Strategies for writing the Results section in a scientific paper
As a STEM researcher, your day-to-day tasks will likely include a lot of experimentation or development, followed by a lot of data collection. When the time finally comes time to disseminate your research, whether through thesis, dissertation or research paper, it is important to know how best to present your results in a manner that is clear, concise and engaging. Here are a few strategies on the best ways to present your data as a STEM researcher.
Present your results – and nothing more
A cardinal rule of scientific writing is to ensure that when you are writing your Results section, you include only a presentation of the results, with no interpretation. That is to say, simply present your results, state the facts and share only the information required for the reader to follow the experimental procedures and your observations. Any interpretation of your data should be reserved for the Discussion section.
Tell a data-driven story
This may sound like an abstract concept at first, but as with any other form of writing, it is important to engage the reader and to make sure they are following what you are trying to communicate. In a piece that is particularly heavy with data, that can be a challenge.
Therefore, do your best to weave a narrative with your data, by structuring it to be either chronological, i.e. describing data in the order that you discovered it, or in sections that make sense for your work. For example, you could group similar types of experiments into one subsection, or split the larger body of work into smaller pieces.
Also, make sure you include short paragraphs to link one piece of data to the next, so as not to simply overload the reader with a series of graphs and tables. Remember, your reader will not have done these experiments, so won’t necessarily understand why you have done what you have done. So, to make it very clear for the reader, use introductory phrases to guide the ‘story’, such as:
Next, to study the effect of X, we tested it on Y.
Use graphics (judiciously)
In STEM disciplines, most data tend to be of a numerical nature, so can be expressed in graphical form, using plots or charts. This is a powerful way to present data, but be sure to use these effectively and tailor your use of graphics to the type of data you are presenting.
For example, the best practice for presenting measurements taken over a period of time is using a line graph, where the trend can easily be seen and understood by the reader without needing to spend too much time and effort in interpreting the graph.
Don’t add too many data sets onto a single graph, and be mindful of using colour, as visual impairments such as colour blindness may prevent a reader from being able to distinguish separate data sets on one graph.
The reader will need to stay engaged in the piece to be able to follow and get the most out of your paper, and they will be looking to your graphs to understand your results. Therefore, ensure that there are clear connections between the graphics you use in this section and the text that links them.
The Results section is just that: results. It can be an overwhelming section to write, as you likely have more data than you think you are able to include, so pay special attention to ensure that your presentation is as clear as possible and adheres to a simple, straightforward narrative that is easy for the reader to follow.
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