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Write a discussion section

The discussion section interprets the results. This chapter briefly outlines the basics of the discussion section.

Discussion section vs. result section?
The main difference between the discussion and the result section is that you interpret your results in the discussion. That means, while you explain what you have found objectively in the result section, in the discussion section you explain your findings by interpreting them.

How is the discussion section structured?
The discussion section contains four parts:
1. Recap of the research question and your main findings
2. How do your findings relate to the theories and what do they mean?
3. What do your findings imply, and which limitations have been introduced by the design?
4. Conclusion of your main findings and discussion points
In the following paragraphs we give you more details and some examples for each part.

1. Recap of the research question and main your findings
In the first paragraph, you briefly repeat the research question or hypothesis, what you found, and if your findings confirm your hypothesis. Although you repeat your findings, this paragraph is not a copy of the result section. Rather, in the discussion section, you should use phrases instead of numbers and graphs. Here is an example for a discussion section (few numbers, more text and intuition than in the result section):

The results confirmed our hypotheses that autonomy and engagement with characters lead to enjoyable experiences.

This is very different from a result section (facts, numbers, statistics), which could be:

A multiple regression was calculated with needs as predictors of enjoyment (R = .62, R2 adjusted = .39, F(8, 114) = 11.38, p < .001).

2. How do your findings relate to the theories and what do they mean?
In the second part of your discussion, you revisit the theories and previous studies you have introduced in the introduction section and explain how your findings fit in. That means, you showcase what similarities or dissimilarities you found compared to the theories and previous studies. For example:

In line with previous studies (Johnson et al., 2015; Oliver & Raney, 2011), increased autonomy was associated with high enjoyment. …

In the discussion section, it is particularly important to critically question your findings. Consider whether the difference in the dependent variable is really caused by the manipulation of the independent variable, or whether alternative explanations exist (e.g. confounding variables, influential variable assessed in previous studies but not in yours). Correspondingly, if you find no significant difference in the dependent variable, you need to ask yourself it this means that there is no relationship between your independent and dependent variable.

3. What are the implications of your findings, and what limitations of design exist?
This third part of the discussion section is divided further into three subsections.
First, you write about how your findings inform new research questions. Consider what is important or interesting to explore further. For instance, if the relationship between IV and DV was not clear in your experiment, how could a future study investigate it better? For example:

Future research may examine how to encourage players to share their feelings and thoughts evoked by game events with others. This seems especially important for serious games, as it may promote discussion of the subject. …

Next, if you think there is an implication for practitioners, who will merit from your findings and what practical relevance they have. It’s important to be specific, simply to mention that your findings have implication is not enough. For example:

Our findings have implication for researchers and practitioners wanting to evaluate long-lasting game experience. Such experiences have been argued to be difficult to assess in the long run (Lacovides & Cox, 2015). A possible work-around would be to take appreciation into account as this was found in our study to be associated to long-lasting effect. …

Finally, briefly discuss (max. 1 paragraph) the limitations of your experimental design. Consider what could be changed when replicating your study. For example:

A limitation is that the present study asked participants to recall a past game experience. But as the retrospective evaluation of an experience may differ from the moment-to-moment experience (Kahnemann & Riis, 2005), it is necessary to also explore players’ feelings and thoughts during or immediately after a gaming experience in future work.

4. Conclusion of your main implication
In the last paragraph of the discussion section, you briefly summarize your study. In contrast to the abstract, the focus of the conclusion lies on the main findings and the main discussion points. Here, you present the take-home message for the reader of your paper. For example:

In conclusion, our results suggest that autonomy of players and appreciation of game elements play a key role in evoking positive emotions in a variety of computer games. Both factors, high autonomy and high appreciation, increase positive emotional experiences for players of both genders, especially in games involving a social component. Autonomy and appreciation thereby provide a mechanism to influence player experiences.


University of Basel