My PhD discussion chapter: How that went

19 Nov

In my previous post around July time (really?! that long ago?!), I spoke about how I planned to tackle my discussion chapter and said I would come back to let you know how it went. So here I am.

Basically, everything I said I planned to do, I pretty much did. I also added an extra (highly significant) bullet point to those working headings (thank you @MarkHayter): ‘What is my contribution to knowledge?’

On the whole, this strategy worked well for me and as if by magic (ahem!), draft one of my discussion chapter was created. That said, it certainly wasn’t a breeze by any stretch of the imagination. Some parts were easier and more enjoyable than others. The two bullet points I found most challenging to get down on paper were:

• ‘What was congruent with the literature?’
• ‘What was surprising?’

This was not because I didn’t know the answer to them – I actually did, thanks to the flip chart paper strategy. Rather, it was more around how much to discuss and how I could ‘hang it’. For example, there was a lot of wider risk perception literature I could potentially draw upon in relation to my findings, but struggled with knowing how much to put in. I also questioned whether I should just write everything in one big section or if there should be headings and/or subheadings, and if so what they should be?

After spending so much time (and a few disturbed sleeps) grappling with this and not making much headway, I just wrote. By the time I had finished, it was just one big section (over 35 pages long). Not surprisingly, it was a real struggle to read and make sense of. So from that, I tried thematically organising it and allocated the themes to some rather random subheadings. Although this was slightly better (only because the subheadings seemed to give the reader a little breather in between sections), I was left with a very large section talking about everything I possibly could, which didn’t seem as connected to my findings as I knew they should be. At that point, because I had spent so much time on it, it got to the stage where I couldn’t see the wood from the trees, so I left it as it was, popped it in my draft thesis and sent it off to my supervisors.xx

Then something lovely happened…I gave myself a 2 week (guilt free) PhD break. Oh my, it was just wonderful! I spent time with my family, chilled out a bit and increased my time at the gym. As a result, I’m now hooked on those ridiculously crazy mad INSANITY classes!

So this week, I had supervision to get feedback from my draft thesis. One of my supervisors always begins by asking me what I think of the work I’ve submitted to them. Although I’ve always found that question challenging, more often than not, we generally tend to agree on my evaluation (although I’m usually more critical than he is, which is nice). We agreed on most parts of the thesis (thankfully nothing major) and I was delighted to hear that both supervisors enjoyed reading it.

My evaluation of my discussion chapter was:

  • I didn’t think it flowed as well as it could
  • I didn’t feel it connected to my findings in the way that it should
  • There was so much in there that at times I felt it read like an extension of my literature review

Both my supervisors agreed entirely and also added:

  • My main arguments seemed at bit lost at times
  • My recommendations were too broad
  • My limitations section was too self-critical and not situated in the best place (It was near the end which seemed a little negative to finish with)

None of this was a surprise therefore I happily embraced this feedback (given in the nicest possible way).  It’s actually taken me just over 5 years not to take criticism personally! The three of us then engaged in an in-depth discussion and debate as we shared thoughts, ideas and concepts. By the time we had finished, I knew exactly what I needed to do to address these issues.

I’m actually now looking forward to revisiting my discussion chapter and of course making minor revisions to the rest of my thesis so it can be submitted. I swear this surprisingly upbeat attitude has been helped by having that 2 week break from it by the way.

Reflecting on the discussion I had with my supervisors and the advice offered, for me, there are four main factors which have given me the direction I need to move forward:

  1. Less is more! In the largest section of my discussion (findings in relation to the wider literature), I had way too much stuffed it and I talked about things that didn’t really link with what I found. Yes, a lot of it was interesting (well maybe just some of it), but not really relevant.
  2. Use subheading which will align with findings: I spent so much time thinking of subheadings for this literature-related section so I could ‘hang’ it on to something, that I ended up choosing some pretty random (and strangely odd) ones. A conceptual framework had inductively emerged from my findings so why deviate from that? I did because for some reason I felt I had to. This was actually the ideal structure for me to hang my main discussion part onto.
  3. Condense and signpost: I had a sizable section called ‘summary of findings’, then later in the chapter after I had critically examined the literature, I had another sizable section called ‘answering my research questions’. The summary of my findings and answering my research questions were effectively the same (just written using different words). Just zzzzzzz!
  4. Make implications for policy and practice clear and specific: I had too many, very broad implications which kind of left you with ……and?

So, in a nutshell I feel pretty good about doing this last push – but I’m not going to rush it. As I am doing this PhD part time and it’s an incredibly busy time in my full time job, I’m allowing myself 6 weeks for a final edit (this includes a final critical read for spelling and grammar, courtesy of a very kind (and pernickety) colleague. This PhD has been a massive part of my life for over 5 years, so I don’t want to rush submission until I am absolutely sure I have done all that I can (for the sake of a few weeks). Most of all, I want so badly to pass!


Thanks for dropping in again. Perhaps if you have similar issues, my experience may help (or not!). How are things going with your discussion chapter? Does anything here resonate with you or are you facing different challenges? I would very much like to hear of other people’s experiences 🙂


9 Responses to “My PhD discussion chapter: How that went”

  1. cpddonnapeach November 19, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks for this blog Emma, I’m only at the stage of beginning to plan the structure of my chapter and your thoughts and experiences are really helpful. Best of luck with the rest of your journey. Donna 🙂

    • Emma Burnett November 20, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      Hi Donna. Thank you for your comments and encouragement. Good luck with your discussion chapter and I shall look forward to hearing how it goes. I’ll be looking out for your twitter posts! This is when I started realising that I could actually do this! 🙂

  2. Shubhashnee Subryan November 20, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    Like you, Emma, I have finished the first draft of my thesis and received feedback from my supervisors. Their comments to me were similar to yours, especially my discussion chapter. I am in the process of editing and I find it bewildering especially those comments that I cannot follow. Good luck! I hope to finish this draft within six weeks as well providing I don’t have too many distractions.

    • Emma Burnett November 20, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      Thank you for dropping in Shubhashnee. We are at the exact same place! I agree that some comments are difficult to follow, although I am mindful that my supervisors always say to me that their comments are suggestions or things for me to think further about rather a ‘must do’ instruction. I find this very helpful. Good luck with your editing and please do keep in touch – it will be good to know how you get on over the next 6 weeks. 🙂

  3. Aver January 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. I am in the process of writing my discussion chapter and I have literally been staring at a blank page wondering what discussion means?! I’m here wishing I read your first blog post on starting the discussion chapter 3 months ago…oh well!! This is very helpful though…I hope to be done with this chapter sooner than later.

    • Emma Burnett January 25, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

      You are very welcome Aver. Glad it helped. Good luck with writing this chapter

  4. Linda Shaker May 20, 2017 at 9:07 am #

    This is so funny Emma! I am at the stage of writing my final discussion. I was sitting there staring at my blank page so thought about looking online for some tips… and here pops your blog! Very helpful!! Hope to see you in June:)

    • Emma Burnett May 21, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

      Ha ha, it’s a small world! Good to hear from you Linda and brilliant news that you are at the stage of writing your final discussion. I hope my blog post helped you. I definitely will look forward to seeing you in June x


  1. Writing the PhD discussion chapter: from fear to flight | the édu flâneuse - April 18, 2015

    […] blog posts which helpfully explained how she planned to approach her discussion chapter and also what she actually did. These kinds of explications by PhD candidates are useful material for others as they approach […]

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