Shaping the Results of a Research Paper

Writing the results of a research paper is difficult. As a researcher, you have to try and figure out if you answered the question. In addition, you have to figure out what information is important enough to share. As such it is easy to get stuck at this stage of the research experience. Below are some ideas to help with speeding up this process.

Consider the Order of the Answers

This may seem obvious but probably the best advice I could give a student when writing their results section is to be sure to answer their questions in the order they presented them in the introduction of their study. This helps with cohesion and coherency. The reader is anticipating answers to these questions and they often subconsciously remember the order the questions came in.

If a student answers the questions out of order it can be jarring for the reader. When this happens the reader starts to double check what the questions were and they begin to second-guess their understanding of the paper which reflects poorly on the writer. An analogy would be that if you introduce three of your friends to your parents you might share each person’s name and then you might go back and share a little bit of personal information about each friend. When we do this we often go in order 1st 2nd 3rd friend and then going back and talking about the 1st friend. The same courtesy should apply when answering research questions in the results section. Whoever was first is shared first etc.

Consider how to Represent the Answers

Another aspect to consider is the presentation of the answers. Should everything be in text? What about the use of visuals and tables?  The answers depend on several factors

  • If you have a small amount of information to share writing in paragraphs is practical. Defining small depends on how much space you have to write as well but generally anything more than five ideas should be placed in a table and referred too.
  • Tables are for sharing large amounts of information. If an answer to a research question requires more than five different pieces of information a table may be best. You can extract really useful information from a table and place it directly in paragraphs while referring the reader to the table for even more information.
  • Visuals such as graphs and plots are not used as frequently in research papers as I would have thought. This may be because they take up so much space in articles that usually have page limits. In addition, readers of an academic journal are pretty good at visually results mentally based on numbers that can be placed in a table. Therefore, visuals are most appropriate for presentations and writing situations in which there are fewer constraints on the length of the document such as a thesis or dissertation.

Know when to Interpret

Sometimes I have had students try to explain the results while presenting them. I cannot say this is wrong, however, it can be confusing. The reason it is so confusing is that the student is trying to do two things at the same time which are present the results and interpret them. This would be ok in a presentation and even expected but when someone is reading a paper it is difficult to keep two separate threads of thought going at the same time.  Therefore, the meaning or interpretation of the results should be saved for the Discussion Conclusion section.

Conclusion

Presenting the results is in many ways the high point of a research experience. It is not easy to take numerical results and try to capture the useful information clearly. As such, the advice given here is intending to help support this experience

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