Writing in Research Series: The Value of the Discussion Section- Moving the Conversation Forward

By Derek Higgs, MPA, Researcher
September 3, 2020


Photo by unsplash-logoScott Graham

Research documents are organized into specific sections that follow a standardized format because it has proved to be an effective way for the author to write and share their work. Each section has an important role. The introduction, for example, establishes the questions that the researcher intends to answer, and the conclusion provides a summary of the project from start to finish. The discussion section, in slight contrast, is the section that allows the author to illustrate where their research fits into a larger context of previous, current, and possible future work.

The discussion section is valuable because it allows the author to critically discuss the historical context, current constraints, and possible future implications of the research. Not only does this help to qualify their research project, it significantly benefits the reader’s understanding of the topic. In other words, the discussion section allows the author a place to communicate to the reader where their work fits within the greater landscape of knowledge, for the sake of deeper understanding.

Researchers at the UDRC exemplify the value and purpose of the discussion section in their published works. As an example of historical context, researcher Allison Stapleton-Shrivastava explains how her research relates to previous research. In the article “Outcomes for Working College Students in Utah”, published in 2019, she writes “While previous research showed mixed effects…this study found that working throughout the year produces significant negative effects…” The author offered context by comparing a specific result of her study to the result of a previous study.

A prime example of how to include a recommendation in the discussion section is found in the 2019 article “2019 Longitudinal Intergenerational Poverty Research” by UDRC manager Kelsey Martinez, PhD. She writes, “Results of this IGP report suggest that targeting improvements in the lives of children that are experiencing IGP may drastically reduce rates of adults experiencing IGP.” Notice that the author strictly qualified the recommendation from a result from her research.

A final example, this time of a research limitation, can be found in the discussion section of the 2019 article “Education Appropriations’ Return on Investment of Career and Technical Education”. Author and UDRC senior researcher Skylar Scott writes, “Long-term retention, after five years, was not available for this study due to the lack of availability of data prior to 2011, which may affect additional taxes collected over time.” To describe this limitation, the author explains the problem, why it was an issue for this particular study, and then offers a possible outcome that might occur as a result of the limitation.

In summary, the discussion section of a research document supplies value by providing a clearer context and better understanding of the research topic to the reader. This was demonstrated by three examples from published UDRC articles. The authors included a research limitation, a broader historical context, and a recommendation for possible future research within their respective discussion sections. The overall aim of which was to provide the reader with a better understanding of the past, present, and future of the research topic.