Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion
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 09:59:00
Your method section provides a detailed overview of how you conducted your research. Because your study methods form a large part of your credibility as a researcher and writer, it is imperative that you be clear about what you did to gather information from participants in your study.
With your methods section, as with the sections above, you want to walk your readers through your study almost as if they were a participant. What happened first? What happened next?
The method section includes the following sub-sections.
I. Participants: Discuss who was enrolled in your experiment. Include major demographics that have an impact on the results of the experiment (i.e. if race is a factor, you should provide a breakdown by race). The accepted term for describing a person who participates in research studies is a participant not a subject.
II. Apparatus and materials: The apparatus is any equipment used during data collection (such as computers or eye-tracking devices). Materials include scripts, surveys, or software used for data collection (not data analysis). It is sometimes necessary to provide specific examples of materials or prompts, depending on the nature of your study.
III. Procedure: The procedure includes the step-by-step how of your experiment. The procedure should include:
- A description of the experimental design and how participants were assigned conditions.
- Identification of your independent variable(s) (IV), dependent variable(s) (DV), and control variables. Give your variables clear, meaningful names so that your readers are not confused.
- Important instructions to participants.
- A step-by-step listing in chronological order of what participants did during the experiment.
The results section is where you present the results of your research-both narrated for the readers in plain English and accompanied by statistics.
Note: Depending on the requirements or the projected length of your paper, sometimes the results are combined with the discussion section.
Continue with your story in the results section. How do your results fit with the overall story you are telling? What results are the most compelling? You want to begin your discussion by reminding your readers once again what your hypotheses were and what your overall story is. Then provide each result as it relates to that story. The most important results should go first.
Preliminary discussion: Sometimes it is necessary to provide a preliminary discussion in your results section about your participant groups. In order to convince your readers that your results are meaningful, you must first demonstrate that the conditions of the study were met. For example, if you randomly assigned subjects into groups, are these two groups comparable? You can't discuss the differences in the two groups until you establish that the two groups can be compared.
Provide information on your data analysis: Be sure to describe the analysis you did. If you are using a non-conventional analysis, you also need to provide justification for why you are doing so.
Presenting Results: Bem (2006) recommends the following pattern for presenting findings:
- Remind readers of the conceptual hypotheses or questions you are asking
- Remind readers of behaviors measured or operations performed
- Provide the answer/result in plain English
- Provide the statistic that supports your plain English answer
- Elaborate or qualify the overall conclusion if necessary
Writers new to psychology and writing with statistics often dump numbers at their readers without providing a clear narration of what those numbers mean. Please see our Writing with Statistics handout for more information on how to write with statistics.
Your discussion section is where you talk about what your results mean and where you wrap up the overall story you are telling. This is where you interpret your findings, evaluate your hypotheses or research questions, discuss unexpected results, and tie your findings to the previous literature (discussed first in your literature review). Your discussion section should move from specific to general.
Here are some tips for writing your discussion section.
- Begin by providing an interpretation of your results: what is it that you have learned from your research?
- Discuss each hypotheses or research question in more depth.
- Do not repeat what you have already said in your results—instead, focus on adding new information and broadening the perspective of your results to you reader.
- Discuss how your results compare to previous findings in the literature. If there are differences, discuss why you think these differences exist and what they could mean.
- Briefly consider your study's limitations, but do not dwell on its flaws.
- Consider also what new questions your study raises, what questions your study was not able to answer, and what avenues future research could take in this area.
Example: Here is how this works.
References should be in standard APA format. Please see our APA Formatting guide for specific instructions.