You have already written the results for your paper and formatted and put together the figures, too. The next big step is to write the discussion.
Let’s accept this: Writing a paper is daunting, and sometimes the most difficult and thought-provoking part is writing the ‘discussion’ section. It is the last part of your paper, in which you summarize your findings in light of the current literature. You also need to zero in on how your work will move the field forward and the questions that remain. Unlike the abstract, it does not have a broad readership per se, but is written for the people who are both beginners to that particular area of science and experts of the same.
So, what do you want to do to make the discussion section a success? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
What to Include in Your Discussion
Summary of Your Results and Their Interpretation in Light of Known Literature
This is the first thing that you need to include in the discussion section. Describe very briefly the conclusion from your results, and then say what it means with respect to what is already known. Do not forget to emphasize how your results support or refute the current hypotheses in the field, if any. This is also a good place to address if your data conflict with what is established in the field. By addressing these conflicts, scientists in your field will re-examine and rebuild hypotheses/models to then test.
Importance of Your Results
Be sure to advocate for your findings and underline how your results significantly in move the field forward. Remember to make sure you give your results their due and not undermine them.
Shortcomings of the Study
In this section, explain any limitations that your hypothesis or experimental approach might have and the reasoning behind it. This will help the field in generating hypotheses and new approaches without facing the same challenges.
The discussion becomes well rounded when you emphasize not only the impact of the study but also where possibly it falls short.
Depending on which journal you are publishing in, you might have to provide a separate “future directions” section, rather than having it tied into discussion. Nonetheless, you should think about the questions that your study might lead to, as you are writing the discussion.
Consider posing a few questions, preferably in the form of a hypothesis, to provide a launch pad for future research.
What NOT to Do While Writing the Discussion
Now that we have talked about important features that the discussion section holds, here are a few pointers about things to avoid while you write your discussion.–
Reiterate Your Results
You can open the discussion with a sentence that contains a snapshot about the main conclusion, but make sure you stop right there! You have already written a separate “results” section, so do not repeat yourself by describing your results again. Rather, swiftly transition into what they mean and their impact.
Over-Interpret Your Findings
I mentioned about giving your results their proper due and underscoring their significance. But be careful to not extrapolate your results and interpret something that is beyond the scope of the study. Keep in mind the difference between what your results suggest at a given point versus what more can be known from them. You can do this by asking more questions and applying other experimental approaches. Importantly, you must draw conclusions commensurate with your results.
Introduce a New Piece of Data
Make sure to not make the discussion confusing by introducing any new result in the discussion. Present all your data in the results section.
Use Too Much Jargon
Although readers of your field would probably be conversant with the jargon, minimize use of jargon to make your paper accessible to the broader audience and to enable a larger impact.
In a nutshell, remember that the primary goal of the discussion section is to accentuate your results. The best way to write it, therefore, is to take the time to be sure that it is well rounded, succinct, and relevant.