How to write a research report

How to write a research
Professor Craig Jackson
Head of Psychology
Purpose of Psychology Reports
Reports enable you to communicate
to others:
 What was carried out
 How it was carried out
 Why it was carried out
 What was found
 What the results actually mean
Reports enable further exploration of
Any psychologists who publishes their
research uses the same APA/BPS
report format.
Dissemination of research findings is
the end goal of all research.
Report Rules
Standardised format (quick finding of details)
 format guidelines of the American Psychological
Association (APA).
The abstract and conclusions are arguably the most
important sections of the report.
The key aim of a report is replication
Report Structure
Discussion & Conclusion
Rationale (including previous research in the area and the
current hypotheses).
The introduction should contain:
 Review of (relevant) background material including
existing theories and key findings.
 Outline the exact problem to be researched and the
research hypotheses.
 Outline the expected results – what do you expect to
find once you have conducted the research?
Introduction ‘Tips’
Start broad and become narrower as
you reach your research hypotheses.
Hypotheses & Current
Include 3-6 key pieces of previous
research or theories.
References from peer-reviewed
journals and books are more credible
and provide more ‘weight’ to your
arguments than Internet-based
The method should be one of the first sections of the report that is
‘written-up’ immediately after the study has finished.
The method should contain sufficient information for the reader to
understand and replicate the study exactly as you did it.
The method is split into the following principle sections:
 Participants
 Design
 Apparatus/Materials
 Procedure
Method: Design
The design should state the following:
 The type of design that was used (independent measures,
repeated measures, mixed or matched subjects).
The independent variables (IV) and any associated levels.
The dependent variable (DV) including the level of
measurement e.g. Milliseconds for time or metres for
Method: Participants
‘participant’ and not a subject – however the term subject
is still used for experimental design.
Information on participants includes:
 Number of participants.
 Sampling method (random, opportunistic etc.).
 Demographic information (age, gender, occupation,
educational level).
 Any other study-specific criteria (e.g. Intelligence
level, visual acuity etc.).
Method: Procedure
The procedure is like the instructions for
baking a cake or making something from
Lego – it describes exactly what was done
in the study, how participants were
instructed, whether standardised
instructions were used (script and debrief) and the order in which things were
The procedure should be logical, insightful
and contain sufficient information for the
reader to follow.
Introduction to the Results
Report the key findings, but does not say why
Clear and concise summary of the data that was collected and
the results of any statistical tests.
Each statistical test has its own format for reporting which
should be adhered to (more information on reporting
statistical tests will be provided during future
The results section is one of the most (without justice!) feared
sections of the report.
The Results Section
The results section should start with descriptive
(summary) statistics (e.g. Mean, median, range etc.)
before reporting any statistical tests.
A summary table of descriptive statistics can be provided
– only display information once and in one format (e.g.
Written or table, table or chart).
Use graphs where meaningful but ensure axis are
consistent, graphs and axis are titled and the graph
means something to the overall report.
Report the statistical tests used in the study.
The discussion enables the interpretation and explanation of the
study results.
Results should be related back to research studies discussed in the
The discussion outlines any limitations with the current study (e.g.
Extraneous variables) and provides a rationale for future studies.
The discussion should contain ideas for where future work might be
Ultimately, the discussion states whether the results support the
experimental or null hypothesis.
Discussion: Structure
Discuss the results of the current study,
explaining exactly what was found (avoid
using numbers).
Account for the research findings, relate
back to the previous research and
theories highlighted in the introduction
Discuss the limitations of the current
study and provide ideas for future
research. End with a conclusion.
Harvard (or APA) style
At the end of the report
Before the appendices
Successful Report Writing
Start writing early – important details
about the study may be forgotten if the
write-up is left to the last minute.
Remember – a naive reader should be
able to follow your report and replicate
your findings.
Read – reading journal articles and past
dissertations will help you with structuring
your report and understanding the
required style.
Reflect – reflect upon the comments you
receive on your practical reports and
essays – these are provided to help you!
Report Writing: General Style
Reports should be double-spaced.
20 male and 20 female
participants from
Birmingham City
University participated in
the current study. No
other demographic
information was
Each major section (Abstract,
Introduction, Method, Results and
Discussion) should start on a new page
with the title of the section in bold.
Each minor section (e.g. Participants)
should be in italics.
All pages should be numbered.
The last section is the Appendices and
includes raw data, Ethics Approval Form
and other relevant information.
Report Title
Each report should be given a title that is both concise
and provides the reader with an insight to the
investigation being reported.
Titles often include the independent variable (IV) and
dependent variable (DV).
The key aim of the title is to entice the reader into looking
further into the report – the title is the first part of a
report a reader will see, therefore it has to be interesting,
concise and descriptive.
Example Report Titles: Timberlake
“An experiment into how music effects
recall accuracy”
“Does music aid learning? – A study into
the effects of music on learning and
“Justin Timberlake is a hindrance to
learning! – The negative effect of music
on word encoding”
The IV and DV are (implicitly) clear in each of these
titles – The first title is the most conventional form of
title writing.
The abstract is a self-contained and brief summary of the
key points from the study.
The abstract (like the rest of the report) should be written
in the ‘third’ person.
 The third person avoids the use of ‘I’ and ‘we’ –
instead use ‘It was decided’ or ‘The investigator(s)
choose to’
Although the first section after the title, the abstract
should be written last.
Abstracts should be no more than 150 words.
What should an abstract contain?
Abstract Contents
An abstract should contain the following:
 Brief statement of the problem being investigated.
 The design used (for experiments only).
 Relevant participant details (e.g. 20 males & 20 females).
 Stimulus materials used (experiments) and other
important apparatus.
 Principal results.
 Main conclusions and nature of discussion.
 Reference to a key theory or piece of research if the
study is based partly on a replication.
Example Abstract
(Masanobu Takahashi, 2007)
Aim of Study
Collaborative remembering refers to recall by groups rather than by an individual.
Three experiments investigated whether, relative to individual remembering,
collaborative remembering decreased correct recall and false recall using the DeeseRoediger-McDermott paradigm. Participants were first asked to study and recall five
lists of 15 words that were each semantically associated with a critical non-presented
word. Half the participants recalled the words by themselves, while the remaining half
were assigned to pairs and collaboratively recalled the words. In Experiment 1, pairs
produced the same number of false or correct words as individuals who were tested
alone. In Experiment 2, the interpersonal closeness of the groups was also
manipulated: friends and pairs who were not friends were assigned to the
collaborative groups. Both friends and non-friends produced fewer false or correct
words than individuals. Experiment 3, in which the performance of the individuals
and non-friend pairs were compared using a recall test of the same 75 words as the
previous experiments, replicated the results of Experiment 2. These results are
discussed in terms of the retrieval-strategy disruption.
Key Results
Nature of

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