The second to last step in conducting a research study is to interpret the findings in the Discussion section, draw conclusions, and make recommendations. It is important that everything in this last section is based off of the results of the data analysis. In an empirical research study, the conclusions and recommendations must be directly related to the data that was collected and analyzed. Simply put, look at the key topics in the conclusion and recommendations. If that topic was not precisely assessed by the questionnaire, then you cannot draw a conclusion or make a recommendation about that topic. A paper can only make valid conclusions and recommendations on those variables that the study has empirical data to support.
For example, almost every single paper written in Nigeria that I read recommends that the government should provide more teaching materials and increase the salaries of teachers. However, better instructional materials and adequate pay are rarely even distantly related to the topic of the paper! Draw conclusions and make recommendations only directly related to the purpose and results of the study. Everybody in Nigeria knows that schools need more materials and teachers need higher salaries Draw conclusions and make recommendations that are meaningful, unique, and relate to the results of the study.
Most papers require five different sections for the Discussion, although the order may vary depending on the requirements of the paper. Each section is described separately below.
This section might be called Discussion or it might be called Summary of Findings. The purpose of this section is to highlight the major statistical findings from the results section and interpret them. First, restate the overall purpose of the study. Then explain the main finding as related to the overall purpose of the study. Next, summarize other interesting findings from the results section. Explain how the statistical findings relate to that purpose of the study. One way to do this is to take every research question and hypothesis in turn and explain in plain terms what the statistical results mean. Also describe how the results are related to education in general. All explanations must be supported by the results of the data analysis.
Generally, the Discussion section does not need to include any numbers. No statistics need to be repeated from the results, nor does the discussion need to refer to table numbers. Instead, simply explain the results in language that is easy for a non-researcher to understand.
Also try to integrate the findings into the results of other research studies. An example paragraph from a Discussion section is given below:
This study found that Nigerian teachers have a mix of beliefs regarding early literacy development, some accurate beliefs and other inaccurate beliefs. The teachers sampled in this study were accurate in their agreement about the importance of oral language. Indeed, with the lack of materials often available for early childhood educators in Nigerian classrooms, instruction focused on oral language may be one of the most successful and cost-effective ways of improving early literacy skills. The four instructional strategies previously mentioned - songs, rhymes, and word play; storytelling; circle time; and dramatic play (Roskos et al., 2009) - are relatively easily to implement and require few instructional materials. However, agreeing to the importance of oral language in literacy development is different from having the expertise to effectively teach oral language skills. Additional research needs to be conducted to determine how well early childhood education teachers use instructional strategies that promote oral language in the classroom. Particularly in Africa where high quality reading materials are oftentimes scarce, early childhood teachers need to be well trained in teaching strategies that foster oral language.
Next, give recommendations based on the results of the study. What practical steps can educators take to implement the key findings of the research study? Remember, these recommendations must be supported by the statistical findings from the data analysis. If the statistical results found that a new teaching program improves mathematical exam scores, then the only valid recommendation that can be made is that the new teaching program should be implemented in order to improve exam scores. However, if the data analysis found that the new teaching program does not improve mathematical exam scores, then the researcher cannot conclude that the new teaching program should be implemented, because the program was found to be ineffective in improving exam scores.
Educators can only change their own behavior; they cannot change the government. Therefore, the most beneficial recommendations will be ones that educators themselves can implement.
Below is a sample recommendation. Notice how the first sentence provides the empirical support for the recommendation.
This study found that there is considerable variation in thestudents' judgments of acceptability of ethical study practices, providing evidence that university students are not certain about the right way to study. Thus, teachers need to spend class time educating students about positive, effective study skills. Few students understand and use good study practices without explicit instruction (Weinstein, Meyer, Husman, Van Mater Stone, & McKeachie, 2006). Therefore, direct instruction in study skills is necessary. For example, teachers should instruct their students on how to set goals for their educationlearning as well as instruction on specific study practices such as effectively reading textbooks and studying notes for the exam. When teachers spend the time necessary for teaching study skills, then students will not be uncertain about ethical study practices and will be more prepared for their exams. As Murdock and Anderman (2006) note, students who are confident in their abilities engage in less cheating behaviors.
After the recommendations have been written, reread each recommendation. Consider which statistical result from the results section supports that recommendation. If there is no statistical result to support the recommendation, then it must be canceled.
All studies have limitations in terms of the sample, measurement or manipulation of key variables, and procedure for data collection. This section should report the limitations that resulted from the research methods. How could the research be conducted with a different research design? How may the participants and sampling techniques not be representative of the target population? How might the target population be limited? How were the instruments inadequate? Were there any problems with the treatment? What problems resulted from the study's procedures? What other unexpected problems arose in the data collection?
I frequently read that the study was limited by time, money, or other resources. However, every single research study ever conducted in the history of this world was limited by money, resources, and time. These factors are external to the study and should not be mentionedd.
A sample Limitations section is given below.
One of the limitations of this research study was the constitution of the sample. First, students were not randomly selected from a larger population to participate in the study. Information about the study was sent home with all of the students at Tonganoxie Elementary School. The parents then had to sign and return an informed consent document. This might have biased the sample. However, the teachers at Tonganoxie Elementary School commented that students from a range of ability levels participated in the study. The sample was also relatively homogeneous with mostly Caucasian middle class students who lived in a relatively rural community. Therefore, the results might not generalize to other student populations, particularly those in an urban community or those with greater diversity in ethnicity and social class.
Since the experimenter in the study also authored the paper, the experimenter might have biased students' responses during the task. However, this conclusion was unlikely since the results for the Number Series task were contrary to the original hypothesis. Regardless, a blind administration of the experiment would have been desirable.
A ceiling effect also most likely influenced performance on the Equivalence task, with most students having nearly perfect scores. This effect might have masked differences in performance between the Pictorial and Numeral conditions, particularly in the high ability and second grade samples.
Every research study provides one or two answers about education, but also opens the door for five to ten additional questions. Based on the Discussion/Summary of Findings and Limitations of the study, what additional research should be conducted? What questions arose because of the major finding of your study? How can other research studies improve over the limitations that were described in the Limitations section? A sample of Suggestions for Further Research section is below.
Educational researchers need to continue conducting empirical research to ascertain the factors that contribute to cheating amongst students. First, researchers should identify the types of malpractices that are most frequent amongst students. Second, researchers should determine what types of factors influence students to engage in examination malpractice. Finally, experimental research should be conducted to test various strategies for preventing examination malpractice to determine which strategies are most effective.
The final section of the paper is the Conclusion section. Briefly summarize the overall conclusion of the data analysis based on the purpose of the study. Also explain the importance of the major finding to educational practice. An example conclusion is given below.
Literacy is a fundamental human right (UNESCO, 2006). However, learning how to read is a difficult endeavor that requires competent instructors. This study provided evidence that primary school teachers in Nigeria need additional professional development to improve their beliefs about literacy development so they can be more effective literacy instructors. Only competent, well trained teachers will help Nigerian children develop a high level of literacy that is necessary for being effective in today's world.
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Copyright 2013, Katrina A. Korb, All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2013, Katrina A. Korb, All Rights Reserved