Common Mistakes in Research Writing: the Results Section

Research Writing

Common mistakes made while writing the Results section of a scientific paper

In this part of our series on drafting a strong journal manuscript, we’ll give you tips on how to write an effective Results section. As a preface, please note that some journals require you to have separate Results and Discussion sections, while other journals require you to combine the two into one. Please double-check your target journal’s Guide for Authors to confirm its requirements.

What is the purpose of the Results section?

The Results portion of a manuscript presents the important data you acquired during your research. Yes, that sounds obvious, but there are a few common pitfalls to avoid while drafting this part of your scientific paper.

In this post, we’ll cover some general rules for writing the Results section. Then, we’ll explain how to navigate some of the drafting issues frequently encountered by research writers like you. As you write or edit your manuscript, keep these points in mind!

General tips

  1. Use the past tense. Your Results section describes observations of events that have happened already, so the use of the past tense makes sense.
  2. Make sure that your data and numbers are consistent throughout the manuscript. The last thing you want is someone going, “Wait a minute. Earlier, didn’t you say…?”
  3. Number figures and tables consecutively in the order in which you mention them. You want to avoid making readers hop back and forth. Wandering eyes lead to confusion!
  4. Clearly (and appropriately) label all figures and other images. We provide 17 great tips on how to draft good titles and legends for figures in a separate post.

Common mistakes and how to avoid them

In the table below, we identify common mistakes people make drafting their Results section (the “Don’ts”) and suggest ways to correct these problems (the “Dos”).

Don’ts Dos
Don’t include all your data. (Obviously, you won’t have enough room!) Select only the information that is most relevant to the question you want to answer in your manuscript. Include information that may or may not support your hypothesis since you should let your readers know that you have carefully considered all the data relevant to your research question.
Don’t use text to describe everything. Some data might be better understood in a more visual format, like a table or figure. In theory, if you’re able to capture the essence of most of your data by using clear graphs and illustrations, the text portion of the Results might be one of the shortest sections of your paper.
Don’t repeat the data you include in figures, tables and legends. Your data should complement the graphical information and vice versa. If you aren’t able to describe information like controls, statistical analyses, actual p values, and key observations in your figure legends, then include it in the Results section.
Don’t jump around by discussing different data in an unorganized fashion. Organize your information in the order presented in the Methods section (usually chronological) or from most to least important. Regardless of how you arrange the overall structure of the Results section, within each paragraph, you should start with the most important information first.
Don’t write long explanations. Keep your descriptions concise. Eliminate phrases that establish passive-voice structures. When you use the active voice and choose strong verbs, your sentences will shrink, and your message will be clearer.
Don’t use exact numbers that are meaningless out of context. Where appropriate, consider describing the data’s significance and magnitude using percentages and other comparison-oriented numbers. By doing so, you will better highlight relevant trends and help your readers digest your information. After all, what’s more memorable? A series of random digits or percentages?

We hope that the above cheat sheet will help you as you draft or edit your journal manuscript. If you apply these 10 tips, we are confident that your Results section will be clearer and more concise, thus making it easier to properly share your new discoveries with the world!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post in the comment box below, email us at edit@wordvice.com or reach out to us through our Contact Us page.

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