Writing Lab Reports: Discussion
Keys to the Discussion
Purpose: Why do we care?
Relative size: 40-45% of total
Scope: Narrow to broad: the bottom of the hourglass
Verb Tense: Use the past tense to refer to results from your experiment or from other studies (e.g., the results supported my hypothesis that). Use the present to suggest implication of your study (e.g., these results suggest that...). Use the future or conditional to suggest what you will study in the future (e.g., future studies should investigate...)
The discussion offers an analysis of the experiment.
The purpose of the discussion section is to provide a brief summary of your results, relate them to your hypotheses, and put them into context within the field of research. This is the most substantial section of your report, and where you will include your unique interpretations and ideas. The discussion must therefore address the following essential questions:
- Did find what you expected to?
- How do your findings compare to those of previous studies?
- What are the implications of your findings?
- What should be studied next?
Remember that this section forms the bottom of the hourglass – it should mirror the introduction by first focusing on your hypotheses and interpretation of results, and then gradually expanding to make comparisons with previous research, to provide implications of your study and to pose questions for future work – and completes the cycle of the scientific method.
Discussion Section Details
Support or reject hypotheses: Begin by stating whether your results supported your hypotheses or not; remember not to say that you proved anything – you can only support or reject hypotheses. You may also briefly summarize your results.
Interpret and compare results: Do your results make sense? Why do you think you found what you did? Compare your results to those of other studies. Do they differ? If so, how and why? Use literature to support your arguments, statements, and generalizations.
Discuss factors influencing results: Were there any anomalies in your data? Discuss any errors, inconsistencies, assumptions, or other factors that may have influenced the outcome of your study. If you were to repeat your study, would you do anything differently?
Discuss implications: How do your results contribute to existing research? Why was your study important?
Propose ideas for future research: Did your research generate questions for future research? What are the next steps in this field of study?
A good discussion section should…
- Mirror the introduction in structure and scope
- Support or reject your hypotheses
- Explain how your results compare with existing research
- Discuss any issues with your study
- Propose questions for future research
A good discussion section should NOT…
- Repeat detailed results
- Refer to tables, figures, or appendices
- State that anything was “proven”
- Extrapolate beyond the scope of the paper