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Lesson A-8

Assessing the Conclusions of the Study 

Conclusions pull together the various results of the study, consider what they mean, and suggest their importance.  There are several types of conclusions.  The following is one typology: 
  1. Findings summarize two or more results.

  2. Interpretations indicate what the results and findings mean within the study and within the context of prior research on the topic.

  3. Generalization extrapolates the results or findings beyond the studied units.

  4. Implications suggest how the findings may be important for policy, practice, theory, and subsequent research.

  5. Recommendations urge specific actions in respect to policy, practice, theory, or subsequent research.
Conclusions have considerable appeal-indeed they are the objective of any research study.  They are also usually easily read.  For those reasons, apprentice scholars may skip most of the research report and jump to the conclusions and recommendations.  That is a mistake. 

Conclusions and recommendations are not an automatic extension of the results.  They require careful inference in light of the delimitations of the study (the bounds on the questions of the study, the contexts studied, the population and sampling frame, and the interventions that occurred or were administered) and in light of the limitations of the study (the methodological shortcomings).  They also require broad knowledge of the topic being addressed, they require combining facts and values, and they involve some speculation.

Even eminent researchers occasionally blow the conclusions and recommendations of a study.  It is not uncommon to find a conclusion or two with no real support from the results, and occasionally a conclusion will be contradicted by the results.  The most common reasons for that are fatigue and ambition.  The conclusions and recommendations cannot be generated until the rest of the research is completed, and by then the research has usually taken more time and money than expected.  So the conclusions and recommendations are often hastily assembled.  In addition, many researchers have hopes of making important contributions, and, at the end, they sometimes succumb to concluding and recommending more than is well justified by their study.

Whether there is good justification for the conclusions can usually be determined by reading the research report.  Indeed, readers may infer additional conclusions that are well supported by the study but not stated in the report.  It should be noted, however, that some omissions in the report may make some conclusions appear unjustified even though the researcher actually has good justification for them.

Common errors when generating the conclusions and recommendations are the following: 

  1. Stating conclusions that the researcher thinks are correct and important, but for which the study provides no support.

  2. Generalizing well beyond the questions, contexts, population, and interventions that were actually studied.

  3. Not adding cautions when there are important limitations in methods and/or their execution in the study.

  4. Falsely interpreting statistical significance and the lack thereof (This is explained in Lesson A-7).

  5. Selectively focusing on some results while ignoring others and the pattern of results (See Lesson A-7).

  6. Moving from inference to values and speculation, with using wording that clearly indicates that is involved.
Assessment QuestionsKey Assessment Questions
12. Which conclusions appear to be well supported by the pattern of results, the delimitations, and the limitations of the study; and which conclusions do not appear to be well supported? 
13. Which interpretations, implications, and recommendations are well supported according to Appraisal Question 12 and also are well supported by what is generally known about the problem and by prior research findings? 
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