Some Reflections on “Data Interpretation and Discussion”

By: Elliot López; Hilca Nieves; Clara Abad; Jorge R. Ortiz (Luquillo LTER)

Data interpretation and discussion is probably the most important part of the research project as it describes the relevance of the results in relation to your main research question. For example:

What were your statistical results? Were they significant? What does that mean in terms of your experiment?

Do the results agree with your expectations? If not, how do you explain why?

Do you know that for sure? Under what conditions could you be surer?

What is the best ecological or biological interpretation for the pattern in your data?

Do you need more evidence to know if your explanation is valid?

Do your results explain what you wanted to know?

What new questions do you have?

Discuss what in the research did not go well.

What are the limitations of your study?

You should also stress the relevance of your research findings to society in general. You may want to address the following questions:

1. How does your research findings relate to any particular ecosystem service (for example: water quality, air temperature, air quality, biodiversity, recreation, natural products, etc.) Click here to find out more about ecosystem services.

2. Does your results agree with popular cultural believes such as beneficial properties of plants and animals (ethnobotany)?

3. How are your results relevant (directly or indirectly) to other biological communities through the food chains?

4. What is the relationship between your results and the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus or water?

5. Can these impacts be reverted? How?

6. Should existing laws or regulations be amended based on your research results?

7. Is there a particular NGO or community that could use your new data?

In addition, you will need to establish how your results compare with published research. For example:

Does your research agree or disagree or else complement published research? You should look at published references such as books, journal articles, newspapers, etc. Make sure that you cite these references properly. For example, after citing information published in a Biology textbook published by Wadsworth in 2004 you should write: “(Wadsworth 2004)”. The complete citation will be shown in your bibliography at the end of your paper. 

After discussing any of the issues described above, the writer will draw the main conclusions of the study. These should be short and precise statements that answer directly your research question. These statements must be justified with the data that were collected.