Discussion

It is often helpful to start by discussing any important strengths or weaknesses of your study, or you can incorporate them into the text as the discussion progresses. Be absolutely straightforward about problems you encountered that may have had an impact on the quality of your study. A thorough and fully referenced discussion about why things went wrong can redeem an otherwise disappointing project.

For example, in retrospect: 

  • Was the study method sound and feasible?
  • Were your literature sources comprehensive?
  • A common cause for concern is poor response: this needs to be fully addressed with reference to the body of evidence on this
  • Is there bias in your results and if so what is it and how was it caused?
  • How do you assess the quality of your data, and can you comment on reliability/validity, completeness and accuracy?
  • Are data plausible?
  • How might weaknesses affect the interpretation of the results - and not just "with caution"?
  • Could you / should you have predicted problems?
  • How might you do a better job if you repeated the project?

Sections should relate to the aim and each of your objectives. It must discuss, not repeat, your results, relating them to the literature you used in your first section. Generally, start by commenting on and interpreting your own findings and then locate them in the literature and evidence from others.

You need to be objective and balanced in how your work relates to that of others. Avoid emotive terminology unless it is fully justified.

All statements should be supported by reference to the literature or the results of your study as appropriate. Make it clear when you are putting forward your own opinion or overall assessment of the point under discussion. Use terms such as:

  • The author, having reviewed the evidence, concludes that ...
  • It is plausible that ...
  • On the evidence it seems fair to claim that ...
  • It is arguable that ...
  • On the one hand it may be that ...
  • On the other hand it seems reasonable to ...
  • In summary ...

At some point there should be a section on "lessons learned" - what you have found from the experience of carrying out the process of a dissertation, rather than reporting your findings about the topic. Even when – or perhaps especially when - the study is weak or the result is inconclusive, there can still have been a learning experience.