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How to Write Your Results Section of Your Scientific Paper

Mar 23, 2021

If you are working on writing a scientific paper, I know that writing your results section can be difficult. You may feel like you do not know what to write or how to talk about your data. When I first started writing results sections, I did not know how to dive into my results or how to not be repetitive.

Therefore, now that I have written and published many papers, I want to share how I write my results sections of my scientific papers! If you want access to my full process for writing and submitting research papers, get my Scientific Research Paper Checklist!

Make a Figure Outline First

Before you ever sit down to write your results section, you should make a figure outline.

A figure outline is a way to create your paper’s story. Yes, even in scientific papers, you should be telling a story. You should take a reader with you on the journey to answering your research question and the data will help you move the field forward.

Each figure in a figure outline should make a specific point to your reader. For example, in the figure below, I was asking what metal was best at separating steroid isomers. Therefore, this figure is showing the resolution on the y-axis vs. the molecular weight of the isomers on the x-axis. Then the color and shape of the data point represent the metal. Therefore, the figure shows that one metal does not give the best separation for all steroid isomers. Instead, you can identify the best metal based on the molecular weight of the steroid isomers.

Reproduced from Rister et al., 2019

Once you have completed your figure outline, you will already have an outline for your results section. This also helps because you know where you need to go in your results section.

Make your Results Section a Roadmap

Your results section should be a roadmap for someone to navigate your data. You have collected all of this data through your project. When you are sharing your data, you need to provide a roadmap through your data to help your reader to understand all the data you collected and how it relates to each other.

The easiest way to make your results section a roadmap is to connect your figure and tables with words.

Importantly, all your figure and tables in both the main paper and supplementary information should be mentioned in your paper. Therefore, having your figure outline completed before you start writing your results section will make your life so much easier.

To write your results section, start at figure/table 1. Explain figure 1 Make sure you then include any supplementary information figures or tables that support or are related to your figure 1.

Then, once you have covered your first figure, you want to navigate your reader to the second figure in your paper. There should be clear connections between your different figures.

Explain Each Figure

Within each figure of your roadmap, you want to fully explain each figure to a non-expert in your field. Remember, that most people reading your paper will look at the figures first and then read your results sections primarily to answer their questions.

This means that two things are very important: (1) your figures are clear and well described for people to understand what you mean and (2) your results section should be easy to read with all the answers someone needs easily accessible.

Commonly, writers will feel that they need to put in extra information to show that they know what they are talking about, but your reader doesn’t care about that. They care to get the answer to their questions. The better that you can provide this answer the more likely people are to read and cite your paper in the future.

However, for each figure you want to answer the following questions:

  • Why did you collect this data?
  • What is the figure showing?
  • What were your results?
  • What does this data mean?

Why did you collect this data?

It is important for your reader to understand what the data should show them. The best way for them to understand this is for you to provide your reasoning. However, this does not need to be a long explanation. In fact, it shouldn’t be longer than a sentence. I will usually include this as a phrase at the beginning of my paragraph using: (1) To understand how… or (2) To examine…

For example, if I were creating the section for the figure shown above, I would start my paragraph with:

“To understand how the resolution between steroid isomers is altered by metal adduct…”

Then, I would continue the sentence by answering the next questions.

What is the figure showing?

You want to point your reader to the figure that you are discussing and explain what they are looking at. Again, answering this question should be a small portion of this section, but still an important one to include.

Therefore, to continue the example from above, I would then follow with what I did to make the figure shown above.

To understand how the resolution between steroid isomers is altered by metal adduct, a scatter plot of resolution values vs. molecular weight of the steroid isomers is presented in Figure #.”

Within the figure caption, it shows the shape and color code of the metal adduct.

What were your results?

By drafting your results this way, it makes a natural segue into what your data shows. While answering this question, you want to include general trends, distinctions, and specific examples of your data.

In this section, you want to include numbers and examples of your data. If you discuss a concept that you found, you should include numbers or examples for every statement that you make. This makes it easy for your reader to understand your statements in practice. Additionally, it instantly gives credibility to every statement you make, just like you would cite your sources for a fact from the literature.

To continue the example above, I would add the results that we found:

“To understand how the resolution between steroid isomers is altered by metal adduct, a scatter plot of resolution values vs. molecular weight of the steroid isomers is presented in Figure #. Isomer pairs, both above and below 288–290 Da, show dimers with potassium adducts that offered the highest resolution. For estradiol isomers (272 Da), the potassium adduct was the only one to provide sufficient resolution for this series. Surprisingly, the corticosterone and 11-deoxycortisol isomer pair (346 Da) could be resolved as lithium, sodium, and potassium dimer adducts. Contrastingly, the lithiated dimer adduct resolution was reduced for the aldosterone/cortisone isomer pair (360 Da). In this case, the lithium dimer adduct formed multiple overlapping conformers for both species minimizing the potential for separation of these species.” (Rister et al., 2019)

What does this data mean?

Finally, you want to make a clear statement that summarizes your results section and informs that reader of the overall finding of this result.

If you are writing a results section that is differentiated from your discussion section, you want to make sure that you are not discussing how the data fits in the context of the literature or the paper in this section of your results. Instead, you are explaining a final conclusion of the figure without all of the numbers. You will explain the importance of this conclusion in your discussion section.

Finally, to finish the results section that we have been discussing, I want to add the overall trend of the resolution as it depends on molecular weight and metal adduct:

“To understand how the resolution between steroid isomers is altered by metal adduct, a scatter plot of resolution values vs. molecular weight of the steroid isomers is presented in Figure #. Isomer pairs, both above and below 288–290 Da, show dimers with potassium adducts that offered the highest resolution. For estradiol isomers (272 Da), the potassium adduct was the only one to provide sufficient resolution for this series. Surprisingly, the corticosterone and 11-deoxycortisol isomer pair (346 Da) could be resolved as lithium, sodium, and potassium dimer adducts. Contrastingly, the lithiated dimer adduct resolution was reduced for the aldosterone/cortisone isomer pair (360 Da). In this case, the lithium dimer adduct formed multiple overlapping conformers for both species minimizing the potential for separation of these species. Overall, these results showed that under optimum conditions, all steroid isomer pairs studied have a resolution greater than 1.0 with interesting trends dependent on the molecular weight of the steroids, as well as the adduct used.” (Rister et al., 2019)

Major Takeaways

If you are writing a research paper, your results section can be one of the most important sections of your paper. However, it can often be difficult to write and overlooked. You can write a compelling results section quickly by implementing the strategies below:

  • Create a figure outline before you write!
  • Make your results section a roadmap through your figure outline.
  • For each figure, you want to explain the importance and data of that figure.

Rister et al., J. Am. Soc. Mass Spectrom. (2019) 30:248Y255. DOI: 10.1007/s13361-018-2085-9

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