Manuscript Tips: the Discussion

The following is the next installment in a series on writing for publication from Kris Greiner, editor in the Design Center. Explore her suite of editing services.

As perhaps the most important section of a manuscript—whether a case report, bench-side experiment, or a comprehensive meta-analysis—the discussion section generally requires the most time and effort.

Although a discussion of your work should be as concise as possible, be sure to fully cover a number of points.

  • Start the discussion with why your work contributes to the general problem addressed, whether rare findings in a clinical case or an overview of a subject. How does your work benefit others? What knowledge gaps have been addressed? Try not to repeat the introduction section but restate the issue that was explored and what your general findings reveal.
  • Don’t repeat results, but remind readers of the most important findings in order to describe their meaning or present your interpretation.
  • Be honest about unexpected or even negative results. If you aimed to prove a hypothesis and your studies didn’t do so, this is still potentially helpful to others. Reason through an unexpected finding as well as how this may yet fill knowledge gaps.
  • Interpret your findings without ego. Being a bit humble about your work will let readers (and journal reviewers) know that you are able to look at your results objectively. Be careful and certain with concrete statements such as “this is the first description of . . . .” Soften these types of statement with “to our knowledge.” Justify your approach and stand by your results, but don’t be afraid to list limitations.
  • Relate your findings to other studies or accepted principles. Show how your work is different from others’ findings, or solidifies or contradicts what is already known, and what that means to readers. Don’t get caught up in citing too many other sources, but do provide comparisons to other relevant works.
  • Wrap up a discussion section with a few general statements of further research you feel is needed, including your own future studies, and include a final “take-home” statement or two.

As always, feel free to contact me with any manuscript questions at

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