After you have collected and analyzed all your data, you will normally write at least three sections about your primary research:
- Methods: How did you collect your data?
- Results (or Findings): What did you find?
- Discussion: What do those findings mean?
For example, describing who, when, and how you sent out and collected your 10-question survey would be your Methods section. Describing how many people responded in particular or different ways is the Results section. Interpreting the data and making a statement about what that data means is your Discussion section. Limitations of your study need to be explored as well, but this is either incorporated into one of these sections (usually the Discussion) or has its own section.
This section is crucial to your credibility and understanding of your data. Clear descriptions will help your readers know why you did what you did and how you got your results. Here are a few points to keep in mind when writing the Methods section.
- Who did you interview/survey/observe? Was it a specific group? “Random” people on campus? Why?
- What did you ask, overall? Why? Avoid listing every question and instead just give a quick overview. (Direct your readers to your full instrument in an appendix instead.)
- When and where did this occur? Did you send out a survey? How long was it online? If you did an interview, how did you set it up, where did you conduct it, and how long did it take? Similar questions apply for observations as well: where were you, when, and why?
- How did you complete your research? If you did an interview, did you do this in-person, online, by phone? If you conducted a survey, did you do it via pen and paper or an online survey? What did you look for in your observation(s) and how did you take notes?
- If you are using a theoretical framework to analyze your data, what is it? Why are you using it?
Do not see this list as a way to organize the section but instead as questions your Methods section should answer. You do not want this section to read like a checklist.
Note, while readers mostly want to know your findings and interpretation of the data in the following two sections, the Methods section is just as important. The more you can describe your methods, the better other researchers can understand your data and also potentially replicate your research.
This will be where you describe your collected data (i.e. data that you have collected from your study that you have not “interpreted” yet). Like in your Methods section, you want to be clear and transparent.
- Surveys. Avoid listing a question, then an answer, then a question, then an answer, etc. Using visuals where appropriate, report on (instead of list) the more significant parts of your survey. You should list your questions in an appendix, and you can list your full results in a table/visual there as well.
- Interviews. Avoid listing questions and answers and having an almost dialogue form. Instead, report on the more significant parts of the interview and use quotations when necessary.
- Observations. Describe what you saw. Again, like your interviews/surveys, avoid giving a “play-by-play” and discuss what you know are the more significant aspects.
In your Results section, you generally want to avoid “flowery” language and/or inserting too much opinion. Simply report your findings in as clear a way as possible.
In this final section is where you will give your own analysis of the data. Here is where you will make connections for the reader(s) on what your data “means.” The main difference between your Results section and the Discussion section is that this is, for all intents and purposes, your opinion (though that opinion is rooted heavily in your data). Whichever method you chose to collect your data, these suggestions will help organize your discussion section and make it clear for your reader.
- Clear Topic Sentence(s). As you have learned throughout the semester, clear topic sentences will help set up your paragraph(s) to be easily understandable.
- Explicit Connections. In your paragraphs, make explicit connections between your claim(s) and evidence from your data. Where appropriate, you also want to make connections to prior research studies: do your data points support or diverge from prior studies? How? Why might this be?
- Detailed Evidence. Don’t hesitate to remind your reader of the data collected or even to elaborate more on it. Remember, more details and discussion of data will help convince your reader about the significance of your claim.
- Limitations. Some researchers put this in the Discussion section while others make an entirely new section. Either way, be upfront with all the limitations, shortcomings, etc. of your research. Be thorough in your thinking here: did you run out of time, have a small number of responses, or recognize a methodological flaw along the way? Being transparent and honest with your reader is most important.
- Potential Future Research. Generally, either in the Discussion section or in a final, short Conclusion section, primary research projects make note of future potential projects based on the current one. If your results were unclear, then further research might be justified. If your results were clear, then perhaps that indicates that a narrower sample group should be investigated or a new or slightly different variable should be examined. There are many possible routes to take here, but you want to base it on what you did (and/or did not) find in your study and help future researchers dig further into your research topic
This section usually reads more like a “traditional” essay you are used to writing than some of the other sections of an empirical project. From clear topic sentences to supporting evidence, the skills you have been learning throughout your writing career are easily applicable here. The major difference is that instead of solely citing other sources, you are the one providing the evidence. You are producing new knowledge and questions. Be proud!