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Results/Findings and Interpretation

Introduction

There is some debate over whether it is possible to report findings objectively, without making any kind of interpretation of those findings. Even if it is possible, it makes very dull reading.

Here is some advice:
At undergraduate level
When reporting each of your main findings, interpret their likely cause or significance in terms of your research question(s).
At the postgraduate level
Match your contents to your heading:
  • Results: If your section is headed Results, the reader may not expect the contents to contain your interpretation
  • Results and Interpretation: If you want to interpret each set of findings as you go, then make your heading: Results and Interpretation
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Why use the past tense when reporting results ?

Just as the Methods gives an account of what you did, the Results section provides an account of what you found. The Results section requires you to narrate the account as if it is history: it took place in the past, and is now being reported as something in the past. This also applies to what your respondents said or reported in any interview or questionnaire responses.

Using the past tense helps to distinguish what your respondents said at a particular place and time, and avoids implications:
  • that they may always hold those opinions
  • that you are reporting what they think or believe, or even
  • that their opinions can be generalised to a wider population

If you do want to make generalisations about, e.g., human nature or bahaviour, then you should use the present tense.  Use of what can be called the ethnographic present is a common feature in written ethnographies and anthropological dissertations.

For more on this, see the material on Language Delicacy

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Why include "Interpretation" with "Results" ?

In your Results section, it is increasingly expected that you will balance the "objectivity" of your Results data with your researcher’s interpretation of those data.

Basically, you should subject the findings you extract from the raw data - and even the post-analysis composite tables and graphs - to a selection process before you present them to the reader in text form.  After all, in the Results section the reader wants only to be told about the more interesting and relevant findings of your study - not every last detail.

So the selection process itself is already an act of interpretation: you’ve selected what is relevant to the study, to what you see as helping to answer your research questions [though you shouldn’t go so far as to exclude those findings that run contrary to your hypotheses!].

You offer the reader a more coherent and readable Results section if you follow your reporting of results with speculation about the meaning or significance of the results thus selected or highlighted – i.e. giving your explicit interpretation of your results.

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