Criteria for Success
- Data and conclusions are described clearly and without speculation.
- Data are presented in a narrative flow with no logical leaps.
- The narrative builds to a take-home message.
The goals of your Results section are:
- to describe and explain the data that you obtained with your methods, as objectively as possible and in a narrative form, and
- to communicate a take-home message based on those data.
While your figures give your readers the opportunity to directly examine your data and draw their own conclusions, the Results section offers more support for the process of interpreting data by explaining experimental logic, highlighting important data features, and stating your conclusions.
Speculation and extended interpretations belong in the Discussion, not in the Results.
Analyze Your Audience
The Results section of your paper is primarily intended for readers who don’t feel confident analyzing and drawing conclusions from your data based on figures and tables alone, or who prefer verbal information in addition to visual.
Certain types of readers—including those with limited time and experts in your field, narrowly defined (e.g., photovoltaic materials and devices, not electrical engineering)—may draw their conclusions directly from your figures and tables, only occasionally referring to the written text. However, many other readers rely on your Results section to fully understand what you did and what you learned
Non-experts will benefit the most from the explanations in your Results section, so don’t assume that readers know the rationale for a particular method or that the meaning of an observation is self-evident. State your motivations and interpretations as explicitly as possible. Avoid field-specific jargon if you can use simpler terms.
It’s often helpful to ask a friend from outside your sub-field to read your Results section and point out undefined jargon or places where the reasoning could be stated more clearly.
Create a logical narrative, organized into subsections
An excellent way to find a narrative order for your Results is to first organize your figures. Before writing your Results, you should have decided on the set of figures that will be included in your paper. Each Figure should support a specific conclusion and provide the data that the reader needs to evaluate that conclusion (see Figures). Reorder your figures until they form a logical sequence of conclusions leading to your final take-home message. Use this series of figures and conclusions as the outline for your Results.
Each major conclusion (which may correspond to one or multiple figures) can be the title for a subsection of your Results. This modular organization will help readers navigate your paper by quickly matching figures to Results and vice versa. (See also “Use subheadings to organize content” in Methods.)
Make sure each paragraph has rationale, data, and a transition
A single Results paragraph typically corresponds to a single experiment (or a group of closely related experiments), and a single figure or subpanel within a larger figure. (See Structure Diagram above.)
- Begin each Results paragraph with a topic sentence that explains the rationale for performing the experiment. For example, you may use a structure like this:
“To answer X (question), Y (experiment) was performed, showing Z (major results).”
- After the topic sentence, describe your data and the conclusions that you learned from it in a logical order (e.g., pros followed by cons, most to least important, experimental versus control group).
- Conclude with a transition sentence that sums up your findings, and, if necessary, justifies why you moved to the next experiment or hypothesis.
Speculation should be included in the Results section only when it is necessary to explain a transition between experiments:
“Having observed A (data), we speculated that B (mechanism) might cause Z (phenomenon). Hence, the next experiment tested the effect of B (mechanism) by…”
Show only the most essential data
Describe all data necessary for your readers to evaluate your conclusions and no more. Forcing your reader to parse through unnecessary details will distract them from your main message. Do not include data that are irrelevant to the conclusion. Deciding which data are relevant can be tricky and often involves some judgment calls. It also depends on journal article length restrictions—the shorter your article, the more content you might have to move to the Appendix/Supplementary Information or leave out.
Here are some general guidelines to help you decide which data to include and exclude:
|Include||Put in Supplementary Information, or exclude|
|The experiment or dataset that is the strongest proof of your conclusion.
The amount of space dedicated to describing an individual result should be proportional to the importance of that result to the paper’s main conclusion. It’s tempting to write more when describing a result that’s complicated or confusing, but you don’t want to fill your reader’s head with details if they distract from the main conclusion. As you write, keep reminding yourself what the most important conclusions are, and allocate the most space for details that support those conclusions.
Use appropriate style
Results should be written in past tense.
Be as objective as possible. In addition to avoiding speculation, avoid phrases like “Interestingly, we found that…”, unless that interestingness can be concretely justified (e.g., the result contradicts a major hypothesis or past findings in the field).