THE DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY GUIDE TO WRITING RESEARCH REPORTS The following set of guidelines provides psychology students at Essex with the basic information for structuring and formatting reports of research in psychology. During your time here this will be an invaluable reference. You are encouraged to refer to this document each time you write a lab report.
The writing of laboratory reports is an essential part of any practical module in Psychology. This is because psychologists (and more generally most scientists) write accounts of their studies using a standard format, which makes explicit certain aspects of the study. There are two main reasons for doing this:
(1) Ease of communication: it is easier to find what you want from a study if it is written in the standard format.
(2) Provision of a precise and complete description: the format makes it clear what information is important for scientific communication. This information must be provided in detail. It should be added that many professions now include the skills of technical report writing, which requires clear, direct and concise
expression, the ability to summarize and present data, and the ability to form hypotheses and draw valid inferences. Learning to write laboratory reports will provide you with a valuable and transferable skill.
This guide tells you about the structure and style that is required for a psychology laboratory report. Since most journal articles are written in similar formats, learning to write such reports will aid you in your reading of the literature. Whenever you read journal articles, think about the formats used and why they have been adopted. Not all articles are perfect, so whenever you come across a section that you do not understand, think about why it is unclear. The fault may lie with the authors who are not being as clear as they could be, if so, how could the section be improved? The books by Howitt and Cramer (2008), Sternberg (1993), Nunn (1998) provide additional help on writing reports and general writing style.
The purpose of a lab report is to communicate to others the important points of a piece of research: (i) why you did it, (ii) how you did it, (iii) what you found and (iv) what you think it means. Readers of reports will sometimes want the answer to very precise questions (e.g., Who were the participants? What exactly were the mean scores for the two groups?) and do not want to read the whole report in order to find this information. For this reason it is essential to follow a standard format (with correct headings) which allows the reader to locate the information that he/she requires immediately without having to work through the entire text.
The simple rule for report writing is remember the reader. In journals, papers are intended for an audience who know the general background for a topic but nothing about this particular study. People will usually see the title first, then perhaps read the abstract, and only then read the bulk of the report if their attention is caught. The format suggested below is the same as that used in most published papers. Therefore, any APA (American Psychological Association) journal such as Psychological Review, or British Psychological Society journal (e.g., British Journal of Psychology), is a good place to browse if you are unsure as to correct format or style. Fine details concerning exact format and required information will depend upon the nature of the study, but
most of the studies should follow this format fairly closely. Particularly important is the use of separately headed sections (and sub-sections in the method section). If you do not use these sections correctly you will incur severe marking penalties. The numbers next to each heading are included here to structure these notes; they should not appear in the report itself. 1. Title
The title should provide a single line description of the study. In many cases, the title will mention the independent and...
References: Sternberg, R. J. (1993). The psychologist’s companion (3rd ed.). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
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