How to write the Results and Discussion sections in a research paper

 

The Results section content

The Results section is one of the most critical parts of your research paper. Here you present the main results of your research to your readers. While the Introduction presents the research question and the Methods section explains the data collection process, the Results section presents the actual data accumulated during your experiments. In essence, the Results section, presenting your results, answers the “what?” question (just as the Introduction answers the “why?” question and the Methods section answers the “how?” question). Thus, the Results section plays a crucial role in highlighting the significance of the study.

The purpose of the Results section is to present the data obtained after the study in an objective, systematic and concise manner, using text supplemented with illustrations. You should show results only; interpretations or conclusions should not be part of this section. Therefore, theoretically, this is one of the shortest sections, but it can also be one of the most challenging sections since it is often difficult for researchers to limit themselves to presenting solid facts: they tend to include the explanations and conclusions they have drawn from the results. The above can make the Results section subjective, ambiguous, and confusing for readers. The lack of novelty is one of the main reasons to reject a paper. Since the Results section shows the significance or novelty of the research, it is critical that you learn how to write this section correctly.

 

The Discussion section content

The Discussion section interprets the results presented in the paper. In other words, although it contains the introduction, methods, and results, you must also clarify the results for your audience. Thus, the task of the Discussion section is to answer the question “so what?” It should also explain the implications of the obtained results and how they relate to your research problem.

While interpreting your results, the Discussion section draws conclusions or inferences from your research. The Discussion explains your findings considering already discussed ones in the existing literature on this problem and new ideas based on your research findings.

Here are some tasks that the Discussion section accomplishes:

  1. Discussing a research question and whether the research paper has answered it based on the results;
  2. Highlighting unexpected and/or exciting findings and how they relate to the research question;
  3. Highlighting previous research and the difference in your research;
  4. Mentioning weaknesses, loopholes, or limitations of the study;
  5. A recommendation on how to use the research for promoting knowledge in your area.

 

How to write good Results section

A logically organized and written Results section is critical for a well-written paper. The Results section should present the data collected during the study as objectively, logically, and concisely as possible. Highlighting the most important results or organizing them into sections shows that you have considered all the necessary information. Proper use of visual elements, i.e., tables and figures, engages your readers.

So, essentially, in the Results section, you should do the following:

  1. State only the actual results: leave the explanations and comments for the Discussion section;
  2. Use the text, tables, and figures to highlight key findings in an orderly fashion;
  3. Ensure that the contents of the tables and figures do not repeat in the text.

 

Choosing the proper format for presenting the results

Tables and figures play an essential role in presenting the results. Therefore, your tables and figures should be perfect, efficient, and attractive.

First, you decide which parts of your data you want to present in the text, tables, and figures. Often this is a difficult decision. The table below will help you make an informed decision:

 

Use the table Use the picture Use the text
If you want to publish many exact numeric values and other data so that they take up little space Figures are best for presenting trends, samples, and relationships between data sets If the data reported are not too big or complex
If you want to compare and contrast the data values or characteristics of items related to each other or with several general features or variables Graphs, pie charts, and data maps are good choices if you want to summarize the results of your research If you need only 1 or 2 columns to present the data in a table
If you want to show the presence or absence of specific characteristics To visually present a sequence of phenomena, characteristics, events, or geographic indicators When reporting data that are irrelevant to your main results but still has some significance
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Recommendations for the effective use of tables and figures

Well-prepared tables and figures can effectively capture and present complex data concisely and visually appealing, which allows journal reviewers, editors, and readers to quickly gain an overview of your research findings. In contrast, poorly designed illustrations can confuse readers and reduce the efficiency of your paper. Here are some basic guidelines to help you understand how to use tables and figures effectively:

  1. Ensure that tables and figures do not require explanation.

Sometimes reviewers and journal editors may look at the tables and figures before reading the entire text, so they should make sense as separate elements.

  1. Do not repeat the content of tables and figures in the text.

You can use the text to highlight key points or trends based on the data used in the tables and figures, but do not repeat every element from a figure or table.

  1. Ensure that the values or information in the tables and text are consistent.

For example, ensure that the abbreviations, group names, interpretations, and others you used in the table are the same as those in the text.

  1. Use clear, informative names for tables and figures.

Don’t leave any table or figure without a title or legend; otherwise, readers won’t be able to understand the data values. Also, ensure that column names, axis and figure inscriptions, and others are clear and appropriate.

  1. Combine repetitive tables and figures.

Do not present the same data in a table and a figure. Check the titles of all tables and figures to determine if they say the same or similar things. If so, revise your presentation and combine or delete the tables or figures.

  1. Ensure that the data presented in the tables and figures are accurate.

Always double-check the tables and figures to make sure the numbers converge.

  1. Tables should not contain redundant information.

Ensure that the tables in the paper are not too crowded. If the data you should present is extensive and make the tables too cluttered or long, consider including the tables in Appendices or supplemental material.

  1. Ensure the clarity of the images in the figures.

Make sure the images and all parts of the figures are clear. The inscriptions should be in a standard font and legible against the background.

  1. Follow the journal’s guidelines.

Familiarize yourself with the guidelines for authors of your target journal on such items as the number of tables and figures, numbering style, titles, image resolution, file formats, and others, and follow these guidelines carefully.

  1. Get permission to use illustrations from published literature.

If you use a table or figure in your manuscript from a previously published paper, always ask permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher) and cite the source.

 

How to write a good Discussion section

Although the fixed formula for writing a Discussion section is absent, you can follow a few simple steps to produce a finished, high-impact Discussion section for your readers. We list them below:

  1. Provide a very brief summary of the central topic.

A good Discussion section extends specific findings to their broader implications that you can then link to the overall background given in the Introduction to maximize the impact of the entire paper. So start the Discussion by providing the critical information that is already known about the research topic. You can then briefly restate the research problem to connect your Discussion section to the Introduction.

  1. Interpret your results.
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Discuss the significance of your most important research findings with as much clarity as possible because not all of your readers will understand the topic in depth. Discuss the relationships between the observations: do the results indicate a pattern, and can they be generalized into totality? But don’t try imposing your interpretation on your readers – conduct an objective examination of the results. The publisher may reject the paper if you interpret the results not correctly and logically. Mention unexpected and insignificant results and do not manipulate the data.

  1. Report the results of previous research.

A thorough literature search is mandatory before conducting any study. Compare your results with previous studies to show how other studies support or differ from your results. Explain what is missing in previous studies and how those studies support your results.

  1. Discuss the significance of your research.

This part is probably the most important in the Discussion. The reader should clearly understand why your research is essential and how it has improved our understanding of a particular subject. You must describe the contribution of your research to existing knowledge and how it can stimulate future research.

  1. Specify the limitations of your study.

Specify the limitations of your study and discuss unanswered questions that you did not consider in the study. Such questions may be, for example, about whether you could probably have used a different data collection method or perhaps the sample size is unrepresentative of the target population. Self-criticism and acknowledging the study’s limitations will show that you know what your study could not cover.

  1. Finish by reporting what the readers should keep in mind.

Some journals have a separate Conclusion section after the Discussion one, while others present the conclusion in the last paragraph of the Discussion. Regardless of the format of your target journal, you should report to your readers what they should learn from your paper. You can offer a research perspective that would help remove any remaining doubts about the research question or test a new hypothesis that might develop from your results.

 

What can you do and what cannot?

Writing the Discussion section is a little difficult difficult since you should combine your thoughts and bring a perspective to the entire study. However, it is not so difficult if you take some time and think it through. Here are some tips and guidelines to help you when writing the Discussion section:

 

What can you do? What cannot you do?
Begin with whether your hypothesis received the support Do not do a simple repetition of results
Interpret the results and explain their significance Do not draw conclusions unsupported by data
Relate your results to previous research, such as whether your results converge or diverge from previous research. Also, explain your contribution to existing knowledge Do not cite all previous studies
Don’t forget to mention possible alternative explanations for the results Do not exaggerate the results
Specify limitations of the study Do not criticize other studies
Explain differences and exceptions Do not include irrelevant or insignificant issues

 

The difference between the Results and Discussion sections

Sometimes researchers get confused about what to include in the Results and Discussion sections. Although you may have understood what these two sections state, it is helpful to pay attention to the differences between them. A clear understanding of the differences will help you more effectively write the Results and Discussion sections.

 

Six differences between the Results and Discussion sections

The Results and Discussion sections of your research paper play different roles. You must understand the differences between them before you write them.

Results section Discussion section
This section answers the question “What?” about your research This section answers the question “So what?” about your research
Describes the experiments conducted before writing the paper Summarizes and interprets the significance of the key findings
States the results but does not interpret them Interprets the results but does not re-state them
Includes only data that will be important to the Discussion section Does not present new results, so do not make statements that your results cannot support
Uses the past simple Uses both past and present tense as needed
It may include non-textual elements such as tables, pictures, and photographs Use only text, although you may also refer to non-text elements
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Checklist for the Results section

Objectives addressed in the Results section:

  1. The Results section answers the question “What?” i.e., what are the findings of your study?
  2. It states only the results and does not include comments and interpretations
  3. You should always present the results accurately and objectively
  4. Tables and figures attractively present results, but you should never present the same data once in table form and once in figure form and repeat data from the table or drawing in the text.

Here is a checklist that you can download and use when writing your Results section:

 

A checklist to help you write the Results section correctly

The Results section should present the results of your study in detail along with all data.

Did you do it? Have you done it yet? Answer: Yes or no The following steps (list what you should do to complete this task)
Did you present your data concisely and objectively?
Did you state the critical results first?
Did you state that all the other results are in chronological order?
Did you organize your text into smaller parts using subheadings?
Did you place the tables and figures according to the instructions to the authors?
Have you numbered the tables and figures according to the instructions to the authors (usually consecutively)?
Have you provided an accurate legend for each table and figure?
Did you check that you did not present the same data in the table and figure?
Have you divided extra-large tables into several ones?
Do the numbers in your tables and pictures converge?
Have you thought about whether you want to make the illustrations in color or black and white?

 

Checklist for the Discussion section

Objectives addressed in the Discussion section:

  1. The Discussion section answers the most critical question, “So what?” i.e., what of these results?
  2. This section explains the significance of the results and how important they are;
  3. Here, the results are compared to the results of previous studies;
  4. The section specifies the limitations of the study and suggests the future direction of the work;
  5. The section concludes with an important message for the readers that they should understand from your paper.

Below is a checklist that you can download and use when writing the Discussion section:

 

A checklist to help you write the Discussion section correctly

The Discussion section should interpret these results and discuss the possible implications of your research in this area.

Did you do it? Have you done it yet? Answer: Yes or no The following steps (list what you must do to complete this task)
Did you specify critical results and interpret them?
Did you discuss the significance of your findings?
Did you mention the limitations and strengths of your study?
Did you explain what you learned from this study?
Did you arrange all statements and arguments logically?
Did you use simple, firm statements?
Did you explain the differences and exceptions in your results?
Did you ensure that you did not overgeneralize your results?
Did you ensure that you did not exaggerate the results?
Are you familiar with the studies you cited? You should not cite all previous studies
Did you include irrelevant or insignificant questions? If yes, omit them
Did you criticize other studies? You cannot do it or pick on them. Your goal should be to discuss the relation or comparison between your and other studies
Are you sure that the conclusion directly relates to your research question and the purpose of the study?