Presenting the Outcome: The Results
If you have been undertaking quantitative work—bench experiments, surveys, measurements, and so on—you need to report the outcomes of your investigations. At this stage of the research, you will have analyzed and interpreted your results, and now you need to use them to present an argument to the reader. If your work is more qualitative (observing and interviewing people who work in a school, for example), you still need to present what you have found, and it may well be in the form of a ‘results’ chapter. In either quantitative or qualitative work, such a chapter provides a basis for the analysis or discussion that completes the body of your thesis.
Many students perceive their project as, primarily, the activities of gathering, analysing, and interpreting data. From this perspective, the other stuff—such as writing, reading the research literature, and constructing and presenting clear arguments—is a kind of dressing up that follows the real work. There is a grain of truth to this perspective, particularly for a typical quantitative project, in that it is the gathering and handling of the data that leads to answers, and is the investigative part of the work. However, this perspective also completely misses the key element of academic research: it needs to be robust, and robustly communicated, if it is to be of any value to others. A discovery without communication and persuasion is worthless.
The need for robustness is particularly true of the results. A typical examiner will have seen many examples of poor work, and will read every thesis with some scepticism as to the reliability and value of the outcomes. A thorough presentation of the data and results is essential if your work is to be taken seriously. Generally, about half of the thesis can be viewed as a sequence of three components: first, how the data was gathered and what it is intended to represent; second, what the gathered data looks like; third, how it should be interpreted. How to present ‘what the gathered data looks like’ is the subject of this chapter.
Before I move on, let me clarify the terminology. Discussion of how to present results is clouded by inconsistencies in the way experiments and their outcomes are described. In many fields of research, for example, ‘data’ is the outcome of the recording of measurements. The data could have been recorded by you as the © Springer International Publishing AG 2017
P. Gruba, J. Zobel, How To Write Your First Thesis, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61854-8_7
researcher using the instruments you devised to test your hypotheses, or recorded by some other researcher and then made available. Or it could have been recorded for some other purpose, such as the temperatures recorded at a meteorological station, or the share prices recorded at a stock exchange. But data can also be the subject of an experiment. A researcher investigating a weather model could use temperature measurements as an input, and the recorded values—‘data’ in the above definition— could be the input to the model, which also produces ‘data’ as output. Here I use ‘data’ to describe experimental results, or measurements, and ‘outcomes’ or ‘results’ to describe what the researcher found by interpreting these measurements.