The discussion chapter in a dissertation is where you begin to interpret, pull together and synthesise the findings of your study. So, here, you are looking at the close results and explaining what they mean. In so doing, it is advisable to refer back to your research questions so as to connect your discussion to the original thesis idea. Another way might be to return to the literature and pick up on key themes; then show how your results and can be interpreted in the light of these main themes. You need to think about how you are going to present this discussion chapter. What is the story you want to tell?
At some point in the dissertation discussion you want to and find closure on your research questions. This means your reader must be able to see that you have somehow answered those research questions. You want to show how your findings fit the literature, the theory and (where applicable) the practice. Remember, the discussion chapter will usually relate back to the Results. Hence you might want to summarise those findings (from the Results) at the start of the discussion. What you are doing is describing where your findings fit into the broader patterns, principles and relationships at play.
The discussion chapter is where you make specific knowledge claims. That is, you are seeking to establish the contribution your thesis makes to the field your topic focuses on; stating that, as a consequence, these are the claims I now may make – this is how my research contributes to existing knowledge. Another important component of the discussion is to show the originality of your work. You want to refer back to the literature, emphasising where your work is different and how it bridges a gap in the scholarly corpus.
The discussion is a synthesis of the Results with previous chapters (such as the Literature Review, Methodology, and so on). So you are trying to place the findings back into a particular context which explains them in some form. The point is to illustrate how your research conforms to or deviates from established scholarship. Here you are required to take the findings extracted from your source data and try to make sense of them. The discussion chapter discusses and evaluates conflicting results. So, perhaps in your findings certain items fitted neatly but certain others did not. This is where you would discuss such issues in your paper. You might also discuss unexpected findings, that you have difficulty accounting for in your study. Here is also where you would identify weaknesses and limitations of your research. You would further explain the implications of your findings, why they are important and how they affect our understanding of the topic at hand. This is also your opportunity to revisit the conceptual framework and discuss how useful it was – in terms of understanding the original research issues.
In terms of structure, while there is no implacable template, you probably want to follow a funnel approach, starting broad then narrowing down. This would involve a written summary of findings to begin with, then an interpretation of those findings: explaining what they mean so the reader has a clear idea. Next you would compare those findings to the literature (here is the synthesis). You might then expand further the implications of your findings, looking at how they improve, add to or otherwise change the field of inquiry. Hence there is an evaluative aspect to the discussion, you are appraising your own research by means of a critical and clear overview. Accordingly, here is where you would put any recommendations for future analysis. These recommendations could relate to practice, policy, future research, or what have you.
The dissertation discussion is an extremely important chapter in the thesis. This is where the core substance is. This is where your reader really wants to find out what you know. Moreover, if someone were to cite your dissertation this would be the chapter they took from. Upon completing the discussion, it is good practice to go through the chapter with a red pen and play the devil's advocate. Wherever you have made an argument, make a counter argument. The purpose is to see whether or not your results stand up to critical scrutiny. At this stage in the dissertation, you may be fatigued or perhaps somewhat numbed to your own research. This is why the discussion chapter, more than most, benefits from a fresh pair of eyes. Enlist someone else to read the chapter and offer critique, again making the counter claims to your own arguments. This process may be difficult, but it will make your work far stronger in the long run.
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