Well, if you’ve made it so far in the dissertation process that it’s time to write your results section, let us pause for just a moment and say ‘congratulations’. By no means is the work done, but you are now on the home stretch, and at the place where your research is finally what is in focus. What your results section looks like will be determined in part by a couple of factors: first, does your dissertation include both a results and a discussion section, or are they combined? Second: what kind of research did you do? Was it qualitative or quantitative? These things will provide the main structure for how to proceed.

Quantitative or Qualitative?

In some cases you will be directed to present your results and your discussion together. This may happen in cases where the type of research has produced more qualitative or interpretive types of data, such as surveys with open-ended questions, or discourse analysis of conversation, and other forms that do not fit into an easy separation of ‘fact’ from ‘interpretation’.

In most cases, however, the results section will be a section on its own, such as with statistical or quantitative data. In this case your task is clear; present your data clearly in exact detail. Remember that you will write this in the past tense, as you are reporting on work that you have already done. Be clear about how the data was tabulated and processed before running statistics. Present the results of each individual statistical analysis fully, reporting not just on test results for your type of test used (such as t-tests or ANOVA), but also on the significance test, what is often reported as the “p value”. All of this is necessary. This is not the place where you will interpret those results, but simply report on the numerical outcome of your tests. In this section you only say what happened, not what it means in regard to your research, nor why it is important to the bigger picture.

Results vs Discussion

Let’s use the metaphor of a doctor’s office. If we assume that you have been advised or instructed to include both of these sections, then you may think of the results kind of like a lab technician, and the discussion as the doctor herself. If you’ve had any blood tests or anything else done, you know that the lab technician does the actual test and produces a report with a series of numbers on it. The technician knows what the numbers mean, but it is up to the doctor to make the actual interpretation, and to deliver that information to the patient in a way that makes sense to them. The doctor will refer back to earlier conversations, and point out how these numbers fit into that, and what they ultimately mean in the context of why you needed the test in the first place. The results and the discussion section are pretty much the same thing. Let each one do its job, and all the hard work you did before will pay off in a written presentation that is easy to follow, and makes perfect sense!