Research is sometimes described as “showing” or “suggesting” a result.

Is there any substantive or objective difference between the two descriptions?

One example is here, in this answer it is said economic research “shows”, which seems intuitively less appropriate to me, but maybe that’s not true: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/600/38455

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    It might vary between disciplines. In mathematics, "shows" means the same as "proves"; "A shows that B" would be a claim that A is conclusive proof that B is true. "A suggests that B" would only say that this is evidence pointing toward B being more likely to be true. Jan 21, 2018 at 18:05
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    This can be answered definitively by consulting an English language dictionary. Of which there are many online. The Oxford English dictionary gives "Demonstrate or prove." as the third meaning when combined with an object. On the other hand the 2nd meaning of "suggests" is "Cause one to think that (something) exists or is the case". In other words they differ in the degree of certainty they indicate. Jan 21, 2018 at 18:19
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    @CharlesE.Grant the question is not what the general dictionary definition is. Rather, what meaning is implied in the context of referring to research results. Jan 21, 2018 at 18:31
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    Research published in English is still in English. I think you'll find that any usage peculiar to research will still be documented in a good dictionary, albeit not as the first entry. Jan 21, 2018 at 18:36
  • @CharlesE.Grant your comments are helpful. It helps point out that one possible answer is, the terms have no different implication or connotation from anything else. They could just be words, look them up, or they could have certain implications when they relate to describing a research result. Jan 21, 2018 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


This is what my take on these two words.

"Shows" refers to "It is true" i.e. the conclusion follows from the evidence with probability of 1. For example, the results obtained in this study 'shows' whenever x is increased, y is decreased by 2.78. Therefore, we conclude that...

"Suggests" refers to "It is highly likely to be true" i.e. the conclusion is not certain to be followed from the evidence. For example, our study suggests an increase in parameter x results in y decreasing by 2.78. Since the present study is constrained in the domain of the parameters x and y, it could be concluded that ...

  • helpful perspective. i’ve marked it as the accepted answer. i’ve tried at the same time simplify the question for broadest application. if you find the question useful, please consider upvoting. thank you for the answer. Jan 26, 2018 at 16:17

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