Reportage or commentary?

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When the time comes to reveal your research results in writing, there are two basic choices, and the writer needs to decide upon one of them. Either the raw results are presented without embellishment, followed by a separate chapter on their analysis, or else the results can be presented alongside a running commentary or analysis. Both styles have merits and demerits and each academic discipline will have its own preferences and standards, so an important role of the supervisor is to coach the research student in the form that is conventional for that academic subject.

The straight presentation of results is a simple, clear, relatively uncomplicated option, which is subsequently followed by a chapter devoted to the analysis and interpretation of those results. Benefits of this style are that systematic links can be made with the research methodology, connecting the chronology of the data-gathering activities with the presentation of data that was gathered. This allows the reader to experience the research process in a similar manner to the researcher, stepping from one “result” to another and enabling the readers to form their own opinions and judgements as more and more information is presented. In the following chapter, the research student can then present an in-depth analysis of the results, drawing attention to key features, analysing the contrasts and connections, and finally presenting interpretations and conclusions of the research project. Separating the presentation of the results from the analysis allows a clean break in the narrative and gives the researcher a good opportunity to expound in detail in the analysis and interpretation chapter to convincingly present their own, original ideas. This is the chapter where the student can really shine and unload all those brilliant insights and personal observations that have been suppressed during the earlier phases of the research.

The other format of presentation, the running commentary, is a different style altogether. This form will also reveal the results of the research activities stage-by-stage, but with each revelation there is an accompanying narrative which explains and contextualises those results. The text is used to build-up the research data and an accompanying analysis of its relevance to the research question, and use this step-by-step process to bring the research project to a conclusion. This format requires clear thinking, because it is easy to stumble around from one idea to another and produce a disorganised story which is neither sufficiently analytical nor convincing. When it is done well, it can read like a good detective story, gripping the readers and leading them onwards through the research discoveries to the final exposé of “the solution” or “the answer” but it does not suit every style of academic research. It can be a useful style when the writer wants to discuss and elaborate on the data as it is presented, perhaps to emphasise social nuances, or to consider the wider possibilities of experimental assumptions, and in situations where the interpretation of the results is not a straight black-or-white solution.

Either style is acceptable, but they cannot really be effectively combined: the researcher needs to think carefully about the story that they want to leave with the readers, and then present this version as clearly and unambiguously as possible.

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