Writing results sections – a quick guide

This month I have examined two PhD theses and read three MRes project reports and I thought I would share some simple advice to help what should be the easiest and clearest part of any thesis/manuscript/report. The advice below is what I do, not every PI will agree with this format

0) Analyse your data, make the figs and decide where and how it fits in the story

Do this first! Indeed do this immediately once you generate the data!

1) Title 

state the overall answer to the question not the type of experiment. Eg “treatment x inhibits wound healing” instead of “wound healing studies” 

Try to keep it as short as possible but still accurate (don’t overstretch)

2) First sentence

What is it you wanted to find out? “In order to determine if …..” Or “next, we asked….”

3) Second sentence

How did you go about it? “To do so, we….”

Your methods are elsewhere but 1 sentence here that states how the experiment was done focuses the argument. This is especially important where you have used either multiple approaches to ask related questions (i.e. almost always!) and when your methods are located away from your results (also almost always!)

Remember to include references  here to support your model and your experiment choice.

4) Description of data

Clear, distinct and focused.

Include the actual values not just up and down. Point the readers to the evidence (figures) in order. Make sure every panel is referred to.

5) Wrap/Conclusion

Just like every paragraph needs a wrap sentence so does a results section. A one sentence conclusion that answers the question you asked is usually appropriate. “These data demionstrate that…” 

No need to interpret too far here just keep it to the facts. Also use this to set up the next experiment. “However, we cannot rule out…”

6) Figures

Make these first. I’m a believer that the figures and results sections should each be able to stand alone. Your text should explain the key findings such that you don’t need to look at the figs to know the data. Your figs should be understandable enough that an experienced researcher can identify the key findings themselves if they want to. However, don’t make it the reader’s job to interpret the fig. Rather Use your data figs to provide the evidence you support your statements.

So, follow the simple formula and your results will write themselves.

Once you are used to writing like this all your results sections will only take ~30 mins each. More importantly, your reader will clearly follow the story as you build it up and will demonstrate to your examiners that you understand what you did, why you did it, and what it means.

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Colin and ColXVII

On the day I started at UofL I was shown in to my new office and told that I was to be sharing with fellow new starter Prof Colin Willoughby for awhile whilst his office was renovated. Colin, as those who have met him will tell you, is a great guy and an amazingly good scientist; one of those rare people where you need to be switched on the entire time he is speaking as the thought process runs so quickly. A short chat with Colin and you suddenly have 5 more experiments to do that will get to the bottom of a question you didn’t know you should be asking in the first place!

On that fateful first day, he and I had a chat about our respective backgrounds and coincidence #1 came up where he is one of the two geneticists to come from a tiny wee town in Northern Ireland. As it happens, the other one was my PhD supervisor, Irwin McLean. He and Irwin had collaborated whilst I did my PhD, and I had processed some of the DNAs from some of his patients. Coincidence #2, Colin is an expert at miRNAs now, however, when he was just starting in to this relatively new area he relied on the work of Robert Lavker, my friend and mentor from Northwestern University. Robert was also one of the main reasons I considered a move from the skin into the eye and his opinion of Liverpool’s research helped me make my decision to take up this position.

#3 is just published.

One of Colin’s projects has been working  on identifying the mutation responsible for recurrent corneal erosions in an extended Liverpool family. Turns out the causative mutation is in the gene encoding Collagen XVII. As it happens, some of my key papers before leaving Chicago was into Col XVII (also known as BPAG2 or BP180) function in skin. In fact almost all my work at NU in some way investigated how Col XVII and its binding partners influence how cells behave – papers here, here and here. Even the manuscript we submitted last month contains images detailing surprising changes in Col XVII localisation when we modify LaNt a31 levels in corneal cells.

The original mutation identification paper from Colin and his collaborators is just published, it’s an interesting story, 20 years in the making, read the press release on the University of Liverpool’s website here. This finding and our serendipitous meeting has created a great opportunity to push this work forward, harnessing Colin’s genetics wizardry and my cell and molecular biology / matrix biology background. The family, incidentally, are lovely and its been a real pleasure to be able to say that we finally understand the reason behind their condition and that we are taking steps toward finding a treatment .

This news got picked up by a variety of other sources links here:

sci news.com science daily sci feeds TVN oyuz news united and more (beneath the pic)

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They grow up so fast: MRes Spring 2016 edition

Another semester, another fruitful batch of MRes students.

This time Farhannah and Shane returned for another dose of punishment fun in team Hamill.

Farhannah, working closely with PhD student Lee Troughton, generated a load of interesting and somewhat surprising data about LaNt a31 knockdown in corneal epithelial cells. Her talk today was thoroughly impressive; hilarious in points, but, a thoroughly effective and entertaining method of delivering the message. I particularly appreciated the “I could watch these videos all day” comment referring to her talin-rfp timelapse movies its great when your student gets the same sort of enjoyment out of the data. I’m not sure I would have called the cell “Jeff” though.

Shane, on the other hand, did a non-LaNt related project (shocking, I know), driven largely by Prof Colin Willoughby but directed by myself and helped by Dr Umar Sharif in my lab. His studies yielded a ton of  data on a new project and although they are still preliminary  the data are also quite encouraging and will now be followed up by our next student starting next week.

Here they are with the obligatory photos of the proud science parent; Farhannah presenting her talk, Shane with his poster.

They grow up so fast – BSMB 2016 edition

The last couple of days has been filled with fun and great science at the British Society of Matrix Biology meeting in Chester.

Team Hamill members Valentina Iorio and Lee Troughton presented posters of their work that together make up a manuscript that is currently out for review.

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There was also a sizeable showing from other University of Liverpool, mostly IACD scientists with Simon Tew, Mandy Peffers on the organising committee , Liz Laird, Blandine Poullet, Takao Sakai , Ben Dermott and Ian Li presenting talks and a number of others with posters. Made for a sizeable showing and the first really clear indication of the critical mass of matrix scientists that we now have in IACD.

It was also a fun time and good break for team Hamill (and affiliate, Karen Lester!)