Writing a compelling results and discussion section
In the results section of your academic paper, you present what you found when you conducted your analyses, whereas in your discussion section you explain what your results mean and connect them to prior research studies. In other words, the results section is where you describe what you did, and the discussion sections is where you describe what this means for the field.
The results section should include the findings of your study without any interpretations or implications that you can draw from those results. Here, you present the findings using text supported by tables, charts, graphs and other figures. For example, in the following excerpt from article by Tolksdorf, Crawshaw, & Rohlfing, (2021), you can see how directly they report the results of their study.
Contrary to our hypothesis, there was no main effect of time, F(3, ∞) = 0.638, p = 0.166, and no significant interaction between experimental condition and time, F(3, ∞) = 0.427, p = 0.133, indicating that no significant changes in children's social referencing behavior were found in either group over the entire course of the sessions, including all learning and test situations. However, there was a highly significant main effect of condition F(1, 16.99) = 49.08, p < 0.001, demonstrating that children in the human condition displayed social referencing significantly more often than their peers interacting with the robotic partner. (p. 6)
Further in the results section the authors use a table to illustrate their results.
Table 1 presents an overview of the different interactional contexts in which children’s social referencing was situated during the long-term interaction. (p. 6)
As you can see, the results section is very direct and reports the outcome from the statistical analyses conducted. Tables and figures can help break up this section, as it can be very technical. In addition, using visuals in this way makes the results more accessible to readers.
The discussion section, which follows the results section, will include an explanation of the results. In this section, you should connect your results to previous research studies, make explicit connections back to your research question(s) and include an explanation about how the results might be generalized. This is where you make an argument that supports your main conclusions. Unlike the results section, the discussion section is where you interpret your results and explain what they mean, draw implications from your results and articulate why they matter, discuss any limitations of your results, and provide recommendations that can be made from these results. The following excerpts from the Tolksdorf, Crawshaw, & Rohlfing, (2021), help to further illustrate the difference between the results and discussions sections.
Contrary to our prior assumption, we could not observe a significant decrease in children’s social referencing in both groups despite the repetition of the interaction and increasing familiarity with the situation. Whereas, there appeared to be a slight decreasing tendency from the second to the third learning situation in each group, this trend may have been slowed down by the subsequent novel situation of the retention task, which again increased children’s reliance on the caregiver despite increasing familiarity with the interaction partner. (p. 8)
The large difference in children’s social referencing behavior between an interaction with the human vs. robotic partner is striking. One explanation for our findings is that a human partner naturally responds to various social cues (Kahle and Argyle, 2014) from the child in ways that social robots are not yet capable of, given their present technological limitations. (p. 8)
Notice how the authors provide a critical analysis of their results and offer explanations for what they found. In the second excerpt, observe how they tie an explanation for their result to prior research conducted in the field. Focusing on the results and discussion sections of different articles, and highlighting language that differentiates these sections from each other, can really help you to write your academic papers effectively.
Although the length and structure of the discussion section across research papers varies, there are some commonalities in the structure and content of these sections. Below is a suggested outline for a discussion section.
In this paragraph provide a broad overview of the importance of your study. This is where you should restate your research topic. Avoid just repeating what you included in the results section. Include the main research findings that answer your primary research question(s).
This section should be a critical analysis of your major findings. Here, you should articulate your interpretations of those findings. You should include whether these were the findings you expected and also whether they support any hypothesis you had. Provide explanations for the significance of the results and for any unexpected findings. Link your primary findings back to prior research studies. This section would also include any implications of your results.
Here you would include a discussion of any secondary findings that are of note. Additionally, you would also include any limitations of your study and how future studies might mitigate these limitations. The excerpt below, from the Tolksdorf, Crawshaw, & Rohlfing, (2021) study, provides an example of this.
We would also like to point to the possibility that the study design and procedure could have impacted our results. Adapting the design of the interaction from the robot experimental setting to be suitably comparable when taking place with a human interaction partner required us to make certain decisions. (p. 9)
This should include the conclusion of the discussion section, and future directions. In this section you could include any new research questions that arose as a result of your study. Implications from your findings for the field should also be discussed in this paragraph.
There are a number of common errors researchers make when writing the results and discussion sections. The following checklist can help you avoid these common mistakes.
Do not include interpretations or explanations of the findings in your results section. Remember that in the results section you are telling the reader what you found and in the discussion section you are telling them what it means and why it matters.
Do not exclude negative findings from your results section. Although the temptation is to report only positive findings, negative findings are important to other researchers.
You should not introduce any findings in your discussion section that were not included in the results section. These two sections should align, and you should discuss and explain only what you have already reported.
Don’t restate results in the discussion paper without an explanation or critical analysis of what they mean and why they matter.
Don’t forget to go back and check that these two sections align, and the flow from the results section to the discussion section is smooth and clear.
Tolksdorf NF, Crawshaw CE and Rohlfing KJ (2021) Comparing the Effects of a Different Social Partner (Social Robot vs. Human) on Children's Social Referencing in Interaction. Front. Educ. 5:569615. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2020.569615
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