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When in Doubt, Take it Out: Presenting Results in Life Sciences Manuscripts

The Results section is where your data should shine. Think of it as a gallery—your figures and tables are the art. The text is the supporting material that showcases your Tables and figures, but it doesn’t compete with them.

Many journals require separate Results and Discussion sections, although they are sometimes combined. This article focuses on the standalone Results section.

Here are the basic rules for writing a solid Results section:

There are also some basic pitfalls to avoid when writing your Results section.

1. If you can show the data in a figure or table, make one, and avoid writing a description of the results.

2. This is the big one: DO NOT repeat data displayed in figures and tables in the text. You should refer to the tables and figures and give a (very) brief description of their content without actually stating their content. Confusing? Yes.

Here is an example to help you out:

Say your figure is a bar graph that shows mRNA levels in various tissues. Writing “Five hundred and fifty copies of mRNA 1 were found in leaves, but only 300 copies were found in the roots (Fig. 1),” is a repetition of the information shown in the graph. Instead, it would be better to write, “The expression of mRNA 1 was higher in the leaves than in the roots (Fig. 1).” This gives the overall trend without repeating the numbers.

3. Do not include all your data; select the information that is relevant to your overall message. However, do not be afraid to add negative results because these will make for a better Discussion section. If you must include all your results to ensure that your argument is complete, place the less important figures and tables in the Supplementary Results.

4. Organize the section chronologically in the order that your described the experimental protocols in your Methods section or in order from most important to least important.

5. Keep it short and sweet. Write short, clear sentences with active verbs. For example, instead of saying, “As the temperature was increased, the signal was increased too,” write, “The signal increased with increasing temperature.” Ten words have been reduced to six.

6. Avoid including any repetition of the methods or interpretation of the results. Save the interpretations for the Discussion section.

Writing a Results section is a fine balance between showing data (figures and tables) and telling about it (describing the results in the text). Always aim for a concise, clear Results section to produce a manuscript that stands out. Happy writing!

(Please retain the reference in reprint: http://www.letpub.com/index.php?page=author_education_presenting_results)


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