Q: Is it okay not to have conclusion but only implication in qualitative research?

Detailed Question -

When do we use conclusion and implication in qualitative research? Is it okay to have only implication but no conclusion? Is there any literature to support this thinking?

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1 Answer to this question

Let’s begin by looking at the meaning of (and difference among) conclusion, implication, and also recommendation (as it is related).

The conclusion comprises the take-aways of the research with regard to the research question and objectives. You need to talk about what the findings mean for the objectives of your research and what you learnt about the research problem. For instance, if your research is on stress among healthcare professionals, you need to talk about what the findings (gained through methods such as questionnaires or focus groups) mean for the objectives you started out with.

Structurally, the conclusion is the very last part of the (main) paper. It may be written as a separate section (for journals that require this) or it may be a part of the Discussion section. So, to answer one part of your question, writing the conclusion is a requisite for a research paper. It is necessary to “tie up” the research and its findings.

An implication implies or indicates what your research findings mean for future research or how they can guide policies. Using the same example, you may make suggestions for research on aspects such as how healthcare professionals pay less attention to their own health or how they have few avenues for dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety.

Structurally, implications are written as a part of the conclusion, unless, again, the guidelines specify otherwise. So, to answer another part of your question, it is often necessary to write about the implications of your research. Research in one area doesn’t end with only one study and may pave the way for multiple other studies. Qualitative research especially is not always “conclusive”  and may necessitate further studies to explore different dimensions of the same problem.

A recommendation is a very specific suggestion made based on a research finding. In the same example, you could make recommendations such as limiting the working hours for healthcare professionals by law and providing them free or subsidized access to counselling services.

Making a recommendation is not mandatory and has to be guided by the specific objectives and findings of your research. Where you do have recommendations, you need to write them as a part of the conclusion.

To summarize, whether for quantitative or qualitative research, it is necessary to write the conclusion. Especially for qualitative research, it helps to also write implications. Additionally, you may provide recommendations, if this is warranted by your research. Finally, though, you need to be guided by your specific research question in deciding which of these elements to incorporate in your paper and to what extent.

To answer the final part, about supporting literature, the best way to find this would be to do a comprehensive literature search on this aspect.

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