Evaluating the discussion and conclusion
In the Discussion and Conclusion sections, authors should interpret the results, place them in context of previous findings, and explain what they mean for future research, as well as for possible real-life applications. If the author has not made these points as clear as they should be, note this in your review.
Other questions to ask include:
- Does the Discussion fit with the aims of the study stated in the Introduction?
- Are there any alternative interpretations of the data that the authors should have considered in their Discussion?
- Is there any general background that belongs in the Introduction section rather than the Discussion?
- Have the authors adequately compared their findings with the findings of other studies?
- Do the authors present data in the Discussion? All relevant data should be presented in the Results section, although important or interesting results can be summarized as part of the Discussion. For example, a sentence such as “Group B’s one-year survival rate was significantly higher than Group A’s,” is acceptable in the Discussion. But a sentence such as, “Group B’s one-year survival rate (1200 / 2000, 60%) was higher than Group A’s (800 / 2000, 40%) (P ‹ 0.05),” belongs in the Results section.
- Do the authors mention how the study’s results might influence future research?
- Are the limitations of the study noted? If not, what limitations have you found?
- Are the authors’ conclusions supported by their data? Have the authors overstated the importance of their findings?
Pay attention to how the authors use references as you review the rest of the manuscript.
Some issues to watch for include:
- Are there places where the authors need to cite a reference, but haven’t? (In general, citations are needed for all facts except those that are well-established, common knowledge; that come from the current study; or that are clearly phrased as the authors’ own hypothesis.)
- Do the authors cite all the most relevant previous studies and explain how they relate to the current results? If not, note which references are missing.
- Are the cited studies recent enough to represent current knowledge on the topic?
- Do the authors cite the work of a variety of research groups? This is preferable to mainly citing papers from one or two research groups, especially if one of the most cited groups is one the authors belong to (although it is not always possible in very small fields of study).
- Do the authors cite many review articles? It is better to cite the original studies.
- Are all of the citations helpful to the reader? Note any places where the authors seem to be reviewing literature simply to show the depth of their knowledge, or to increase citations of their own previous work.
- Do the authors cite findings that contradict their own (where they exist), as well as those that support their claims? It is important that the authors provide a well balanced view of previously published work.