The data analysis section is one of the most important sections of your paper because it ties together all the sections of your thesis. It answers the research question(s) posed in the introduction, builds on the literature review, evaluates methodological strengths and limitations (and implications), interprets the findings, identifies further gaps in the field and makes recommendations. The road toward writing up your discussion will be paved with many difficult decisions. You will have to discard potentially interesting findings that do not relate to your research question(s), summarize vast swathes of data, and endlessly scrutinize over your closing statements. It can therefore be a deeply emotional process, one that forces you to feel the heartbreak of data that does not make it into your final write-up. You will also carefully consider the internal implications of each section.
The discussion builds on data analysis, providing you with the opportunity to step back from the intimacy and particularity of data analysis. It is in the discussion section that you return once again to the bird’s eye view of writing the literature review, this time attempting to situate the literature within the context of your data analysis. Discursively, your task will be to persuasively convince your reader of the general importance of your argument, to say that your research means something beyond itself—be it in action, policy, social programs, pedagogy, or further research.
This chapter will help you to question and determine the significance of your work, and offers checklists to ensure that your findings are situated within the larger scholarly conversation (see Box 11.1.1). It will begin by discussing general rules of the discursive task such as how are discussion sections usually written? What tense, stance, and style should I employ? Next, it will discuss interpretation (the act of determining the meaning of your results) and how it is should be framed to answer your research question. We remind you to interpret the meaning of your data with respect to the literature—there will likely be many possible directions forward, and it will be your task to choose only a coherent few. Finally, the chapter ends with guidance for presenting the limitations of your research without excessive humility or vanity.