Writing a research paper can be a daunting experience. Whether it is your first college paper, the very first lab report you have done in high school or something you are hoping to have published, it can feel like a lot to master. Clearly, when you are doing an experiment, you want to list the results of the experiment or the research.

How do you structure the results of an experiment, and how do you communicate the results of your research? By writing clearly and answering any questions you raised earlier in your paper, you can be sure that your results section will be easily comprehensible and will bring your paper to a strong conclusion.

What Is a Research Paper?

Defined broadly, a research paper is any sort of written account of work that you undertook in order to learn more about a specific topic or set of conditions. Whether you read books in a library about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics or wanted to conduct an experiment to see whether the sun can melt pennies, the written account of this exploration can be termed a "research paper."

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In some situations, a research paper is also called a "lab report." This is usually the case when the investigation in question pertains to an experiment that was conducted in lab-like conditions. Either way, it essentially functions as a research paper.

Most research papers begin as a school assignment. While people in the academic or scientific fields and individuals who are interested in pursuing topics independently may take on research papers as a work assignment, most people's first research paper takes place while in school. Whatever you are researching, begin to think about it as an investigation. That can help you to set the paper up for a results section that will reveal what you have learned.

How to Imagine Research as an Investigation

What questions do you have about your topic? How can you get curious about the subject if it's something you at first think is boring? The key to writing the results of the research is having a question to investigate in the first place. If you need to do a research paper on something having to do with Italy, get curious about Italy. What about Italy is interesting to you? If you can choose the topic yourself, try to find something about the topic that engages you or makes you think and ask questions.

If the topic of your paper has something to do with science, and you really dislike science, this is an opportunity to get curious. Do you need to do an experiment demonstrating that sponges soak up water? Why might that be interesting or important? These are great places to begin.

Getting curious about the topic you are researching is critical. Getting curious can help you connect to the research and can make the experience more unique and interesting than it would ever have been otherwise. It can also make your research paper stand out as being distinctly yours. A lot of people can write a lazy summary of something, but only you can bring your individuality to the proceedings and use it as a lens to guide your research.

How Do I Structure a Research Paper?

The structure of a research paper or a lab report on an experiment is critical. Because research is scientific, you want to be as meticulous as possible so that all the necessary information is conveyed. You will want to begin your paper by explaining why the topic you are pursuing is worth researching. Explain why it interests you.

Explain what you hope to gain from conducting this research or this experiment. Tell the reader what your hypothesis is and explain why you've come to believe this to be true. Next, lay out your strategy or methodology. What are you going to do in this paper?

How are you planning to discover whether or not your hypothesis is correct? Explain your plan for figuring out whether your hypothesis is correct or explain the way that you decided to research the topic. Offer a list of resources that you consulted. Make it clear why you chose to go about the research in the way that you did.

What Sections Does a Research Paper Have?

Typically, a research paper has five major parts:

  • Introduction
  • Review of literature
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion

The introduction is the section of the research paper where you introduce the question you are looking to investigate and explain why you are doing so. If there are statistics or quotes or other writing you have found that lends itself to supporting your investigation, you can introduce it here. For example, if you are writing about whether or not the Loch Ness monster is real, you can share quotes or statistics about the number of times that people have said they've seen it.

The next section of the paper, the review of literature, should be a synthesis of the research that you've done thus far that has informed your hypothesis. Gather and summarize the information that has led you to this point and make it clear that going into your research, you were aware of this literature, and you used it to develop your methods. In the methods section, you will begin to detail the way that you went about conducting your experiment or conducting your research.

What Is the Results and Discussion Section?

The results and discussion pieces are the two most critical parts of the research paper. This tells us in factual terms exactly what you discovered. The results section is not the place for analysis. The results section is not the place for narrative discussion or emotion either. The results section is only for the results of the research.

The results section provides the facts about what you discovered in the course of your research or experiment. The discussion section is where you can get analytical or reflective about exactly what you have discovered. This is the place where you can tell us what the results mean. Does it mean that your hypothesis was correct, or does it mean that you need to do further research or experiments before you can come to a definitive conclusion about this issue?

How Do You Write the Results of the Research?

In the results section of your paper, you need to list what you have discovered. If your experiment confirmed your hypothesis, save the discussion about that for the discussion section. The results section should simply be hard facts written in the passive voice.

Many students get confused between the active and passive voices when writing a research paper. Unlike the rest of the paper, the results section should be written in the passive voice in order to draw attention to the action and not to the person performing the action.

Once you have clearly defined what your experiment or research has yielded, you can move on to the discussion section.

How Do You Write the Discussion Section?

The discussion section is where you can analyze and make inferences about your research or your experiment. Tell the reader what it means to you now that your hypothesis was confirmed or proved to be incorrect. Moreover, what does it mean for the future of this research?

If your hypothesis was proven to be correct, can that be brought to bear on any other research or hypotheses? If your experiment was wholly inconclusive, can you say why that was? What went wrong? Is it something that could be corrected?

In What Tone Should You Write a Research Paper?

Many people who read research papers, including teachers, editors and professors, hate the passive voice. They consider the passive voice to be an example of poor writing. Many colleges have writing centers where they can help students to improve the quality of their writing, and one of the tasks they face most often is getting students out of the passive voice.

A sentence written in the active voice shows the subject acting on a direct object. "David mailed the package" is an example of a sentence in the active voice. On the contrary, a sentence written in the passive voice shows the object being acted on by a verb. An example is: "The package was mailed by David."

While technically the passive voice is not grammatically incorrect – and in some cases, given literary license, it is necessary – the passive voice is considered an example of less-than-ideal writing. Active and passive voice can change the quality of a piece of writing, particularly academic writing. If you find that you have written any sentences in your research paper in the passive voice anywhere other than in the results section, it is a good rule of thumb to go back and do a passive-to-active conversion.

What Part of My Research Paper Should Be in the Passive Voice?

The passive voice is not gramatically incorrect. It is used correctly when the intention of the sentence is to draw attention to the action and not the person performing the action. This is why when you write the results section of the research paper, you will want to employ the passive voice.

The passive voice tells us that the results of the experiment or the research are more important in this instance than the way that the research was carried out. Said another way, the results section is not about you. It is not about the way that you performed the research or the way that you set up the experiment. It is purely and simply about the results.

What Are Some Active and Passive Voice Rules?

There are some tips to make sure that you are writing in the active voice. However, keep in mind that in some cases, such as in the results section, you will need to use the passive voice. After all, if you talk about something that happened in the past or that happened to someone, you will need to use words like "was" and "had."

Sometimes, it can be effective to make something passive. For example, the phrase "the city of Rome was attacked by invaders" shows that the subject of the sentence is Rome and that is the thing that is being acted on, even if it is in a passive sense. "Invaders attacked the city of Rome" turns the focus to the invaders. A reader may well expect the following sentence to be about the invaders.

Pay close attention to the subject in the sentence. Is the subject the one carrying out the activities described in the verb? If not, go back and fix it.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.