Reporting the Facts of Your Findings in a Thesis or Dissertation
There is no doubt that the ways in which to present and organise a report of research results in a thesis or dissertation vary widely. The nature of an investigation, its methodology or its findings can determine or alter the approach a student takes while discussing results, as can personal preferences and the guidelines provided by supervisory committees or academic and scientific departments. There are, nonetheless, certain basic principles that remain relatively constant across scholarly writing of all kinds, including theses and dissertations, so knowing and observing them is important. The principle of providing factual information about research results is among these.
Facts can, of course, be extremely slippery and are almost always open to some degree of interpretation, but, as a thesis or dissertation candidate, you should aim to present the results of your research clearly and concisely in as objective and factual a manner as is humanly possible. Your supervisor and other mentors need to know exactly what you have discovered in order to assess your results for themselves, as well as to assess your analyses and interpretations of those results and your research as a whole. Only if they have the facts can they help you refine both your analyses of them and your writing about them, and only if your examiners have the facts can they judge your understanding of those facts and make the decisions required to approve your thesis or dissertation and award your degree.
How to Achieve Academic Success
In most cases, reporting the facts of research findings in a thesis or dissertation is a separate process, and the interpretation of those results along with any speculations or theories about their implications are offered in a different section or chapter. The boundaries between factual findings and informed interpretation can become extremely blurry at times, however, with various kinds of analysis lying firmly within the province of each. Some candidates, supervisors and departments may prefer the factual presentation and interpretive discussion of results to be blended, just as some thesis and dissertation topics or the methodologies they use may demand such treatment. Such an approach can be rewarding if also challenging, but it remains rare and is usually best avoided unless there are persuasive reasons to avoid separating the facts from your thoughts about them. If you do find that you need to blend facts and interpretation in reporting your results, you will need to dedicate extra attention to ensuring that your language leaves no doubt about the line between the two: words such as ‘seems,’ ‘appears,’ ‘may,’ ‘might,’ probably’ and the like will effectively distinguish analytical speculation from more factual reporting
Carefully designed tables of data and striking visual aids to understanding such as photographs, charts, graphs and maps can be immensely helpful when reporting the results of your research in a thesis or dissertation. An effective approach is to decide immediately which information would be best included in tables and figures, and then to prepare those tables and figures before you begin writing the report of your results. Arranging your data into the visually effective formats provided by tables and figures can, for one, produce interesting surprises by enabling you to see trends and details that you may not have noticed previously. Secondly, writing the report of your results will prove easier when you have the tables and figures to work with just as your readers ultimately will. In addition, while the text of your results chapter or section should certainly highlight the most notable data included in tables and figures, a great deal of information will not require such emphasis and repetition, so writing with the tables and figures already constructed will help you keep your report both thorough and concise. Finally, writing about the tables and figures you create will help you test their clarity and effectiveness for your readers, and you can make any necessary adjustments as you work.
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