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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