How to write a findings chapter: Help writing findings

Your findings chapter is where you present the data and tell the reader what it all means. Some students and researchers think that to write a findings chapter for a qualitative study you just need to put in some examples from the data and join them together with a little analysis.  However, if you want the highest grade for your dissertation or a PhD thesis you don’t have to resubmit you will have to do better than that. This article aims to give you some valuable tips in completing a qualitative findings chapter.

For the purposes of this article let us assume that you have analysed your data either using Nvivo or perhaps in Microsoft Word and have used codes and memos and now have a set of themes and sub-themes. You may have heard of this as thematic analysis.

Before going any further let us consider some general questions

How much data should I put in my findings chapter?

There is no simple answer to this when you write a findings chapter. I have known PhD researchers use really quite a lot of data (perhaps as much as 30% of the total word count) and have been passed first time. But I also know of cases where the examiner feels that the place for the data is in the appendices and would prefer to see only 10%-15% of the total wordcount as data. If your supervisor or examiner favours quantitative research they are likely to want to see your data in the appendices as this is what quantitative research normally looks like. A qualitative or mixed methods supervisor/ examiner is more likely to be relaxed about seeing actual data in the chapter itself. I guess my best advice must be to take a middle road and stick at 20% data.

Should I discuss the findings or just present them when I write a findings chapter?

Well this is an easier question to answer. If you are writing a separate discussion/ evaluation chapter then your findings chapter will present the findings only. In a 15000 words dissertation with 5 chapters you are likely to combine findings and discussion into one chapter of between 3000 to 5000 words. For an 80,000 word thesis you may have 25,000 words spilt into two or three chapters and then an evaluation/ discussion chapter.

Can I use numbers in a qualitative findings chapter?

If  7 out of 10 of your participants expressed a negative view towards something then this will tell the reader more than  “A majority of readers expressed a negative view of…. “  But only use them if the numbers are clear – if you can clearly see the view of each of the ten. The larger the number of participants the more significant the numbers.

How should I organise my chapter – by themes or by research questions?

This is an important question! If you only have one research question then the answer is easy – organise it by themes. If your discussion is in a separate chapter then organise the findings chapter by themes and the discussion chapter by research questions. If this is your combined findings/ discussion chapter then  I would organise it by research question and within each research question by theme.

How do my paragraphs look in a findings chapter?

Under each subheading you will have one or multple paragraphs. There are two possible structures to a qualitative findings paragraph.

  1. Thesis – evidence – comment and transition. Here the first one or two sentences transition from your previous paragraph, state your next point (or thesis) then introduce your evidence (for example state the question it was answering). After the evidence make a further comment and transition to the next paragraph. Never end the paragraph with the quote.
  2. Context – evidence – thesis. Here you would transition from the previous paragraph, introduce your quote and then state your thesis based on this evidence before transitioning to the next paragraph.

The choice is basically a) your finding (thesis) then evidence to back it up or b) your data (quote) and then the finding you are basing on it. It’s a good idea to see if your supervisor has any strong preference before you begin writing the chapter(s).

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