of earlier studies. Highlight important insights, revelations or discoveries. Mention the significance of any unexpected results.
Offer Your Conclusions
Draw logical conclusions supported by the data. Relate your study back to the literature and the theoretical framework that guided your work. For example, you might discuss whether your findings and conclusions tend to support or contradict prevailing theories. Speculate on the meaning of your findings and how your study contributes new knowledge and understanding to your field of inquiry. Discuss the implications of your findings on currently held views and practices. Also make recommendations for additional studies that could be done to test or build upon your findings and conclusions.
In an unapologetic tone, acknowledge errors or shortcomings of your study. Discuss any flaws in your research design that may have affected the study in undesirable or unintended ways. Disclose limitations of your methodology, such as a skewed sample, small sample size or low survey return rate, for example. Identify how these limitations may have altered your expected results. Place the limitations at the very beginning of the discussion chapter or at the end, as per the instructions of the University of Southern California Libraries.
- Writing the Winning Thesis or Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Guide; Randy L. Joyner, William A. Rouse and Allan A. Glatthorn
- The University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism: Tips for Starting & Completing a Dissertation
- The Dissertation Desk Reference: The Doctoral Student's Manual to Writing; Raymond L. Calabrese
- University of Southern California Libraries: Limitations of the Study
- American Psychological Association: Discussing Your findings
- Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images
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