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Implications or Recommendations in Research: What's the Difference?

High-quality research articles that get many citations contain both implications and recommendations. Implications are the impact your research makes, whereas recommendations are specific actions that can then be taken based on your findings, such as for more research or for policymaking.

High-quality research articles that get many citations contain both implications and recommendations. Implications are the impact your research makes, whereas recommendations are specific actions that can then be taken based on your findings, such as for more research or for policymaking.

That seems clear enough, but the two are commonly confused.

This confusion is especially true if you come from a so-called high-context culture in which information is often implied based on the situation, as in many Asian cultures. High-context cultures are different from low-context cultures where information is more direct and explicit (as in North America and many European cultures).

Let’s set these two straight in a low-context way; i.e., we’ll be specific and direct! This is the best way to be in English academic writing because you’re writing for the world.

Implications and recommendations in a research article

The standard format of STEM research articles is what’s called IMRaD:

  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion/conclusions

Some journals call for a separate conclusions section, while others have the conclusions as the last part of the discussion. You’ll write these four (or five) sections in the same sequence, though, no matter the journal.

The discussion section is typically where you restate your results and how well they confirmed your hypotheses. Give readers the answer to the questions for which they’re looking to you for an answer.

At this point, many researchers assume their paper is finished. After all, aren’t the results the most important part? As you might have guessed, no, you’re not quite done yet.

The discussion/conclusions section is where to say what happened and what should now happen

The discussion/conclusions section of every good scientific article should contain the implications and recommendations.

The implications, first of all, are the impact your results have on your specific field. A high-impact, highly cited article will also broaden the scope here and provide implications to other fields. This is what makes research cross-disciplinary.

Recommendations, however, are suggestions to improve your field based on your results.

These two aspects help the reader understand your broader content: How and why your work is important to the world. They also tell the reader what can be changed in the future based on your results.

These aspects are what editors are looking for when selecting papers for peer review.

How to write the conclusion section

Implications and recommendations are, thus, written at the end of the discussion section, and before the concluding paragraph. They help to “wrap up” your paper. Once your reader understands what you found, the next logical step is what those results mean and what should come next.

Then they can take the baton, in the form of your work, and run with it. That gets you cited and extends your impact!

The order of implications and recommendations also matters. Both are written after you’ve summarized your main findings in the discussion section. Then, those results are interpreted based on ongoing work in the field. After this, the implications are stated, followed by the recommendations.

Writing an academic research paper is a bit like running a race. Finish strong, with your most important conclusion (recommendation) at the end. Leave readers with an understanding of your work’s importance. Avoid generic, obvious phrases like “more research is needed to fully address this issue.” Be specific.

The main differences between implications and recommendations (table)

implications vs recommendations

Now let’s dig a bit deeper into actually how to write these parts.

What are implications?

Research implications tell us how and why your results are important for the field at large. They help answer the question of “what does it mean?” Implications tell us how your work contributes to your field and what it adds to it. They’re used when you want to tell your peers why your research is important for ongoing theory, practice, policymaking, and for future research.

Crucially, your implications must be evidence-based. This means they must be derived from the results in the paper.

Implications are written after you’ve summarized your main findings in the discussion section. They come before the recommendations and before the concluding paragraph. There is no specific section dedicated to implications. They must be integrated into your discussion so that the reader understands why the results are meaningful and what they add to the field.

A good strategy is to separate your implications into types. Implications can be social, political, technological, related to policies, or others, depending on your topic. The most frequently used types are theoretical and practical. Theoretical implications relate to how your findings connect to other theories or ideas in your field, while practical implications are related to what we can do with the results.

Key features of implications

  • State the impact your research makes
  • Helps us understand why your results are important
  • Must be evidence-based
  • Written in the discussion, before recommendations
  • Can be theoretical, practical, or other (social, political, etc.)

Examples of implications

Let’s take a look at some examples of research results below with their implications.

Example 1

The result: one study found that learning items over time improves memory more than cramming material in a bunch of information at once. The implications: This result suggests memory is better when studying is spread out over time, which could be due to memory consolidation processes.

Example 2

The result: an intervention study found that mindfulness helps improve mental health if you have anxiety. The implications: This result has implications for the role of executive functions on anxiety.

Example 3

  1. The result: a study found that musical learning helps language learning in children.
    • The implications: these findings suggest that language and music may work together to aid development.

      What are recommendations?

      As noted above, explaining how your results contribute to the real world is an important part of a successful article. Likewise, stating how your findings can be used to improve something in future research is equally important. This brings us to the recommendations. Research recommendations are suggestions and solutions you give for certain situations based on your results. Once the reader understands what your results mean with the implications, the next question they need to know is “what’s next?” Recommendations are calls to action on ways certain things in the field can be improved in the future based on your results. Recommendations are used when you want to convey that something different should be done based on what your analyses revealed.
      Similar to implications, recommendations are also evidence-based. This means that your recommendations to the field must be drawn directly from your results. The goal of the recommendations is to make clear, specific, and realistic suggestions to future researchers before they conduct a similar experiment. No matter what area your research is in, there will always be further research to do. Try to think about what would be helpful for other researchers to know before starting their work. Recommendations are also written in the discussion section. They come after the implications and before the concluding paragraphs. Similar to the implications, there is usually no specific section dedicated to the recommendations. However, depending on how many solutions you want to suggest to the field, they may be written as a subsection.

      Key features of recommendations

    • Statements about what can be done differently in the field based on your findings
    • Must be evidence-based
    • Must be realistic and specific
    • Written in the discussion, after implications and before conclusions
    • Related to both your field and, preferably, a wider context to the research

      Examples of recommendations

      Here are some research results and their recommendations.

      Example 1

      A meta-analysis found that actively recalling material from your memory is better than simply re-reading it.

    • The recommendation: Based on these findings, teachers and other educators should encourage students to practice active recall strategies.

      Example 2

      A medical intervention found that daily exercise helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

    • The recommendation: Based on these results, physicians are recommended to encourage patients to exercise and walk regularly. Also recommended is to encourage more walking through public health offices in communities.

      Example 3

      A study found that many research articles do not contain the sample sizes needed to statistically confirm their findings. The recommendation: To improve the current state of the field, researchers should consider doing power analysis based on their experiment’s design.

      What else is important about implications and recommendations?

      When writing recommendations and implications, be careful not to overstate the impact of your results. It can be tempting for researchers to inflate the importance of their findings and make grandiose statements about what their work means. Remember that implications and recommendations must be coming directly from your results. Therefore, they must be straightforward, realistic, and plausible. Another good thing to remember is to make sure the implications and recommendations are stated clearly and separately. Do not attach them to the endings of other paragraphs just to add them in. Use similar example phrases as those listed in the table when starting your sentences to clearly indicate when it’s an implication and when it’s a recommendation. When your peers, or brand-new readers, read your paper, they shouldn’t have to hunt through your discussion to find the implications and recommendations. They should be clear, visible, and understandable on their own. That’ll get you cited more, and you’ll make a greater contribution to your area of science while extending the life and impact of your work.

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