The Results section is the heart of any research report. Your introduction and literature review frame your topic and introduce your research question and hypotheses. Your Methods section tells the reader what you did to try to answer the research question and test the hypotheses. The Methods section gives credibility to the way that you went about doing the research. But the Results section is where you tell your reader what you have found. Think about it for a minute. The Introduction and Methods section are meaningless without results, so everything in your research report until the Results section is buildup.
When you write your Results section, you want to be factual and clear. This isn’t the place to interject your opinion. (That will come next, in the discussion section.) Instead, the Results section is where people want to see the data, or more accurately, the summary and analysis of the data. Try to make your Results section seem objective. Tell the reader why you did the specific analysis and what you found. Readers of research reports usually expect that a Results section will be objective. The truth is that, particularly with modern computers, researchers typically report a small percentage of the results that they examined and researchers are sometimes selective (and biased) in what they choose to report.
It is common for Results sections to be full of tables and charts, but they need text too. “Let the numbers speak” is a commonly used phrase (in business and in academic research), but numbers don’t have a voice. They rely on authors to explain what they mean and why they are important. You should tell the reader which results reflect on which parts of your research objectives. Statements like, “In order to test Hypothesis 2, I performed an independent samples t-test comparing educational attainment in first generation college students with their peers whose families had previously attended college” direct the reader to know what you are doing and why.
You can report your results in tables, charts, and text. As a general rule, if there are only a couple of numbers to report, just use text. For instance, you might say, “First generation college students are less likely to complete their bachelor’s degree than their peers. 54 percent of first generation students completed their degree while 78 percent of their peers completed their Bachelor’s program.” If you have more than a few, but less than a lot of numbers, tables are very helpful. If you have a lot of numbers to display, or if your findings are easier to display graphically, use a chart. When considering if you should use a chart, remember the old phrase, “A picture says a 1000 words.” If you could replace your chart with a couple of sentences without losing meaning, then a chart is not the right tool for the job.
I expect that you will report at least one statistical significance test. If you are not sure which test to use, ask. The goal is less to force you to run significance tests than to make you experience what it’s like to use them. Some of you have very large datasets. You may find that small differences are still statistically significant, but those differences are meaningless. In the work that you are doing, remember that “statistically significant” is an adjective, not a noun. What you are really saying is that the difference between two groups is not likely due to random chance.
Even though this is a class project, most of you will run a lot more analyses on your data than you report. You should never feel obliged to report something that you did. Give your reader the important stuff. That should always include tests of your hypotheses, but it might also include some additional analysis that you did that provides a better understanding of the result. Let’s say that you found the difference between first generation students and your peers that I described above. You then wanted to know if the real driver is race, so you look at how the percentage of first generation African-American students completing their degree compares with the African-American peers whose families have previously sent someone to college. You should report that. It gives the reader more information and may answer a question that the reader was already framing in his or her mind.
The length of your Results sections will vary a lot. Some of you will write 1-2 pages and others will write 5. More isn’t necessarily better, but if your Results section is short because it is missing other information, then your writeup may be too short.
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