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This question is about structure of scientific texts. This can be master thesis or published journal article.

The Disucssion section: Is there a reasonable rule why the discussion of results comes before the discussion of methods?

I often see this in published articles and I argue about that with my professor. But no one gave me a reason for this - not even a bad reason.

In my opinion the order should be different: Discussion of the methods first and then the discussion about results. The reason is that I need to see the results and their value/weight in the light of the methods they are obtained.

I am asking here because I am naive and optimistic and think there is a reason why all journals and professionals do it that way. I don't want to modify their opinion. I just want to know why they do.

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  • Just to clarify, you are asking about the discussion itself, which follows a standalone methods section and a standalone results section, correct?
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 19:18
  • This question is answered by the journal. Some journals such as Nature specifically require methods to come after. Some require that the methodology come first. Others leave it to the authors to decide. For theses, that will also depend on the department, committe, advisor and/or student.
    – user63725
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 0:34

2 Answers 2

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In short: the assumption that the discussion of results always comes before the discussion of methods is wrong. There are no rules.

The purpose of a separate results and discussion section is to keep facts clearly separated from opinions/interpretation. What happens inside the discussion section depends on your writing style and the content/goal of the paper.

For example

  • if your paper presents new methods there is no difference between the discussion of results and the discussion of methods
  • if the uncertainty in the measurement methods may have affected the results, methods and results are discussed at the same time

A possible reason to discuss results first might be that readers are most interested in the results. Unless your paper is about the method itself an expert in the field probably knows the methods already. But as said, there are no rules.

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  • btw: I wouldn't agree to your first example. The methode you used to come to the method (as a result) need to be desribed separate from the methode (as a result) itself. ;)
    – buhtz
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 12:27
  • I think you misunderstand. There is always a separate methods section. The question (and my answer) are about what happens in the discussion section.
    – Louic
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 13:07
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In many cases, the methods are not especially surprising. Often, an experienced researcher would be able to guess more or less the general method just based on the question, and only needs to check the methods section if they want to know specific details.

When speed-reading papers to see if they are worth looking into more deeply, it's common to read introduction, results and discussion only. Pushing the methods towards the back (or even to an online-only expanded version like Nature does) accommodates this. Nobody but the most interested reader will slog through a boring description of exactly how many times an hour you pipetted which brand of solution where. The discussion will hopefully raise the relevant points of how the methods influenced the results already.

An in-depth reader would go over the paper several times, so at that point the order of the methods and results section will matter little - they will flip back and forth to compare specific points.

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