Skip to main content

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 7. The Results

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.

Definition

The results section is where you report the findings of your study based upon the methodology [or methodologies] you applied to gather information. The results section should state the findings of the research arranged in a logical sequence without bias or interpretation. A section describing results [a.k.a., "findings"] is particularly necessary if your paper includes data generated from your own research.


Annesley, Thomas M. "Show Your Cards: The Results Section and the Poker Game." Clinical Chemistry 56 (July 2010): 1066-1070.

Importance of a Good Results Section

When formulating the results section, it's important to remember that the results of a study do not prove anything. Findings can only confirm or reject the hypothesis underpinning your study. However, the act of articulating the results helps you to understand the problem from within, to break it into pieces, and to view the research problem from various perspectives.

The page length of this section is set by the amount and types of data to be reported. Be concise, using non-textual elements appropriately, such as figures and tables, to present results more effectively. In deciding what data to describe in your results section, you must clearly distinguish information that would normally be included in a research paper from any raw data or other content that could be included as an appendix. In general, raw data that has not been summarized should not be included in the main text of your paper unless requested to do so by your professor.

Avoid providing data that is not critical to answering the research question. The background information you described in the introduction section should provide the reader with any additional context or explanation needed to understand the results. A good strategy is to always re-read the background section of your paper after you have written up your results to ensure that the reader has enough context to understand the results [and, later, how you interpreted the results in the discussion section of your paper].


Bavdekar, Sandeep B. and Sneha Chandak. "Results: Unraveling the Findings." Journal of the Association of Physicians of India 63 (September 2015): 44-46; Brett, Paul. "A Genre Analysis of the Results Section of Sociology Articles." English for Specific Speakers 13 (1994): 47-59; Burton, Neil et al. Doing Your Education Research Project. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2008; Results. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Results Section. San Francisco Edit; "Reporting Findings." In Making Sense of Social Research Malcolm Williams, editor. (London;: SAGE Publications, 2003) pp. 188-207.

Structure and Writing Style

I. Organization and Approach

For most research paper formats in the social and behavioral sciences, there are two possible ways of presenting and organizing the results. Both approaches are appropriate in how you report your findings, but use only one format or the other.

  1. Present a synopsis of the results followed by an explanation of key findings. For example, you may have noticed an unusual correlation between two variables during the analysis of your findings. It is correct to point this out in the results section. However, speculating as to why this correlation exists, and offering a hypothesis about what may be happening, belongs in the discussion section of your paper.
  2. Present a result and then explain it, before presenting the next result then explaining it, and so on, then end with an overall synopsis. This is more common in longer papers because it helps the reader to better understand each finding. This is also the preferred approach if you have multiple results of equal significance. In this model, it is helpful to provide a brief conclusion that ties each of the findings together and provides a narrative bridge to the discussion section of the your paper.

NOTE: Just as you arrange the literature review under conceptual categories [rather than systematically describing each source], arrange your findings under key themes related to addressing the research problem. This can be done under either format noted above [i.e., a thorough explanation of the results or a sequential description and explanation of each key finding].


II.  Content

In general, the content of your results section should include the following elements:

  • Introductory context for understanding the results by restating the research problem underpinning your study. This is useful in orientating the reader's focus back to the research after reading about the methods of data gathering and analysis.
  • Inclusion of non-textual elements, such as, figures, charts, photos, maps, tables, etc. to further illustrate key findings, if appropriate. Rather than relying entirely on descriptive text, consider the ways your findings can be presented visually. This is a helpful way of condensing a lot of data into one place that can then be referred to in the text. Consider using appendices if there is a lot of non-textual elements.
  • A systematic description of your results, highlighting for the reader observations that are most relevant to the topic under investigation [remember that not all results that emerge from the methodology used to gather information may be related to answering the "So What?" question]. Do not confuse observations with interpretations; observations in this context refers to highlighting important findings you discovered through a process of reviewing prior literature and gathering data.
  • The page length of your results section is guided by the amount and types of data to be reported. However, focus only on findings that are important and related to addressing the research problem. It is not uncommon to have unanticipated results that are not relevant to answering the research question, and this is not to say that you don't acknowledge tangential findings, but spending time describing them only clutters your overall results section.
  • Use the past tense when referring to your results. Reference to findings should always be described as having already happened because the method of gathering data has been completed.
  • Conclude the results section with a short paragraph that synthesizes the key findings of the study. Highlight the most important findings you want readers to remember as they transition into the discussion section. This is particularly important if, for example, there are many results to report, the findings are complicated or unanticipated, or they are impactful or actionable in some way [i.e., able to be acted upon in a feasible way applied to practice].

III. Problems to Avoid

When writing the results section, avoid doing the following:

  1. Discussing or interpreting your results. Save all this for the next section of your paper, although where appropriate, you should compare or contrast specific results to those found in other studies [e.g., "Similar to Smith [1990], one of the findings of this study is the strong correlation between motivation and academic achievement...."].
  2. Reporting background information or attempting to explain your findings. This should have been done in your Introduction section, but don't panic! Often the results of a study point to the need for additional background information or to explain the topic further, so don't think you did something wrong. Revise your introduction as needed.
  3. Ignoring negative results. If some of your results fail to support your hypothesis, do not ignore them. Document them, then state in your discussion section why you believe a negative result emerged from your study. Note that negative results, and how you handle them, offer you the opportunity to write a more engaging discussion section, therefore, don't be afraid to highlight them.
  4. Including raw data or intermediate calculations. Ask your professor if you need to include any raw data generated by your study, such as transcripts from interviews or data files. If raw data is to be included, place it in an appendix or set of appendices that are referred to in the text.
  5. Be as factual and concise as possible in reporting your findings. Do not use phrases that are vague or non-specific, such as, "appeared to be greater or lesser than..." or "demonstrates promising trends that...."
  6. Presenting the same data or repeating the same information more than once. If it is important to highlight a particular finding, you will have an opportunity to emphasize its significance in the discussion section.
  7. Confusing figures with tables. Be sure to properly label any non-textual elements in your paper. Don't call a chart an illustration or a figure a table. If you are not sure, go here.

Annesley, Thomas M. "Show Your Cards: The Results Section and the Poker Game." Clinical Chemistry 56 (July 2010): 1066-1070; Bavdekar, Sandeep B. and Sneha Chandak. "Results: Unraveling the Findings." Journal of the Association of Physicians of India 63 (September 2015): 44-46; Burton, Neil et al. Doing Your Education Research Project. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2008;  Caprette, David R. Writing Research Papers. Experimental Biosciences Resources. Rice University; Hancock, Dawson R. and Bob Algozzine. Doing Case Study Research: A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press, 2011; Introduction to Nursing Research: Reporting Research Findings. Nursing Research: Open Access Nursing Research and Review Articles. (January 4, 2012); Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Results Section. San Francisco Edit; Ng, K. H. and W. C. Peh. "Writing the Results." Singapore Medical Journal 49 (2008): 967-968; Reporting Research Findings. Wilder Research, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services. (February 2009); Results. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Results. Thesis Writing in the Sciences. Course Syllabus. University of Florida.

Writing Tip

Why Don't I Just Combine the Results Section with the Discussion Section?

It's not unusual to find articles in social science journals where the author(s) have combined a description of the findings with a discussion about their implications. You could do this. However, if you are inexperienced writing research papers, consider creating two distinct sections for each element in your paper as a way to better organize your thoughts and, by extension, your  paper. Think of the results section as the place where you report what your study found; think of the discussion section as the place where you interpret your data and answer the "So What?" question. As you become more skilled writing research papers, you may want to meld the results of your study with a discussion of its implications.


Driscoll, Dana Lynn and Aleksandra Kasztalska. Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.