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Empirical Research: Defining, Identifying, & Finding

What is empirical research, how do you recognize it, and how can you improve your searches to find it?


The Discussion Section

The Discussion section is where the author(s) explain the results. They will talk about how the research answered, or failed to answer, the research question. They will address how the outcomes filled gaps in the research, how they might be applied more broadly, how the study's results may have limitations, and discuss new questions that came up in the course of the research. 

What Criteria to Look For

The Discussion is where the authors will most likely discuss how to generalize from their research to other samples and situations. 

Finding the Criteria

The Discussion section will have a "Discussion" heading fairly consistently. However, many articles may also have additional headings or subheadings in the Discussion section. Where the information on generalization is located may vary based on which headings the author(s) decide to use. 

What Headings to Look Under

  • Discussion
    • General heading for the section. If this is the only heading, there should be discussion of generalization here. 
    • If there are additional headings, the discussion of generalization may be in those headings or spread across multiple headings including the general discussion heading.
  • Conclusion or Summary
    • Final overview of the research. 
    • Likely some mention of how to generalize from the results. 
  • Implications or Applications
    • Where the author(s) will discuss how the research results affects the understanding of the topic or how it could be used in practice.
    • If this section exists, there is likely discussion of generalization here.
  • Limitations
    • Will explain any weaknesses in the study's design or sample that would make the research results less usable. 
    • The author(s) will likely discuss how to not generalize the results in this section.
  • Future Research or Future Directions
    • The author(s) will identify possible research projects to follow up with this research.
    • May discuss how to address issues from Limitations that would improve generalization. 


  • Abásolo & Tsuchiya (2020)
    • Has a single heading for "Discussion" beginning on page 93.
    • Final paragraph on on page 95 discusses how the results of the study might be generalized and applied at a larger community level after noting possible limitations in the study. 
  • Diemer et al. (2019)
    • Discussion section begins on page 545, which include the headings "Discussion," "Policy and Practice Implications," "Limitations and Future Directions," and "Summary and Conclusions."
    • Each section addresses what evidence the study does, or does not, provide for larger debates on the subject.