Reporting results and developing argument, business, social sciences, humanities

This topic is currently under construction.


 Introduction

This topic within this series of resources focuses on the part of the thesis, exegesis or journal article which present the results that will answer the research question, or which elaborates and provides substantiation and explication to support the central thesis. Here you are telling the reader what you found, or what led you to your conclusions or argument. This is the fourth of the five key steps that hold the story line within theses, exegeses and journal articles.

The steps are:

  • Step 1: introduction (research justification)
  • Step 2: literature review
  • Step 3: method and methodology
  • Step 4: results/evidence/argument substantiation 
  • Step 5: discussion and conclusion

This topic first looks at the placement of results or argumentation within the overall structure of the research text, then moves to consider how results sections and chapters are structured, and finally at how paragraphs or sections within them are structured. The topic then considers features of results writing including how language use reflects methodology and referencing patterns. Although, the focus of this topic is on how to write about results, as opposed to how to analyse your data, you may find it helpful in reflecting upon the data analysis process.

Structure

There are two basic placements for writing about results or evidence, or for providing substantiation for an argument within the thesis and exegesis. The first is within a separate chapter or chapters which are devoted solely to this purpose and which follow the introductory chapter, literature review and methodology. The second option is to report results separately within chapters that include some combination of literature review, methods, results and discussion. The latter style is more typical for the question/answer style of thesis. For more detail about how to present your evidence within different types of thesis structure see the topic on thesis structures and styles in this resource.

When one study determines the next

In some research, one study or experiment must be conducted before the next study or experiment can be designed. In these cases, results are typically reported together with the method, and chapters may include question/aims (possibly also literature review), overview of the experiments or study (methods, sampling, data analysis), results, and discussion, conclusion. There may not be a separate study design section preceding the results, or if there is it might be dedicated to theoretical and conceptual aspects underpinning the overall research design.

Key principles

There are a few general principles which might be observed across very different styles of writing in the mid sections of theses, exegeses and journal articles. These might be expressed in the following terms.

1. Foreground what is important or interesting; background what is well known.

How do you know what is 'important' or 'interesting'? All disciplines, regardless of how different their methodologies, share one thing in common: they highlight what is new in relation to a question. 'Research' is not a matter of reporting or writing about everything that was or might have been found within the research process on the topic area. If it were, the task would perhaps be much simpler than it actually is. As discussed in the introduction to the research story line, research is inter-textual; which is to say that research is meaningful only in relation to existing research within a discipline or field. Research students, as for all researchers who wish to publish, must 'make an original contribution to knowledge'. In other words, you must write about what is new to other researchers in your field of research. This is reflected in every stage of the research process, including at the analysis and the results writing stages. Within both processes, the task is to background or summarise any findings or points that are well known, and to foreground and extrapolate upon results or insights that are novel, perhaps unpredicted or contentious, or which lend some deeper or less well-traversed insight into your topic.

In some projects, for various reasons, all of the data may be important or new. Probably more frequent is a body of data that is full of expected and 'boring' findings or insights, alongside some that are less so. In these cases, the researcher's job is to reflect back on the literature and draw from the results selectively.

2. Report results and evidence, or structure your argument in order of importance or persuasiveness (most important first), or chronologically (for staged studies). 

Once you have decided what you have found that is 'interesting', it will be necessary to decide how you will break up, report or present the results, or structure your argument. The rule to follow here is to present your findings or to develop the key points in your argument in terms of their importance. In some cases, it might make sense to report material in the order in which they were done, for staged studies perhaps, or in the order in which they were collected. In the latter example, it might make sense to report in relation to sections within a questionnaire or interview schedule for instance. 

Deciding how you will structure your chapter or section can be difficult. Determining the structure of the results or of the main points that will underpin the separation of the middle chapters involves making decisions about how many chapters will be devoted to results or to supportive argumentation, and, if there will be more than one chapter, what element of the results, evidence or argumentation will be provided in each chapter, and in each section. You may find the handout on mind mapping (insert link to handout here) useful for deciding how to structure your key results or main points.

3. Report all results or evidence pertinent to the aim (not just those that support the key findings or argument).

Although you will highlight, from among all the possible observations on the topic, those that are new or interesting to your field, you must nevertheless provide a faithful or accurate representation of the data. It is unethical to obscure or fail to report information that contradicts your assertions. To do so, would be to mislead, an instance of unethical intellectual practice.

4. Be clear about the difference between a result, or an argument or main point, and data or detail to support it

Data is the raw material produced by your method, and your initial treatment of that data, such as for example interview text, groupings of text around key words, and numbers or summaries of numbers in tables, graphs and charts. Results are the inferences you draw from the data and from your treatment of the data. Results refer the reader to what the data tells us about the question posed in the topic area. Data is the body of evidence that supports the result. Results are then elements that will go together to make up the broader conclusion in relation to your question. The conclusion provides the overall answer to the question or aim posed in the introduction, or sums up the overall take home message of the thesis, exegesis or journal article.

Example

Thesis question Does trade liberalisation decrease poverty?

Result The results show that trade liberalisation of manufacturing industries increases economic growth and reduces absolute poverty across low income household groups. (Lead sentence, followed by data to support the result)

Result However, very little of this growth 'trickles down' to the poorest people in rural Sri Lanka. (Lead sentence, followed by data to support the result) 

Result The liberalisation of agricultural industries also has little impact upon the incomes of rural groups. (Lead sentence, followed by data to support the result) 

Result Reduced flow of government transfers to households following the loss of tariff revenue may be blamed for this trend. (Lead sentence, followed by data to support the result)

Conclusion Trade reform has a positive impact upon aggregate levels of poverty, but the Sri Lankan case suggests that it can also increase the gap between the rich and the poor. This suggests that trade liberalisation should be accompanied by active policy intervention to alleviate the poverty of specific groups and avoid increases in relative poverty within a country.

The introduction and main body

The introduction in results writing or main body chapters typically provides one or more of the following elements:

  • the aim or objective, linked to the methodology, or the methodological rationale,
  • a description of the data or evidence that will be presented,
  • a summary of the content order (for longer texts like chapters),
  • a statement of the key points or results that will be presented in that chapter,
  • a statement of the argument that will be developed in that chapter (in descriptive style writing).

In terms of the structure of the main text, the principle is to lead with the main point, or the key result, and then to provide detail from the data, or further detailed explication of a point, perhaps in the form of exemplification or other logical strategy to persuade the reader of your point. In many texts, you can observe that the data is presented first, and is summarised in a key point at the end of the paragraph or section. The important thing is to avoid unnecessary overlap of content between paragraphs and sections, and to ensure that key points, or results, are provided at regular and logical intervals, preferably at or near the beginning or ending of paragraphs and sections. This structure allows the reader to know how the data, or the detail and elaboration presented in the text, links back to the key questions and aims of the thesis, exegesis or journal article. Although somewhat stylised, it may be useful to think back to the principles of good essay writing, depicted in the embedded figures, when thinking about structuring your results or middle chapters and sections. The 'main reason', or 'topic sentence' in these examples can be replaced with the key result in the research context, or the main point supporting the argument.

The conclusion then 'wraps up' or summarises the key results or main points into overarching concluding type sentences which refer back to the central aims or purpose of the research. The same principle will apply to the first part of the conclusion of the overall text.

The 'detail' that makes up the body of the text can take many forms, some of these include:

  • presentation of empirical data (statistics, summaries of textual material, illustrative or exemplary quotes or excerpts),
  • comparisons and contrasts of the study findings or conclusions with those of other researchers in the field (unless this is provided in a separate discussion),
  • explanation of any exceptions, exclusions, or qualifications,
  • elaboration or explication of argument via logical or critical commentary.

Examples

Example chapter introduction question/answer thesis
Lin, M. 2006. Initial public offerings and board governance: An Australian study, PhD thesis, Uni of Western Australia, School of economics and commerce, pp. 124-125.

Chapter introduction
'In this chapter we address our first research question on whether initial board structures of IPO firms conform to the ASX best practice recommendations (reminds the reader of the aim/objective). At the time of listing, IPO firms arguably would adopt the "optimal" board structure to maximise their appeal to outside investors. In this chapter we first analyse the board and director characteristics of IPO firms at the time of listing. Then, we compare them against the ASX best practice recommendations to determine if the majority of IPO firms show conformity with or deviations from the recommendations (links the aim to the methodology, methodological rationale).

Section one introduction
'The IPO boards typically range from three to six members (key result). Across the sample, 83% of IPO firms have six or fewer board members. The average and median board size for the sample is five, and more than one third of IPOs (37% across the sample period) have fewer than five. Only a handful of IPOs have more than seven board members (presents detailed data to support or extrapolate the result). Thus in comparison with the board size implicit in ASX's best practice recommendations, the boards of IPO firms appear to fall short of up to two directors on average (links back to the central question)'.  

Example chapter introduction descriptive thesis
McCullock, J. 1998. Blue army: Paramilitary policing in Victoria, PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, faculty of arts, p. 73.

Chapter introduction
'This chapter examines the training, tactics and weapons used by Victoria's Police Tactical Group, the Special Operations Group (SOG) (describes the evidence that will be discussed in the chapter). The chapter demonstrates that although the military training, tactics and equipment of the SOG were predicated on a perceived need to counter terrorism, the SOG has instead been used in a range of traditional police work, paving the way for the introduction of military methods and equipment into everyday policing (presents the overall point of the chapter of the central argument)'.

Writing about results

This section considers two aspects of writing about results, referencing and language use.

Methodological styles in results writing

One of the first observations that can be made about the language used in research writing in the results or argument development chapters and sections is that they reflect both discipline and methodology. It can be helpful to consider this when writing up your own results. Some sentence stems from journal articles from different disciplines and methodologies have been cut and pasted below to illustrate this point.

Survey, structural equation modelling

Results

  • Nearly x percent were … , while y percent use … . For x and y aspect, the variation was … . Only x percent … .
  • The (participants) reported reasons for … are summarised in table two. The reasons participants stated are various, but the most frequently mentioned reason was that … . Nearly … percent state this as the reason. This motive is much more important than … , at … percent. X and y aspect were named by nearly … percent, while only … percent said that …. .
  • This is low compared to … , which is about … percent.
  • Univariate relationships between … are summarised in … .
  • The model confirms that … x increases with … and … .
  • An increase in x variable, leads to decrease of y variable.
  • According to these estimates, increasing x from b to c, would lead to a decrease in y.
  • X, y, z variables do not make a significant difference to the question of whether … (research aim).

Discussion

  • The results of the structural equation modelling show that … .
  • This is somewhat different from the findings of x, who found that … . There are a number of potential reasons for the different results. First of all, our study measures … . Further, x’s study utilised … in contrast to the current study in which … . Finally, x’s study used general measures of … whereas our study used more specific expressions of … .
  • Nevertheless, it should be noted that … . This indicates that … . In other words, the effect of x is mediated by … .
  • Thus the differences we observed between … were most likely due to … .
  • The finding that … , also confirms previous studies.

Conclusion

  • It can be concluded that … .
  • Any measure aimed at … , will only be effective if … .
  • Future studies of … , should aim at … , and should also discuss the relationship between … and …  .

Interviews and focus groups, thematic analysis

Results/discussion

  • (Aspect of data) … suggests … .
  • The key question was whether … or whether … . The findings revealed that ... .
  • In the focus groups and interviews participants were asked about … . Here is a sample of their responses: … . As these examples illustrate … . These comments are suggestive of … .
  • As these examples indicate … . For others however … . Notably however … .
  • Respondents believed that … .
  • A troubling finding of this study however is that … .
  • The value of … was also commonly identified.
  • The most frequent view expressed was that … .
  • Many also indicated that … .
  • It is clear from the responses that … .
  • These findings contrast significantly with claims made that … .
  • One thing that emerges clearly from our study is that …

Conclusion

  • The wider question provoked by this study is why … .
  • A further study should also seek to explore … , with the aim of … .

Interviews, grounded theory

Results

  • Analysis of the data revealed that … (research focus) was rare in the experience of participants. In other words, participants did not themselves often speak about their … (research focus). Illustrative remarks included … .
  • Indeed, (research focus) was frequently referred to as ‘taboo’, rationalised on the basis of perceived … .
  • The concept of taboo tended to be raised in relation to … . For example, a … participant noted that … . Similarly … (another participant) noted that the topic was … .
  • Given the perception of taboo around (research focus), self-disclosure presented some clear risks in that … .  This process was encapsulated by one participant as … (identified research concept) which could refer to … . Participant x, for example, felt … .  Another participant referred to how she felt about … . (Inserted illustrative quotes from interview data).
  • Self-disclosure about … (research focus) can expose individuals to a range of risks or potential consequences. Perceived risks, based on self-reported experiences and observations included … . (Key risks identified) was invariably associated in the data with … . (Key identified risks), according to … (author/reference), refers to … . The finding here that … has not been identified elsewhere in the literature although some work has been undertaken on the relationship between … and … .
  • Illustrations of (identified risk) ran throughout the data. For example … participant described … .
  • Given the sensitivities around (identified risks), gauging when and whom to disclose to and to what extent is critical. (Identified construct) is an analytical construct pertaining to participant assessments about the advisability of disclosure, based on … , involving … . The metaphorical construct is illustrated well by one participant who observed that … . Construct might involve casual references to … . Participant x also recognises … .

Conclusion

  • Analysis of the data revealed that … (research focus) … was a critical mechanism for understanding how individuals experience … . The findings suggest that in the experience of participants … . Identified risks of … (research focus) included … . These risks are all captured in the concept of  …, a metaphor denoting … .
  • The outcomes of this research suggest the value of exploring further the relationship between … and … theories. If (identified concept) proves to be incommensurate to … (facet of theorised experience) … then it may be that … .
  • Finally, analysis of the data in the study has tended to focus on … , but the notion of …. also deserves attention in order to discover more about how … .  

 Interviews and focus groups, phenomenology

Results

  • Ten emerging themes were clustered in three comprehensive categories: …
  • There were three themes that captured the … , including … .
  • The … (name participant group) … in this study were motivated to … . This included … .
  • Most of the participants in this study had not had … .
  • They compared their … experience, with … .
  • All the participants consciously … and some thought about how … . They changed their behaviour to … , and became more … .
  • The participants also complained about …, but were uncertain about … .
  • Most participants tried to … . Most participants thought … .
  • They felt an urge to … . For instance, participant x talked about … .
  • There were some participants who did not … . They used metaphors such as … .
  • Paradoxically, some of the participants described … .
  • The first dimension … is characterised by …
  • The second dimension … is a state of … .
  • The third dimension … has as its starting point .. .

Discussion/conclusion

  • The description and the structure of the lived experience of … provide an understanding of … .
  • The findings of this study support previous research on various aspects of  … . For example… .
  • In light of this study, there is a need to incorporate the participants’ experiences as a basis for … , and to include participants in … .
  • The underlying problem, therefore, with (existing approach) is that … .

 Textual analysis, deconstruction

Results

  • What the commentaries offer are two further ‘readings’ of … . They are, of course, privileged readings, in the sense that … . They are also privileged in the sense that … .
  • The argument that we develop is one which would have to question the authority of those readings, and specifically that … .
  • Let us look at the narrative strategies that are embedded in the account. Text example … begins with a pattern entailing … . Each pattern is a resolution of opposites. In the first, … . The second contains the opposition of … against … . The third opposition is bewtwen the … and the … .
  • In the storying of these, however, the fulcrum is given in … .
  • Later in the … text example, these stories are accompanied by … .
  • The author seeks a satisfactory plot line that will lead … .
  • The narrative structure is … . … (a different approach) would go against the narrative logic established in the … textual examples.
  • The narrative logic encodes… .
  • The last sentence of paragraph three introduces … . This is immediately elaborated in the next paragraph where a further theme is casually gestured involving the … .
  • The themes that figure as organising devices include … .
  • Paragraph five marks the first instance of the core identity which is fashioned in the text, that of … .
  • Another textual strategy accompanying the first appearance of the core identity is ... .
  • Paragraph contains an interesting new development in the structuring of the story. There … is established through … .
  • By forging a link between … and … , the … is used to construct … . At the same time the paragraph grafts onto the identity a further element, that of … . This theme also comes in useful a little later in the text when it is used to establish … .
  • A similar authorial nudge occurs at x paragraph, where … .
  • Passing over paragraphs x to y, we come to paragraph z which introduces … .
  • Some of the narrative means for achieving this are quite clear: … .
  • One of the most notable exclusions is … .
  • Other omissions are equally curious: there is almost no mention of … .

Discussion/conclusion

  • Some of the possibilities for different approaches to … might include … .
  • One way to tell … story, would be to … . Another way to approach the problem of … might be to … . That might imply a more … , raising the possibility that … . Working in this way, a contradictory version of … might be developed. This would enable … .
  • We have argued that … . This raises the question of whether … .

Referencing

There are different reasons for using references in research writing. Some of these, with examples, are provided below.

To compare and contrast the findings or argument with existing findings or presuppositions in the discipline and to comment on the extent to which they confirm or diverge from them

Our findings are consistent with previous studies which found that …  (reference, reference, reference). Our finding that … (new finding of the   study) … therefore suggests … ’.

In an earlier study by Baltbat (2004) an average of ... was reported, which is the same finding in this study.

Dominant construction of masculinity are said to ... (Sattel 1992). Masculinity is defined as ... (Doyle 1989: 148-160). The feminine by contrast is constructed in terms of  ... (Duncome and Marsden 1995; Hite and Colleran, 1989; Kaufman, 1993: 241). This study suggests however that ... .

To support interpretations of results or to analyse data

'It has been shown that ... (reference). This perhaps explains the suggestion by the participants in the study that ...'.

To explore implications arising from research and to build towards conclusions

‘The importance of … is highlighted by the majority of interviewees. This lends support to the supposition that … (reference)’.

Shekhar and Stapledon (2005) examine ... and again report ... . Together with the finding (of this study) that ... , these findings suggest that ... .

When referencing in the results and middle thesis chapters:

  • Do not include references in sentences which report your own results or conclusions, doing so may confuse the reader about who the findings belong to.
  • Lead with your own results, and then consider the extent to which they support or diverge from previous research.

Explaining how a result is significant

Instead of stating that a result is significant, show the significance of the result. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but a common method is to provide a contrast. For example, instead of saying 'Results for the distance travelled were highly significant', try 'While the average distance travelled is five kilometres, the sample population travelled on average 10 kilometres further. This is explained by ...'

Poor example of results statement
From Zeiger, M 2000, Essentials of writing biomedical research papers, Second ed, New York, McGraw-Hill, pp. 154-175.

In the 20 control subjects, the mean resting blood pressure was 85+5 (SD) mmHg. In comparison, in the 30 tennis players, the mean resting blood pressure was 94+3 mmHg (unclear what point we are to draw from the data, whether the data are similar or different).

Better example of results statement 

The mean resting blood pressure was 10% higher in the 30 tennis players than in the 20 control subjects. In the 20 control subjects, the mean resting blood pressure was 85+5 (SD) mmHg. In comparison, in the 30 tennis players, the mean resting blood pressure was 94+3 mmHg (provides clear and precise statement of the magnitude of the difference).

Figures, tables and graphs

Zeiger, M 2000, Essentials of writing biomedical research papers, Second ed, New York, McGraw-Hill, pp. 154-175.

Figures, tables and graphs:

  • are necessary only when they provide information that expands upon, or cannot be explained in the text;
  • should contain sufficient information to enable them to stand alone;
  • are always discussed in the text;
  • use titles to describe core content, (name of variables, type of analysis);
  • are clearly and consistently labelled and numbered;
  • are listed at the beginning of the thesis;
  • list one column of data per heading;
  • should be uncluttered.

Refer to figures and tables in the flow of the discussion. Avoid using a figure or table title as a topic sentence. Instead, cite tables and figures in brackets after relevant results statements.

Poor example

‘A summary of renal function data is presented in Fig. 2’.

Better example

‘Renal function data showed that …. (Figure 2)’.

This resource was developed by Wendy Bastalich

Last modified: Tuesday, 10 September 2019, 3:54 PM