Chapter 5: Interpretation of the Findings

Goal of the Interpretation of the Findings section:
Situating Your Results in Context of What is Already Known 

Up until now, your role in dissertation writing has been to describe, explain, frame, and analyze what others have done. While your critical analysis was imperative in chapter 2 you never shared your personal opinion. In Chapter 4 you objectively presented the results of your study with no comment on what the results may mean. However, in this section of chapter 5, you get to comment directly about the results of your study. The Interpretation of the Findings section is a critical section—and in my opinion—the most fun to write. Very few people read dissertations from cover to cover, but this is a section that will likely be read more than any other.

Writing the Interpretations of the Findings,

Remember the gaps you worked to carefully to frame back in chapter 2?  Now its time to situate your study results in with the current literature. What insight does your study bring? How does your study confirm, disconfirm, or extend the knowledge of what’s in the literature?

Preparing to write Interpretations of the Findings.

  • Make a list of the major findings of the study; per research question (or data source depending on how you want to discuss the findings) from chapter 4
  • Review the gaps you described in chapter 2

  • Go back to the databases and identify any research done since the proposal oral, add to chapter these to chapter 2 and consider citing them in chapter 5 if appropriate.
  • Organize past research and align with how it relates to your study. (Possibly use a table like the sample below.)
  • Develop bold statements that connect your study to others.
  • Add your own “glue” analysis as to what this “might” mean. Do not go so far as to what you will write in the implications section, but do add your own spin on it (you don’t have to cite…your ideas!!)
RQ #1 Major findings (from chapter 4) Confirm Disconfirm New knowledge (address gap?) Bold statements you may be able to make related to this finding. My inference of what it may mean.

You will likely organize this section by research question, and then address each theme one at a time. Below I share how you might organize the writing in this section related to how your study confirms, disconfirms, or contributes new knowledge.


Its easiest to “see” from your literature review how your study confirms previous studies, and those must be mentioned in this section. Here are some sample sentences of what that might look like.

…which supported previous findings….(CITE)

Similar to [AUTHOR] (YEAR), [AUTHOR] (YEAR), AND [AUTHOR] (YEAR), results in this study confirm [WHAT].


Another way you might place your research in context of the literature, is how it extends what is known. However, it takes more critical thinking and analysis to “see” how your study shows something not previously explained or described in other empirical research. But it is very exciting to be able to make such a claim. Be bold in how you share how your results extend the knowledge. But be careful to not extend beyond what your results show or out of the scope of your study.

As you consider how your study may extend what is known, ask yourself these questions:

Did your study reveal something about the phenomenon not previously discussed in the literature? Do you believe this knowledge to be revealing something new about the phenomenon, why or why not? What might this mean?

Develop your own ideas on why this theme might have emerged now and not previously. Is it because the conceptual framework helped shed light on this topic in a new way? Is it the first time this population has been studied, so it reveals that there might be difference when compared to other groups? Or might it be that because of technology and new innovations changes are occurring within the phenomenon itself?

While discussing how your results may extend the knowledge, you do need to remind your reader what is already known. You will likely grab sentences from your gap paragraphs in chapter 2. The same templates I provide in the blog post titled, Identifying the Gap can be used here in this section, only you will be able to declare HOW your study fills the gap. Here are some sample sentences you may write in sharing how your results extend the literature.

While some studies found [WHAT] (cite), and [WHAT] (cite), results from this study found [WHAT]. This may expand what is understood about [PHENOMENON] and add to the understanding of the gap [HOW].

This element of the phenomenon was not a theme identified in the literature, which may be directly related to the lack of research of [POPULATION].

This may highlight new understanding about [PHENOMENON] and may mean [YOUR INTERPRETATION].

It would appear that there may be some truth to the suspicions of [ELEMENT OF THE PHENOMENON] identified in both scholarly research [AUTHOR, YEAR] and in secondary resources [AUTHOR, YEAR].

Therefore this study extends what is known about [PHENOMENON].

While literature highlighted this theme in [POPULATION 1] (CITE), with [POPULATION 2] (CITE), and with [POPULATION 3] (CITE), this study results indicate that it might also be true with [YOUR POPULATION].

None of these strategies were identified in the literature and present a new contribution to the understanding of [WHAT].

This theme has not previously been identified in the literature. A possible reason for this may be [WHAT].

Conceptual Framework

It is critical that the conceptual framework (CF) be addressed in this Interpretation of the Findings section. Work with your chair on how to best do that. If your central research question includes the conceptual framework piece, you’ll discuss it in its own section. If your related research questions are aligned with elements of your CF be sure to overtly spend time on relating that question in context of the CF.

However, do be sure that all interpretations do not extend the study’s findings or scope. Avoid over generalized statements about your results and avoid sweeping statements.

In writing the Interpretations of the Findings section of Chapter 5, you may also want to review the following blog posts:



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