How to write an APA results section

The results section of a quantitative research paper is where you summarize your data and report the findings of any relevant statistical analyses.

The APA manual provides rigorous guidelines for what to report in quantitative research papers in the fields of psychology, education, and other social sciences.

Use these standards to answer your research questions and report your data analyses in a complete and transparent way.

What goes in your results section?

In APA style, the results section includes preliminary information about the participants and data, descriptive and inferential statistics, and the results of any exploratory analyses.

Include these in your results section:

  • Participant flow and recruitment period. Report the number of participants at every stage of the study, as well as the dates when recruitment took place.
  • Missing data. Identify the proportion of data that wasn’t included in your final analysis and state the reasons.
  • Any adverse events. Make sure to report any unexpected events or side effects (for clinical studies).
  • Descriptive statistics. Summarize the primary and secondary outcomes of the study.
  • Inferential statistics, including confidence intervals and effect sizes. Address the primary and secondary research questions by reporting the detailed results of your main analyses.
  • Results of subgroup or exploratory analyses, if applicable. Place detailed results in supplementary materials.

        Write up the results in the past tense because you’re describing the outcomes of a completed research study.

        Introduce your data

        Before diving into your research findings, first describe the flow of participants at every stage of your study and whether any data were excluded from the final analysis.

        Participant flow and recruitment period

        It’s necessary to report any attrition, which is the decline in participants at every sequential stage of a study. That’s because an uneven number of participants across groups sometimes threatens internal validity and makes it difficult to compare groups. Be sure to also state all reasons for attrition.

        Example: Reporting participant flow
        Of the 298 participants who completed the initial screening survey, 78 (26.1%) participants were excluded for not meeting study criteria, as they did not drink caffeine (11%) or they used prescription medication (15.1%).

        The remaining 220 participants were invited to complete the online study survey in exchange for study credit. However, an additional 12 participants failed to complete it, resulting in a final total of 208 participants.

        If your study has multiple stages (e.g., pre-test, intervention, and post-test) and groups (e.g., experimental and control groups), a flow chart is the best way to report the number of participants in each group per stage and reasons for attrition.

        Also report the dates for when you recruited participants or performed follow-up sessions.

        Missing data

        Another key issue is the completeness of your dataset. It’s necessary to report both the amount and reasons for data that was missing or excluded.

        Data can become unusable due to equipment malfunctions, improper storage, unexpected events, participant ineligibility, and so on. For each case, state the reason why the data were unusable.

        Some data points may be removed from the final analysis because they are outliers—but you must be able to justify how you decided what to exclude.

        Example: Reporting missing data
        Data from 13 participants were removed because they answered the attention check question incorrectly. For another two participants, data were lost due to equipment failures.

        If you applied any techniques for overcoming or compensating for lost data, report those as well.

        Adverse events

        For clinical studies, report all events with serious consequences or any side effects that occured.

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        Summarize your data

        Descriptive statistics summarize your data for the reader. Present descriptive statistics for each primary, secondary, and subgroup analysis.

        Don’t provide formulas or citations for commonly used statistics (e.g., standard deviation) – but do provide them for new or rare equations.

        Descriptive statistics

        The exact descriptive statistics that you report depends on the types of data in your study. Categorical variables can be reported using proportions, while quantitative data can be reported using means and standard deviations. For a large set of numbers, a table is the most effective presentation format.

        Include sample sizes (overall and for each group) as well as appropriate measures of central tendency and variability for the outcomes in your results section. For every point estimate, add a clearly labelled measure of variability as well.

        Be sure to note how you combined data to come up with variables of interest. For every variable of interest, explain how you operationalized it.

        Example: Reporting descriptive statistics
        To assess whether a moderate dose of caffeine (200mg) improves performance in a computer task, we operationalized performance in two ways: speed and accuracy. For each participant, average speed (ms) and average accuracy (%) was calculated across 100 trials. The individual participant averages were then separately aggregated into a group average speed and group average accuracy, depending on whether they were in the no-caffeine condition or moderate-caffeine condition.

        The moderate-caffeine group was faster (ms) on average (M = 490, SD = 52) than the no-caffeine group (M = 523, SD = 45). Group mean accuracy was also higher for the moderate caffeine group (M = 86.2%, SD = 7.3%) than the no-caffeine group (M = 81.6%, SD = 5.4%).

        Report statistical results

        According to APA journal standards, it’s necessary to report all relevant hypothesis tests performed, estimates of effect sizes, and confidence intervals.

        When reporting statistical results, you should first address primary research questions before moving onto secondary research questions and any exploratory or subgroup analyses.

        Present the results of tests in the order that you performed them—report the outcomes of main tests before post-hoc tests, for example. Don’t leave out any relevant results, even if they don’t support your hypothesis.

        Inferential statistics

        For each statistical test performed, first restate the hypothesis, then state whether your hypothesis was supported and provide the outcomes that led you to that conclusion.

        Report the following for each hypothesis test:

        • the test statistic value,
        • the degrees of freedom,
        • the exact p-value (unless it is less than 0.001),
        • the magnitude and direction of the effect.
        Example: Reporting the results of a statistical test
        Consistent with the primary hypothesis, moderate caffeine improved computer task performance by increasing speed, t(191) = 4.71, p < .001, and accuracy, t(191) = –4.91, p < .001.

        When reporting complex data analyses, such as factor analysis or multivariate analysis, present the models estimated in detail, and state the statistical software used. Make sure to report any violations of statistical assumptions or problems with estimation.

        Effect sizes and confidence intervals

        For each hypothesis test performed, you should present confidence intervals and estimates of effect sizes.

        Confidence intervals are useful for showing the variability around point estimates. They should be included whenever you report population parameter estimates.

        Example: Reporting a confidence interval
        On average, college students in the Netherlands consume 159 mg of caffeine daily, 95% CI [83, 235].

        Effect sizes indicate how impactful the outcomes of a study are. But since they are estimates, it’s recommended that you also provide confidence intervals of effect sizes.

        Example: Reporting effect size and confidence interval
        Moderate caffeine had a large effect on computer task accuracy, Cohen’s d = 1.3, 95% CI [0.94, 1.66].

        Subgroup or exploratory analyses

        Briefly report the results of any other planned or exploratory analyses you performed. These may include subgroup analyses as well.

        Subgroup analyses come with a high chance of false positive results, because performing a large number of comparison or correlation tests increases the chances of finding significant results.

        If you find significant results in these analyses, make sure to appropriately report them as exploratory (rather than confirmatory) results to avoid overstating their importance.

        While these analyses can be reported in less detail in the main text, you can provide the full analyses in supplementary materials.

        Presenting numbers effectively

        To effectively present numbers, use a mix of text, tables, and figures where appropriate:

        • To present three or fewer numbers, try a sentence,
        • To present between 4 and 20 numbers, try a table,
        • To present more than 20 numbers, try a figure.

        Since these are general guidelines, use your own judgment and feedback from others for effective presentation of numbers.

        Tables and figures should be numbered and have titles, along with relevant notes. Make sure to present data only once throughout the paper and refer to any tables and figures in the text.

        Formatting statistics and numbers

        It’s important to follow capitalization, italicization, and abbreviation rules when referring to statistics in your paper. There are specific format guidelines for reporting statistics in APA, as well as general rules about writing numbers.

        If you are unsure of how to present specific symbols, look up the detailed APA guidelines or other papers in your field.

        What doesn’t belong in your results section?

        It’s important to provide a complete picture of your data analyses and outcomes in a concise way. For that reason, raw data and any interpretations of your results are not included in the results section.

        • Raw data

        It’s rarely appropriate to include raw data in your results section. Instead, you should always save the raw data securely and make them available and accessible to any other researchers who request them.

        Making scientific research available to others is a key part of academic integrity and open science.

        • Interpretation or discussion of results

        This belongs in your discussion section. Your results section is where you objectively report all relevant findings and leave them open for interpretation by readers.

        While you should state whether the findings of statistical tests lend support to your hypotheses, refrain from forming conclusions to your research questions in the results section.

        • Explanation of how statistics tests work

        For the sake of concise writing, you can safely assume that readers of your paper have professional knowledge of how statistical inferences work.

        Frequently asked questions about results in APA

        What should I include in an APA results section?

        In an APA results section, you should generally report the following:

        What statistical results do you need to report according to APA style?

        According to the APA guidelines, you should report enough detail on inferential statistics so that your readers understand your analyses.

        Report the following for each hypothesis test:

        • the test statistic value
        • the degrees of freedom
        • the exact p value (unless it is less than 0.001)
        • the magnitude and direction of the effect

        You should also present confidence intervals and estimates of effect sizes where relevant.

        When should I use tables or figures to present numbers?

        In APA style, statistics can be presented in the main text or as tables or figures. To decide how to present numbers, you can follow APA guidelines:

        • To present three or fewer numbers, try a sentence,
        • To present between 4 and 20 numbers, try a table,
        • To present more than 20 numbers, try a figure.

        Since these are general guidelines, use your own judgment and feedback from others for effective presentation of numbers.

        What tense should I write my results in?

        Results are usually written in the past tense, because they are describing the outcome of completed actions.

        What’s the difference between results and discussion?

        The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

        In qualitative research, results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research, it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

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        Pritha Bhandari

        Pritha has an academic background in English, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. As an interdisciplinary researcher, she enjoys writing articles explaining tricky research concepts for students and academics.

        1 comment

        Pritha Bhandari
        Pritha Bhandari (Scribbr Team)
        December 21, 2020 at 2:22 PM

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