23things, Uncategorized, writing

Thing 13: Getting the cogs to mesh


Thing 13 is about writing a discussion section. This is the part where you try to line up your arguments from the introduction with your results, hopefully without any grinding of gears…

I’ve been struggling with this paper no end recently, I know what I want to say it but how I say it is proving tricky. One reason is that this study was fairly exploratory, but I found something which is in line with a previous study and I want to go in-depth on this particular bit. But most papers are written as ‘we set out to look at X and here are our results’. Whereas I am more along the lines of ‘I set out to look at the alphabet and I found that X was important’, yet most of the background needs to be about X. So that either requires fuzziness over what you were looking for, misleading your reader (‘I wanted to look at X’ or ‘I thought X might be important’) or otherwise doing some writing contortions around the alphabet and the role of X so that the reader isn’t left puzzled by why you are talking about X. Most qualitative papers are not that helpful here, because they are much broader and are just looking at the alphabet, so I haven’t found an example to copy.

On a positive note, I have found some excellent papers about how to write qualitative papers. This one is about how to write up a qualitative study (or proposal) for a non-qualitative audience. It’s incredibly useful! This paper is also useful for thinking about a few different structures for qualitative papers, and is worth reading. I have loads of books on qualitative research, but they tend to be more how to do the research rather than how to write it up, so these papers have been most helpful. Qualitative research is difficult to do and very difficult to write up, which I think is evidenced by how hard it is to find a well written paper which is easy to read and not full of jargon. I think the first paper in particular ought to be compulsory reading…

Anyway, I am going off topic here. Back to Thing 13:

‘Choose one of your four articles, and consider the following aspects of its Discussion section:

  1. Do you think it is cautious, confident or neutral in its tone? What is it about the language used that makes you think this?
  2. Does it explicitly state the study’s contribution to the field? If so, what phrases are used to do this?’

1. Hmmm, let me see. I think cautious to neutral. Qualitative research is Not Keen on talking about Universal Truths, so being too confident in a qualitative paper would be out of place in the field. However, I did think that the caution was more over the theories and ideas already existing in the literature, rather than the findings of the study. The authors talk about ‘proposed’ theories and the ‘literature suggesting’, but then weren’t too overly hedgy when discussing their evidence, e.g.

‘our findings suggest’

‘Our findings also revealed that’

‘Our interview findings provide evidence that’

2. Contribution to the field: this paper actually includes something along these lines throughout each sub-section of the discussion, e.g.

‘provides a novel and original contribution to our understanding of this process within the exercise context’

‘A novel finding from the present work that extends the concept of’

‘These findings lend new evidence to support the proposal that’

I like the way this paper does this, it doesn’t come across as too boastful or too defensive about the use of qualitative methods (which I think many qualitative papers suffer from), but gently points out at regular intervals that there is a contribution being made to the field in many different ways. I think I will adopt this tactic in my paper 🙂


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