Writing the Results Section
This is the section in which you will want to present your findings to the reader in the most clear, consistent, orderly, and succinct fashion. As previously mentioned, we suggest that you write this section either first or second to the Materials and Methods section. Another possibility is that you could write them simultaneously, describing each experiment and the corresponding data. Whatever you find easiest is fine.
The results you collect will most likely contain a story that you want to tell to the reader in an interesting manner. Presenting these data in a clear and thorough fashion, however, is quite a responsibility, because you have many decisions to make as to how you want to tackle the ominous task. It must be done well, because without the results being understood, the credibility of the entire paper disintegrates before the reader's eyes. The task is a manageable one, provided that you sit down and think logically about what needs to be made unequivocally clear. By this we mean that common sense goes a long way. Include only what is necessary, and don't include extraneous information. If there is a datum that is important to the ultimate conclusion but is difficult to present, you must find a way to do it. Do not think that you can sweep some pertinent data under the rug and expect to get away with it. If something important is missing, the omission will stare the reader viciously in the face and he or she will be lost. Be sensible, include what you feel needs to be included, and do it in a clear and understandable way, for the results are the primary ingredients upon which your entire paper is based.
Methods for Presenting Data
The ways of presenting data vary depending upon what you want to present to the reader. The Results section should include all of the experimental data collected throughout the experiment that was necessary in reaching the ultimate conclusions drawn. This includes tables, graphs, Western blots, SDS-PAGE results, etc. Each set of data requires a logically selected label (e.g. Figure 1 or Table 1) and a descriptive title referring to the nature of the experiment. A brief paragraph of explanation should be included for each table or figure as well so that the reader knows exactly what he or she is looking at. Graphs and tables require some discretion in terms of what needs to be included and what doesn't.
You have to decide for yourself what information is essential for the reader's understanding of the paper, but do it carefully. Not enough information can confuse and lose the reader, but too much information can become monotonous for the reader. As a general rule, raw data does not need to be included; it should be formed into some sort of graph whether that be a line graph, a bar graph, a pie graph, or whatever you feel is necessary to point out the important trends that help tell your story; you decide what the data calls for. Then, the proper labels must be assigned to each axis if you choose to use a bar or a line graph. Also with graphs, the standard deviation for each datum will sometimes be required by your professor. Without the level of error provided, the reader has no idea how consistent your findings are. However, in a laboratory class, often you will not obtain the data to calculate the standard deviation. It will depend on your professor and the experiment being performed. Also, (just like every other table, picture, or graph) an explanatory paragraph must be included to guide the reader along.
General guidelines for writing the results section
1. Do not be ambiguous. Do not make the reader guess at what information you are trying to present.
2. Organize the data in a logical fashion. The reader must be able to follow the flow of the data; otherwise, the paper will mean nothing and most likely frustrate the reader.
3A. Do not describe methods used to obtain the data. This belongs in the Materials and Methods section.
3B. Do not attempt to interpret the data. This belongs in the Discussion section
4. Point out certain trends or patterns that the data follow. Data is organized in a manner that will point out trends that you want to make clear to the reader in order to help tell your story. You must call the reader's attention to these trends or they may be missed.
The following data includes two tables and two figures to demonstrate the points explained above. Each table or figure has a description of what is appropriate or what needs improvement.
Review of Sample 1: There are many problems with the presentation of this table, forcing the reader to guess about some of the data. First, it is not labeled as either a table or a figure. It is simply given a title (Protein Values) that doesn't even describe anything. Protein values of what and under what circumstances? The reader has no idea what he or she is looking at. Also, the column labels don't have the units of measurement included. The absorbance values mean nothing if the reader doesn't know at what level they were taken, and what does protein mean in the third column? Is that concentration, and if so, what are the units? All of these things need to be included to make clear to the reader what the data is.
Table 1. Absorbance Readings and Corresponding Protein Concentration values
This table demonstrates the protein concentration of each sample. The concentration of protein found in each sample is similar.
Review of Sample 2: This table is properly labeled Table 1, because it is the first table that appears in the paper, and it also has a descriptive title. All of the columns are clearly labeled with the unit of measurement for each one. Also note that there is a brief sentence describing what the numbers are and where they came from.
Figure One shows the absorbance values compared to the times of each tube in the experiment.
Review of Sample 3: There are two problems with the graph itself: neither axis contains the proper unit of measurement labels, and the none of the lines are marked as to what test tube each represents. As with the table in the previous example, the reader needs to know what level of absorbance the results were taken at. Also, the reader has no idea what the lines mean, because he or she has no idea which goes with each tube. Another problem with this figure is that the explanatory sentence is quite scanty. The author doesn't guide the reader along as to what results are being presented. Trends should be pointed out.
Figure One shows the absorbance values (read at 540 nm) of each of the three experimental tubes compared to the time in seconds. This is an indication of the rate that catechol is being turned into benzoquinone in each tube. In the group that the acidity was increased (tube 2), we see a steady increase in absorbance, then a slight dropoff, and then it regained its initial rate of increase. In the control group (tube 3), we see a gradual increase in absorbance values over time, and then it seems to level off. In the group that the amount of the enzyme was increased (tube 4), we see a very slim, but noticeable, increase in absorbance values over the first three seconds.
Review of Sample 4: In this version of Figure One, the proper labels are on both the axes and the three curves. Also, the explanatory paragraph is much more descriptive and informative-it tells the reader what occurring in each of the three tubes and points out specific trends in each of the three curves.
All citations from Pechenik, Jan A. A short guide to writing about Biology. pp. 54-102, Tufts University: Harper Collins College Publishers. 1993.