The deadline for your master thesis is quickly approaching. The finish line is in sight. It is only a few days away.
But you’re stressed.
You’re at the end of your rope because you have worked so hard in the past year on all the deadlines.
You’re buried so deep in the details of the analysis that it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
You’re disappointed because the results of your work are not what you wanted them to be.
But you can’t stop now. You need to keep producing!
So, you sit down behind your laptop and write, and write, and write!
But I want you to take a break!
The “discussion, conclusion and recommendations” of your Master thesis is the most important chapter of your thesis, together with the introduction. It is where you come full circle. It is where you determine, for yourself and the world, if you succeeded or failed. It is the crown on many years of hard work.
That’s why I want you to take a short break to reflect before you start writing this chapter. I suggest that you close your text editor, shut down your laptop, go sit somewhere comfortable for a couple of hours (e.g., your local Starbucks), take a cup of coffee, take a blank piece of paper, and reflect.
Go back to chapter 1, and answer the research question: what was the consumer behavior that you wanted to change? Were you able to change it? Yes, or no? Why? Why not? What works for me is to write down, on a piece of paper, the ten things I have learned in the project. I choose the number “ten” to set the bar high and to push myself to reach a high point of saturation: this is really all I learned. The Insight Extraction notes I created are there to help. However, the point of sitting down and reflecting is that you take distance from your work. In the analysis process you have been digging deep. Now I want you to fly high go up and take a 30,000 feet perspective. You cannot do dig deep and fly high at the same time. That’s why you need to take a break.
It is not about your nudges!
Most of you discover that the nudge strategies you created are not that effective. That’s disappointing. But that’s not the point of the chapter about discussion, conclusions, and recommendations. This chapter is a reflection on your full work.
This discussion is not a summary of your thesis. It is a reflection on what you set out to do (cause a behavior change), how you tried to do it (by defining what behavior change means and how you wanted to drive it), if you were successful, and most importantly, why you were or were not.
If the chapter about analysis is empirically sound and factual, the chapter about discussion, conclusions, and recommendations can be more speculative. Of course, you can check back into the literature to find out why you were successful, or not. Yet, it is unlikely that you find your reasons there. After all, it was the literature review that got you there, so you would only repeat yourself.
The discussion is usually directly based on your list of 10 learnings, and it can meander left and write for a couple of pages. But then, the conclusion is straightforward black and white: you answer your research questions, and you state that you either succeeded or failed. The recommendations follow this closely by saying “so what” and “now what”. What are the implications and recommended actions for your stakeholders: business and marketing people, and science and academia?
There is no magic number of pages for this chapter, but the number that springs to my mind is five.
Insight Extraction Framework
At this point I want to promote the Insight Extraction Framework again, because the systematic way of asking and answering questions helps: what are the facts and evidence, why would it be, what does it mean and what to do now that I know it. The difference with the analytics chapter is that you take a higher, 30,000 feet perspective.
The price of failure
It is very hard to find evidence for the effectiveness of nudges and behavior change strategies. Many of you fail and don’t find evidence. That’s okay. Your grade does not depend on it. Your grade depends on the validity and solidity of your work. The way you phrased your research question, built your theory, designed and executed your study, and wrapped it up matter much more. Your grade depends on your willingness to take a risk and follow your passion. It is not bad to “fail”, if you show that you have learned from it.
The most important thing
The most important thing about this document is that I suggest that you take a short break and reflect. That you take a 30,000 feet perspective on your own work, and decide if, and how, you were successful.