How To Write a Significance Statement for Your Research
A significance statement is an essential part of a research paper. It explains the importance and relevance of the study to the academic community and the world at large. To write a compelling significance statement, identify the research problem, explain why it is significant, provide evidence of its importance, and highlight its potential impact on future research, policy, or practice. A well-crafted significance statement should effectively communicate the value of the research to readers and help them understand why it matters.
Updated on May 4, 2023
A significance statement is a clearly stated, non-technical paragraph that explains why your research matters. It’s central in making the public aware of and gaining support for your research.
Write it in jargon-free language that a reader from any field can understand. Well-crafted, easily readable significance statements can improve your chances for citation and impact and make it easier for readers outside your field to find and understand your work.
Read on for more details on what a significance statement is, how it can enhance the impact of your research, and, of course, how to write one.
What is a significance statement in research?
A significance statement answers the question: How will your research advance scientific knowledge and impact society at large (as well as specific populations)?
You might also see it called a “Significance of the study” statement. Some professional organizations in the STEM sciences and social sciences now recommended that journals in their disciplines make such statements a standard feature of each published article. Funding agencies also consider “significance” a key criterion for their awards.
Read some examples of significance statements from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) here.
Depending upon the specific journal or funding agency’s requirements, your statement may be around 100 words and answer these questions:
1. What’s the purpose of this research?
2. What are its key findings?
3. Why do they matter?
4. Who benefits from the research results?
Readers will want to know: “What is interesting or important about this research?” Keep asking yourself that question.
Where to place the significance statement in your manuscript
Most journals ask you to place the significance statement before or after the abstract, so check with each journal’s guide.
This article is focused on the formal significance statement, even though you’ll naturally highlight your project’s significance elsewhere in your manuscript. (In the introduction, you’ll set out your research aims, and in the conclusion, you’ll explain the potential applications of your research and recommend areas for future research. You’re building an overall case for the value of your work.)
Developing the significance statement
The main steps in planning and developing your statement are to assess the gaps to which your study contributes, and then define your work’s implications and impact.
Identify what gaps your study fills and what it contributes
Your literature review was a big part of how you planned your study. To develop your research aims and objectives, you identified gaps or unanswered questions in the preceding research and designed your study to address them.
Go back to that lit review and look at those gaps again. Review your research proposal to refresh your memory. Ask:
- How have my research findings advanced knowledge or provided notable new insights?
- How has my research helped to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis or answer a research question?
- Why are those results important?
Consider your study’s potential impact at two levels:
- What contribution does my research make to my field?
- How does it specifically contribute to knowledge; that is, who will benefit the most from it?
Define the implications and potential impact
As you make notes, keep the reasons in mind for why you are writing this statement. Whom will it impact, and why?
The first audience for your significance statement will be journal reviewers when you submit your article for publishing. Many journals require one for manuscript submissions. Study the author’s guide of your desired journal to see its criteria (here’s an example). Peer reviewers who can clearly understand the value of your research will be more likely to recommend publication.
Second, when you apply for funding, your significance statement will help justify why your research deserves a grant from a funding agency. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, wants to see that a project will “exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved.” Clear, simple language is always valuable because not all reviewers will be specialists in your field.
Third, this concise statement about your study’s importance can affect how potential readers engage with your work. Science journalists and interested readers can promote and spread your work, enhancing your reputation and influence. Help them understand your work.
You’re now ready to express the importance of your research clearly and concisely. Time to start writing.
How to write a significance statement: Key elements
When drafting your statement, focus on both the content and writing style.
- In terms of content, emphasize the importance, timeliness, and relevance of your research results.
- Write the statement in plain, clear language rather than scientific or technical jargon. Your audience will include not just your fellow scientists but also non-specialists like journalists, funding reviewers, and members of the public.
Follow the process we outline below to build a solid, well-crafted, and informative statement.
Some suggested opening lines to help you get started might be:
- The implications of this study are…
- Building upon previous contributions, our study moves the field forward because…
- Our study furthers previous understanding about…
Alternatively, you may start with a statement about the phenomenon you’re studying, leading to the problem statement.
Include these components
Next, draft some sentences that include the following elements. A good example, which we’ll use here, is a significance statement by Rogers et al. (2022) published in the Journal of Climate.
1. Briefly situate your research study in its larger context. Start by introducing the topic, leading to a problem statement. Here’s an example:
‘Heatwaves pose a major threat to human health, ecosystems, and human systems.”
2. State the research problem.
“Simultaneous heatwaves affecting multiple regions can exacerbate such threats. For example, multiple food-producing regions simultaneously undergoing heat-related crop damage could drive global food shortages.”
3. Tell what your study does to address it.
“We assess recent changes in the occurrence of simultaneous large heatwaves.”
4. Provide brief but powerful evidence to support the claims your statement is making, Use quantifiable terms rather than vague ones (e.g., instead of “This phenomenon is happening now more than ever,” see below how Rogers et al. (2022) explained it). This evidence intensifies and illustrates the problem more vividly:
“Such simultaneous heatwaves are 7 times more likely now than 40 years ago. They are also hotter and affect a larger area. Their increasing occurrence is mainly driven by warming baseline temperatures due to global heating, but changes in weather patterns contribute to disproportionate increases over parts of Europe, the eastern United States, and Asia.
5. Relate your study’s impact to the broader context, starting with its general significance to society—then, when possible, move to the particular as you name specific applications of your research findings. (Our example lacks this second level of application.)
“Better understanding the drivers of weather pattern changes is therefore important for understanding future concurrent heatwave characteristics and their impacts.”
Refine your English
Don’t understate or overstate your findings – just make clear what your study contributes. When you have all the elements in place, review your draft to simplify and polish your language. Even better, get an expert AJE edit. Be sure to use “plain” language rather than academic jargon.
- Avoid acronyms, scientific jargon, and technical terms
- Use active verbs in your sentence structure rather than passive voice (e.g., instead of “It was found that...”, use “We found...”)
- Make sentence structures short, easy to understand – readable
- Try to address only one idea in each sentence and keep sentences within 25 words (15 words is even better)
- Eliminate nonessential words and phrases (“fluff” and wordiness)
Enhance your significance statement’s impact
Always take time to review your draft multiple times. Make sure that you:
- Keep your language focused
- Provide evidence to support your claims
- Relate the significance to the broader research context in your field
After revising your significance statement, request feedback from a reading mentor about how to make it even clearer. If you’re not a native English speaker, seek help from a native-English-speaking colleague or use an editing service like AJE to make sure your work is at a native level.
Understanding the significance of your study
Your readers may have much less interest than you do in the specific details of your research methods and measures. Many readers will scan your article to learn how your findings might apply to them and their own research.
Different types of significance
Your findings may have different types of significance, relevant to different populations or fields of study for different reasons. You can emphasize your work’s statistical, clinical, or practical significance. Editors or reviewers in the social sciences might also evaluate your work’s social or political significance.
Statistical significance means that the results are unlikely to have occurred randomly. Instead, it implies a true cause-and-effect relationship.
Clinical significance means that your findings are applicable for treating patients and improving quality of life.
Practical significance is when your research outcomes are meaningful to society at large, in the “real world.” Practical significance is usually measured by the study’s effect size. Similarly, evaluators may attribute social or political significance to research that addresses “real and immediate” social problems.