Writing the Discussion Section of a Research Grounded Paper
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
February 2015


Research grounded papers in education are typically divided into main sections (sometimes these are also called chapters) that are further divided into subsections. Each main section usually begins on a new page. In the paper these sections are typically titled the Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Results, Discussion, and References. The main sections are further divided (with the exception of the Reference section) into subsections that help the reader to follow sequential information contained within each main section. The structure of the paper represents sequential steps of how everything was conducted for the research study or project. The writing is technical, formal, or informational writing in which you are seeking to explain your topic and what you did for the sake of the reader. Most technical papers in education follow the writing style and format of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Research grounded papers include the reporting of past research findings that are directly related to the main topic and subtopics of the paper.

Instruction Directions

The purpose of the Discussion section in a research grounded paper is defined in four parts: first, to report to the reader how the findings of the study compare to what other researchers have found when examining similar topics and subtopics; second, to interpret for the reader the inherent implications or conclusions for educational practice suggested by the study results; third, to give an account to the reader any limitations of the study; and fourth, to suggest to the reader some of your ideas for future research examining similar topics and subtopics.

If the paper covers a project, interpret for the reader your thoughts, opinions, ideas for how the project could impact or influence educational practices. Explain to the reader any limitations that you perceive to be inherent within the project. Finally, suggest to the reader some of your ideas for how your project could be enhanced or modified, and express your thoughts regarding future project developments.

Format of the Paper

The format of the paper is typically size 12, Times New Roman font, with 1.5 inch left margin, and all the others an inch. This will allow room for binding the completed paper if that is needed. The writing throughout the entire paper should all be evenly double-spaced text, and follow APA for all headings within the paper.

What to Include in the Discussion Section


Restate the study purpose and questions and explain for the sake of the reader how this section is organized, i.e., guide them through it by writing a brief organizational summary. This introductory paragraph can be written after this section is completed, and it does not have a heading.

Each of the following components are subheadings within this main section of the paper.

Relationships to Previous Research

Explain to the reader in this subsection how the results or findings of your study compare to what other researchers have found when examining similar topics and subtopics. It is best to reference and write about the connections related to the research studies that you included in the Literature Review or the Introduction sections of the paper rather than bringing in new document sources into the Discussion section. This practice further validates your study methods and results, and serves to bridge the sections of your paper together as a whole. In essence, what you are doing is substantiating your results by connecting back to previously established research.


Interpret for the reader the inherent implications or conclusions for educational practice suggested by the study results or project. Write about your thoughts, opinions, and ideas for how educational practice could be impacted or influenced in connection to your study results. Document sources can be referenced in this subsection, but it is best to use the sources from your Introduction or Literature Review sections than to reference new ones.


Interpret for the reader any limitations inherent within your study or project. Authors typically write about how their study was limited within its frame or scope, not their personal problems that they encountered with the study or project. For example, maybe you used only one school, a few children or teachers, there was a lack of diversity, or the study was very brief in duration. It is best to state the obvious and to keep this subsection as brief as possible.


Suggest to the reader ideas that you have for future research examining similar topics and subtopics. Make suggestions based on the limitations of your own study for the sake of expanding with a new studies or projects.

Writing Tips

The Discussion section, unlike the other sections of the research grounded paper, is written from your expert perspective as the study's author (give the reader your bird's-eye view). This is the section in which you make interpretations and recommendations for the reader based on your knowledge of the study and the relationships between your study and past research. It is very important to write about your study results as suggesting, revealing, indicating, implying, or showing rather than proving anything. This is the nature of research results and demonstrates how theory is constructed over multiple, related research studies.

• Follow APA for headings for this section and the subheadings within it.

• Write using "newspaper language," e.g., use language that an eighth grader would understand.

• Use as few trade terms as possible, i.e., words that only professional educators would know, and if you have to use a trade term, do so in an appositive.

• Use short, direct, and simple sentences.

• Use active rather than passive voice, and avoid using: I, me, we, you, our- as much as possible (see APA for passive voice).

• Do not use "this author" or refer to yourself in third person.

• Use only a quotation from a text if you absolutely have to.

• Make sure you are writing in an expository style, this is not a personal narrative.

Follow the APA manual for all of the writing style, grammar, and formatting in the paper. When you have a draft completed, read it at least several times for revisions and edits. Make sure all the citations have corresponding, complete references in the Reference section of the paper.

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches qualitative research methodology.