Thesis Discussion Exercises

Here you will find extracts from Discussions from past theses. Each example demonstrates one or more of the key purposes of a Discussion section: explain/interpret; compare; evaluate; identify limitations; identify future research.

Exercise 1

Read each example and decide what is the purpose of the words in bold colour blocks. Then click on the answer to check if your response matches ours.

Example 1. (BABS)

Genetic mechanisms and dissemination of antibiotic resistance

PCR-screening for integrons in the multiple-antibiotic resistant and extended-spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL) producing collections of bacteria revealed that 41% and 79% of strains in the multi-resistant and ESBL collections respectively, carried at least one integron. The proportion of strains in the multiple-antibiotic resistant collection of bacteria carrying integrons is comparable to other studies. For example, 49% of 120 urinary isolates of Enterobacteriaceaein Sydney were found to carry integrons (White et al., 2001) whilst 52% of clinical isolates of E. coli in Taiwan were found to harbour class 1 integrons (Chang et al., 2000). These high levels of integrons in clinical isolates emphasise the potential the potential of these elements in the development of multiple-antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria by capturing antibiotic resistance gene cassettes and collecting them in arrays.

(Jones 2003, p.62)

See answer:

revealed: shows importance of result
is comparable to other studies: compares the results to other research
emphasise the potential: shows importance of result and future directions for research

Example 2.  (School of Civil Engineering)

Permeable Treatment Walls

There are several important points to note  to note about the results presented for the case of a single gate permeable treatment wall. The first of these points involves the validity of the assumptions made about the properties of the aquifer, gate and walls. Clearly the use of the design chart is limited to cases where the parameters of the system are the same or very homogeneous. This assumption will only hold in a very small amount of real cases. The other assumption that may be difficult to fulfil, is the one metre width of the wall and gate. This value would be realistic for slurry walls but in the case of sheet piles may be less accurate.

(Dasey 1996 p.39)

See answer:

several important points to note: indicates that there are reservations about the results validity of assumptions… Clearly… is limited… a very small amount…: indicates that the assumptions may not be applicable in all circumstancesmay be difficult… would be realistic… may be less accurate: use of tentative language (may; would) to show that results are not certain and will depend on variables.

Example 3 (School of Computer Science and Engineering)

The Steiner Tree Problem

Table 5.3.3 shows the comparison on the number of S-points generated. The number of S-points generated might not be  a good metric on the quality of the solutions. Smith et al. [1981] conjectured that increasing the number of S-points will increase the reduction over the MST. This is reasonable  since every addition of S-point into the tree is meant to reduce the total cost. However, in some applications it is more desirable to reduce the number of S-points. For example, in the case of building roads connecting cities, there might be some costs involved with every road intersection.

(Fu, 1993 p.53)

See answer:

might not be: evaluates results, indicating possible negative implications

This is reasonable: compares the results to other research and evaluates

However: points out possible flaws in current and previous research

might be some costs: identifies possible limitations of the application

Example 4 (School of Geography)

In seasonal terms, the highest average foliar fluoride concentration is found consistently to be in the spring (Appendix X) followed by the winter...the rise in foliar fluoride in spring could be due to the increase in new growth in this season. In many Australian plant species young expanding leaves are more severely injured by gaseous fluoride (Doley,1986a). If the increase in the foliar concentrations in spring is due to environmental conditions and increased fluoride there may be a potential  for greater fluoride damage at this time. The slight increase in the foliar fluoride concentrations in the winter season could be due to  a predominance of westerly winds (Croft & Assoc., 1981) as the two sampling sites are to the east of the smelter... The wind direction in February tends to be from the south and west (Croft& Assoc., 1981) resulting in less exposure to fluoride of those plants to the east of the smelter at this time.

See answer:

Use tentative language when interpreting your results in your Discussion section. Generally tentative language is used to interpret results as one small study is often insufficient for a researcher to be able to make definitive statements but may suggest possible new understandings. In contrast more assertive language (in italics) is used for what is known and generally accepted by the academic community.


You can see from these examples that the writers are:

  • making sure that they evaluate their results;
  • compare them to other research;
  • emphasise the importance of the results;
  • identify limitations of the study.

The writers do this in the following ways:

Words usedExamples
reporting verbsrevealed; emphasise
evaluative languageseveral important points; may be less accurate
tentative languagemight; may be; would be

Exercise 2

Example (School of Geography)

Read each example and decide what is the purpose of the words in bold colour blocks. Then click on the answer to check if your response matches ours.

  • Monitoring data collected between 1986-1993 indicate that...
  • ...fluoride has been shown to reduce growth, vigour and reproductive success in several plant species (Pack & Sulzbach, 1976; Brewer et al., 1960a, 1960b).
  • Pyke (1985) found that ...
  • Ryan (1992) concluded that ...

See answer:

All the verbs are reporting verbs. However there are important differences.

  • 1. indicate is present tense since it is referring to data relevant at the time of writing. The writer's focus is on 'now'. 'Indicate' is also tentative since the word suggests a possibility rather than some confirmed 'fact'.
  • 2. has been shown is present perfect tense and it is used because the writer wants to highlight the ongoing relevance of the past research findings to her current research. Has been shown is a stronger verb and is less tentative than indicate.
  • 3. and 4. found that ... concluded that ... are both past tense. The past tense is used because the research is well established in the field and is no longer disputed.