Writing up your results in a thesis or dissertation

Once you’ve finished collecting and analyzing your data, you can begin writing up the results. This is where you report the main findings of your research.

All relevant results should be reported concisely and objectively in a logical order. You may use tables and graphs to illustrate specific findings.

Don’t include subjective interpretations of why you found these results or what they mean – your evaluation should be saved for the discussion.

When to write a results chapter

Depending on your field, you might not include a separate results chapter. In some types of qualitative research, such as ethnography, the results are often woven together with the discussion.

But in most cases, if you’re doing empirical research, it’s important to report the results of your study before you start discussing their meaning. This gives the reader a clear idea of exactly what you found and keeps the data itself separate from your interpretation of it.

The results should be written in the past tense. The length of this chapter depends on how much data you collected and analyzed, but it should be written as concisely as possible. Only include results that are relevant to answering your research questions.

Results of quantitative research (e.g. surveys, experiments)

For quantitative research, you’ll usually be dealing with statistical results.

You can report descriptive statistics to describe things like mean, proportions, and the variability of your data.

You’ll also report the results of any statistical tests you used to compare groups or assess relationships between variables, stating whether or not your hypotheses were supported.

The most logical way to structure quantitative results is to frame them around your research questions or hypotheses. For each question or hypothesis, present:

  • A reminder of the type of analysis you used (e.g. a two-sample t-test or simple linear regression). A more detailed description of your analysis should go in your methodology section.
  • A concise summary of each result, including relevant descriptive statistics (e.g. means and standard deviations) and inferential statistics (e.g. t-scores, degrees of freedom, and p-values). These numbers are often placed in parentheses.
  • A brief statement of how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported.

The statistics you should report and the conventions for presenting them depend on the types of analysis you used and the style guide you are following. For example, there are specific rules for writing numbers in APA style. If you’re unsure, read the results sections of other papers in your field to get a clear sense of what information to include.

Make sure to include all relevant results, both positive and negative. If you have results that didn’t fit with your expectations and assumptions, include these too, but do not speculate on their meaning or consequences – this should be saved for the discussion and conclusion.

You shouldn’t present raw data in your results chapter, but you may include it in an appendix so that readers can check your results for themselves.

Tables and figures

In quantitative research, it’s helpful to include visual elements such as graphs, charts and tables, but only if they accurately reflect your results and add value for the reader.

  • Tables are used to communicate exact values, giving a concise overview of various results.
  • Graphs and charts are used to visualize trends and relationships, giving an at-a-glance illustration of key findings.

You must refer to all tables and figures in the text, but don’t repeat information. The text should summarize or elaborate on specific aspects of your tables and figures, not just re-state the same numbers that you’ve already presented.

Give your tables and figures clear, descriptive titles and labels so the reader can easily understand what is being shown.

Example: Reporting survey results
A two-sample t-test was used to test the hypothesis that higher social distance from environmental problems would reduce the intent to donate to environmental organizations, with donation intention (recorded as a score from 1 to 10) as the outcome variable and social distance (categorized as either a low or high level of social distance) as the predictor variable.

Social distance was found to be positively correlated with donation intention, t(98) = 12.19, p < .001, with the donation intention of the high social distance group 0.28 points higher, on average, than the low social distance group (see figure 1). This contradicts the initial hypothesis that social distance would decrease donation intention, and in fact suggests a small effect in the opposite direction.

Example of using figures in the results section

Figure 1: Intention to donate to environmental organizations based on social distance from impact of environmental damage.

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Results of qualitative research (e.g. interviews)

In qualitative research, the results might not all be directly related to specific hypotheses. In this case, you can structure your results section around key themes or topics that emerged from your analysis of the data.

For each theme, make general observations about what the data showed. For example, you might mention recurring points of agreement or disagreement, patterns and trends, and individual responses that were particularly significant to your research question. You can clarify and support these points with direct quotations, and report relevant demographic information about participants.

Further information (such as full transcripts of your interviews, if appropriate) can be included in an appendix.

Example: Reporting interview results
When asked about video games as a form of art, the respondents tended to believe that video games themselves are not an art form, but agreed that creativity is involved in their production. The criteria used to identify artistic video games included design, story, music, and creative teams. One respondent (male, 24) noted a difference in creativity between popular video game genres:

“I think that in role-playing games, there’s more attention to character design, to world design, because the whole story is important and more attention is paid to certain game elements […] so that perhaps you do need bigger teams of creative experts than in an average shooter or something.”

It is clear from the responses that video game consumers consider some types of games to have more artistic potential than others.

Results vs discussion vs conclusion

The results chapter should objectively report the findings, presenting only brief observations in relation to each question, hypothesis or theme. It should not give an overall answer to the main research question or speculate on the meaning of the results.

Avoid subjective and interpretive words like “appears” or “implies”. These are more suitable for the discussion section, where you will interpret the results in detail and draw out their implications.

In the conclusion, you synthesize your interpretation of the results into an overall answer to your main research question. The conclusion is sometimes integrated into the discussion, but it is often a separate chapter at the very end.

Checklist: Research results

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Frequently asked questions about writing up results

What goes in the results chapter of a dissertation?

The results chapter of a thesis or dissertation presents your research results concisely and objectively.

In quantitative research, for each question or hypothesis, state:

In qualitative research, for each question or theme, describe:

  • Recurring patterns
  • Significant or representative individual responses
  • Relevant quotations from the data

Don’t interpret or speculate in the results chapter.

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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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas is an experienced academic writer and loves to teach. He helps students by writing clear, simple articles about difficult topics.

2 comments

Lilo
July 19, 2020 at 5:17 PM

Should you write your expectations in the findings of a dissertation?

Reply

Ace Carpets
April 21, 2019 at 6:41 PM

This has been incredibly helpful. The course notes for my dissertation (as a distance learner) are incredibly sparse. This is well written and makes perfect sense. Thank you!

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