1.0 INTRODUCTION

For most readers of technical reportsthe Findings section ranks second

in importance only to the Executive Summary (see Module 1 Unit 2). For experienced readers of scientific papers, however, the Findings or Results section is considered by far the most important, even more important than the Abstract (see Module 3 Unit 4). The reason for this is quite simple: the reader learns what is new in the work, and how well the new material has been handled by the author, typically in the Findings section. In other words, it is the Findings section that sells your technical report to its target audience, or commends/condemns it in the eyes of the established international community of scientists.

Because English is not the mother tongue of the vast majority of scientists who do and write science in developing countries, their handling of the Findings section of scientific papers often presents them with much difficulty. And since such difficulty revolves around two words, clarity and brevity, you are being invited in this unit to ponder several aspects of the two words in a deliberately short presentation. This unit, then, is divided into four short parts. Part one describes what the Results/Findings section should contain and how it should be described. Part two explains how a major feature of scientific writing, numbers, should be properly handled. In the third and fourth parts, the overriding significance of why you should strive to achieve both clarity and brevity is discussed. The usual ‘Conclusion’, `Summary’, and ‘References’, sections complete the unit, while two ‘Self-Assessment Exercises’, which are embedded in the text, are designed to help you to understand better the presentation in this unit.

2.0 OBJECTIVES

At the end of unit, you should be able to:

  1.  describe what constitutes the content of the Results/Findings section of a technical report or scientific paper 
  2. explain how to handle numbers in writing the Findings section of a technical report or scientific paper 
  3.  distinguish between clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of technical report or scientific paper 
  4.  explain the significance of achieving both clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of technical report or scientific paper. 

3.0 MAIN CONTENT

3.1 Content of the Findings

The Findings or Results component of a technical report, and especially of a scientific paper, is considered by most readers as its core. 

What should it contain? Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t start the Findings section by describing methods which you forgot to include in the Materials and Methods section. In other words, it is not the place to effect corrections to the earlier parts of your work. Indeed, there should be no need to mention this point at all since the widespread use of computers allows you to ‘cut and paste’ any sections of your work with ease. Unfortunately, a significant number of science manuscripts still contain a good deal of material that should not be part of the Findings/Results section.

There are usually two ingredients of the Findings section. Firstly, you should give some kind of overall description of experiments or field surveys that you carried.out for the study. This provides the “big picture”, without, however, repeating the experimental or survey details previously provided in the Materials and Methods section. Second, you should present the data, the core of your report or paper.

The most important point about the content of your Findings section is that it should present representative data rather than repetitive data. The fact that you could perform the experiment 100 times without significant divergence in results is not of particular interest to many people. Editors of journals and, in particular, readers of your technical report, prefer a little bit of predigestion. Aaronson (1977) stated this concept pungently in the following words: “The compulsion to include everything, leaving nothing out, does not prove that one has unlimited information: it proves

that one lacks discrimination.” Exactly the same concept, and it is an important one, was stated almost a century earlier by John Wesley Powell, a geologist who served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1888. In Powell’s words: ‘The fool collects facts: the wise’ man selects them.”  Therefore, select your data carefully. If you really have a lot of data that you believe should be included in a technical report, consign them to the Appendix (see Unit 2).

3.2 How to Handle Numbers

If you have to present only one or only a few determinations, they should be treated descriptively in the text. Repetitive determinations should be given in tables (see Module 2 Unit 5) or in graphs (see Module 3 Unit 1).

Any determinations, repetitive or otherwise, should be meaningful. Suppose that, in a particular group of experiments, a number of variables were tested (one at a time, of course). Those variables which affected the reaction become determinations or data and, if extensive, are tabulated or graphed. Those variables which do not seem to affect the reaction need not be tabulated or presented. however, it is often important to define even the negative aspects of your experiments. The reason you are advised to state what you did not find under the conditions of your experiments is that someone else very likely may find different results under different conditions. As Carl Sagan (1977) observed, “. . . absence of evidence[data] is not evidence of absence [of data].” You need to be particularly careful in using statistics to describe the results of your investigations. Yes, it is true that ‘mathematics (or statistics) is the language of science,’ but it must be meaningful statistics. It is not true that any statistics enhances the value of a scientific paper or technical report; imaginative and meaningful use of statistics does. If your mastery of statistics is not up to the level you need to use it efficiently in reporting your Findings or Results seek help (see Unit 4). In this age of customised statistical packages, there is really no excuse for the poor handling of numbers in writing the results of your investigations.

3.3 Strive for Clarity

Your results or findings should be short and sweet, without verbiage. Mitchel (1977) quoted Albert Einstein as having said, “If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.” Although the Results section of a scientific paper or technical report is the most important part, it is often the shortest, particularly if it is preceded by a well-written ‘Materials and Methods’ section (see Module 2 Unit 2) and followed by a well written ‘Discussion’ (see Module 2 Unit 4).

You may be wondering why all the emphasis so far has been on brevity in urging you to strive for clarity in writing the Results. The reason is simple:if you can manage to present “short and sweet” Results, you will be clear: clarity and brevity always go together, although more will be said on brevity a little later in this unit.

For scientists in developing countries, it is particularly important to understand and appreciate the value of the brevity/clarity relationship. You should understand that while practising on one, you are automatically improving on the other. Therefore, practise as often as you can; you will be surprised how soon you will be able to improve apparently ‘good’ presentations of Results in technical reports and even published scientific papers.

SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE

Locate the Results/Findings section of an unpublished doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis, preferably in your subject area:

  1. Determine whether or not the content satisfies the criteria stipulated in this Unit. 
  2. Assess clarity, sentence-by-sentence, on a three-point scale of “Clear”, “Not Very Clear”, and “Confusing”. 
  3.  Isolate the “Not Very Clear” and “Confusing” sentences in (2). iv. Rewrite the sentences isolated in (3) to attain the status of “Clear”. 
  4. List the bonus points you have scored on brevity as you rewrite to attain clarity 

Finally, on clarity you should remember that if any part of the scientific. paper or technical report needs to the clearly and simply stated, it is the Results. Reason? It is the results that comprise the new knowledge that you are contributing to the world, or the solution that you are offering in a specific organisational setting. The earlier parts of the paper (Introduction, Materials and Methods) are designed to tell why and how you got the Results. The later part of the paper (Discussion — see Module 2 Unit 4) is designed to tell what they mean. Obviously, therefore, the whole paper or report must stand or fall on the basis of the Results/Findings. Thus, the Results/Findings must be presented with crystal clarity.

3.4 Avoid Redundancy

Do not be guilty of redundancy in the presentation of the Results/Findings of your investigations. The most common fault is the repetition, in words, of what is already apparent to the reader from examination of the tables and figures. Even worse is the actual presentation, in the text, of all or many of the data shown in the tables or figures. Indeed, the misuse of tables and figures in scientific writing is so common that you need to be particularly careful in going through the units of this course which specifically show you how to prepare and efficiently use tables and graphs. Once you have mastered the efficient preparation and use of tables and illustrations in scientific writing, the avoidance of redundancy will be rapidly attained.

Do not be redundant, either, in citing figures and tables. 1)Do not say “It is clearly shown in Table 1 that nocillin inhibited the growth of N. gonorrhoeae .” Instead, say “Nocillin inhibited the growth of N. gonorrhoeae (Table 1).” The four unnecessary words “It is clearly shown” appear harmless here. But once you get into the habit of writing like that, it becomes much more difficult to get you to write directly and economically — the hallmarks of ‘good’ scientific writing.

You need to be aware, however, that some writers go too far in avoiding verbiage and, in the process, violate one important rule in good scientific writing, the rule of antecedents. Put simply, the rule specifies that when you use a noun (person, object, event), the pronoun used in place of the person, object, or event must show clear correspondence. In other words, there must be no doubt whatsoever in the minds of your readers which noun a particular pronoun used in your text is referring to. Consider the following examples from a paper submitted for publication in a medical journal:

“The left leg became numb at times and she walked it off. .. . On her second day, the knee was better, and on the third day it completely disappeared.”

The use of the first “it” clearly refers to the ‘numbness in the patient’s left leg. In other words, the antecedent for the “it” is the patient’s left leg. However, the second “it” in the second sentence clearly does not refer to the patient’s numbness in the left leg; it refers to the knee! Thus, the writer had managed to give the reader the (unintended) impression that the patient’s knee had “completely disappeared”! You must do everything you can to avoid such errors of construction in your writing.

4.0 CONCLUSION 

This deliberately short unit has described for you what should constitute the content of the Results/Findings section of a technical report or scientific paper. The most important point about the content of your ‘Findings’ section is that it should present representative data rather than repetitive data. This calls for your careful selection of data. You have also been shown how to handle raw numbers or statistics within the text as well as in tables, although tables, figures, and Other illustrations are presented in greater detail, You are warned to be particularly careful in using statistics to summarise the results of your investigations. The attainment of both clarity and brevity in scientific writing is explained separately although, in practice, the attainment of one automatically improves the other. In striving to attain both clarity and brevity, you should always bear in mind that it is in the Results section of your work that you present to the world the new knowledge that you are contributing, or the solution that you are offering, in a given organisational setting.

5.0 SUMMARY

In this unit, you have learned to:

  1.  describe what constitutes the content of the Results/Findings section of a technical report or scientific paper 
  2.  explain how to handle numbers in writing the Results/Findings of technical report or scientific paper 
  3.  distinguish between clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of a technical report or scientific paper 
  4.  explain the significance of achieving clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of a technical report or scientific paper.

6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT

  1.  Describe what constitutes the content of the Results/Findings section of a technical report or scientific paper. 
  2. Explain how to handle numbers in writing the Results/Findings of technical report or scientific paper. 
  3.  Distinguish between clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of a technical report or scientific paper. 
  4. Explain the significance of achieving clarity and brevity in writing the Findings of a technical report or scientific paper. 

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