Conclusions. Conclusions are general statements about the findings that pull the paper together by linking to earlier sections. Findings are directly from the results but conclusions have a broader context, e.g. the Michelson-Morley experiment that transformed physics found that the speed of light was the same in every direction but concluded that there was no aether that mediated all movement. The finding followed directly from the experiment but their conclusion addressed the theory of the time. Likewise Hubble’s finding that all galaxies are speeding away from the earth in proportion to their distance led to the conclusion that the universe began from a “big bang” at a single point. This conclusion was derived from the finding based on theory. Keeping data findings separate from theory conclusions is helpful, as it lets others agree with findings but not the conclusions drawn from them, so they can interpret the same findings in a different way. Research is not simply going out and collecting information. One must also discuss whether the results differed from what one might expect based on current theory. Draw conclusions from the findings and relate to the theory context.
Implications. Implications are what the research suggests for other theories. It is not enough to simply state conclusions – you must position them with respect to other theories. Does the conclusions challenge, support or suggest modifications to current theory? Relate conclusions to other theories one at a time and in as much detail as needed. Relating your research to important theories also makes it relevant to readers who know about them. Yet while a conclusion may be firm, implications are often harder to see, e.g. after physics concluded that the universe began at a single point, it took a while to realize the implication that space itself was expanding. Discuss the implications of the research for other theories.
Recommendations. Recommendations are proposals for practical action. Based on the implications of the research it may be appropriate to recommend some form of action, e.g. a clinical trial may recommend use or non-use of a drug. One should recommend with caution but in risk/opportunity terms, to not recommend action to prevent harm is to miss an opportunity. Morally, one is as culpable for what one didn’t do to prevent harm as what one did do to cause harm. To illustrate the difference between the above terms, a climate change research finding that arctic ice is melting may generalize to the implication that sea levels will rise world-wide, giving the recommendation that low-lying cities prepare to handle flooding.