Conclusions are an important opportunity for you to draw together your key findings and put them into a broad context for your readers. How you approach writing conclusions and how much space in the thesis you devote to conclusions is shaped by disciplinary practice and the type of thesis you are producing. Your conclusion may be fairly short and straightforward, as much discussion of findings has taken place in the individual chapters. Or it may be long and complicated, drawing out conclusions of individual chapters and providing a detailed discussion of these. One study (Bunton, 2005, p. 213) has shown that conclusions in Science/technology disciplines tend to be considerably shorter than those of humanities and social science disciplines.
When drafting your conclusion, refresh your memory by returning to those aims / questions laid out in your introduction. Some writers even begin the writing of the Conclusion by drawing attention to specifically why the research was undertaken. Readers will also find it helpful if you remind them what you had set out to do before proceeding to tell them what you actually achieved.
When reporting on your findings, however, do not merely list or repeat them from the various chapters--Chapter 1 shows, Chapter 2 shows, etc. Doing so gives no insight into the meanings you attach to these findings. Rather, draw together all findings into a coherent whole, and think about the weight and significance you attach to these findings in terms of your research objectives or questions. As not all findings will be equally important, you might want to think about them in terms of a scale of significance. Ask yourself the following questions.
- What do I consider most important about my findings in general and why?
- Which findings seem to be of greater or lesser significance and why?
- Are there any specific findings to which I want to draw particular attention and why?
- Is there anything unusual about any of my findings needing special mention and why?
- Has my methodology or anything else affected my interpretation of findings and is this something that needs to be discussed (e.g. biases inbuilt into the research design)?
- Any other questions important for your particular research?
You might want to explain what you have found in terms of expected or unexpected outcomes in the process of attributing significance. By processing thesis findings in this way, you are bringing them into a new set of relations, telling your reader what it all means.
Drawing out implications
As part of reflecting on what your findings mean, you need to draw out the implications of your findings for the discipline / sub disciplines. In longer theses, it is usual to situate findings in the contexts of past and future research. Contextualising your findings within previous research helps readers to grasp the significance of your research - how your research builds on, and contributes to knowledge. It is also common to see somewhere in PhD Conclusions 'Recommendations for future research' whereby the study's limitations are acknowledged and are presented in a more positive light: what you have learnt can pave the way for future research. Ask yourself these questions.
- To what extent do my findings align with those of other scholars, in what precise ways, and if not why not?
- If certain findings suggest a need for further research, what might this consist of and how might such research extend or improve the current state of knowledge in my field?
- Are there any practical implications (e.g. policy implications) that I need to specifically address?
- What areas / disciplines / sub disciplines does my work contribute to? In what ways?
- Does my work make any methodological or theoretical contributions of note?
The implications of your research project may be complex and variable, leading you into the realm of speculation. Some findings, for example, might appear to have application beyond the parameters of your research, and they may do so. But judicious judgment is called for. Ensure that such speculations are contained within the boundaries of the arguments and discussions developed in the body of your thesis. To emphasise the level of speculation and uncertainty, you can take advantage of more tentative language (e.g. it seems, perhaps, maybe or it could be, possibly / possible, it is likely / unlikely, etc.). In sum, keep your speculations grounded; do not let them float free from these boundaries so that they appear wildly improbable or even questionable.