The Dos and Don’ts of the Discussion Section

February 23, 2017

Dr. Kathryn Sobek, Filipodia Editor


The discussion section can make or break your paper. This section is your opportunity to help the reader completely understand your research.


The purpose of the discussion section is three-fold. An effective discussion will 1) summarize how the data impacts the field of study; 2) critically analyze the data; and 3) discuss future directions. The following dos and don’ts will help you accomplish this purpose.

  1. Do start at a generalized level. The first paragraph of the discussion should remind the reader of the importance of your study and how this study fills gaps in the field of study. Conclude this paragraph by succinctly stating the major findings.
  2. Don’t restate or list your results. The next several paragraphs should critically analyze the results. This means that you should explain what the finding means and why it is significant. Remember to consider alternative explanations to your findings, and not just those that prove your hypothesis.
  3. Do compare your findings to other published studies. One way to show the importance of your findings is to compare it to similar studies. When discussing other studies, do not present their results. It is sufficient to compare the study’s conclusions to yours. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to reference your own previously published study.
  4. Don’t ignore published studies that are contradictory to your study. Do not hesitate to offer an interpretation explaining the differences.
  5. Do acknowledge the study’s limitations.No experimental design is perfect and all studies have limitations. Sometimes the limitations are uncontrollable (e.g. limited patient populations), but it is still important to discuss them.
  6. Don’t forget to make recommendations for further research.Almost all research will inevitably generate more questions to be explored. These questions should further expand the knowledge in the field of study. Do not include questions that could have easily been addressed in your study.
  7. Do check the journal’s guide to authors.Some journals have a separate conclusion section while others include the major conclusions in the discussion section. Either way, wrap up your paper with the ‘take-home message.’