Reaping the Rewards: Best Practices for Writing a Results Section
The Results section of a research paper is where you present the novel outcomes of your work. At this point, the reader understands the rationale for your investigation and the methods you used to address your research questions, and you now need to distill your findings into a systematically presented and accessible form.
Our free white paper outlines specific actions that authors can take to put together a strong Results section for research they would like published in top journals. It covers the following topics:
- Purpose and Structure
- Key Information
- Notation and Format
- Concluding Remarks
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The Results section is also where you should present clearly supported conclusions that are directly derived from the data, although detailed discussion of implications and interpretations should be reserved for the Discussion section.
It is important to be selective about what to present in the Results section and careful about how to present it. This part of the paper should provide sufficient context to make the information understandable, but you should not repeat information you previously presented in the Methods or digress into analysis that you will subsequently repeat in the Discussion. You should present your data in a format that is clear, organized, and accessible to the reader to ensure that they are able to absorb the information and are well prepared for the discussions and interpretations to follow.
The organization of your Results section needs to strike a balance between providing sufficient context to lead the reader to the important conclusions without distracting the reader with unnecessary interpretation. Your ability to concisely and efficiently convey your data in a format that is familiar to the reader and consistent with the accepted conventions of your field is critical to keeping a reader with you on their journey through your paper.
Purpose and Structure
Although the fundamental purpose of your Results section is to present your data, it should never simply be a collection of numbers and tables. This part of the paper should be a story within a story. It presents an opportunity to lead the reader from one important result to the next, guiding them from initial and supporting findings to the novel discoveries that are your reason for publishing. To achieve this, the Results section should generally follow the same pattern as the Methods, following the order of data acquisition as closely as possible in most cases. However, it is more important to use a logical presentation sequence than it is to be strictly chronological. Ideally, each new set of results should build on the previous ones, presenting a logical narrative that makes sense to the reader and leads them to the conclusions you will ultimately ask them to subscribe to.
This language of the Results section should be simple and direct, with the key findings presented as the main focus and without elaboration. For example, “The yellow sticks were longer than the red sticks (p < 0.05)” is much better than “The use of a t-test showed that the length of the yellow sticks was greater than that of the red sticks (p < 0.05)”. Note that the former makes the key result the subject of the sentence rather than the statistical test, which should not be the focus.
The results section should present all data that are necessary to support or understand the conclusions and implications of your research. In many cases, results that serve to exclude alternative explanations of the findings or simply validate the methods being used are as important as the primary findings themselves. All information that supports the central results or reinforces the conclusions should be included.
If results or figures from previous research are used, these must be properly cited, and permission should be obtained before using previously published figures. Referring to data that you choose not to show should be avoided if possible, especially now that many publications allow supplemental online materials.
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