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Genres in academic writing: Research report discussions

The main purpose of the discussion is to show that the results lead clearly to the conclusion being drawn. This may include any limitations that might cause problems with any claims being made as well as any possible explanations for these results.

Research Report Discussions

The discussion section of the report takes a broad view of the research and puts it in a wider context. The discussion section moves from the narrow specific focus of the research to a more general view. It must clearly show how the results found lead to the conclusions being drawn and therefore how these conclusions should be understood. This should include any limitations that might cause problems with any claims being made as well as any possible explanations for these results.

The elements included in the discussion section text and the order in which they are presented may differ from department to department. However, the list in the following box is typical and provides you with a good model (adapted from: Weissberg & Buker, 1990, p. 138; Hopkins & Dudley-Evans, 1988; Swales & Feak, 1994).


  • a reference to the main purpose of the study
  • a generalised review of the most important findings - summary of results
  • possible explanations for the findings in general
  • comparison with expected results and other studies
  • limitations of the overall study that restrict the extent to which the findings can be generalised
  • conclusions of the dicussion section



Read the following example of part of a discussion  section from the field of computer assisted language learning and teaching. The study investigated the use of the World-Wide-Web for teaching writing in a British university. Identify the information elements you find in each sentence of the selection. (NOTE: Some sentences may contain more than one element.)

Use Of A Writing Web-Site By Pre-Masters Students On An English for Academic Purposes Course.

A. J. Gillett, University of Hertfordshire


1The purpose of the study was to investigate whether Students in Higher Education on an EAP writing course would benefit from computer assisted instruction. 2The findings clearly suggest that they do. 3The students who took part in the computer assisted element of the writing course outperformed those who followed the traditional course in every aspect as shown by their performance on the University of Hertfordshire Writing test. 4They showed particular strengths in the task achievement element of the assessment, suggesting that the computer assisted materials really help the students to understand and focus on the purpose of their writing.   5It also seems to be the case that the individually directed nature of the on-line materials helps the students to focus on their own specific needs as well as allowing them to access their materials in their own time. 6Another reason for the success of the materials may be that it allows students to spend more time on the course than is normally the case in a classroom based programme.   7This supports and adds to the findings of Jones & Smith (1997) and Harris (2002), who showed similar results for an on-line grammar course. 8This study has taken a step in the direction of justifying the inclusion of web-based materials in EAP writing courses for post-graduates on English language preparation course. 9It did however look at a narrow range of subject areas -  mainly business, computer science, engineering life-sciences  and law - taken by students from only a few countries - particularly China, Japan , Korea and Thailand. 10It may be the case that students from other countries intending to study different subjects - for example, medicine or humanities  - would not benefit in the same way. 11It is also not clear whether younger students such as students preparing for undergraduate programmes would succeed to the same extent. 12The approach outlined in this study should be replicated with other students in other subject areas, as well as at other levels in order to be able to recommend the use of on-line materials for all students in all subject areas.


Identify the information elements you find in each sentence of the text.

Sentence 1
Sentence 2
Sentence 3
Sentence 4
Sentence 5
Sentence 6
Sentence 7
Sentence 8
Sentence 9
Sentence 10
Sentence 11
Sentence 12





See: Rhetorical Functions: Describing Function


See: Rhetorical Functions: Generalisations


See: Rhetorical Functions: Expressing Certainty

Comparing and Contrasting

See: Rhetorical Functions: Comparing & Contrasting

Arguing and Discussing

See: Rhetorical Functions: Arguing & Discussing

Reasons & Explanations

See: Rhetorical Functions: Reasons and Explanations


See: Rhetorical Functions: Limitations

Referring to Theory

See: Rhetorical Function: Using Theory

Referring to Previous Research

See: Rhetorical Functions: Using Previous Research


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