How do I relate my findings to the research literature?
In your thesis you will have to present an argument, or rather a set of arguments, about the significance of your results, about any limitations or problems of your research design or implementation and consequent proposals for future work. This calls on your skills as a researcher to interpret the results you have obtained and to locate them in the context of existing research. Reference to the research literature usually occurs in the Discussion section of a thesis based on empirical research and generally includes the following components. (NB This is not a fixed order, nor are all of the elements necessarily included in all theses).
- Background information
- Statement of result
- (Un)expected outcomes
- Reference to previous research (comparison)
- Explanation of unexpected result
- Deduction (a claim about the generalisability of particular findings)
- Hypothesis (a more general claim arising from the results)
- Reference to previous research (support)
(from Hopkins and Dudley-Evans, 1988)
Thus, there are two reasons for referring to the research literature. First, you need to compare your results with those reported previously. This allows you to show how your findings reflect, contradict or extend previous research. Second, when you are generalising from your findings, you can use the existing literature to support the deductions or hypotheses arising from your research.