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- How to Write a Discussion Section | Tips & Examples
How to Write a Discussion Section | Tips & Examples
Published on August 21, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 18, 2023.
The discussion section is where you delve into the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results .
It should focus on explaining and evaluating what you found, showing how it relates to your literature review and paper or dissertation topic , and making an argument in support of your overall conclusion. It should not be a second results section.
There are different ways to write this section, but you can focus your writing around these key elements:
- Summary : A brief recap of your key results
- Interpretations: What do your results mean?
- Implications: Why do your results matter?
- Limitations: What can’t your results tell us?
- Recommendations: Avenues for further studies or analyses
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, frequently asked questions about discussion sections.
There are a few common mistakes to avoid when writing the discussion section of your paper.
- Don’t introduce new results: You should only discuss the data that you have already reported in your results section .
- Don’t make inflated claims: Avoid overinterpretation and speculation that isn’t directly supported by your data.
- Don’t undermine your research: The discussion of limitations should aim to strengthen your credibility, not emphasize weaknesses or failures.
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Start this section by reiterating your research problem and concisely summarizing your major findings. To speed up the process you can use a summarizer to quickly get an overview of all important findings. Don’t just repeat all the data you have already reported—aim for a clear statement of the overall result that directly answers your main research question . This should be no more than one paragraph.
Many students struggle with the differences between a discussion section and a results section . The crux of the matter is that your results sections should present your results, and your discussion section should subjectively evaluate them. Try not to blend elements of these two sections, in order to keep your paper sharp.
- The results indicate that…
- The study demonstrates a correlation between…
- This analysis supports the theory that…
- The data suggest that…
The meaning of your results may seem obvious to you, but it’s important to spell out their significance for your reader, showing exactly how they answer your research question.
The form of your interpretations will depend on the type of research, but some typical approaches to interpreting the data include:
- Identifying correlations , patterns, and relationships among the data
- Discussing whether the results met your expectations or supported your hypotheses
- Contextualizing your findings within previous research and theory
- Explaining unexpected results and evaluating their significance
- Considering possible alternative explanations and making an argument for your position
You can organize your discussion around key themes, hypotheses, or research questions, following the same structure as your results section. Alternatively, you can also begin by highlighting the most significant or unexpected results.
- In line with the hypothesis…
- Contrary to the hypothesized association…
- The results contradict the claims of Smith (2022) that…
- The results might suggest that x . However, based on the findings of similar studies, a more plausible explanation is y .
As well as giving your own interpretations, make sure to relate your results back to the scholarly work that you surveyed in the literature review . The discussion should show how your findings fit with existing knowledge, what new insights they contribute, and what consequences they have for theory or practice.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do your results support or challenge existing theories? If they support existing theories, what new information do they contribute? If they challenge existing theories, why do you think that is?
- Are there any practical implications?
Your overall aim is to show the reader exactly what your research has contributed, and why they should care.
- These results build on existing evidence of…
- The results do not fit with the theory that…
- The experiment provides a new insight into the relationship between…
- These results should be taken into account when considering how to…
- The data contribute a clearer understanding of…
- While previous research has focused on x , these results demonstrate that y .
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Even the best research has its limitations. Acknowledging these is important to demonstrate your credibility. Limitations aren’t about listing your errors, but about providing an accurate picture of what can and cannot be concluded from your study.
Limitations might be due to your overall research design, specific methodological choices , or unanticipated obstacles that emerged during your research process.
Here are a few common possibilities:
- If your sample size was small or limited to a specific group of people, explain how generalizability is limited.
- If you encountered problems when gathering or analyzing data, explain how these influenced the results.
- If there are potential confounding variables that you were unable to control, acknowledge the effect these may have had.
After noting the limitations, you can reiterate why the results are nonetheless valid for the purpose of answering your research question.
- The generalizability of the results is limited by…
- The reliability of these data is impacted by…
- Due to the lack of data on x , the results cannot confirm…
- The methodological choices were constrained by…
- It is beyond the scope of this study to…
Based on the discussion of your results, you can make recommendations for practical implementation or further research. Sometimes, the recommendations are saved for the conclusion .
Suggestions for further research can lead directly from the limitations. Don’t just state that more studies should be done—give concrete ideas for how future work can build on areas that your own research was unable to address.
- Further research is needed to establish…
- Future studies should take into account…
- Avenues for future research include…
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In the discussion , you explore the meaning and relevance of your research results , explaining how they fit with existing research and theory. Discuss:
- Your interpretations : what do the results tell us?
- The implications : why do the results matter?
- The limitation s : what can’t the results tell us?
The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.
In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.
In a thesis or dissertation, the discussion is an in-depth exploration of the results, going into detail about the meaning of your findings and citing relevant sources to put them in context.
The conclusion is more shorter and more general: it concisely answers your main research question and makes recommendations based on your overall findings.
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Discussion Section Examples and Writing Tips
Abstract | Introduction | Literature Review | Research question | Materials & Methods | Results | Discussion | Conclusion
In this blog, we look at how to write the discussion section of a research paper. We will go through plenty of discussion examples and understand how to construct a great discussion section for your research paper.
1. What is the purpose of the discussion section?
The discussion section is one of the most important sections of your research paper. This is where you interpret your results, highlight your contributions, and explain the value of your work to your readers. This is one of the challenging parts to write because the author must clearly explain the significance of their results and tie everything back to the research questions.
2. How should I structure my discussion section?
Generally, the discussion section of a research paper typically contains the following parts.
Research summary It is a good idea to start this section with an overall summary of your work and highlight the main findings of your research.
Interpretation of findings You must interpret your findings clearly to your readers one by one.
Comparison with literature You must talk about how your results fit into existing research in the literature.
Implications of your work You should talk about the implications and possible benefits of your research.
Limitations You should talk about the possible limitations and shortcomings of your research
Future work And finally, you can talk about the possible future directions of your work.
3. Discussion Examples
Let’s look at some examples of the discussion section. We will be looking at discussion examples from different fields and of different formats. We have split this section into multiple components so that it is easy for you to digest and understand.
3.1. An example of research summary in discussion
It is a good idea to start your discussion section with the summary of your work. The best way to do this will be to restate your research question, and then reminding your readers about your methods, and finally providing an overall summary of your results.
Our aims were to compare the effectiveness and user-friendliness of different storm detection software for storm tracking. On the basis of these aims, we ran multiple experiments with the same conditions using different storm detection software. Our results showed that in both speed and accuracy of data, ‘software A’ performed better than ‘software B’. _ Aims summary _ Methodology summary _ Results summary
This discussion example is from an engineering research paper. The authors are restating their aims first, which is to compare different types of storm-tracking software. Then, they are providing a brief summary of the methods. Here, they are testing different storm-tracking software under different conditions to see which performs the best. Then, they are finally providing their main finding which is that they found ‘software A’ better than ‘software B’. This is a very good example of how to start the discussion section by presenting a summary of your work.
3.2. An example of result interpretation in discussion
The next step is to interpret your results. You have to explain your results clearly to your readers. Here is a discussion example that shows how to interpret your results.
The results of this study indicate significant differences between classical music and pop music in terms of their effects on memory recall and cognition. This implies that as the complexity of the music increases, so does its ability to facilitate cognitive processing. This finding aligns with the well-known “Mozart effect,” which suggests that listening to classical music can enhance cognitive function. _ Result _ Interpretation _ Additional evidence
The authors are saying that their results show that there is a significant difference between pop music and classical music in terms of memory recall and cognition. Now they are providing their interpretation of the findings. They think it is because there is a link between the complexity of music and cognitive processing. They are also making a reference to a well-known theory called the ‘Mozart effect’ to back up their findings. It is a nicely written passage and the author’s interpretation sounds very convincing and credible.
3.3. An example of literature comparison in discussion
The next step is to compare your results to the literature. You have to explain clearly how your findings compare with similar findings made by other researchers. Here is a discussion example where authors are providing details of papers in the literature that both support and oppose their findings.
Our analysis predicts that climate change will have a significant impact on wheat yield. This finding undermines one of the central pieces of evidence in some previous simulation studies [1-3] that suggest a negative effect of climate change on wheat yield, but the result is entirely consistent with the predictions of other research [4-5] that suggests the overall change in climate could result in increases in wheat yield. _ Result _ Comparison with literature
The authors are saying that their results show that climate change will have a significant effect on wheat production. Then, they are saying that there are some papers in the literature that are in agreement with their findings. However, there are also many papers in the literature that disagree with their findings. This is very important. Your discussion should be two-sided, not one-sided. You should not ignore the literature that doesn’t corroborate your findings.
3.4. An example of research implications in discussion
The next step is to explain to your readers how your findings will benefit society and the research community. You have to clearly explain the value of your work to your readers. Here is a discussion example where authors explain the implications of their research.
The results contribute insights with regard to the management of wildfire events using artificial intelligence. One could easily argue that the obvious practical implication of this study is that it proposes utilizing cloud-based machine vision to detect wildfires in real-time, even before the first responders receive emergency calls. _ Your finding _ Implications of your finding
In this paper, the authors are saying that their findings indicate that Artificial intelligence can be used to effectively manage wildfire events. Then, they are talking about the practical implications of their study. They are saying that their work has proven that machine learning can be used to detect wildfires in real-time. This is a great practical application and can save thousands of lives. As you can see, after reading this passage, you can immediately understand the value and significance of the work.
3.5. An example of limitations in discussion
It is very important that you discuss the limitations of your study. Limitations are flaws and shortcomings of your study. You have to tell your readers how your limitations might influence the outcomes and conclusions of your research. Most studies will have some form of limitation. So be honest and don’t hide your limitations. In reality, your readers and reviewers will be impressed with your paper if you are upfront about your limitations.
Study design and small sample size are important limitations. This could have led to an overestimation of the effect. Future research should reconfirm these findings by conducting larger-scale studies. _ Limitation _ How it might affect the results? _ How to fix the limitation?
Here is a discussion example where the author talks about study limitations. The authors are saying that the main limitations of the study are the small sample size and weak study design. Then they explain how this might have affected their results. They are saying that it is possible that they are overestimating the actual effect they are measuring. Then finally they are telling the readers that more studies with larger sample sizes should be conducted to reconfirm the findings.
As you can see, the authors are clearly explaining three things here:
3.6. An example of future work in discussion
It is important to remember not to end your paper with limitations. Finish your paper on a positive note by telling your readers about the benefits of your research and possible future directions. Here is a discussion example where the author talks about future work.
Our study highlights useful insights about the potential of biomass as a renewable energy source. Future research can extend this research in several ways, including research on how to tackle challenges that hinder the sustainability of renewable energy sources towards climate change mitigation, such as market failures, lack of information and access to raw materials. _ Benefits of your work _ Future work
The authors are starting the final paragraph of the discussion section by highlighting the benefit of their work which is the use of biomass as a renewable source of energy. Then they talk about future research. They are saying that future research can focus on how to improve the sustainability of biomass production. This is a very good example of how to finish the discussion section of your paper on a positive note.
4. Frequently Asked Questions
Sometimes you will have negative or unexpected results in your paper. You have to talk about it in your discussion section. A lot of students find it difficult to write this part. The best way to handle this situation is not to look at results as either positive or negative. A result is a result, and you will always have something important and interesting to say about your findings. Just spend some time investigating what might have caused this result and tell your readers about it.
You must talk about the limitations of your work in the discussion section of the paper. One of the important qualities that the scientific community expects from a researcher is honesty and admitting when they have made a mistake. The important trick you have to learn while presenting your limitations is to present them in a constructive way rather than being too negative about them. You must try to use positive language even when you are talking about major limitations of your work.
If you have something exciting to say about your results or found something new that nobody else has found before, then, don’t be modest and use flat language when presenting this in the discussion. Use words like ‘break through’, ‘indisputable evidence’, ‘exciting proposition’ to increase the impact of your findings.
Important thing to remember is not to overstate your findings. If you found something really interesting but are not 100% sure, you must not mislead your readers. The best way to do this will be to use words like ‘it appears’ and ‘it seems’. This will tell the readers that there is a slight possibility that you might be wrong.
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Materials and Methods Examples and Writing Tips
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An example of a Discussion section to a Research Report
You can use this document when you are making the self-assessment about Thesis writing. You can also use it when you want to learn more about writing this part of your thesis.
It gives an example for writing a discussion section for a research report content wise (answer the following questions: What was found in previous research? What was the gap or weakness in the previous study? What methodology was used? What were the results? How does the present work fit in the 'research map' of this field?) and by use of language (use the past simple to refer to findings in this work).
Click on the download to view the document.
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How to Write a Discussion Section for a Research Paper
We’ve talked about several useful writing tips that authors should consider while drafting or editing their research papers. In particular, we’ve focused on figures and legends , as well as the Introduction , Methods , and Results . Now that we’ve addressed the more technical portions of your journal manuscript, let’s turn to the analytical segments of your research article. In this article, we’ll provide tips on how to write a strong Discussion section that best portrays the significance of your research contributions.
What is the Discussion section of a research paper?
In a nutshell, your Discussion fulfills the promise you made to readers in your Introduction . At the beginning of your paper, you tell us why we should care about your research. You then guide us through a series of intricate images and graphs that capture all the relevant data you collected during your research. We may be dazzled and impressed at first, but none of that matters if you deliver an anti-climactic conclusion in the Discussion section!
Are you feeling pressured? Don’t worry. To be honest, you will edit the Discussion section of your manuscript numerous times. After all, in as little as one to two paragraphs ( Nature ‘s suggestion based on their 3,000-word main body text limit), you have to explain how your research moves us from point A (issues you raise in the Introduction) to point B (our new understanding of these matters). You must also recommend how we might get to point C (i.e., identify what you think is the next direction for research in this field). That’s a lot to say in two paragraphs!
So, how do you do that? Let’s take a closer look.
What should I include in the Discussion section?
As we stated above, the goal of your Discussion section is to answer the questions you raise in your Introduction by using the results you collected during your research . The content you include in the Discussions segment should include the following information:
- Remind us why we should be interested in this research project.
- Describe the nature of the knowledge gap you were trying to fill using the results of your study.
- Don’t repeat your Introduction. Instead, focus on why this particular study was needed to fill the gap you noticed and why that gap needed filling in the first place.
- Mainly, you want to remind us of how your research will increase our knowledge base and inspire others to conduct further research.
- Clearly tell us what that piece of missing knowledge was.
- Answer each of the questions you asked in your Introduction and explain how your results support those conclusions.
- Make sure to factor in all results relevant to the questions (even if those results were not statistically significant).
- Focus on the significance of the most noteworthy results.
- If conflicting inferences can be drawn from your results, evaluate the merits of all of them.
- Don’t rehash what you said earlier in the Results section. Rather, discuss your findings in the context of answering your hypothesis. Instead of making statements like “[The first result] was this…,” say, “[The first result] suggests [conclusion].”
- Do your conclusions line up with existing literature?
- Discuss whether your findings agree with current knowledge and expectations.
- Keep in mind good persuasive argument skills, such as explaining the strengths of your arguments and highlighting the weaknesses of contrary opinions.
- If you discovered something unexpected, offer reasons. If your conclusions aren’t aligned with current literature, explain.
- Address any limitations of your study and how relevant they are to interpreting your results and validating your findings.
- Make sure to acknowledge any weaknesses in your conclusions and suggest room for further research concerning that aspect of your analysis.
- Make sure your suggestions aren’t ones that should have been conducted during your research! Doing so might raise questions about your initial research design and protocols.
- Similarly, maintain a critical but unapologetic tone. You want to instill confidence in your readers that you have thoroughly examined your results and have objectively assessed them in a way that would benefit the scientific community’s desire to expand our knowledge base.
- Recommend next steps.
- Your suggestions should inspire other researchers to conduct follow-up studies to build upon the knowledge you have shared with them.
- Keep the list short (no more than two).
How to Write the Discussion Section
The above list of what to include in the Discussion section gives an overall idea of what you need to focus on throughout the section. Below are some tips and general suggestions about the technical aspects of writing and organization that you might find useful as you draft or revise the contents we’ve outlined above.
Technical writing elements
- Embrace active voice because it eliminates the awkward phrasing and wordiness that accompanies passive voice.
- Use the present tense, which should also be employed in the Introduction.
- Sprinkle with first person pronouns if needed, but generally, avoid it. We want to focus on your findings.
- Maintain an objective and analytical tone.
Discussion section organization
- Keep the same flow across the Results, Methods, and Discussion sections.
- We develop a rhythm as we read and parallel structures facilitate our comprehension. When you organize information the same way in each of these related parts of your journal manuscript, we can quickly see how a certain result was interpreted and quickly verify the particular methods used to produce that result.
- Notice how using parallel structure will eliminate extra narration in the Discussion part since we can anticipate the flow of your ideas based on what we read in the Results segment. Reducing wordiness is important when you only have a few paragraphs to devote to the Discussion section!
- Within each subpart of a Discussion, the information should flow as follows: (A) conclusion first, (B) relevant results and how they relate to that conclusion and (C) relevant literature.
- End with a concise summary explaining the big-picture impact of your study on our understanding of the subject matter. At the beginning of your Discussion section, you stated why this particular study was needed to fill the gap you noticed and why that gap needed filling in the first place. Now, it is time to end with “how your research filled that gap.”
Discussion Part 1: Summarizing Key Findings
Begin the Discussion section by restating your statement of the problem and briefly summarizing the major results. Do not simply repeat your findings. Rather, try to create a concise statement of the main results that directly answer the central research question that you stated in the Introduction section . This content should not be longer than one paragraph in length.
Many researchers struggle with understanding the precise differences between a Discussion section and a Results section . The most important thing to remember here is that your Discussion section should subjectively evaluate the findings presented in the Results section, and in relatively the same order. Keep these sections distinct by making sure that you do not repeat the findings without providing an interpretation.
Phrase examples: Summarizing the results
- The findings indicate that …
- These results suggest a correlation between A and B …
- The data present here suggest that …
- An interpretation of the findings reveals a connection between…
Discussion Part 2: Interpreting the Findings
What do the results mean? It may seem obvious to you, but simply looking at the figures in the Results section will not necessarily convey to readers the importance of the findings in answering your research questions.
The exact structure of interpretations depends on the type of research being conducted. Here are some common approaches to interpreting data:
- Identifying correlations and relationships in the findings
- Explaining whether the results confirm or undermine your research hypothesis
- Giving the findings context within the history of similar research studies
- Discussing unexpected results and analyzing their significance to your study or general research
- Offering alternative explanations and arguing for your position
Organize the Discussion section around key arguments, themes, hypotheses, or research questions or problems. Again, make sure to follow the same order as you did in the Results section.
Discussion Part 3: Discussing the Implications
In addition to providing your own interpretations, show how your results fit into the wider scholarly literature you surveyed in the literature review section. This section is called the implications of the study . Show where and how these results fit into existing knowledge, what additional insights they contribute, and any possible consequences that might arise from this knowledge, both in the specific research topic and in the wider scientific domain.
Questions to ask yourself when dealing with potential implications:
- Do your findings fall in line with existing theories, or do they challenge these theories or findings? What new information do they contribute to the literature, if any? How exactly do these findings impact or conflict with existing theories or models?
- What are the practical implications on actual subjects or demographics?
- What are the methodological implications for similar studies conducted either in the past or future?
Your purpose in giving the implications is to spell out exactly what your study has contributed and why researchers and other readers should be interested.
Phrase examples: Discussing the implications of the research
- These results confirm the existing evidence in X studies…
- The results are not in line with the foregoing theory that…
- This experiment provides new insights into the connection between…
- These findings present a more nuanced understanding of…
- While previous studies have focused on X, these results demonstrate that Y.
Step 4: Acknowledging the limitations
All research has study limitations of one sort or another. Acknowledging limitations in methodology or approach helps strengthen your credibility as a researcher. Study limitations are not simply a list of mistakes made in the study. Rather, limitations help provide a more detailed picture of what can or cannot be concluded from your findings. In essence, they help temper and qualify the study implications you listed previously.
Study limitations can relate to research design, specific methodological or material choices, or unexpected issues that emerged while you conducted the research. Mention only those limitations directly relate to your research questions, and explain what impact these limitations had on how your study was conducted and the validity of any interpretations.
Possible types of study limitations:
- Insufficient sample size for statistical measurements
- Lack of previous research studies on the topic
- Methods/instruments/techniques used to collect the data
- Limited access to data
- Time constraints in properly preparing and executing the study
After discussing the study limitations, you can also stress that your results are still valid. Give some specific reasons why the limitations do not necessarily handicap your study or narrow its scope.
Phrase examples: Limitations sentence beginners
- “There may be some possible limitations in this study.”
- “The findings of this study have to be seen in light of some limitations.”
- “The first limitation is the…The second limitation concerns the…”
- “The empirical results reported herein should be considered in the light of some limitations.”
- “This research, however, is subject to several limitations.”
- “The primary limitation to the generalization of these results is…”
- “Nonetheless, these results must be interpreted with caution and a number of limitations should be borne in mind.”
Discussion Part 5: Giving Recommendations for Further Research
Based on your interpretation and discussion of the findings, your recommendations can include practical changes to the study or specific further research to be conducted to clarify the research questions. Recommendations are often listed in a separate Conclusion section , but often this is just the final paragraph of the Discussion section.
Suggestions for further research often stem directly from the limitations outlined. Rather than simply stating that “further research should be conducted,” provide concrete specifics for how future can help answer questions that your research could not.
Phrase examples: Recommendation sentence beginners
- Further research is needed to establish …
- There is abundant space for further progress in analyzing…
- A further study with more focus on X should be done to investigate…
- Further studies of X that account for these variables must be undertaken.
Consider Receiving Professional Language Editing
As you edit or draft your research manuscript, we hope that you implement these guidelines to produce a more effective Discussion section. And after completing your draft, don’t forget to submit your work to a professional proofreading and English editing service like Wordvice, including our manuscript editing service for paper editing , cover letter editing , SOP editing , and personal statement proofreading services. Language editors not only proofread and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and formatting but also improve terms and revise phrases so they read more naturally. Wordvice is an industry leader in providing high-quality revision for all types of academic documents.
For additional information about how to write a strong research paper, make sure to check out our full research writing series !
Wordvice Writing Resources
- How to Write a Research Paper Introduction
- Which Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper
- How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper
- How to Write a Research Paper Title
- Useful Phrases for Academic Writing
- Common Transition Terms in Academic Papers
- Active and Passive Voice in Research Papers
- 100+ Verbs That Will Make Your Research Writing Amazing
- Tips for Paraphrasing in Research Papers
Additional Academic Resources
- Guide for Authors. (Elsevier)
- How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper. (Bates College)
- Structure of a Research Paper. (University of Minnesota Biomedical Library)
- How to Choose a Target Journal (Springer)
- How to Write Figures and Tables (UNC Writing Center)
Organizing Academic Research Papers: 8. The Discussion
- Purpose of Guide
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
- Making an Outline
- Paragraph Development
- Executive Summary
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tertiary Sources
- What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
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The purpose of the discussion is to interpret and describe the significance of your findings in light of what was already known about the research problem being investigated, and to explain any new understanding or fresh insights about the problem after you've taken the findings into consideration. The discussion will always connect to the introduction by way of the research questions or hypotheses you posed and the literature you reviewed, but it does not simply repeat or rearrange the introduction; the discussion should always explain how your study has moved the reader's understanding of the research problem forward from where you left them at the end of the introduction.
Importance of a Good Discussion
This section is often considered the most important part of a research paper because it most effectively demonstrates your ability as a researcher to think critically about an issue, to develop creative solutions to problems based on the findings, and to formulate a deeper, more profound understanding of the research problem you are studying.
The discussion section is where you explore the underlying meaning of your research , its possible implications in other areas of study, and the possible improvements that can be made in order to further develop the concerns of your research.
This is the section where you need to present the importance of your study and how it may be able to contribute to and/or fill existing gaps in the field. If appropriate, the discussion section is also where you state how the findings from your study revealed new gaps in the literature that had not been previously exposed or adequately described.
This part of the paper is not strictly governed by objective reporting of information but, rather, it is where you can engage in creative thinking about issues through evidence-based interpretation of findings. This is where you infuse your results with meaning.
Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section . San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008.
Structure and Writing Style
I. General Rules
These are the general rules you should adopt when composing your discussion of the results :
- Do not be verbose or repetitive.
- Be concise and make your points clearly.
- Avoid using jargon.
- Follow a logical stream of thought.
- Use the present verb tense, especially for established facts; however, refer to specific works and references in the past tense.
- If needed, use subheadings to help organize your presentation or to group your interpretations into themes.
II. The Content
The content of the discussion section of your paper most often includes :
- Explanation of results : comment on whether or not the results were expected and present explanations for the results; go into greater depth when explaining findings that were unexpected or especially profound. If appropriate, note any unusual or unanticipated patterns or trends that emerged from your results and explain their meaning.
- References to previous research : compare your results with the findings from other studies, or use the studies to support a claim. This can include re-visiting key sources already cited in your literature review section, or, save them to cite later in the discussion section if they are more important to compare with your results than being part of the general research you cited to provide context and background information.
- Deduction : a claim for how the results can be applied more generally. For example, describing lessons learned, proposing recommendations that can help improve a situation, or recommending best practices.
- Hypothesis : a more general claim or possible conclusion arising from the results [which may be proved or disproved in subsequent research].
III. Organization and Structure
Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper:
- Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice [if appropriate].
- Use the same key terms, mode of narration, and verb tense [present] that you used when when describing the research problem in the introduction.
- Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction.
- Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major findings and place them in proper perspective. The sequencing of providing this information is important; first state the answer, then the relevant results, then cite the work of others. If appropriate, refer the reader to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data. The order of interpreting each major finding should be in the same order as they were described in your results section.
- A good discussion section includes analysis of any unexpected findings. This paragraph should begin with a description of the unexpected finding, followed by a brief interpretation as to why you believe it appeared and, if necessary, its possible significance in relation to the overall study. If more than one unexpected finding emerged during the study, describe each them in the order they appeared as you gathered the data.
- Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of the findings. Avoid using an apologetic tone; however, be honest and self-critical.
- The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of statistical significance. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. However, do not offer recommendations which could have been easily addressed within the study. This demonstrates to the reader you have inadequately examined and interpreted the data.
IV. Overall Objectives
The objectives of your discussion section should include the following: I. Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings
Briefly reiterate for your readers the research problem or problems you are investigating and the methods you used to investigate them, then move quickly to describe the major findings of the study. You should write a direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results.
II. Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important
No one has thought as long and hard about your study as you have. Systematically explain the meaning of the findings and why you believe they are important. After reading the discussion section, you want the reader to think about the results [“why hadn’t I thought of that?”]. You don’t want to force the reader to go through the paper multiple times to figure out what it all means. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important finding first.
III. Relate the Findings to Similar Studies
No study is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to other previously published research. The discussion section should relate your study findings to those of other studies, particularly if questions raised by previous studies served as the motivation for your study, the findings of other studies support your findings [which strengthens the importance of your study results], and/or they point out how your study differs from other similar studies. IV. Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings
It is important to remember that the purpose of research is to discover and not to prove . When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the study results, rather than just those that fit your prior assumptions or biases.
V. Acknowledge the Study’s Limitations
It is far better for you to identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor! Describe the generalizability of your results to other situations, if applicable to the method chosen, then describe in detail problems you encountered in the method(s) you used to gather information. Note any unanswered questions or issues your study did not address, and.... VI. Make Suggestions for Further Research
Although your study may offer important insights about the research problem, other questions related to the problem likely remain unanswered. Moreover, some unanswered questions may have become more focused because of your study. You should make suggestions for further research in the discussion section.
NOTE: Besides the literature review section, the preponderance of references to sources in your research paper are usually found in the discussion section . A few historical references may be helpful for perspective but most of the references should be relatively recent and included to aid in the interpretation of your results and/or linked to similar studies. If a study that you cited disagrees with your findings, don't ignore it--clearly explain why the study's findings differ from yours.
V. Problems to Avoid
- Do not waste entire sentences restating your results . Should you need to remind the reader of the finding to be discussed, use "bridge sentences" that relate the result to the interpretation. An example would be: “The lack of available housing to single women with children in rural areas of Texas suggests that...[then move to the interpretation of this finding].”
- Recommendations for further research can be included in either the discussion or conclusion of your paper but do not repeat your recommendations in the both sections.
- Do not introduce new results in the discussion. Be wary of mistaking the reiteration of a specific finding for an interpretation.
- Use of the first person is acceptable, but too much use of the first person may actually distract the reader from the main points.
Analyzing vs. Summarizing. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Discussion . The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Hess, Dean R. How to Write an Effective Discussion. Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004); Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section . San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; The Lab Report . University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Summary: Using it Wisely . The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Discussion . Writing in Psychology course syllabus. University of Florida; Yellin, Linda L. A Sociology Writer's Guide. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009.
Don’t Overinterpret the Results!
Interpretation is a subjective exercise. Therefore, be careful that you do not read more into the findings than can be supported by the evidence you've gathered. Remember that the data are the data: nothing more, nothing less.
Another Writing Tip
Don't Write Two Results Sections!
One of the most common mistakes that you can make when discussing the results of your study is to present a superficial interpretation of the findings that more or less re-states the results section of your paper. Obviously, you must refer to your results when discussing them, but focus on the interpretion of those results, not just the data itself.
Azar, Beth. Discussing Your Findings. American Psychological Association gradPSYCH Magazine (January 2006)
Yet Another Writing Tip
Avoid Unwarranted Speculation!
The discussion section should remain focused on the findings of your study. For example, if you studied the impact of foreign aid on increasing levels of education among the poor in Bangladesh, it's generally not appropriate to speculate about how your findings might apply to populations in other countries without drawing from existing studies to support your claim. If you feel compelled to speculate, be certain that you clearly identify your comments as speculation or as a suggestion for where further research is needed. Sometimes your professor will encourage you to expand the discussion in this way, while others don’t care what your opinion is beyond your efforts to interpret the data.
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How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
The discussion section of a research paper analyzes and interprets the findings, provides context, compares them with previous studies, identifies limitations, and suggests future research directions.
Updated on September 15, 2023
Structure your discussion section right, and you’ll be cited more often while doing a greater service to the scientific community. So, what actually goes into the discussion section? And how do you write it?
The discussion section of your research paper is where you let the reader know how your study is positioned in the literature, what to take away from your paper, and how your work helps them. It can also include your conclusions and suggestions for future studies.
First, we’ll define all the parts of your discussion paper, and then look into how to write a strong, effective discussion section for your paper or manuscript.
Discussion section: what is it, what it does
The discussion section comes later in your paper, following the introduction, methods, and results. The discussion sets up your study’s conclusions. Its main goals are to present, interpret, and provide a context for your results.
What is it?
The discussion section provides an analysis and interpretation of the findings, compares them with previous studies, identifies limitations, and suggests future directions for research.
This section combines information from the preceding parts of your paper into a coherent story. By this point, the reader already knows why you did your study (introduction), how you did it (methods), and what happened (results). In the discussion, you’ll help the reader connect the ideas from these sections.
Why is it necessary?
The discussion provides context and interpretations for the results. It also answers the questions posed in the introduction. While the results section describes your findings, the discussion explains what they say. This is also where you can describe the impact or implications of your research.
Adds context for your results
Most research studies aim to answer a question, replicate a finding, or address limitations in the literature. These goals are first described in the introduction. However, in the discussion section, the author can refer back to them to explain how the study's objective was achieved.
Shows what your results actually mean and real-world implications
The discussion can also describe the effect of your findings on research or practice. How are your results significant for readers, other researchers, or policymakers?
What to include in your discussion (in the correct order)
A complete and effective discussion section should at least touch on the points described below.
Summary of key findings
The discussion should begin with a brief factual summary of the results. Concisely overview the main results you obtained.
Begin with key findings with supporting evidence
Your results section described a list of findings, but what message do they send when you look at them all together?
Your findings were detailed in the results section, so there’s no need to repeat them here, but do provide at least a few highlights. This will help refresh the reader’s memory and help them focus on the big picture.
Read the first paragraph of the discussion section in this article (PDF) for an example of how to start this part of your paper. Notice how the authors break down their results and follow each description sentence with an explanation of why each finding is relevant.
State clearly and concisely
Following a clear and direct writing style is especially important in the discussion section. After all, this is where you will make some of the most impactful points in your paper. While the results section often contains technical vocabulary, such as statistical terms, the discussion section lets you describe your findings more clearly.
Interpretation of results
Once you’ve given your reader an overview of your results, you need to interpret those results. In other words, what do your results mean? Discuss the findings’ implications and significance in relation to your research question or hypothesis.
Analyze and interpret your findings
Look into your findings and explore what’s behind them or what may have caused them. If your introduction cited theories or studies that could explain your findings, use these sources as a basis to discuss your results.
For example, look at the second paragraph in the discussion section of this article on waggling honey bees. Here, the authors explore their results based on information from the literature.
Unexpected or contradictory results
Sometimes, your findings are not what you expect. Here’s where you describe this and try to find a reason for it. Could it be because of the method you used? Does it have something to do with the variables analyzed? Comparing your methods with those of other similar studies can help with this task.
Context and comparison with previous work
Refer to related studies to place your research in a larger context and the literature. Compare and contrast your findings with existing literature, highlighting similarities, differences, and/or contradictions.
How your work compares or contrasts with previous work
Studies with similar findings to yours can be cited to show the strength of your findings. Information from these studies can also be used to help explain your results. Differences between your findings and others in the literature can also be discussed here.
How to divide this section into subsections
If you have more than one objective in your study or many key findings, you can dedicate a separate section to each of these. Here’s an example of this approach. You can see that the discussion section is divided into topics and even has a separate heading for each of them.
Many journals require you to include the limitations of your study in the discussion. Even if they don’t, there are good reasons to mention these in your paper.
Why limitations don’t have a negative connotation
A study’s limitations are points to be improved upon in future research. While some of these may be flaws in your method, many may be due to factors you couldn’t predict.
Examples include time constraints or small sample sizes. Pointing this out will help future researchers avoid or address these issues. This part of the discussion can also include any attempts you have made to reduce the impact of these limitations, as in this study .
How limitations add to a researcher's credibility
Pointing out the limitations of your study demonstrates transparency. It also shows that you know your methods well and can conduct a critical assessment of them.
Implications and significance
The final paragraph of the discussion section should contain the take-home messages for your study. It can also cite the “strong points” of your study, to contrast with the limitations section.
Restate your hypothesis
Remind the reader what your hypothesis was before you conducted the study.
How was it proven or disproven?
Identify your main findings and describe how they relate to your hypothesis.
How your results contribute to the literature
Were you able to answer your research question? Or address a gap in the literature?
Future implications of your research
Describe the impact that your results may have on the topic of study. Your results may show, for instance, that there are still limitations in the literature for future studies to address. There may be a need for studies that extend your findings in a specific way. You also may need additional research to corroborate your findings.
Sample discussion section
This fictitious example covers all the aspects discussed above. Your actual discussion section will probably be much longer, but you can read this to get an idea of everything your discussion should cover.
Our results showed that the presence of cats in a household is associated with higher levels of perceived happiness by its human occupants. These findings support our hypothesis and demonstrate the association between pet ownership and well-being.
The present findings align with those of Bao and Schreer (2016) and Hardie et al. (2023), who observed greater life satisfaction in pet owners relative to non-owners. Although the present study did not directly evaluate life satisfaction, this factor may explain the association between happiness and cat ownership observed in our sample.
Our findings must be interpreted in light of some limitations, such as the focus on cat ownership only rather than pets as a whole. This may limit the generalizability of our results.
Nevertheless, this study had several strengths. These include its strict exclusion criteria and use of a standardized assessment instrument to investigate the relationships between pets and owners. These attributes bolster the accuracy of our results and reduce the influence of confounding factors, increasing the strength of our conclusions. Future studies may examine the factors that mediate the association between pet ownership and happiness to better comprehend this phenomenon.
This brief discussion begins with a quick summary of the results and hypothesis. The next paragraph cites previous research and compares its findings to those of this study. Information from previous studies is also used to help interpret the findings. After discussing the results of the study, some limitations are pointed out. The paper also explains why these limitations may influence the interpretation of results. Then, final conclusions are drawn based on the study, and directions for future research are suggested.
How to make your discussion flow naturally
If you find writing in scientific English challenging, the discussion and conclusions are often the hardest parts of the paper to write. That’s because you’re not just listing up studies, methods, and outcomes. You’re actually expressing your thoughts and interpretations in words.
- How formal should it be?
- What words should you use, or not use?
- How do you meet strict word limits, or make it longer and more informative?
Always give it your best, but sometimes a helping hand can, well, help. Getting a professional edit can help clarify your work’s importance while improving the English used to explain it. When readers know the value of your work, they’ll cite it. We’ll assign your study to an expert editor knowledgeable in your area of research. Their work will clarify your discussion, helping it to tell your story. Find out more about AJE Editing.
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Table of contents
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The discussion section of a research paper is where the author analyzes and explains the importance of the study's results. It presents the conclusions drawn from the study, compares them to previous research, and addresses any potential limitations or weaknesses. The discussion section should also suggest areas for future research.
Everything is not that complicated if you know where to find the required information. We’ll tell you everything there is to know about writing your discussion. Our easy guide covers all important bits, including research questions and your research results. Do you know how all enumerated events are connected? Well, you will after reading this guide we’ve prepared for you!
What Is in the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
The discussion section of a research paper can be viewed as something similar to the conclusion of your paper. But not literal, of course. It’s an ultimate section where you can talk about the findings of your study. Think about these questions when writing:
- Did you answer all of the promised research questions?
- Did you mention why your work matters?
- What are your findings, and why should anyone even care?
- Does your study have a literature review?
So, answer your questions, provide proof, and don’t forget about your promises from the introduction.
How to Write a Discussion Section in 5 Steps
How to write the discussion section of a research paper is something everyone googles eventually. It's just life. But why not make everything easier? In brief, this section we’re talking about must include all following parts:
- Answers for research questions
- Literature review
- Results of the work
- Limitations of one’s study
- Overall conclusion
Indeed, all those parts may confuse anyone. So by looking at our guide, you'll save yourself some hassle. P.S. All our steps are easy and explained in detail! But if you are looking for the most efficient solution, consider using professional help. Leave your “ write my research paper for me ” order at StudyCrumb and get a customized study tailored to your requirements.
Step 1. Start Strong: Discussion Section of a Research Paper
First and foremost, how to start the discussion section of a research paper? Here’s what you should definitely consider before settling down to start writing:
- All essays or papers must begin strong. All readers will not wait for any writer to get to the point. We advise summarizing the paper's main findings.
- Moreover, you should relate both discussion and literature review to what you have discovered. Mentioning that would be a plus too.
- Make sure that an introduction or start per se is clear and concise. Word count might be needed for school. But any paper should be understandable and not too diluted.
Step 2. Answer the Questions in Your Discussion Section of a Research Paper
Writing the discussion section of a research paper also involves mentioning your questions. Remember that in your introduction, you have promised your readers to answer certain questions. Well, now it’s a perfect time to finally give the awaited answer. You need to explain all possible correlations between your findings, research questions, and literature proposed. You already had hypotheses. So were they correct, or maybe you want to propose certain corrections? Section’s main goal is to avoid open ends. It’s not a story or a fairytale with an intriguing ending. If you have several questions, you must answer them. As simple as that.
Step 3. Relate Your Results in a Discussion Section
Writing a discussion section of a research paper also requires any writer to explain their results. You will undoubtedly include an impactful literature review. However, your readers should not just try and struggle with understanding what are some specific relationships behind previous studies and your results. Your results should sound something like: “This guy in their paper discovered that apples are green. Nevertheless, I have proven via experimentation and research that apples are actually red.” Please, don’t take these results directly. It’s just an initial hypothesis. But what you should definitely remember is any practical implications of your study. Why does it matter and how can anyone use it? That’s the most crucial question.
Step 4. Describe the Limitations in Your Discussion Section
Discussion section of a research paper isn’t limitless. What does that mean? Essentially, it means that you also have to discuss any limitations of your study. Maybe you had some methodological inconsistencies. Possibly, there are no particular theories or not enough information for you to be entirely confident in one’s conclusions. You might say that an available source of literature you have studied does not focus on one’s issue. That’s why one’s main limitation is theoretical. However, keep in mind that your limitations must possess a certain degree of relevancy. You can just say that you haven’t found enough books. Your information must be truthful to research.
Step 5. Conclude Your Discussion Section With Recommendations
Your last step when you write a discussion section in a paper is its conclusion, like in any other academic work. Writer’s conclusion must be as strong as their starting point of the overall work. Check out our brief list of things to know about the conclusion in research paper :
- It must present its scientific relevance and importance of your work.
- It should include different implications of your research.
- It should not, however, discuss anything new or things that you have not mentioned before.
- Leave no open questions and carefully complete the work without them.
Discussion Section of a Research Paper Example
All the best example discussion sections of a research paper will be written according to our brief guide. Don’t forget that you need to state your findings and underline the importance of your work. An undoubtedly big part of one’s discussion will definitely be answering and explaining the research questions. In other words, you’ll already have all the knowledge you have so carefully gathered. Our last step for you is to recollect and wrap up your paper. But we’re sure you’ll succeed!
How to Write a Discussion Section: Final Thoughts
Today we have covered how to write a discussion section. That was quite a brief journey, wasn’t it? Just to remind you to focus on these things:
- Importance of your study.
- Summary of the information you have gathered.
- Main findings and conclusions.
- Answers to all research questions without an open end.
- Correlation between literature review and your results.
But, wait, this guide is not the only thing we can do. Looking for how to write an abstract for a research paper for example? We have such a blog and much more on our platform.
Our academic writing service is just a click away. We are proud to say that our writers are professionals in their fields. Buy a research paper and our experts can provide prompt solutions without compromising the quality.
Discussion Section of a Research Paper: Frequently Asked Questions
1. how long should the discussion section of a research paper be.
Our discussion section of a research paper should not be longer than other sections. So try to keep it short but as informative as possible. It usually contains around 6-7 paragraphs in length. It is enough to briefly summarize all the important data and not to drag it.
2. What's the difference between the discussion and the results?
The difference between discussion and results is very simple and easy to understand. The results only report your main findings. You stated what you have found and how you have done that. In contrast, one’s discussion mentions your findings and explains how they relate to other literature, research questions, and one’s hypothesis. Therefore, it is not only a report but an efficient as well as proper explanation.
3. What's the difference between a discussion and a conclusion?
The difference between discussion and conclusion is also quite easy. Conclusion is a brief summary of all the findings and results. Still, our favorite discussion section interprets and explains your main results. It is an important but more lengthy and wordy part. Besides, it uses extra literature for references.
4. What is the purpose of the discussion section?
The primary purpose of a discussion section is to interpret and describe all your interesting findings. Therefore, you should state what you have learned, whether your hypothesis was correct and how your results can be explained using other sources. If this section is clear to readers, our congratulations as you have succeeded.
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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How to write the discussion section of a scientific article
Acta Scientiarum. Agronomy , vol. 41 , e42621 , 2019
Editora da Universidade Estadual de Maringá - EDUEM
Received: 26 October 2017
Accepted: 16 March 2018
ABSTRACT.: The Discussion is the hardest section of a scientific article to write, as cognitive skills must be used to properly contextualize the findings of a study. In this article, we guide scientific writers, particularly unexperienced ones, on how to structure a Discussion section based on an article by Docherty and Smith (1999). According to these authors, a discussion should be prepared by organizing information in the following order: (a) statement of principal findings; (b) strengths and weaknesses of the study; (c) strengths and weaknesses in relation to other studies, discussing particularly any differences in results; (d) meaning of the study: possible mechanisms and implications; and (e) unanswered questions and future research. Each component of this sequence is discussed in detail with examples drawn from the literature.
Keywords: writing the discussion, discussion section, conclusion, scientific writing.
In the natural sciences, the Abstract, Introduction, Material and methods, Results and Discussion (AIMRaD) structure has been used in scientific papers. Some variations in this structure can be found in journals such as Nature and Plant Physiology, in which the Material and methods (or Methods) section is included in the final part of the paper (AIRDaM). Another structure variation permitted in some journals involves presenting the Results and discussion in a single combined section sometimes followed by the Conclusion [AIM(RaD)C]. The Results and discussion are usually combined in shorter articles ( Cargill & O’Connor, 2009 ).
The Introduction and Discussion should function as a pair ( Day & Gastel, 2006 ). The Introduction opens with a broad focus and concludes by more closely referring to the present study (narrowing focus), whereas the Discussion opens with a narrow focus (your findings) and ends with a broad focus (contextualizing your findings to the field at large). Many elements of the Introduction section are used in the Discussion in reverse order. In the Introduction, these elements are used to position the reader within the current state of research, whereas in the discussion, these elements are generally used to interpret results ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ). The Introduction poses one or more questions, while the Discussion answers what is asked in the Introduction (Day & Gastel, 2006).
The content of the Discussion is more difficult to define than the content of other sections ( Day & Gastel, 2006 ). The main function of the Discussion is to answer the research question posed in the Introduction and to use the study’s results to pose an answer ( Foote, 2009 ), or according to Annesley (2010 ), the Discussion explains what the study results mean and what contributions the paper makes to the area of study. More pragmatically, in the Discussion you explain how you arrived at the conclusion ( Hofmann, 2014 ). Overall, the following questions should be considered when this section is drafted ( Docherty & Simith, 1999 ; Foote, 2009 ; Annesley, 2010 ; Hofmann, 2014 , Wallwork, 2016 ):
Given the Discussion’s broad focus, researchers tend to experience difficulties when writing this section. Too often, the significance of the results is not discussed or is not discussed adequately. Even when data included in a paper are valid and interesting, a poor interpretation of data can lead a journal editor or reviewers to reject the manuscript ( Day & Gastel, 2006 ). As a common mistake, many young researchers limit the discussion to a comparison of their results to the results of other researchers. In addition to these mistakes, you should avoid the following when writing a Discussion ( Hess, 2004 ; Hofmann, 2014 ; Wallwork, 2016 ):
“ Plant growth promotion (PGP) by Ct was shown to be tightly regulated by Pi availability, ‘ suggesting that ’ beneficial activities of the fungus are conditional upon particular environmental conditions… ( Hiruma et al., 2016 , p. 471).
‘ Previous reports ’ of mcr-1 associated resistance in Egypt found mcr-1 in an isolate of E. coli from a cow displaying subclinical mastitis  and in a human clinical case associated with bacteremia  suggesting that mcr associated resistance would also appear to be emergent in Egypt where the isolates ‘ of the present study ’ were sourced… ‘ This study ’ was also able to review the mcr-2 prevalence among our collection and ‘ we were unable ’ to detect the gene in any isolates examined” ( Barbieri et al., 2017 , p. 8).
Writing the discussion
As a first step in preparing this section, you should prepare an outline to organize your thoughts in a logical form. To avoid obscuring your message with peripheral issues, keep the objective/hypothesis of your study in mind during the writing process. ( Michel, 2012 ). For long discussions, consider using subheadings to highlight the main points you wish the reader to understand ( Cargill & O’Connor, 2009 ). To avoid plagiarizing, write the Discussion in your own words after interpreting, summarizing and generalizing relevant papers. Use the first person and the active voice to make your discussion more lively and interesting. You should consider using ‘we’ even when you are the only author of the paper. Use the past tense when referring to your findings, and use the present tense when referring to general or true information. Additionally, use the present tense when answering a question or stating your study’s significance ( Hofmann, 2014 ). The present perfect (for example “we have described”) should be used to describe what you have accomplished through the writing process ( Wallwork, 2016 ).
The sequence of the Discussion section varies from author to author. In an attempt to improve standardization, Docherty and Smith (1999 ) proposed a structure for Discussion sections. According to these authors, a structure helps a reader to find specific information from the Discussion and signals to the writer the most important topics to cover in this section. These authors recommend using the following structure that opens with specific information and closes with generalized statements:
While this structure is not a “one size fits all” formula, it may help young researchers efficiently prepare this important section of a scientific paper. Information not explicitly included in the structure proposed by Docherty and Smith (1999 ) is included by us given that we judge this information as important.
Statement of principal findings
Open the discussion by briefly restating the key finding(s) of your study as shown in examples 3, 4, and 5. The key finding(s) should address the research question/purpose stated in the Introduction using the same key terms ( Hofmann, 2014 ). If the research question was only answered partially, explain which aspects of the question were answered and why. The answer to the research question represents the culmination of the paper. Hence, it should be included in the beginning of the Discussion ( Annesley, 2010 ) and should be used to initiate a discussion of broader implications or generalizations drawn from the results ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ). After stating the relevant results (positive or negatives), you should, when appropriate, present supporting evidence or other important findings. Secondary results should be summarized and generalized rather than repeating what was found ( Hofmann, 2014 ). When necessary, mention the figures or tables in which results are presented (see examples 3, 4, and 5). In example 5, the authors include a statement (“ To our knowledge …”) that calls attention to the novelty of their study.
Here we show that wild bee pollinators provide important pollination services to crops around the globe with the economic value of this ecosystem service being on par with that provided by managed honey bees ( Kleijn et al., 2015 ).
“The present study demonstrates the protective effects of oral administration of Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 (LG2055) against influenza A virus infection. This effect enables mice to be resistant to a virus infection as shown by improvements in the survival rates and by decrements in the virus titer in the lungs” ( Nakayama et al., 2014 ).
“Soybean plants grown from seeds containing 5.35 mg kg −1 Ni showed a significant yield increase up to 25 % in response to external Ni supply, in spite of the fact that these plants were neither dependent on N 2 -fixation nor treated with urea. To our knowledge, a statistically significant seed yield response to Ni supply in nutrient solution is reported for the first time for a crop plant in the present study” ( Kutman, Kutman, & Cakmak, 2013 ).
Alternatively, before presenting your key finding(s), you can begin the Discussion reminding readers of important information included in the Introduction section and/or in the Material and methods section to contextualize your study. In examples 6 and 7, the Discussion begins with general information recovered from the Introduction: “Imidacloprid is a widely used...” or “ABA is an essential phytohormone...” Next, the authors describe gaps in the knowledge, which are usually reported in the Introduction: “...but no studies have previously examined...” or “...has not yet been characterized in detail.” In example 8, the authors open the Discussion by reminding the reader of information reported in the Material and methods section: “In this study, two transgenic lettuce lines...” In example 9, the objective of the study is described (“The objective of this study was...”) followed by a description of information drawn from Material and methods section (“Genotypes were compared based on...”). In these four examples, the key results are presented following a contextualization: “...we show that...” (example 6), “…we found that…” (example 7), “…this work demonstrate that…” (example 8), “The results for…” (example 9).
6) “Imidacloprid is a widely used neonicotinoid pesticide throughout China, but no studies have previously examined its effect on olfactory learning, a key element in successful foraging, for an economically and ecologically important native bee species, A . cerana . In adult bees, we show that ingestion of 0.1 or 1 ng/bee reduced olfactory learning acquisition, which was 1.6-fold higher in control bees” ( Tan et al., 2015 ).
7) “ABA is an essential phytohormone regulating seed maturation, germination, stomatal closure and various stress responses. However, the effect of ABA on cellular growth and morphogenesis has not yet been characterized in detail. Here, we found that epidermal cells developed ectopic protrusions in seedlings germinated and grown in the presence of ABA” ( Takatani, Hirayama, Hashimoto, Takahashi, & Motose, 2015 ).
8) “In this study, two transgenic lettuce lines (AVPD1-2 and AVPD1-6) with enhanced H+-PPase abundance and activity were used to evaluate the potential of this genetic manipulation for improving NO3- uptake efficiency in lettuce. The experiments described in this work demonstrate that this technology was instrumental in improving lettuce N use efficiency under control and limiting NO3- regimens in laboratory, greenhouse, and field scenarios. In all instances, more production (including marketable yield) was obtained per unit of N input for AVP1D-engineered lettuce versus controls” ( Paez-Valencia et al., 2013 ).
9) “The objective of this study was to determine if there were genetic differences among common bean genotypes in the threshold at which N 2 fixation declined during soil drying. Genotypes were compared based on daily measurement of ARA over a soil drying cycle. The results for all cultivars were well-represented by a two-segment linear regression ” ( Devi, Sinclair, Beebe, & Rao, 2013 ).
Strengths and weaknesses of the study
Here, you must highlight the strengths and weaknesses (or limitations) of your methods and approach ( Wallwork, 2016 ). Although the strengths of the study can help convince readers of the validity of conclusions drawn ( Falavigna, De Foite, Blauth, & Kates, 2017 ), editors and readers are likely to be most interested in the limitations of your study. Thus, place equal emphasis to both strengths and limitations ( Docherty & Smith, 1999 ). Limitations are generally discussed while assuming that there is no evidence to reject your hypothesis and that the experimental design used is reasonable (Wallwork, 2016). If you do not criticize your own study, be sure that the reviewers will do so. We present study limitations in papers for ethical and pragmatic reasons. As a pragmatic reason, limitations indicate to readers which ‘mistakes’ we made (Wallwork, 2016) so they can avoid making similar mistakes. You must explain the reasons for the limitations found (Falavigna et al., 2017) and explain the implications of these limitations for the conclusions of your study. You may even propose modifications and improvements to the study design to minimize or eliminate “mistakes” from affecting future work. In specific situations, you can lessen the impact of limitations by noting that other researchers have had experienced similar problem or that the current state of knowledge is unable to resolve the problems that you have encountered (Wallwork, 2016).
In examples 10, 11 and 12, the authors describe the limitations of their studies: “ An important caveat for interpreting our study is that …”, “ One inherent weakness of this study…”, or “Another important limitation…” In example 10, the authors propose modifications to the methodology used for improving future work: (“… further research should be done with more species-rich communities ). In example 11, the authors comment on limitations of the study concerning its temporal and geographic relevance, which limits the generalization of the conclusions drawn. In example 12, confounding variables interfered with the results and the authors note how they tried to control them (“... we tried to control for ...”). In example 13, the strengths of the study (“ This study has several strengths .”) are clearly highlighted (“ First … Second …”). In example 14, both strengths (“ This study has some strengths …” ) and limitations (“ …the number of participants in the study was relatively small and they were mostly French-speakers… ”) are noted. In addition, these authors clarify that limitations restrict the study’s conclusions (… might limit the transferability of the results to a particular cultural context …”).
10) “An important caveat for interpreting our study is that we used four-species mixtures, and four species per m 2 is lower than in most grasslands. A relatively small number of species was used in this study due to its focus on dominance and evenness, and further research should be done with more species-rich communities” ( Huang, Martin, Isbell, & Wilsey, 2013 ).
11) “One inherent weakness of this study is its restricted temporal and geographic relevance. A single season of field data conducted at a single site in the northern portion of the plant’s geographic range limits inferences that can be drawn from the data” ( Frye & Hough-Goldstein, 2013 ).
12) “Another important limitation is that there were differences in age, sex ratio and BMI between the two study groups resulting in an unmatched case-control study. However, we tried to control for these confounding factors during the logistic regression analysis of the study” ( Dimitriou et al., 2015 ).
13) “This study has several strengths. First, we were able to adjust for many covariates that could potentially confound our associations. Although no data was available about complications that occurred, length of hospital stay was used as an indicator of major complications after surgery. Second,…” ( van Zutphen et al., 2017 ).
“This study has some strengths, including the use of a mixed-method design that enabled us to explore in depth the quality of life of participants with various adapted sports’ backgrounds and triangulate the quantitative and qualitative data. The entire team was involved in the analysis, and the triangulation of the researchers’ perspectives enriched the results. The participants in the qualitative component also had different characteristics, which allowed us to explore a variety of experiences. However, the number of participants in the study was relatively small and they were mostly French-speakers, which might limit the transferability of the results to a particular cultural context…” ( Côté-Leclerc et al., 2017 ).
Strengths and weaknesses in relation to other studies, discussing particularly any differences in results
Once key findings have been presented and once the strengths and weaknesses of your study have been noted and discussed, the next step is to amplify the discussion by commenting on the key findings of your study in relation to studies available in the literature. Confine yourself to discuss relevant work conducted in your field. Although you can mention studies not mentioned in the Introduction, it is not common to refer to a large number of studies for the first time in the Discussion ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ).
Your study may confirm (you could write: Our study confirms…, Our results are consistent with…) or contradict (Our study differs from…; However, other studies found that…) the current state of knowledge. Your study can also extend (Our study extends…, Our study adds…) the results of previous studies ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ) or modify the knowledge in a given area (Our study modifies…). You should also consider how the results of other studies may be combined with the results of your study to better comprehend the problem being investigated ( Wallwork, 2016 ), or you may propose an improved or new model. You should consider using a figure to clarify the model and when appropriate describe ways to validate the model ( Hofmann, 2014 ).
The strengths of your study relative to those of other studies may help you convince your readers about the quality of your research and the correctness of your conclusion, but do not hide the limitations of your study. Knowing the limitations of your study may lead you to restrict generalizations of your conclusions ( Cargill & O’Connor, 2009 ) and to reveal ways to improve future works ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ). By outlining concrete future strategies to apply, you will make a more convincing case to your readers ( Wallwork, 2016 ). Unless you made so many errors that your results have been rendered unreliable, you certainly learned something from your study.
When describing your study’s strengths or limitations, compare your Material and methods section with those of other studies. Overall, differences between results may be explained by the ways in which the results were acquired. If you cannot explain why the results are conflicting, say: We cannot explain why… When appropriate, you should explain assumptions (or premises) made upfront so that the validity of your research can be assessed.
Unexpected findings should also be discussed. If the study was conducted effectively, results contrary to what was expected require interpretation ( Wallwork, 2016 ). These results may lead you to new discoveries and may change the focus of your study ( Hofmann, 2014 ) or may serve as helpful indicators for the progression of knowledge (Wallwork, 2016). When unexpected findings alter the focus of your study, you should signal this to the reader (To our surprise…, Surprisingly…) and describe your unexpected findings briefly (Hofmann, 2014) in a neutral and subjective manner (Wallwork, 2016).
In example 15, the authors describe both the strength and the limitations of their study relative to other studies. After addressing the first limitation, they claim: “This is a major limitation of this study…” In example 16, the authors describe the strengths of their study by exploring points cited in their study and comparing them with those cited in two studies (“Our study was better controlled…”). In example 17, the value of N-resorption efficiency found by the authors (72.1%) is greater than that of a large number of graminoids reported in the literature (58.5%). The authors provide two possible explanations for this difference: one is speculation (“The higher average of N-resorption efficiency in this Stipa species seemed...”) and the second is based on methods used for calculation of resorption efficiency (“…this discrepancy may partly result from differences in methods…”). In example 18, after the authors describe the strength of their study in comparison to a study , they describe their contributions to current knowledge (“…our study adds to the previous knowledge…”).
“A particular strength of this study is the use of a nationwide population-based dataset that provides a sufficient sample size and statistical power to explore the association between neovascular AMD and dementia. Nevertheless, some limitations to our study should be addressed. First, neovascular AMD and dementia diagnoses, which rely on administrative claims data and International Classification of Diseases codes, may be less precise than those made according to standardized criteria. This is a major limitation of this study compared with previous studies that used standardized diagnostic examinations of patients” ( Chung et al., 2015 ).
“The studies by Shanahan et al. (1990) and Reynolds et al. (1994) were the only ones published thus far indicating a positive association between cellular membrane thermostability and yield under heat stress in different field environments. In these studies the field-testing conditions may have included stresses other than heat, such as drought and various biotic stresses. Our study was better controlled to eliminate any drought or biotic stresses so that heat was the main yield-limiting factor under the summer test conditions” ( Blum, Klueva & Nguyen, 2001 ).
“The value of N-resorption efficiency (72.1%) for S. krylovii characterized in the present study was higher than that of a large number of graminoids worldwide (58.5%) reported in the literature (Aerts, 1996). The higher average of N-resorption efficiency in this Stipa species seemed rather to be a consequence of its generally greater fitness to infertile habitats. Further, this discrepancy may partly result from differences in methods used for calculation of resorption efficiency. For instance, we calculated resorption efficiencies based on N pool per plant (g plant-1), while previous studies calculated them on the basis of leaf mass or leaf area (mg g-1 or mg m-2)” ( Yuan et al., 2005 ).
“It has previously been found that intention to change food consumption in order to mitigate climate change increases with worry about climate change consequences . We did not study intentions but assessed the actual food intake frequencies. Therefore our study adds to the previous knowledge: the high concern about climate change might actually concretize the intentions to make dietary adjustments” ( Korkala, Hugg, & Jaakkola, 2014 ).
Meaning of the study: possible mechanisms and implications
At this point in the Discussion, you should inform your readers the mechanisms that could have produced the phenomenon and the implications of the results for your research area. According to Illari and Williamson (2012 ), a mechanism for a phenomenon consists of entities and activities organized in such a way that they are responsible for the phenomenon. Identifying theoretical or practical implications involves finding ways in which your results may be used or may lead to the development of new applications in the future. Listing applications allows the reader to understand the value of your research beyond the narrow objectives of the study ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ). You must be careful here not to extrapolate the evidence provided by the data. In some cases, it may be wise to emphasize what your results do not indicate, discouraging readers from reaching unjustified conclusions ( Docherty & Smith, 1999 ). It is also possible for your study to have no clear implications (Glasman-Deal, 2010).
Possible mechanisms are noted in example 19 (“… biochemical mechanism acting as …” or “… via a phyB-independent mechanism such… ”) and 20 (… via mechanisms involving …”) for the phenomena examined. In example 21, one mechanism was suggested in literature followed by a mechanism suggested by the study. The implications of study findings are described in examples 20 (“... an attractive target for preventing or treating ...”), 22 ( “This finding is likely to have practical consequences.” ), and 23 ( “ … provides an opportunity for conservation intervention.” ) .
“High fluence rate control could be mediated either through a biochemical mechanism acting as a Pr to Pfr flux counter or else via a phyB-independent mechanism such as photosynthesis” ( Johansson et al., 2014 ).
“Thus, intestinal epithelial MyD88 acts as a metabolic sensor that switches host metabolism during diet-induced obesity via mechanisms involving the gut microbiota. These unique features render intestinal epithelial MyD88, an attractive target for preventing or treating diet-induced obesity and metabolic disorders” ( Everard et al., 2014 ).
“The decrease in soil microbial biomass has been suggested as one mechanism to explain the decreased microbial respiration (Treseder, 2008; Wei et al., 2014; Riggs and Hobbie, 2016). Our study provides another possible mechanism that the decrease in Rh and increase in SOC could be associated with the changes in microbial CUE and priming effects under N deposition (Fig. 6)” ( Liu, Qiao, Yang, Bai, & Liu, 2018 )
“This finding is likely to have practical consequences. First, studies of gut microbiota should habitually account for sex (and its interactions with other factors) even when there is no main effect of sex… If genotype-by-environment interactions prove to be common in diverse host species, as our results suggest, then therapeutic changes to the environment will not work equally well for all host genotypes, or in both sexes. Consequently, treatment of microbially associated diseases might need to account for these interactions, potentially requiring therapies tailored to host sex and possibly other aspects of host genotype” ( Bolnick et al., 2014 ).
“The identification of diclofenac as the cause of the OWBV decline in Pakistan provides an opportunity for conservation intervention. The high rate of visceral-gout-associated vulture mortality in India3,22,23 as well as the widespread use of veterinary diclofenac in India (R. Risebrough, personal communication) suggests strongly that diclofenac may also be responsible for vulture declines in the rest of the Indian subcontinent wherever diclofenac is used for the treatment of livestock” ( Oaks et al., 2004 ).
Unanswered questions and future research
Finally, you should discuss questions that remain unanswered. Briefly propose avenues for future research to further address these questions ( Docherty & Smith, 1999 ). Questions left unanswered in scientific papers are described in examples 24, 25, 26 and 27 and are followed by ways to improve future studies such that they focus on these answers.
“A number of questions remain unanswered, such as why the interaction was not detected at S=3. It is obvious, however, that studying global changes simultaneously is essential, as the responses to single changes are likely not additive as also evident from other multi-factorial studies (Reich et al., 2001; Wang, 2007)” ( Boeck et al., 2008 ).
“An important, but unanswered, question is how changes in plant architecture, such as those obtained here, will alter the competitive ability of kudzu. Reductions in above-ground and root biomass, in addition to shorter internodes and secondary vine lengths, for plants in the simulated herbivory treatment might limit kudzu’s ability to produce adventitious roots at stem nodes, and slow the plant’s spread by vegetative reproduction. Additional research is needed to understand how the changes in plant architecture documented here translate to overall plant performance and health” ( Frye & Hough-Goldstein, 2013 ).
“Many questions remain to be addressed concerning how these changes influence plant competitive relationships and ecosystem function. Further work is clearly needed to determine how alteration of AMF communities influences plant competitive relationships during C. maculosa invasion and the role played by AMF community composition in determining seedling establishment and subsequent vigor” ( Mummey & Rillig, 2006 ).
“Therefore, LG2055 might have other protective effects against influenza virus infection such as enhancement of IgA production. Further investigation is required to better understand the detailed functions of LG2055 to enable the prevention of influenza” ( Nakayama et al., 2014 ).
At the end of the Discussion, you should provide closure by writing a concluding summary of the main points you want the reader to remember ( Wallwork, 2016 ) based on all aspects discussed. The conclusion is the most important message of your paper. Hence, it should be written with great care in the present tense (use the past tense when describing results). The conclusion (whether in a separate section or not) should match both the question/hypothesis/objective posed in the Introduction section and the main results presented in the beginning of the Discussion section. Base your conclusions on the methods (considering both the strengths and the limitations of the study) and evidence (your findings and the findings of other studies) presented in the article. Both negative and positive findings are equally important to the conclusion.
In the conclusion, readers expect an interpretation of the study’s key findings associated, when appropriate, with support from the literature in addition to the study’s significance. The significance of the study adds value to the article and focuses on practical applications (…can be used for…), recommendations or opinions (X should be used to…, We recommend that X…), implications (Our results imply…, Y indicates that X might…) or theoretical propositions (We hypothesize that…, Here we propose that…). The level of certainty increases from the theoretical proposition to the description of practical application ( Hofmann, 2014 ). In describing practical applications, you can illustrate the study’s relevance beyond your specific research question ( Glasman-Deal, 2010 ). When your study’s conclusions are different from your hypotheses, you might suggest, based on what you have learned about the given problem, possible avenues for future research. Conjunctive adverbs generally used for the concluding paragraph include the following: In summary…, Taken together…, In conclusion… ( Hofmann, 2014 ).
In example 28, the authors present a conclusion that addresses the question posed in the Introduction (“The results obtained in this study clearly demonstrated that...”) followed by the study’s implication (“This trait appears to be a good candidate for…”). In example 29, the authors answer the question raised in the Introduction (“Our results demonstrate that...”) followed by recommendations (“Current environmental policy needs to focus more strongly…”). In example 30, the authors present their key findings (“This research has identified...”) followed by two implications (“This knowledge will allow for...” and “Increased knowledge of the critical period will also…”). In example 31, the study’s novelty is highlighted in the conclusion of the study (“In conclusion, we discovered a novel function of...”) followed by a description of its implications (“These unique features render intestinal epithelial MyD88, an attractive target for...”). In example 32, the authors state at the end of the conclusion this implication: “Ni has a high potential to improve the utilization of N fertilizers by soybean…” Emphasizing that this topic has little research, the authors propose that “…future research…” should be conducted to improve the use of N fertilizers for soybean and other crops.
“The results obtained in this study clearly demonstrated that genetic variability exists in N 2 fixation resistance to drought. This trait appears to be a good candidate for exploitation in common bean breeding programs to enhance drought resistance of future common bean cultivars” ( Devi et al., 2013 ).
“Our results demonstrate that deposition of reduced forms of Nr continues to be of greatest importance in China (which is responsible for approximately 2/3 of total deposition) but emission and deposition of oxidized Nr are increasing more rapidly. Current environmental policy needs to focus more strongly on reducing present NH3 emissions from agricultural sources, whereas control of NOx emissions from industrial and traffic sources will become more important in the near future. It is time for China and other economies to take action to improve N-use efficiency and food production in agriculture and reduce Nr emissions from both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. These actions are crucial to reducing N deposition and its negative impact locally and globally” ( Liu et al., 2013 ).
“This research has identified the critical period for yield determination and the associated critical periods for yield components. This knowledge will allow for more targeted stress mitigation practices, e.g. combining sowing date and cultivar phenology to reduce the likelihood of severe stress in the critical window. Increased knowledge of the critical period will also enhance the ability of breeders to screen for stress tolerance with more targeted stress impositions” ( Lake & Sadras, 2014 ).
“In conclusion, we discovered a novel function of intestinal epithelial MyD88. We show that targeting intestinal epithelial MyD88 confers protection or therapeutic effects against diet induced metabolic disorders. Thus, intestinal epithelial MyD88 acts as a metabolic sensor that switches host metabolism during diet-induced obesity via mechanisms involving the gut microbiota. These unique features render intestinal epithelial MyD88, an attractive target for preventing or treating diet-induced obesity and metabolic disorders” ( Everard et al., 2014 ).
“All these results together with the proven and proposed roles of Ni in urea and amino acid metabolism indicate that Ni has a high potential to improve the utilization of N fertilizers by soybean and possibly other crops, which represents an important future research topic” ( Kutman et al., 2013 ).
Writing a Discussion section for the first time is a difficult task. Even for experienced authors, the first version of the Discussion is likely to suffer many modifications as the manuscript “matures”. Nevertheless, as with any other activity in life, practicing and evaluating are keys to improving discussion writing skills. We offer two final words of advice: i) read as many papers as you can, and read them critically to learn how important scientific groups communicate results and discuss them, and ii) try to review manuscripts written by colleagues to build a capacity to analyze (separate components of manuscripts to better assess each one), synthesize (put the pieces back together) and evaluate the manuscript as a whole.
When writing a discussion, scientists should carefully think about the subject under investigation, about the quality of work conducted and about what can be modified in future studies. Mastering scientific writing is not an easy task, but it can be a rewarding experience for both novice and experienced authors. Docherty and Smith’s (1999 ) structure for discussions described, commented on and exemplified in this paper embraces major points that should be addressed and may help researchers write this challenging section of the scientific article.
The authors gratefully acknowledge FAPEMIG and CNPq for their financial support
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