This is the chapter/section that tells your reader what the results of your research were; what you found. It is essentially a description of your research findings, but it is an organised description. The chapter should consist of a consolidated set of data, written up within a narrative and organised to best relate to the research questions and/or hypotheses tested, and set up the discussion and the conclusions.
The results you present have to be clearly linked to the methodology section, in which you explained how these results were obtained. What you can say about the results and any claim you can make from the results are dependent on methods you used. This is why you need to make sure – before moving on to the results section – that your thesis explains (generally in the methods section) the following:
- That conditions required for the research have been met. This is particularly important in experimental research
- How you have converted raw interviews or observations onto analysable data
- How you have analysed the data
Organising the results
Choices you make about how to present your results depend on the conventions used in your discipline, your research questions and the methodology you used. However, some more general rules apply:
Aim for relevance, clarity, simplicity and conciseness
Results should be organised logically as per the research question and reflect:
– the aim or research questions of the project, including any hypotheses that have been tested
– the research methods and/or theoretical framework that have been outlined earlier in the thesis.
Start with the most important point – the central finding, then move to smaller/less important findings. That means that you will need to decide what is important or interesting and this decision has to be:
- based on your data
- related to relevant theory
- related, set up the final conclusions
Include an introduction to the section – an overview of how the section is set out.
Do not refer to every single finding or results. Include only results that are relevant to the points you plan to make your thesis and which will be discussed. If you have extra data you absolutely want to include you may want to put it in appendix.
Do not just put results without an accompanying narrative (Bem,2003). The narrative serves as a framework that brings your findings together, that tell the story of what you found.
Remind the reader of the question asked, the operations performed, provide an answer and then provide findings.
Use tables, figures, diagrams or other graphic devices to illustrate complex results if necessary.
The results/finding in a scientific model
The scientific model generally follows the IMRAD model, in which the results report, but do not discuss, explain or evaluate. The discussion then comes in a separate section.
You are expected to make a choice in what to report. You cannot report everything and you have to organise what you report and add a narrative.
The results/finding in qualitative research
Conventions that apply to quantitative research often do not work in qualitative research. Qualitative data usually consists of words from written documents or interview transcripts, sounds or images. The data is generally attached to strong narratives before even being analysed. Often findings and discussion are mixed in the same section; results, their analysis, discussion and implications are often kept together .
You still need to apply a logical, rational structure to bring the information together.
- The data needs to connect back to the overarching research question. Use introductions, well structured sections and subsections to do this.
- Individual data extracts can be connected back into this structure through a process of ‘tell-show-tell’ (summarising-illustrating-commenting).
- Outstanding results are elegant, insightful, and sophisticated. Students who do them iteratively explore questions raised by their analyses. They see complex patterns in their data and provide plausible interpretations of them.
What makes a good results section? (Lovitts 2007, p 47)
Very good analyses are clear and to the point, but are less robust than outstanding ones. Although the analysis is thorough, students at this level often do not engage in supplementary analyses. However, they make a plausible convincing case for their results/analyses.
At the acceptable level, the analyses are routine and correct, though not particularly meaningful. Students at this level do not ask penetrating questions of their data and the important insights may come from the advisor, not the student.
At the unacceptable level, the analysis or presentation of results is wrong or inappropriate. Students cannot answer the ‘So what?’ question.
Adding diagrams, figures, graphs, or tables.
Graphic devices such as diagrams, figures, graphs and tables are used for visual impact. Figures and tables should make sense by themselves (use the caption to do so) without text (but you still need to write about them in the text). Figures and tables have to be framed by a narrative/story. This narrative has to take the reader through the points you make, show what is important. When referring to the figure or table do not just say everything that is on the table or figure, but explain what the reader should look at, what is important. You are to lead the reader to points of interest. For example ‘…as shown in table x, ….of particular interests are…’
- Choose a figure OR a table – do not provide the same information in both.
- Do not create too many tables or figures. They have to mean something. Extras can go in an appendix. If you do not discuss it, delete it.
- Graphs and figures are usually better than tables to give trends. Tables are used to give precise values. Tables can also be used when a figure starts to look too complicated.
- Each graph, table or figure needs to be self-contained. A reader may just want to look at the figures. The figure should have enough information to make what it means and why it is there clear. Use captions to help with this.
- Captions needs to be clear and draw attention to what is important – in some cases this may require a long caption.
- If you write in Word, use automatic caption creation feature.
- Tables and figures need to be uncluttered – points you show need to emerge clearly.
- Each entry in a table needs to mean something – why put 76.9 or 43.3 if 77 or 43 is detailed enough?
The text that refers to a figure/graph/table
- Has to come before the figure or table
- Has to use the same key terms as those used in the figure or table
- Try to state the results (what has been found/observed) before providing their statistical evidence, for example, instead of saying the importance of pre-existing skills is significant at 0.5 level, write pre-existing skills are directly related to higher success rates.
Jorge Cham, Piled Higher and Deeper
The findings/results section is typically in the past tense, as it reports results found. Occasionally, the present tense is used. Use the present tense when you say something more general, such as:
- a table or graph is described
- results are summarised
- results are compared
- results are commented on
- general truths, facts or conclusions are stated
Example 1: (use past tense to describe results)
Results of the survey revealed that the majority of the students (75%) spent less than five hours on assignments each week.
Example 2: (use present tense to describe a table)
Table 1 shows the number of green frogs caught in the net each day.
Example 3: (use present tense to compare results)
The data obtained in city 1 show differences in colour when compared with data obtained in city 2.
Bern, D. (2003). ‘Writing the empirical journal article’ in Darley, J.M., Zanna, M.P. & RoedigerIII, H.L. (eds) (2003). The complete academic. A practical guide for the beginning social scientist (2nd ed), American Psychological Association: Washington.
Foss, S. & Waters, W. (2007). Destination dissertation. A traveler’s guide to a done dissertation. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers: Lanham.
Lovitts. Barbara E.(2007). Making the implicit explicit. Creating performance expectation for the dissertation. Stylus Publishing: Sterling Virginia.
Murray, R. (2003). How to write a thesis. Open University Press Maidenhead.