PhD Thesis Writing: Results Vs. Discussion Sections

When composing a PhD thesis or dissertation, proper organization and formatting is absolutely essential. Dissertations and theses are organized in specific chapters, each of which has particular content and style expectations which should not be disregarded. If you want your PhD committee to swiftly approve your paper, you must follow the proper guidelines and place the correct information in each particular section, from the Introduction to the Appendices.

Two of the most challenging sections to create are the Results and Discussion sections. Each reviews the existing findings and contextualizes them for the reader, but they do so in completely different ways. Make sure to create both chapters and include the proper information in each. Here are some tips.

The Results Section

The Results section of your dissertation should be the first place in the paper where you reference your empirical findings. This section should be highly empirical and statistical, with little space devoted to theory or criticism. Remind the reader of your hypotheses in this section, and then slowly go about testing each individual hypothesis, in order, using the statistical procedures you outlined in your research proposal.

Describe your findings in simple, ope-rationalized language. Give each hypothesis test its own header, and recap what you predicted, then state clearly what you found. Indicate to the reader whether each hypothesis was supported or not supported. Do not say your hypotheses were “proven” or “disproven”, and make no broad inferences about what your results mean.

Describe the findings in terms of the exact measurement methods you used. For example, do not say that the treatment affected participants’ stress level; say instead that the treatment apparently had an influence on participants’ cortisol levels. Don’t say you raise participants’ self-esteem; say instead that participants reported higher scores on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, or equivalent.

The Discussion Section

Following your clear, simply description of your results, your next chapter should be the Discussion. In this section, you should make theoretical sense of the findings. What do the findings mean for the broader scientific community? What do your results suggest about how this phenomenon works, or what the exceptions to the theory might be?

Recap some of the preexisting research you cited in your Introduction chapter, and find a way to blend your new results with the existing literature. Tell a theoretical, conceptual story. Use conceptual language rather than referring to the exact measurement methods. Speak in terms of “stress” not in terms of “cortisol”, or “mood” instead of “heart rate”. Consider future directions for your research and briefly propose new studies.

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