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Knowing how to write an awesome results and discussion chapter is a super important part of your research project, dissertation or thesis. However, this is the chapter(s) that most people lose marks on!
Why do most people get the lowest marks for their research and discussion chapter?
In my several years’ experience of supervising and grading dissertations and research projects, I have found that on average, it is the results and discussion chapter(s) (I have pluralised this because you can choose to combine the results and discussion into one chapter or you can keep it in two separate chapters) which gets the lowest marks. This is very frustrating for me to mark as often this chapter is worth the most marks and so students can really lose out!
The main reasons that students do not get top marks for the results and discussion chapter include:
• Work being rushed (click here for more on how to manage your time for a research project)
• Work is not planned properly (i.e. the literature does not naturally link to the actual research undertaken)
• Students don’t really understand what is expected here
• Students fail to analyse any data. Instead they simply state what is the response was for each question
• Students think that by writing a written summary of the results that are visually depicted is adequate ‘discussion’ (shock- it’s not!!)
So, in order to help you avoid some of these common mistakes and to help you to get the best marks possible for this ever-so-important chapter of your research project, dissertation or thesis, I have put together 6 top tips.
6 tips to help you write an awesome results and discussion chapter
Tip #1- Think of your research project as one piece of work
One of the major problems that I see amongst undergraduate students is that they view each chapter of their research project as separate. The reality is, however, that this is absolutely not the case!
As I explain in this post- ‘How to structure a research project‘, each chapter needs to be carefully thought about and planned.
You should not lose touch with your aims and objectives, for example, and should keep reminding the reader of how your are addressing these throughout the various chapters of your research project.
You also need to ensure that the literature review informs the design of your research instrument (i.e. survey, interview) and that this allows the research to logically flow from literature to results to discussion. Sometimes I see students send out surveys with questions that they appear to have just plucked out of the air- this is one of the worst things that you can do as it is likely to this will make analysis and discussion VERY difficult!
You might also be interested in my post- ‘6 tips to write an awesome literature review‘
Tip #2- Label graphs/charts/tables correctly
Students will often fail to correctly label graphs/charts/tables etc. This is a silly error and is so easy to fix- just pay attention! Seriously, you probably learnt how to label graphs in primary school… if you get this wrong you are just wasting marks!
Typically you will need to ensure that every axis has a label and that there is a legend if necessary. You will also need a table/figure number and title. These should all be listed at the beginning of your research project following the contents page titled ‘list of figures’ and ‘list of graphs’.
Tip #3- Pay attention to formatting
You will also want to make sure that all of your graphs/charts/tables etc are correctly formatted.
I have seen students who directly copy output from SPSS into a table. Whilst this is fine to do, if you have no intention of using all of the output (SPSS often gives you way more than you actually need), then don’t put it in! Unless you explain what the table shows it indicates that you do not understand the output, which is never a good thing. My advice, therefore, is to only include what is necessary!
If you choose to copy and paste parts and to input other parts yourself, make sure that the fonts all match. It sounds simple, but I see it all the time. You will usually be awarded marks for presentation, so don’t lose these marks!
If your research project or dissertation needs to be submitted as a hard copy, make sure that all of the tables/graphs etc in your results and discussion chapter print correctly and the colours come out as you had anticipated. This might mean printing more than one copy if things don’t look quite right on the first attempt.
Tip #4- Don’t just identify- ANALYSE!
Often students collect all of their data and then they don’t know what to do with it!
This is when you should lean on your supervisor for guidance, although sadly many students will leave it too late for this. Last year I had a student who actually complained to my manager because he received my out of office automatic response during the Easter break (2 weeks before submission) stating that I was currently climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and had no access to Internet. Seriously, Lecturers are entitled to a holiday and he had had the past EIGHT MONTHS of my supervision time whenever he wanted it. This is a typical example of poor time management.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘How to write an awesome research methods chapter in 6 easy steps‘
If you do not adequately plan your method of data collection and what types of questions/observations etc you will undertake, then writing up your results and discussion chapter is likely to be difficult. Sadly, many students do not think ahead to this stage and realise only when it is too late!
If you have asked the right questions to your respondents (in a survey, interview, focus group etc), then you should have a wealth of data to play with. If not, then don’t count on getting good grades for your results and discussion chapter.
How old were you when you were able to produce a bar graph and state what it shows? 7? 8 maybe? So if this is all that you do for your results chapter then you can’t really expect to get the best grades, can you?
How old were you when you learnt how to do simple statistics such as calculating the mean, medium and mode? Year 7 maybe? If you do only this in your research project, you can’t really expect to get the highest marks….
Remember that you are doing a DEGREE and that your level of analysis needs to be DEGREE level!!
I appreciate that many research methods modules focus on the theoretical aspects of research philosophy, research paradigms (e.g. qualitative and quantitative), methods of data collection (e.g. surveys, interviews, focus groups, netnography), sampling and ethics, and generally students have a reasonable grasp on these aspects.
Any good research methods training will also include sessions on how to analyse the data. As this logically tends to come at the end of a research methods module, when attendance often begins to dwindle, many students unfortunately miss out on this super important training. This is often reflected in the level of data analysis presented in their research and subsequently in the grades that they are awarded.
It would be impossible for me to guide you on exactly how to analyse your data here, as every research project is different and there are so many different techniques available to researchers. Here are a few things that you might want to think about as a starting point, however:
For quantitative research-
• Descriptive statistics
• Tests of correlation/relationship
• Bivariate statistics
• Multivariate statistics
• Analysis of patterns, trends etc
For qualitative research-
• Thematic coding
• Content analysis
• Use of diagrams e.g. Venn diagrams, flow charts, mind maps, vision boards
I know, I know, if you haven’t had any training in this area all of this might sound a bit scary and daunting! Don’t fret though! If you haven’t already invested in some good quality research methods textbooks then I strongly recommend that you do. You can buy them super cheap on Amazon and it’s worth spending a few pennies if it means getting a higher grade! You can always sell the books on after you’ve finished with them too…
I personally find that Bryman’s book on Social Research Methods explains things pretty simply, so I would recommend this one. I have also found that Seale’s Researching Society and Culture text is quite good in this regard.
Tip #5- Link your results back to the literature
It is imperative that the literature that you have discussed in some way links to your results!
In the discussion section of your research project or dissertation you must discuss your findings in relation to the literature.
Discussion Chapter Examples
Here is an idea of the types of things that you might write in your discussion chapter:
The results in this study support author x, y and z because…
The data presented in this research is interesting because is differs from the viewpoints of author x…
This research is important because it presents results that have not been identified in other research to date…
This research largely replicates data found in similar case study examples…
In support of author y…
In contradiction to author z…
Whilst author z x found…. to be true, this study was relatively small in size, thus warranting the need for further research. This study has succeeded in doing this by demonstrating that…
Ideally you should be able to relate the majority of the literature addressed in your literature review chapter to the data that you have collected as part of your research.
If you are unable to do this then it means that you have not included the right type of literature.
Take this example, that I see every year- A student studying aviation management chooses to investigate public perception of security at airports. He/she writes a thorough literature review giving good analysis of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks involving aviation. They collect data from a survey asking questions such as ‘how do you feel about the queues at security’ and ‘does being searched make you feel uncomfortable’. They can not discuss the results that they collected in relation to the literature because there is no link. They did not ask their respondents about 9/11 and they did not write any literature about queues at security. This is an example of a poorly written research project that is not well thought-through and offers little integration between chapters.
Does this look familiar to you? Don’t worry, many of us do this to an extent. This is why you must plan time into your schedule to allow for your literature review to be amended once you have all of your data collection completed.
You should NEVER write a chapter and think that ‘it is finished’. Nothing is finished until the whole project is complete!
When I did my PhD, I re-wrote 20,000 words of my literature review after collecting my data. It’s not because I didn’t think ahead- I had lots of planning time! But actually as I collected my data my research changed direction slightly, meaning that my literature review was no longer in sync with the rest o the project. So I amended it.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘6 tips to write your research project FAST‘
I know it can be frustrating, but if the flow isn’t there, go back and re-write parts of your literature review. It’s important and will be reflected in your final grade- I promise!
Tip #6- Don’t be afraid to critically assess your own research
My last tip for you is to be critical.
Don’t be afraid to state that your research isn’t perfect- no supervisor/Lecturer will expect it to be! I don’t even think ‘perfect’ exists!!
So state what your limitations are and why they are applicable. For example your sample size is small because you were limited in scope due to the required size of your dissertation/research project.
You can also make suggestions for improvement. You might, for instance, suggest that larger studies need to be undertaken to investigate the issue further.
Now lets write an awesome results and discussion chapter…
You absolutely can write an awesome results and discussion chapter. You just need to take into account the things that I have mentioned I this post and do the best that you can!
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Oh, and if you want to reference this post please use ‘Stainton, H. Lifeasabutterfly’. Cheers and good luck with your research!