Analysing and presenting results
Most university assignments and research papers require research of course, and this research can be divided into two very broad types: primary and secondary. When you locate, read, evaluate and incorporate the correctly acknowledged work and ideas of published experts in the field, you are conducting secondary research. This is standard procedure for the majority of university assignments. The other type of research involves asking questions or creating and testing hypotheses, conducting trials and collating results. It can be quantitative or qualitative, may involve interview, laboratory, experimental, statistical or other data and is known as primary research. Both these large categories of research involve analysis of ideas/information and discussing the results of some kind of inquiry.
Most research papers have, amongst other sections, a Methods section which explains how the research question was answered, a Results section where results are presented and a Discussion section where the significance of results is explained. Results may be presented in a number of ways, including via graphs, tables or other visual media or through detailed written description. The nature of your research will dictate the best forum through which to present. However, presentation of results is only part of the story you need to tell. A discussion of your results is where the importance of your research comes to light.
This section of the FIT Style Guide deals with some of the issues associated with presenting the findings of your research.
Objectivity and avoiding bias
An open mind is crucial to ethical research. Your research question or hypothesis is after all an inquiry and search for knowledge and should not be based on a previously drawn conclusion. When such conclusions are drawn before research is complete, the accusation of bias can be levelled at your writing.
Objectivity entails focusing on information and argument, not you or the people who conducted the research you read. Take these sentences as a simple example:
- In my view, Dixon's (2014) conclusions on the issue are insightful and valid.
- Dixon's (2014) conclusions are insightful regarding the issue for the following reasons.
The former sentence lacks objectivity, implying that only you hold this view, while the latter remains focused on the information and developing a response to it. Describing Dixon's work as insightful also adds weight and authority to your voice as a writer, implying a critical and evaluative approach.
The purpose of obtaining the data or ideas that result from your research is not merely to describe it, but rather to critically analyse it. This involves subjecting it to objective questioning, making connections between it and the work of others and explaining why the data should be interpreted one way and not another. Questioning the results of other experts is a crucial part of the research process as it reaffirms where your work fits in with the body of published thought on your topic. A similar approach to your own results is necessary for the following reasons. In most cases your research will reinforce what is already known and written about by the experts in your field, as very few research findings have not been discovered or discussed already. As this is probably the case with your work, consider how your results contribute to knowledge in your field, whether it be a necessary rethink on an issue or a reinforcement of widely accepted academic views.
What to include, what to exclude
The question of what to analyse, present and explain can be a challenging one for inexperienced researchers. Very often there is a great deal of data or information that results from research and you'll need to take a judicious approach to choosing what to highlight. It may seem like stating the obvious, but only include what is necessary to support the main point you are trying to make. Reams of data are not likely to be necessary, and appendices can be a good place to include the data you actually need to show in order to legitimise your discussion and conclusions.
Efficient synthesis of appropriate and relevant published ideas is a strategy that can result in highly professional academic writing. Synthesis is a process, and what follows is one effective way of taking steps towards synthesising effectively:
- Conduct searches to locate the academic sources you need
- Select several relevant sources from your search
- Read them in detail, taking notes and highlighting or underlining key points that relate directly to your topic
- Summarise these relevant points and if possible, paraphrase them into your own words, ensuring that the original meaning is retained
- Organise source ideas into categories such as ideas on which authors agree, ideas where they disagree, alternative ideas on the topic
- Utilise these ideas within a paragraph, using them to support the point you are trying to make.
The result, with shared ideas by a range of published experts synthesised in one sentence, may look something like this:
Gaming has a close relationship with improved motivation (Tuzun, Yilmaz-Soylu, Karakus, Inal, & Kizilkaya, 2009; Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, & Tuzun, 2005; Dempsey, Haynes, Lucassen, & Casey, 2002; Squire, 2003).
It is important to always present your research through a reflective framework or 'lens' of the relevant researchers who were published before you, and skilled synthesis is an appropriate technique for demonstrating this skill.
"Cherry picking" and "fudging" results
One of the dangers new researchers may be vulnerable to is that of being too selective with the data or information they choose to utilise in order to prove or support their points. Naturally you'll want to use the evidence you've discovered in order to state your case, but not everything your research reveals will always suit your purpose. "Cherry picking" takes place when researchers choose only the data that supports the point they wish to make, rather than all the evidence at hand that their research (and that of others) reveals. Obviously this is to be avoided. Minor results that do not conform to the hypothesis or your answer to the research question need to be acknowledged. Doing so will strengthen, not weaken your argument. More significant unanticipated or anomalous results should lead to serious adjustment to your hypothesis/answer to the research question, if not a total rethink. Reporting only the 'good' results is a kind of academic misconduct, fraud in other words, and may lead to serious consequences.
"Fudging" or forging results involves tampering with data, figures or information in order to force results to support your position. This usually happens (again) when unexpected or anomalous results arise from (usually primary) research. False or immaterial evidence is retrospectively added to the research data in order to support the case the researcher is trying to make. Read this article from the USA's National Academy of Engineering to see two examples of how falsifying information can lead to loss of reputation and employment.
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