Years ago, I was on a dissertation committee where the student spent 1-year working on their dissertation. Prior to the dissertation defense, I was sent a copy of their final dissertation to read. Frankly, I was disappointed. Not for me, but for the student. My gut reaction was that he had spent a year doing the research and found no significant findings. Did this mean they did something wrong or that it was a waste of time? NO – Absolutely not. Instead, I had to reframe my thought. The value of reporting insignificant or no significant findings is huge.
Recently, I chaired another dissertation and the student used a well-known survey. He had plenty of data that proved to be reliable using the coefficient alpha. However, when we looked at the statistical significance of his data, we found it to be greater than .05. That same feeling appeared in my gut. I thought to myself, “Oh no. Poor guy. He did all this work and has nothing to show for it.” Then I reconsidered the value of his project and the importance of publishing.
When we do a research project and find the results are insignificant, the findings are hugely valuable because they are helping to define the theory. The main goal of testing theory is to see if it works with specific conditions. When we find that it does not work with a specific set of conditions, we should shout it from the mountaintop to show we have found something that is drawing the line in the sand, something that has put up a boundary or a guardrail to the theory.
Instead of considering insignificant as a negative term, we should view it in a positive light. Having an insignificant finding means we have found something that is defining the theory in such a way that a, traditionally thought of, statistically significant finding would not.
I encourage you to publish your research; all of your research. Instead of viewing it as a failed project, which it certainly was not, please reflect on the positive benefits of publishing such a paper.
When papers are published about insignificant results, we see the boundaries of the theory. For many researchers, this helps us to know what not to test in the future and gives us new ideas of what to test. It also helps us to see that the theory is not immortal. Personally, I find the insignificant findings quite attractive to me as a researcher because we are pushing the limits to see what will and will not be included in the theory.
Publish your work, all of your work. Each research project that is done with high-quality standards demonstrating robust methodology is valuable, regardless of the findings.