6. Implications, Conclusions and Recommendations

While your data analysis will need to analyze every questions asked, discussing such things as statistical significance and correlations, when you are ready to draw conclusions, you will have to determine what the main findings of your report really are. Not everything is worthy of being re-discussed when drawing conclusions. It is quite likely that the reader or readers of the final report have not spent much time thinking about the research, but want to understand quickly without having to read every last bit of analysis and data manipulation.

The final chapter of the research report must bring the research together and provide an interpretation of the results, written in language that is commonly understood even by managers who may not be well versed in statistical analysis, a summary of the critical conclusions of which management or any other specific audience needs to be aware, and strategic recommendations based on the findings of the research.

In more commercial reports the analysis of the data and the interpretation of the results may well go hand in hand, with only those findings directly relevant to the study objectives being discussed. Only summary tables and charts are part of the write-up. In these cases, the detailed analysis and a comprehensive set of tables and charts are usually confined to a technical report.

Interpreting Results

In the Data Analysis, the results for each question in the survey were discussed along with the appropriate statistical analysis and an illustration in the form of a table or chart. As part of the interpretation of the results, you need to go back to the findings previously discussed and interpret them in light of the subproblems you posed as part of your research question. This subproblem interpretation is based on the results of each research item. Whereas in the data analysis you only identify the results without editorializing or commenting on them, now we are ready to draw conclusions about the data.

As part of the interpretation, you will want to place your results in the context of your literature review. That is to say, to what extent do you have an explanation why other researchers might have reached different conclusions, or even what the implications are of your data pointing to similar results. Since your literature review drove the development of your hypotheses, it is logical that you would discuss whether hypotheses tested positive or negative as part of your interpretation.

In more commercial research reports, the data analysis and their interpretation are usually presented together; in more academic reports they are separated into two chapters (four and five), with the first one discussing only the direct conclusions based on presentations of numbers, percentages and other hard data, and the second one interpreting the work presented in Chapter four. However, because they are so closely related, it is a good idea to prepare and write these two chapters in parallel, even for academic reports.

Summarizing Conclusions

Summarizing conclusions is a two-step process, whereby

  1. you review the conclusions of all the hypotheses, and from these conclusions
  2. you draw overall conclusions for the research question itself.

These conclusions are usually listed numerically, and then further discussed one by one. The reasoning followed to reach the conclusions and the data that supports the statements made are incorporated into a brief editorial comment with respect to the global interpretation.

It is absolutely critical at this point not to cede to temptation to make concluding statements that would apply the study’s results beyond the parameters established for the study under the problem definition. Indeed, you may even want to incorporate a statement warning the reader not to interpret the results in such a way that generalizations beyond the study’s parameters are made.

You may, however, want to address how a potentially valid generalization could be made in your Recommendations section.

Making Recommendations

No matter how complete your study was, there will always be further research that will be required to shed more light on the research question, particularly if there is an interest in generalizing the findings beyond the study’s parameters. You will also have found areas within the literature itself that have considerable gaps that should be addressed, and to which your study may or not have contributed. Therefore, a summary section regarding recommendations for further study is appropriate.

If the research was undertaken on behalf of a client, then it is also important to provide the manager with a set of recommendations that directly address the management situation that led to the research being commissioned in the first place. However, as much as the manager may want far reaching recommendations, care has to be exercised that they are indeed anchored in the findings of the study and do not exceed its parameters.