My results were not significant… now what?

Posted November 10, 2016

So, you have collected your data and conducted your statistical analysis, but all of those pesky p-values were above .05. You didn't get significant results. Now you may be asking yourself, “What do I do now?” “What went wrong?” “How do I fix my study?”

One of the most common concerns that I see from students is about what to do when they fail to find significant results. They might be disappointed. They might be worried about how they are going to explain their results. They might panic and start furiously looking for ways to “fix” their study. Whatever your level of concern may be, here are a few things to keep in mind...

First, just know that this situation is not uncommon. Research studies at all levels fail to find statistical significance all the time. So if this happens to you, know that you are not alone.

Next, this does NOT necessarily mean that your study failed or that you need to do something to “fix” your results. Rest assured, your dissertation committee will not (or at least SHOULD not) refuse to pass you for having non-significant results. They will not dangle your degree over your head until you give them a p-value less than .05. Further, blindly running additional analyses until something turns out significant (also known as “fishing for significance”) is generally frowned upon.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, failing to find significance is not necessarily a bad thing. Findings that are different from what you expected can make for an interesting and thoughtful discussion chapter. Specifically, your discussion chapter should be an avenue for raising new questions that future researchers can explore. Your discussion can include potential reasons why your results defied expectations. Maybe there are characteristics of your population that caused your results to turn out differently than expected. Or perhaps there were outside factors (i.e., confounds) that you did not control that could explain your findings. You will also want to discuss the implications of your non-significant findings to your area of research. Talk about how your findings contrast with existing theories and previous research and emphasize that more research may be needed to reconcile these differences. Lastly, you can make specific suggestions for things that future researchers can do differently to help shed more light on the topic. You might suggest that future researchers should study a different population or look at a different set of variables. If author davidyou conducted a correlational study, you might suggest ideas for experimental studies. You also can provide some ideas for qualitative studies that might reconcile the discrepant findings, especially if previous researchers have mostly done quantitative studies.

The bottom line is: do not panic. This happens all the time and moving forward is often easier than you might think.

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