A quality research paper has both the qualities of in-depth research and good writing (Bordage, 2001). In addition, a research paper must be clear, concise, and effective when presenting the information in an organized structure with a logical manner (Sandercock, 2013).
In this article, we will take a closer look at the results and discussion section. Composing each of these carefully with sufficient data and well-constructed arguments can help improve your paper overall.
The results section of your research paper contains a description about the main findings of your research, whereas the discussion section interprets the results for readers and provides the significance of the findings. The discussion should not repeat the results.
Let’s dive in a little deeper about how to properly, and clearly organize each part.
How to Organize the Results Section
Since your results follow your methods, you’ll want to provide information about what you discovered from the methods you used, such as your research data. In other words, what were the outcomes of the methods you used?
You may also include information about the measurement of your data, variables, treatments, and statistical analyses.
To start, organize your research data based on how important those are in relation to your research questions. This section should focus on showing major results that support or reject your research hypothesis. Include your least important data as supplemental materials when submitting to the journal.
The next step is to prioritize your research data based on importance – focusing heavily on the information that directly relates to your research questions using the subheadings.
The organization of the subheadings for the results section usually mirrors the methods section. It should follow a logical and chronological order.
Subheadings within your results section are primarily going to detail major findings within each important experiment. And the first paragraph of your results section should be dedicated to your main findings (findings that answer your overall research question and lead to your conclusion) (Hofmann, 2013).
In the book “Writing in the Biological Sciences,” author Angelika Hofmann recommends you structure your results subsection paragraphs as follows:
- Experimental purpose
Each subheading may contain a combination of (Bahadoran, 2019; Hofmann, 2013, pg. 62-63):
- Text: to explain about the research data
- Figures: to display the research data and to show trends or relationships, for examples using graphs or gel pictures.
- Tables: to represent a large data and exact value
Decide on the best way to present your data — in the form of text, figures or tables (Hofmann, 2013).
Data or Results?
Sometimes we get confused about how to differentiate between data and results. Data are information (facts or numbers) that you collected from your research (Bahadoran, 2019).
Whereas, results are the texts presenting the meaning of your research data (Bahadoran, 2019).
One mistake that some authors often make is to use text to direct the reader to find a specific table or figure without further explanation. This can confuse readers when they interpret data completely different from what the authors had in mind. So, you should briefly explain your data to make your information clear for the readers.
Common Elements in Figures and Tables
Figures and tables present information about your research data visually. The use of these visual elements is necessary so readers can summarize, compare, and interpret large data at a glance. You can use graphs or figures to compare groups or patterns. Whereas, tables are ideal to present large quantities of data and exact values.
Several components are needed to create your figures and tables. These elements are important to sort your data based on groups (or treatments). It will be easier for the readers to see the similarities and differences among the groups.
When presenting your research data in the form of figures and tables, organize your data based on the steps of the research leading you into a conclusion.
Common elements of the figures (Bahadoran, 2019):
- Figure number
- Figure title
- Figure legend (for example a brief title, experimental/statistical information, or definition of symbols).
Tables in the result section may contain several elements (Bahadoran, 2019):
- Table number
- Table title
- Row headings (for example groups)
- Column headings
- Row subheadings (for example categories or groups)
- Column subheadings (for example categories or variables)
- Footnotes (for example statistical analyses)
Tips to Write the Results Section
- Direct the reader to the research data and explain the meaning of the data.
- Avoid using a repetitive sentence structure to explain a new set of data.
- Write and highlight important findings in your results.
- Use the same order as the subheadings of the methods section.
- Match the results with the research questions from the introduction. Your results should answer your research questions.
- Be sure to mention the figures and tables in the body of your text.
- Make sure there is no mismatch between the table number or the figure number in text and in figure/tables.
- Only present data that support the significance of your study. You can provide additional data in tables and figures as supplementary material.
How to Organize the Discussion Section
It’s not enough to use figures and tables in your results section to convince your readers about the importance of your findings. You need to support your results section by providing more explanation in the discussion section about what you found.
In the discussion section, based on your findings, you defend the answers to your research questions and create arguments to support your conclusions.
Below is a list of questions to guide you when organizing the structure of your discussion section (Viera et al., 2018):
- What experiments did you conduct and what were the results?
- What do the results mean?
- What were the important results from your study?
- How did the results answer your research questions?
- Did your results support your hypothesis or reject your hypothesis?
- What are the variables or factors that might affect your results?
- What were the strengths and limitations of your study?
- What other published works support your findings?
- What other published works contradict your findings?
- What possible factors might cause your findings different from other findings?
- What is the significance of your research?
- What are new research questions to explore based on your findings?
Organizing the Discussion Section
The structure of the discussion section may be different from one paper to another, but it commonly has a beginning, middle-, and end- to the section.
Present the contents of your section from narrow context (your study) to broader context (your field of study).
One way to organize the structure of the discussion section is by dividing it into three parts (Ghasemi, 2019):
- The beginning: The first
sentence of the first paragraph should state the importance and the new
findings of your research. The first paragraph may also include answers to
your research questions mentioned in your introduction section.
- The middle: The middle should contain the interpretations
of the results to defend your answers, the strength of the study, the
limitations of the study, and an update literature review that validates
- The end: The end concludes the study and the significance of your research.
Another possible way to organize the discussion section was proposed by Michael Docherty in British Medical Journal: is by using this structure (Docherty, 1999):
- Discussion of important findings
- Comparison of your results with other published works
- Include the strengths and limitations of the study
- Conclusion and possible implications of your study, including the significance of your study – address why and how is it meaningful
- Future research questions based on your findings
Finally, a last option is structuring your discussion this way (Hofmann, 2013, pg. 104):
- First Paragraph: Provide an interpretation based on your key findings. Then support your interpretation with evidence.
- Middle Paragraphs: The middle paragraphs should include the following
- Secondary results
- Unexpected findings
- Comparisons to previous publications
- Last Paragraph: The last paragraph should provide a summarization (conclusion) along with detailing the significance, implications and potential next steps.
Remember, at the heart of the discussion section is presenting an interpretation of your major findings.
Tips to Write the Discussion Section
- Highlight the significance of your findings
- Mention how the study will fill a gap in knowledge.
- Indicate the implication of your research.
- Avoid generalizing, misinterpreting your results, drawing a conclusion with no supportive findings from your results.
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