Writing the discussion section of a PhD dissertation

The discussion section of your PhD dissertation is one of the final sections in a long line of work representative of years of your life. While most students hasten through this part because it seems like regurgitation—boring, too—it is quite important. It is something you want to work on with care.

  1. Pull back after you finish your results section and give yourself some time to review the work from a fresh perspective. You want to step back from the finer details and concise points you have worked thus far to explain for your readers, and give them a chance to put your work into the bigger picture.
  2. Give your readers context. They need to know not just your key findings, but what your findings say. So go back over the literature and try to really dig deeply into what your findings represent, what role they play in the bigger picture, and how you can apply it elsewhere. If your work was clinical in nature, consider what political implications it might have in the future. These are things to address in the discussion section of your PhD dissertation. Without this, readers won’t know why they should care.
  3. Far too often students become concerned with stating all of their flaws, potential issues, or future direction and let this part of the work slide. The result? Readers are left with more questions than answers.

  4. Mistakes to avoid:
    • Starting with your limitations rather than the implications of your work
    • Writing too much about the limitations of your work, causing your readers to question the entire legitimacy of your process
    • Repeating your introduction
    • Not acknowledging your limitations
    • Not differentiating between your weak and strong results
    • Using causal language when your data is correlational
    • Restating your results without links to previous research or interpretations for future work
    • Provide no concluding statements
    • Presenting new results that belong earlier in your work
    • Making strong claims about your weakest results
  5. While you need to note the limitations of your work, it is best to recommend follow up studies without drawing attention away from your work. You want to highlight where future work could lead, but you do not want your readers to finish the discussion section caring more about future studies than your study.
  6. Conclude with one of your main points or strongest point in a different fashion than before. Don’t simply copy and paste a previous paragraph or paraphrase it. Leave your mark in the minds of the readers, right here and now. Don’t just summarize, show how your work resolves existing controversies or connects to other literature Give your readers a clear and concise conclusion to read.