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How to Write a Thoughtful Discussion for Your Scientific Paper

Image of typewriter and blank piece of paper to represent writing a scientific discussion

You’ve already written the results for your scientific paper and formatted and put together the figures, too. The next big step is writing a scientific discussion.

Let’s accept this: writing a paper is daunting, and sometimes the most difficult and thought-provoking part to write is 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 what questions remain.

Unlike the abstract, the discussion does not have a broad readership per se, but is written for both beginners to that particular area of science and experts of the same.

So, what do you need to do to make the scientific discussion section a success? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

What To Do When Writing A Scientific Discussion

1. Do Summarize Your Results and Outline Their Interpretation in Light of the Known Literature

This is the first thing that you need to do when writing a scientific discussion section. Describe very briefly the conclusion from your results, and then explain what it means with respect to what is already known.

Remember 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.

2. Do Explain the Importance of Your Results

Be sure to advocate for your findings and underline how your results significantly move the field forward. Remember to give your results their due and don’t undermine them.

Make sure you mention the most important finding first; this is what people will remember.

3. Do Acknowledge the Shortcomings of the Study

In this section, explain any limitations that your hypothesis or experimental approach might have and the reasoning behind them. 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 it may fall short.

4. Do Discuss Any Future Directions

Depending on which journal you are publishing in, you might have to provide a separate “future directions” section, rather than having it tied into the discussion. Nonetheless, you should think about the questions that your study might lead to while you are writing the discussion.

Consider posing a few questions, preferably in the form of a hypothesis, to provide a launchpad for future research.

What NOT To Do While Writing a Scientific Discussion

Now that we have talked about the important features of an authoritative discussion section, here are a few pointers about things to avoid.

5. Don’t Reiterate Your Results

You can open the discussion with a sentence that contains a snapshot of 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 these results mean and their impact.

6. Don’t Over-Interpret Your Findings

I mentioned giving your results their proper due and underscoring their significance. But be careful not to 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.

7. Don’t Introduce a New Piece of Data

Don’t make the discussion confusing by introducing any new results. Present all of your data in the results section.

8. Don’t Use Too Much Jargon

Although readers of your field would probably understand the jargon, minimize its use to make your paper accessible to a broader audience and to enable a larger impact. You’re trying to share knowledge, so your discussion should be as easy to read as possible. Try and use plain English.

In a nutshell, remember that the primary goal of writing a scientific discussion is to accentuate your results. Therefore, take the time to ensure that it is well rounded, succinct, and relevant.

What are your top tips for writing a scientific discussion? Leave a comment below.

Originally published December 7, 2016. Reviewed and updated on December 22, 2020

Image Credit: Ettore


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