Writing a journal article


Standard (non-essay) papers have discussion section after the results. This section is about interpreting the findings, placing them in a bigger context, relating them to other work, and presenting take-home messages.

Unlike for methods and results, you have a lot of freedom how you write your Discussion section – probably even more so than for the Introduction. Broadly speaking, there are two types of discussion.

The ‘boring’ type of discussion goes through your main results, one after the other, interprets the result, and relates it to other literature. The method goes something like this:

  • (Short re-statement of main result, e.g.:) “Many large companies integrated sustainability considerations in their daily operations.”
  • (Interpretation, e.g.:) “This may be because of X, or because of Y.”
  • (Relate to other people’s work, e.g.:) “These findings underline the importance of ZZZ (reference), as also shown in Japan (reference) and the USA (reference).”
  • (then the next main result, and so on)

Most discussions have at least some sections that follow this boring format. There’s nothing wrong with this, other than that it is, well, boring…

Towards the end of your discussion, and if you’re bold all the way through, you need a more creative way of putting things together. Even if you’re using the ‘boring’ format, you still need to get to the bigger picture, the big so-what messages. That is very hard to do unless at some point, you go for a more creative format.

It is harder, but more interesting, to start with a more creative format from the outset. A freely structured discussion needs to make a clear argument, and it can be very useful to use sub-headings to structure this argument. Even though the structure might be free and creative, you still need to draw on your own results under each sub-heading, not just on other literature – a discussion is NOT a literature review, but your work must be at the centre of the argument.

A discussion often picks up similar themes as discussed in the Introduction, and thus is a bit of a reverse funnel. Whereas an Introduction starts broad and becomes focused, a Discussion focuses on your results initially, but then ultimately must leave a clear impression with the reader how the results contributed to the resolving the broad issues that you outlined at the beginning of the Introduction.

See also:

Possible exercises:
  • In papers that are relevant to you, which discussions do you remember, and which did you forget? Which were easy to follow and which were difficult? Were there sub-headings or not?
  • Use your insights to inform how you might structure your discussion.

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