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Mini-Module: Reports

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6. Writing the discussions section of your report

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6. Writing the discussion section of a report

What should you include in the discussion section of a report? Find out by watching the video below.  

Go to the Manchester Academic Phrasebank if you want to find out the actual phrases you can use in the discussion section.

Writing the discussions section of your report

Video activity

(Below the video, you will find a full transcript.)

Transcript

00:00: In this video, we’ll look at the content of the Discussion section.

00:04: The discussion section is the 4th and last part of the research paper.

00:08: It comes right after the results. In the Results section, you explained all

00:13: of the facts about the trends in your data. Now, in the Discussion, you are going to write

00:17: about the meaning of those results. In particular, you need to answer some questions.

00:24 First, how did your actual results compare with the results you expected based on the

00:28: hypothesis? And how do your results compare with the results

00:32: of other researchers? This is where you will need citations again.

00:37: Many of them might be the same ones that you used in the introduction.

00:41: Then, how might you explain any unexpected results?

00:45: Here again, you need to use citations to support your ideas.

00:50: Next, how might you test those potential explanations? And finally, based on your results, what question

00:58: or questions would you logically want to ask next?

01:01: The discussion section of the paper is probably the most challenging part,

01:05: because here you have to show the depth and clarity of your scientific thinking.

01:11: In most discussion sections, authors start by reviewing the main results of the paper.

01:16: Next, you should attempt to explain any unexpected results

01:20: and the processes behind the patterns that you found.

01:24: You should also evaluate the explanations you proposed

01:28: by weighing the pros and cons in the light of other people’s research,

01:32: and considering any limitations with your experimental design.

01:36: And finally, you should end your scientific paper by a proper conclusion

01:41: that brings together everything that has been discussed

01:44: and highlights the possible applications of the study, or possible future research.

01:49: OK, let’s take a look at the Discussion section of this paper

01:53: on the effect of jungle sounds and classical music on the behaviour of gorillas in the zoo.

01:58: OK, here is the first paragraph. Notice how the beginning of the Discussion

02:03: reviews the main result. The statement of your main result at the beginning

02:08: of the Discussion should tie up with the statement of purpose

02:11: of the study, that you made at the end of the Introduction.

02:13: Here is how the gorilla paper does it. This is last sentence of the Introduction.

02:32: And this is the first sentence of the Discussion.

02:45: So you see we're using the same words here.

02:56: The next paragraph summarizes the results,

02:59: but unlike the Results section, they can interpret the meaning of the results

03:03: here. So, you can see that they say “behaviours

03:06: indicative of relaxation” and “behaviours typically associated with stress”.

03:14: In the Results section we can only talk about what we measured, so we can’t talk about

03:18: “relaxation”, but in the Discussion we are free to interpret

03:21: the results. OK, the next part here goes into the critical

03:26: interpretation of the meaning of the results. But first, let's talk about bringing your

03:31: results together. The discussion is not simply a re-writing

03:35: of the results section and then adding your opinion.

03:38: The discussion section explores the main results of your experiments

03:42: and therefore one paragraph of this section can use the information contained in several

03:47: figures or tables to make a single point. This is from a study on the growth of radish

03:52 and lettuce plants under white light (which is the FL) and Red and Blue LEDs (that’s

03:58: the RB). The blue box is from the Results, and describes

04:03: the trend that is shown in the figure down here.

04:06: The green box is from the Discussion. Here the author combines information from

04:11: this figure and this table in order to write his interpretation of the results.

04:15: OK, let’s go back to the paper on gorilla behaviour.

04:19: The third paragraph discusses surprising things that they found in the results

04:25: and how they compare with other researchers’ findings.

04:28: You can see the citations down here. When discussing unexpected results,

04:34: always start with a scientific explanation before you discuss problems with the experiment.

04:39: Even though you’re a beginner at research, your results are still your results.

04:42: They are facts. It’s easy to blame yourself and only discuss

04:46: limitations or problems with the experiment, but a lot of the time, there are good scientific

04:52: reasons for the problems you have, and those are much more interesting to readers.

04:57: Also, regardless of the possible causes, you should suggest a possible future experiment

05:03: to solve the problem you had. So, let’s look more closely at this.

05:07: The blue box is from the Results section. It says that none of the treatments show effects

05:13: that are statistically distinct from the control experiment.

05:17: Some of these non-significant patterns are described more in detail in this sentence.

05:22: Now the green box is from the Discussion. Here the non-significant patterns are checked

05:27: against pre-existing published results. You can see the citations here.

05:33: And even though the results are not statistically significant,

05:37: these findings MAY be relevant because other researchers have gotten similar results.

05:43: The fourth paragraph discusses the mechanism behind why the results were the way they

05:49: were. OK, one possibility is that the music is not

05:52: especially good or bad for gorillas, it just covers up the zoo noise which is bad.

05:57: That's what they say here: as a mask. The other possibility is that music is actually

06:02: good for gorillas. Notice that they consider all possible explanations,

06:07: not just the one they like best. After proposing an explanation for your data,

06:11: you need to assess the validity of this explanation. Has a similar pattern been observed before?

06:19: How was it explained? Do your results agree with these interpretations?

06:22: And if not, who do you think is right? Also, you need to evaluate the accuracy and

06:29: the precision of your results. Are there any possible extraneous variables

06:34: that might have affected your data? How much did that affect your results?

06:39: And could you propose a way to reduce this effect if someone repeats your experiment

06:43: in the future? OK, after you have interpreted and critically

06:48: examined your results, it’s time to finish the paper.

06:51: Here’s the last paragraph. Now in this paper, they actually call it “Conclusions”

06:56: but you don’t have to do this. You could just finish with the Discussion.

07:00: And this would be the last paragraph. Again, they review the main points here.

07:05: And they talk about again why this research is interesting or important.

07:11: It also states the limitations of their study here.

07:14: A small group of animals and a short period of time.

07:17: And then they finish off with recommendations for further research.

07:26: So, even if your findings are weak or non-significant, or there were problems with your experiment,

07:31: try to highlight the positive outcomes of your research.

07:35: Review the main point so that readers can remember it.

07:37: And be positive! Highlight what you think the reader would

07:41: find useful or valuable. And don’t apologize for problems or mistakes

07:45: with your experiment. Readers don’t care about that.

07:48: A good way to finish is with this: “further research is needed to… whatever”.

07:58: This could be useful to any future scientist willing to follow your path.

08:01: Now YOU don’t have to do the further research; somebody else can do it.

08:06: You just need to point it out. Finally, you might think of the Discussion

08:09: as kind of like the opposite of the Introduction. In the Introduction, you move from the wider

08:14: research field, and narrow down your topic to the details

08:18: of your own study. And in the Discussion, you begin by reviewing

08:21: the details of your experiment, and then expand to discussing the wider research

08:26: field that it is connected to.