Writing the Findings

Wall climb

Success is perseverance. One step at a time. Never giving up. Whatever cliche gets you by.  The most productive people I know are the ones who keep going.

Mini pep talk completed, now back to the how part of this blog. Once you pass your proposal defense, you’ll conduct your research. Since this step is very specific to the individual project, I will defer to your adviser on the specifics of doing the analysis.  My general advice is to set and meet your deadlines, be organized, and don’t cut corners.

I will also stick to an overview for how to write the Findings/Results section.

Five Tips for Writing the Findings/Results
1. Organize this part according to your research questions and methodology, incorporating appropriate terminology.
2. Start with an introductory paragraph setting up the section.
3.  Use headers and subheads to guide the readers.
4. Your voice and words should lead the way, not your examples.  Avoid the “river of tangents” in which you get so far from your RQs that readers forget the topic.
5. Be specific in your examples, while focusing on relevant detail.


The Sandwich Approach to Writing Your Findings sandwich

Textual analysis is not summary or synthesis of a text. The difference is in how you write-up your findings section. While there are many different ways to do this (your methodology determines your structure), here is a general guide for structuring the findings for discourse, framing, and narrative analysis.  “Bread” refers to your words. Just like a sandwich, you need your words to structure your findings and guide the reader. Examples are your “fixings.”  Meat, cheese, and veggies are great, but without the bread, it’s a big mess and not a sandwich.  Introduce examples as relevant, not as a way to fill space on the page.


Overall paragraph reminding us what you did and what you’ve identified. You should identify your discourses/frames here.

Discourse/Frame #1

  1. State it and define it (the “bread”)
  2. Give relevant examples (your “fixings”)
  3. End the section with your words (the “bread”).

Discourse/Frame #2

  1. State it and define it (the “bread”)
  2. Give relevant examples (your “fixings”)
  3. End the section with your words (the “bread”).

Discourse/Frame #3

  1. State it and define it (the “bread”)
  2. Give relevant examples (your “fixings”)
  3. End the section with your words (the “bread”).


How to give examples without oversummarizing:

  • Use the sandwich approach so you have a clear purpose for each example. Otherwise, your summary can get away from you.
    • Weak example from the show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: In the episode “Bite Me,” the CSIs investigate the death of a woman who was found dead on the stairs.  They go to the scene and find a bloody paper towel in the garbage.  They check the bedrooms.  Then they begin conducting interviews. . . . . .
    • An improved example from CSI:

                   Adultery Leads to Murder
                  CSI storylines convey that cheating on one’s spouse can increase one’s chance of                     victimization. In the episode “Bite Me,” infidelity leads to a woman’s murder after                  her stepdaughter, Susan, discovers her affair. When CSIs interview Susan, she                        confesses, explaining her actions with “She was going to leave [her father],” as a                   CSI flashback shows the girl finding her stepmother in bed with another man.                         Another episode conveys a similar message. NEXT EXAMPLE HERE.  Overall, CSI                  narratives repeatedly connect infidelity to murder.

  • With fiction, introduce characters as needed and in the most succinct way possible.
    • Weak example from the show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Sara Sidle is an investigator. She was in love with Gil Grissom, but hid it from him. Later, they start dating and move in together. . . .
    • An improved example: CSI Sara Sidle interviewed the suspect.
    • In other words, what do we need to know to understand the example? Only give details as relevant to the examples needed to support the discourse/frame.
  • Use direct quotations when it is relevant.
  • Write out your examples and then see where you can cut them down.


What’s in a Discussion (and what’s not)

The Discussion section is where you contextualize, explain, and give purpose to your findings/results.  It is here that you tell readers why the signs/signifiers/discourses/themes/frames (etc.) matter. To begin structuring your Discussion, start with a bulleted list of your findings/results. So if your first finding was “breastfeeding is depicted as a private activity,” then your first discussion point should analyze why breastfeeding was depicted as a private activity and why, bringing in existing literature to support your findings and the implications. Every theme and point should have an explanation.

Once you’ve outlined your discussion points, write up the section in essay form, again, relating your analysis to the secondary literature on your topic. Do not introduce new ideas in this section. Rather, use the existing research to expand upon and explain your findings.

Limitations and Implications for Further Research

Ah, the limitations. A downtrodden view is that this is the part of the thesis in which you firmly state what your work does not accomplish. Or, framed in a more positive way, this section lays out what is beyond the scope of your paper. It is fine, normal, and reasonable that you have limitationsAll studies have limitations.  Having a limitations section just means that you are aware that you couldn’t do everything in your one studies.

How do you write the limitations? First, clearly remind the readers what you did do—in terms of scope, method, sample, timeframe, and other relevant information. Next, take the reader through different ways to approach your same topic.

So if you did a content analysis of educational video games, you would acknowledge that you used a quantitative method of a particular type of text. You did not do qualitative research, audience studies, or analyze other video game genres.

This brings me to the next part of this section. The more uplifting portion in which you outline possibilities for extending your current work. This is good. You want your study to set up further studies on the same time.  For the video game example, you might write “Further research could analyze the educational video games using qualitative analysis.  In addition to educational video games, role-playing games may provide insight into [phenomenon studied]. Studies could also explore how various audiences interpret the textual messages in the games. Such reception research is important to understanding how messages in video games are encoded and decoded.”

Layout a few different paths, but no need to go overboard.

Well done so far! You are almost there.

Revision Land

You thought the post after the Conclusion would be on the defense, didn’t you? Ha! Sorry for the disappointment, but you don’t just get to jump from the draft to the finish line.  Don’t get me wrong—it is an accomplishment to complete the first full thesis manuscript.  Some people never make it to this stage.  That said, you have rounds of revision to undergo before your thesis is ready for the defense.

Hopefully, you’ve been in close communication with your thesis adviser this whole time and you’ve already revised the first half of the thesis based on feedback from the proposal defense. If not, do that first. And if your adviser has critiqued other sections, make sure you’ve corrected those as well (I prefer to look at a draft of the Findings section by itself). Once all feedback has been addressed, it’s time to send your first full draft to your adviser.

Give your adviser 1-2 weeks to read the draft.  We are busy people and we care about our students so we need the time to read it and give you feedback.  It’s fine to check up on your adviser after about a week if you haven’t heard anything.  This email should be more to the tune of “Hi Dr. _____, just making sure you’ve received my thesis. Thanks!” and definitely not “S’up, First Name, why haven’t you read my thesis yet?”

When you receive your thesis feedback, brace yourself.  Criticism is not easy for anyone.

Some points to keep in mind about your revisions

  • Take a deep breath. If you need to just glance at the feedback briefly and then come back later to do the work, that’s fine.
  • Recognize that everyonehas to do revisions. The more revising you do now, the more smoothly the defense will go.
  • If your thesis isn’t as marked up as expected, it may be because your adviser wants you to focus on particular changes for this round and save more detailed changes for later (i.e. if your adviser spots some organizational issues, it makes sense to have you fix the structure of the thesis before highlighting grammatical problems).
  • Address everynote, question, and mark-up from your adviser (and your committee). Your revised draft should not include any of the issues from the last round of revision. If you don’t understand something, ask!
  • I will say it again, revise everything! Nothing is more frustrating than rereading a thesis with the same issues that I commented on in a previous draft. It feels like the student doesn’t care and doesn’t value my time.
  • Revise everything your committee members suggest. You also don’t want your committee thinking that you don’t care and that you don’t value their time.
  • Visit the Writing Center on campus. The folks there can help you with your writing and give you support.
  • Push through and complete the revisions! You can do it!
  • Don’t be surprised if there are more revisions. Most students go through multiple rounds with their adviser before the thesis moves to the committee.

Thesis Defense: The Final Frontier

You’re almost there! One step at a time.

Your thesis adviser makes the call about when your defense will be.  You should communicate the timeline, but don’t demand that it’s time to defend. To graduate in a particular semester at MTSU, you must defend by about mid-way through the semester (October for Fall and March for Spring graduations).  With these tight deadlines, it’s best to plan to defend your thesis proposal in the semester before you intend to graduate.  Doing so will set you up to have a draft of your full thesis by the first month or so of the semester, building in time for revisions and for your adviser to read and provide feedback.  It also accounts for time to meet with committee members and get their feedback on sections relating to their expertise.

After rounds of revision, you will reach that blessed moment in which your adviser gives the greenlight for the defense.  Go over your thesis one more time, making sure that you are adhering to all of the university’s guidelines—pagination, margins, etc. Be diligent in this task.  Don’t rush through or assume you did things right.  Now is the time to check the formatting.

At this point, you and your adviser will have the arduous task of arranging an hour in which the whole committee can meet and a conference room is available.  I believe that scheduling the thesis is almost as much of an accomplishment than finishing the first draft.

With the thesis defense scheduled, you can begin your preparation.  I recommend meeting with your adviser for a pep talk and further guidance.  You should also read your thesis and create a PowerPoint presentation to deliver at the defense. Plan to present for about 12-15 minutes.

Tips for your presentation

  • Limit the text on each slide.
  • Don’t add annoying animations or other distractions (i.e. weird font colors, hard-to-read font, sound effects).
  • Incorporate relevant images. If you studied a TV show, I want to see images of that show in your presentation.
  • Follow the thesis structure to set up your presentation, keeping in mind that the second half of the thesis is your contribution to the field (in other words, don’t spend more than a few minutes setting up your study).
  • Back up your presentation and store in multiple places. Don’t assume the WiFi will be working.
  • Remember, you are the expert on your topic. That said, don’t talk down to your committee.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

For your actual defense, get dressed up.  It’s not a Black Tie affair, but we should be able to tell that you tried and that you care.  You spent 2+ years getting to this moment. It is a big deal.  Bring copies of the thesis signature page to the defense.