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How do I critically analyse my findings?

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Description: A helpsheet outling a step by step explanation of the analysis of research findings. This includes an example of the process.
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HOW DO I CRITICALLY ANALYSE MY FINDINGS?

This post was originally added to Learnhigher on:


We interviewed academics who set reports as assignments. They said the discussion of the findings had the most potential for gaining high marks and demonstrating critical analysis. However, students often lost marks in this area because they didn’t:

What does it mean to critically analyse?

Analysing critically means looking at your findings and asking yourself, 'what do I think about this?', then taking it one step further and asking 'what is making me think that?' Here's an example of how this process might work.

 

 
Finding 95% of the students you surveyed have problems managing their time at university.
What do you think about this?   I expected it to be less than that.
What makes you think that? Research I read for my literature survey was putting the figure at 60-70%.
What conclusions can you draw from this? There must be reasons why the figures are so different. The sample I surveyed included a large number of mature students, unlike the samples in the previous research. That was because the brief was to look at time management in a particular department which had a high intake of post-experience students.
Final paragraph for Discussion section  The percentage of students surveyed who experienced problems with time management was much higher at 95% than the 60% reported in Jones (2006: 33) or the 70% reported in Smith (2007a: 17). This may be due to the large number of mature students recruited to this post-experience course. Taylor (2004: 16-21) has described the additional time commitments reported by students with young families and the impact these may have on effective management of study time. The department clearly recognises this already (as shown by the flexibility of seminar times described earlier). However, it may be that students would benefit from more advice in this area. 

How do I link my findings to the background research?

As you can see in the example table above, the researcher compared her findings to those from previous studies by Jones (2006) and Smith (2007). Where she found differences between her results and those of other studies, she tried to find reasons for these differences; she returned to more of her background reading, using the study by Taylor (2004) as evidence to support her claims.

The background reading you have done helps you to put your findings in context and also helps provide possible reasons to explain your results.

  • Look back over your background reading that you did for your introduction or literature review
  • Compare and contrast your findings with what other people have found – do your results confirm or contrast their results, and why might this be?
  • Use previous studies to provide evidence to help explain your findings

How to I make sure my findings answer my brief?

It is no good demonstrating excellent critical analysis if that analysis doesn’t help you answer the purpose of the report set out in the brief or in your research questions.

Reports are meant to be informative, so your discussion of your findings needs to be relevant. You have to demonstrate how your findings relate to the brief and provide the information asked for by the report’s audience.

  • Before analysing your findings, check the brief and any hypotheses you may have made
  • Whilst you are writing your discussion section, keep asking yourself – 'How does this answer my brief?'
  • Be ruthless and don’t include any unnecessary information