Writing the Results Section

The Results section is where you get to report what the data reveals. However, you do not get to provide interpretation here. In fact, the rule is “results only.” The “fun” part of what you think the Results means gets written in the Discussion section.

This does not mean there is no creativity allowed in the Results section. In fact, the wise writer uses graphs and figures to highlight the most important or interesting information. Otherwise, arrange the results from most to least relevant or strong. You will also want to point out results that didn’t amount to much of anything, although this is unsatisfying. The only results that are often not reported are those with no pattern at all; that is, results that are uninterpretable.

The Results section may also be divided according to subheadings, especially if there were very strong trends or if there were multiple phases of the project. The section itself uses the subheading "Results". Grammatically, results are reported using the present tense, e.g. "The results show that 79% of men find the advertisements in Sports Illustrated more useful than the advertisements in GQ". Also note that the Results section reads more like a well-organized list than a story.

The fun of results is not so much in the writing as in the analysis itself. Lab supervisors are famous for entering their domains with cries of "Where is the data??". Results are analyzed in terms of the hypotheses being tested, variables chosen,and tests performed.

Preparing Results

Step One: Since the Results section must use both verbal explanation and numerical explanation, it’s worth your time to write out a sentence or two about each of the various relationships you notice in the data. Note that I didn’t say “a sentence or two describing each and every result.” The reader is perfectly capable of looking at a bar graph and noting for themselves that 17.2% of first time computer users were between ages 4 and 5. So it is not to your benefit or the reader’s to write out a sentence describing every detail. 

What to include:

- results that answer the research question (most important)

- data you can use to outline important trends

- results that you intend to address in the discussion section

- results of statistical analyses, often in conjunction with measurements analyzed

- results related to those obtained by other researchers, especially if they conflict or are controversial

- negative results also

Step Two: Create a couple of interesting figures (graphs, tables) that reveal the relationships you’d most like the reader to notice. These should be results that most directly answer the research question. Thus crafting figures is a strategic way of highlighting information by juxtaposing salient results without actually going so far as to provide interpretation. You also need to have the basic data available for the reader, and this is where tables are quite useful. 

One thing to keep in mind – if you create a graph, then it is because you wish to say something about this information in the Discussion section. Do not create "kitchen sink" figures where you put all the data just to have it there. If you used a software program capable of generating results for you, use that to create figures according to variables. Finally, figures must have text about them written in the Results section. You cannot just stick in a figure and be done with it. The main point of the figure should be written out with an appropriate reference at the end of the sentence, "...(Fig. 1)". All figures require titles and captions; graphs must have clear labels for X & Y axes.

Step Three: If you are using a stats program, then you should report +/- significances when appropriate.  If using descriptive statistics, do NOT use the word "significant" anywhere in the Results or Discussion sections.


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