Writing the Experimental Report: Overview, Introductions, and Literature Reviews
Written for undergraduate students and new graduate students in psychology (experimental), this handout provides information on writing in psychology and on experimental report and experimental article writing.
Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Aleksandra Kasztalska
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 09:54:55
Experimental reports (also known as "lab reports") are reports of empirical research conducted by their authors. You should think of an experimental report as a "story" of your research in which you lead your readers through your experiment. As you are telling this story, you are crafting an argument about both the validity and reliability of your research, what your results mean, and how they fit into other previous work.
These next two sections provide an overview of the experimental report in APA format. Always check with your instructor, advisor, or journal editor for specific formatting guidelines.
Experimental reports follow a general to specific to general pattern. Your report will start off broadly in your introduction and discussion of the literature; the report narrows as it leads up to your specific hypotheses, methods, and results. Your discussion transitions from talking about your specific results to more general ramifications, future work, and trends relating to your research.
Experimental reports in APA format have a title page. Title page formatting is as follows:
- A running head and page number in the upper right corner (right aligned)
- A definition of running head in IN ALL CAPS below the running head (left aligned)
- Vertically and horizontally centered paper title, followed by author and affiliation
Please see our sample APA title page.
Crafting your story
Before you begin to write, carefully consider your purpose in writing: what is it that you discovered, would like to share, or would like to argue? You can see report writing as crafting a story about your research and your findings. Consider the following.
- What is the story you would like to tell?
- What literature best speaks to that story?
- How do your results tell the story?
- How can you discuss the story in broad terms?
During each section of your paper, you should be focusing on your story. Consider how each sentence, each paragraph, and each section contributes to your overall purpose in writing. Here is a description of one student's process.
Briel is writing an experimental report on her results from her experimental psychology lab class. She was interested in looking at the role gender plays in persuading individuals to take financial risks. After her data analysis, she finds that men are more easily persuaded by women to take financial risks and that men are generally willing to take more financial risks.
When Briel begins to write, she focuses her introduction on financial risk taking and gender, focusing on male behaviors. She then presents relevant literature on financial risk taking and gender that help illuminate her own study, but also help demonstrate the need for her own work. Her introduction ends with a study overview that directly leads from the literature review. Because she has already broadly introduced her study through her introduction and literature review, her readers can anticipate where she is going when she gets to her study overview. Her methods and results continue that story. Finally, her discussion concludes that story, discussing her findings, implications of her work, and the need for more research in the area of gender and financial risk taking.
The abstract gives a concise summary of the contents of the report.
- Abstracts should be brief (about 100 words)
- Abstracts should be self-contained and provide a complete picture of what the study is about
- Abstracts should be organized just like your experimental report—introduction, literature review, methods, results and discussion
- Abstracts should be written last during your drafting stage
The introduction in an experimental article should follow a general to specific pattern, where you first introduce the problem generally and then provide a short overview of your own study. The introduction includes three parts: opening statements, literature review, and study overview.
Opening statements: Define the problem broadly in plain English and then lead into the literature review (this is the "general" part of the introduction). Your opening statements should already be setting the stage for the story you are going to tell.
Literature review: Discusses literature (previous studies) relevant to your current study in a concise manner. Keep your story in mind as you organize your lit review and as you choose what literature to include. The following are tips when writing your literature review.
- You should discuss studies that are directly related to your problem at hand and that logically lead to your own hypotheses.
- You do not need to provide a complete historical overview nor provide literature that is peripheral to your own study.
- Studies should be presented based on themes or concepts relevant to your research, not in a chronological format.
- You should also consider what gap in the literature your own research fills. What hasn't been examined? What does your work do that others have not?
Study overview: The literature review should lead directly into the last section of the introduction—your study overview. Your short overview should provide your hypotheses and briefly describe your method. The study overview functions as a transition to your methods section.
You should always give good, descriptive names to your hypotheses that you use consistently throughout your study. When you number hypotheses, readers must go back to your introduction to find them, which makes your piece more difficult to read. Using descriptive names reminds readers what your hypotheses were and allows for better overall flow.
In our example above, Briel had three different hypotheses based on previous literature. Her first hypothesis, the "masculine risk-taking hypothesis" was that men would be more willing to take financial risks overall. She clearly named her hypothesis in the study overview, and then referred back to it in her results and discussion sections.
Thais and Sanford (2000) recommend the following organization for introductions.
- Provide an introduction to your topic
- Provide a very concise overview of the literature
- State your hypotheses and how they connect to the literature
- Provide an overview of the methods for investigation used in your research
Bem (2006) provides the following rules of thumb for writing introductions.
- Write in plain English
- Take the time and space to introduce readers to your problem step-by-step; do not plunge them into the middle of the problem without an introduction
- Use examples to illustrate difficult or unfamiliar theories or concepts. The more complicated the concept or theory, the more important it is to have clear examples
- Open with a discussion about people and their behavior, not about psychologists and their research