Reading time: 3 minutes - The Discussion Section of a Lab Report is where you can really separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

Here we talk about three main ways people make mistakes and end up staying with the pack, and how to avoid making these mistakes altogether.

Error 1/3

The Error: More Waffle than a Waffle Shop

From the Abstract to the Results, you have been crisp, clear, concise, and frankly, you’ve been a goshdarn genius.

For some unexplained reason, people forget to be crisp, clear and concise in the Discussion. If anything, it becomes soggy, waffly, and long.

This error is a bit vague but is so important. Don’t drop your standards for the Discussion Section. This is still an academic Lab Report. We’re still doing Science here.

Remember to have really good starting sentences to your paragraphs that explain what is going to be in that paragraph. For example:

“There are three main limitations to the current study.”

Now that is crisp. It structures the work, too.

It is a little scary how many students forget to have paragraphs in the Discussion Section. It keeps us up at night.

Let us get some sleep - structure the work.

Add in some punchy, direct sentences with one point contained in each sentence, and you’re back on track.

Keep your standards high. You want the work to finish well, rather than leaving your marker with a sour taste.

Goshdarn is a word, right?

Error 2/3

The Error: Missing the Opportunity to Get in Some Fantastic Citations

It’s an obvious error not to have any citations in your Discussion Section. You probably know that much, right?

However, many students miss golden opportunities to stick some nobel-prize-winning citations in their Discussion Sections.

Here’s a golden opportunity in a study about how sweaty people get during exercise:

“The lack of temperature control in the study was a limitation. This probably affected the main dependent variable.”

If you can’t see how that opportunity train just stormed on past, let us show you what could have been done instead:

“The lack of temperature control in the study was a limitation. Temperature changes of even one degree celcius have been shown to increase sweat output in participants by up to 45% (Ashcroft, 2013).”

As you can see, it’s such a simple point, so it’s such an easy citation to find, and yet it makes the limitation section go from okay to have a PhD now you scientific wizard.

Look for opportunities and you will see them in the Discussion Section. Everywhere.

Error 3/3

The Error: Forgetting to Have a Watertight Narrative (Being a Bit ‘Leaky’)

Your Discussion Section is not an island after the Results Section. It needs to fit together with not just the Results, but the Introduction and Methods Sections as well.

People sometimes don’t even mention the information in the Introduction. If you cited studies saying that cats can’t jump backwards, and you’ve just discovered a cat that can jump backwards, you absolutely need to be citing those previously mentioned studies and start discussing why you got different results.

If there’s a citation in the Introduction, there’s a high likelihood that it will be mentioned again in the Discussion Section. This is normal, and quite expected.

The narrative can also go a bit funny when the Methods Section is forgotten. Students can occasionally come up with limitations about an area of research or a general idea, or start evaluating other people’s studies, yet they don’t evaluate their own study.

The Results can also be forgotten in the Discussion Section, believe it or not. It is sometimes the case that students will be so caught up in evaluating their study that they forget to really interpret what was found in the Results.

Keep the narrative of the Discussion Section absolutely watertight with the rest of the Lab Report. It should fit seamlessly with the Abstract, Introduction, Methods and Results.

Don’t get stuck with the pack. The Discussion Section is your opportunity to shine. So, take it!

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Sam and Brad

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