How to Write an Impactful Results Section of Your Academic Manuscript
Ensure Your Research’s Data is Conveyed Clearly
A critical step to getting your manuscript published or to receiving funding for your research is conveying concepts, conclusions, and the importance of your findings clearly. Thorough and reliable research results are the foundation of scientific communication, but its currency is concise writing. Colleagues will look to these research details to challenge existing hypotheses and develop new ones. It is this documented collective memory that will survive us.
One key location in a manuscript to improve impact is in your Results section. Authors often neglect to adequately interpret the results of single and collective specific and overall experiments, which is important for readers who wish to challenge the conclusions. Many authors also neglect to state the importance of their overall conclusions to their field and to the practical benefits to society such as potential new drugs, for example. Communicating these points explicitly will improve the impact of the manuscript for peer reviewers and non-expert readers. Thus, you should be strategic by carefully writing your manuscripts so that all major conclusions and their significance to the field are explicitly stated.
Maximizing your Results Section
The Results section outlines your experiments and their results so that readers can follow them logically. Each experimental result presented typically builds upon the previous ones. Readers must clearly understand your interpretation of each set of experiential results sequentially. However, non-expert readers may require author guidance to derive appropriate conclusions from complex data that may be understood by a limited number of experts. Without adequate interpretation, readers may stall while contemplating the meaning of the data. If the results are interpreted incorrectly, what follows is more confusion as readers progress through your Results section.
Here are four tips to improve impact:
- Aim for the largest audience to increase impact
Significant and widely cited articles are often written for scientists that may be non-experts in your particular research niche. For example, biologists with a specific research focus may write such that their research can be understood by biologists with other research interests. Targeting a broader audience will attract a larger readership that will appreciate your research, leading to a greater impact within the scientific community.
This can also improve the possibility of publishing in high-impact journals with a wide scientific readership. Manuscripts aimed at a small number of experts will ultimately be less approachable to non-expert readers and may limit future cross-disciplinary collaborations. A focus on experts is evident through extensive use of terms known only to experts, complicated experimental presentations, results without clear data interpretation, and conclusions that will be obvious only to experts. Even experts can find such articles problematic, including manuscript reviewers, because the authors’ experimental conclusions can be challenging to understand.
- Present incremental conclusions.
Authors should explicitly state their conclusions from the results presented in each subsection. For example, “From these experimental results, we concluded that A equals B”. The most effective placement for such a statement is the last sentence of a paragraph that reports a set of experimental results.
This can also improve clarity by linking incremental conclusions to specific experiments. Such statements will permit readers to move through the text with minimal stalling by clearly understanding the author’s interpretation of the experiments, even if the experimental details are not fully understood.
This example publication shows this strategy in practice. The data described are complex and perhaps not easily interpreted by non-experts. However, each paragraph of the Results section ends with a conclusion or hypothesis based on the experiments presented within that paragraph.
- Put it all together with overall conclusions.
In no more than two sentences, authors should state the major conclusions derived from the incremental conclusions. For example, “Overall, our results demonstrate that factor A is a major rate-limiting step in the synthesis of B”. This may be placed near the end of the Results section to help frame the following Discussion section that will contextualize and support the conclusions.
In any evidence-based discipline, it is not just the results and underlying data that are subject to scrutiny. It is the combination of the results and their interpretations. In this regard, authors can enhance reader understanding by explicitly stating their overall conclusions from their combined experimental results. The results and their meaning can then be accepted or challenged by readers and addressed in the Discussion.
Turning to the same example publication, the final two sentences complete the Results section by providing the overall conclusions of the experiments presented.
- Consider a statement of significance.
As a final sentence of the Results section, a statement may be added describing the contributions of the results to the field. For example, “Our findings may enable a closer examination of factor A in diabetes”. This explicitly states the implications of the author’s conclusions.
Authors should not be speculative. Speculation and elaboration on the context of the research belong in the Discussion section. But a statement hinting at the broader significance of the experiments and conclusions can better frame the Discussion. While it may seem redundant to incorporate explicit statements on the conclusions and significance at the end of the Results section and again in the Discussion section, that is exactly the point. Strong academic writing promotes impact by helping readers retain critical hypotheses and conclusions. Repetition through explicit statements is one mechanism to achieve this.
By considering a thoughtful strategy for communicating their Results, authors will improve the clarity of their writing. Focusing on a wider audience will help to expand the scientific impact of your research. Explicitly communicating incremental and overall conclusions will guide readers through the tale of discovery you are presenting. Lastly, telling readers why your results are of interest through a statement of significance will engage them in your research and even communicate your passion for pursuing it.
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