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How to write the discussion section of an academic paper

This is one of the most challenging questions people have ever asked me, because after looking through dozens of journal articles in my Mendeley database, I could not find a lot of them who used Discussion sections. I believe this idea of the Discussion component of an academic journal article (or book chapter, in some cases) comes from the IMRAD model of publishing, that is, papers that have at least the following five sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Analysis and Discussion (hence the acronym).

Personally, I neither like, nor do I often write this type of journal article. Even when I was a chemical engineer, I can’t recall that I read many papers in the IMRAD model, as they all had a variation (merging Discussion with Results, or Results with Conclusion, or Discussion with Conclusion). As I said on Twitter, I read engineering, natural science and social science literatures. Thusly, the Discussion sections that I read vary QUITE A LOT.


All Discussion sections I’ve read are

  1. analytical, not descriptive,
  2. specific in their interpretation of research results,
  3. robust in their linkage of research findings with theories, other empirical reports and various literatures,
  4. good at explaining how a paper’s results may contradict earlier work, extend it, advance our understanding of X or Y phenomenon and, most definitely:
  5. NOT the conclusion of the paper.

What I think is important to remember when writing the Discussion section of a paper, is to really ANALYZE, not just describe. Link theories, methods, data, other work.

As usual in my blog posts, I here link to a few resources that may be of help (written by other authors).

In my Twitter thread, I suggested ways to discern (and learned from) how authors have written their discussion sections.

There are times when scholars blend Discussion and Conclusions, or Results and Discussions sections. This is not even discipline-dependent, it’s author-dependent.

Another example, now from the criminal justice field.

Hopefully these notes will be helpful to fellow scholars writing these sections!

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