“A discussion of”, “a discussion on”, and “a discussion about”: When is each phrase used in preference to the other?
If context is important, I want to use it as a subheading on a piece of non-fiction.
Oh lordy, another "there's a difference, but I can't quite put my finger on it" question. But I'm gonna try anyway. :)
A discussion about a topic — this implies that the discussion was just a conversation, really, and it might not have stayed strictly on-topic.
A discussion of a topic — this brings to mind a true discussion, going into all sorts of details of the topic (and only the topic).
A discussion on a topic — here I picture the discussion to be somewhat one-sided, almost a lecture.
Note that all of these connotations are vague and amorphous, and can be overridden by customary usages, or by what "sounds best" in a given context. If you pressed me to suggest a single best choice, today I'd go with "of". No guarantees about tomorrow.
I suppose the answer depends on what your subject is, and what tone you're trying to set.
"Discussion on" can sound serious or pretentious or formal, to me, as in:
A discussion on the subject of probity, wherein we discover an upstanding truth
"Discussion of" could describe the particulars of the event of the discussion (currently happening, perhaps having just happened), even separate from the explicit topic:
A amusing discussion of whistles, plastic and otherwise
Or it can refer directly to the subject at hand, a summary of what you will discuss:
A discussion of monsters, meteors, and meerschaum pipes
"Discussion about" sounds informal. "Here's some stuff we're talking about."
A discussion about some things which happened in the garden that Wednesday
I would probably lean toward about as in:
We had a discussion about otters and other salt-water mammals.
Using the preposition of there feels wrong to me. In a subheading on a paper
A Discussion of Otters and Other Salt-Water Mammals
it would feel as if it was the otters who were having the discussion.
about seems to be more informal, like
Last night, we had a discussion about winemaking in the bar
of is more likely to be used in writing, often in scientific or formal setting:
The discussion of winemaking and its role in local economy will be held in the Conference Room B, ...
on is somewhere in between, but closer to "of".