Writing the discussion section of a dissertation

If you are feeling anxious about the discussion section rest assured you are not alone.

Writing the discussion section of a dissertation

The chapter most likely to provoke fear, uncertainty and doubt. The discussion section is scary because you have to make new knowledge claims of your own, not just agree or disagree with other people. Knowledge claims are like dumplings in the thesis soup or chocolate chips in the PhD cookie.

They will evaluate the quality, amount and — most importantly — the believability of your knowledge claims. If you are too speculative you might tip over the believability cliff.

Years ago I wrote a post on how to start the discussion chapter. I gave a few suggestions for generating creative ideas, but not a detailed discussion of how to do any of them.

The post was a useful starting point, but unfortunately not enough to actually help one of my students, Wendy, write her discussion chapters. Like many thesis writers, Wendy has had a long slog with this project and is having trouble seeing the wood for the trees.

Wendy is in the creative arts, so her findings are not in the form of formulas and graphs. The findings are really a series of observations which can be backed up with evidence.

Writing the discussion section of a dissertation

I think we made good progress with a whiteboard in the last meeting and I asked her if I could share what we did with the world, she generously agreed thanks Wendy! The book suggests that you write this list with the help of a sympathetic listener who knows the project, like a supervisor.

Wendy sat in a chair and just talked at me. I wrote what she said on the whiteboard, asking a question now and then to clarify or expand on a point.

The whiteboard was an ideal medium for this task. We could both see it and it was easy to rub out stuff. Assess the findings The mud map enabled us to start sorting and organising the ideas. Wendy still has one data collection round to run so some findings are more speculative than others.

I added a few arrows and brackets to connect obviously related statements. This is a creative process which involves reading over the mud map again and again, writing ideas for over arching themes under which the findings might fit.

After about another 45 minutes of fiddling and arguing about it, we had this provisional list of four themes: We took a couple of photos of the board with my phone and then rubbed it all out. We put the overall aim of the thesis in the middle of the bubble and put the emergent themes in the first layer of bubbles around it: The third layer of bubbles contained findings from our mud map recorded in the photos on my phone that we thought fell under these themes.

As we wrote the findings into the bubbles we shifted the wording to find shorter ways of saying the same thing and started to blend some of the findings together. This process enabled us to see how some findings from the mud map might fall under multiple themes, which suggested a satisfactory repetition was emerging.

You know you have a thesis on your hands when you feel like you are saying the same thing over and over, but in a slightly different way every time. This is a stylistic choice — there is no right or wrong way to do it, but the diagram lets you imagine different results and discuss the implications of the various choices.

We took several photos as this diagram evolved and changed to present different options.

Writing the discussion section of a dissertation

Make a snowflake At this point I was happy. I know I can work from a spider diagram, but Wendy was still not comfortable. She is a more creative person than me and was worried that she would muck around and just find more and more connections — a fair point.

So I suggested we try using a matrix. While a spider diagram encourages you to see connections, a matrix forces you to think about hierarchy. The snowflake method is a technique used by novel writers.

It involves making a simple outline, which becomes more and more complex as the writing develops. We started by drawing a table like this: The last column is a list of subheads.

Each of these subheads will have words — a page of text. To further develop the snowflake, Wendy will write at least four points under each subhead, to make paragraph headings. With a little manipulation these paragraph headings become topic sentences for each paragraph.Writing the Discussion.

Writing a discussion

The discussion section is a framing section, like the Introduction, which returns to the significance argument set up in your introduction. 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. Things to Avoid When Writing the Discussion Overinterpretation of the Results That Are Not Supported by the Data Summary Explaining the meaning of the results to the reader is the purpose of the discussion section of a research.

The Difficulties of Writing a Discussion Section. In an ideal world, you could simply reject your null or alternative hypotheses according to the significance levels found by the statistics.. That is the main point of your discussion section, but the process is usually a lot more complex than that.

"This section of the dissertation provides an opportunity to revisit the 'forest.'" Fellow students, your adviser and your dissertation committee members can help provide that outside perspective, adds Yale clinical psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, who teaches a course on writing in psychology.

The discussion section of your dissertation is one of the most important parts of a dissertation, and it's worth the most marks. As a consequence, you'll have to spend the most time on this bit.

How to write a Conclusion and Discussion for a Dissertation