Laboratory Reports in APA Style
The following pages describe the structure and content of a laboratory report in psychology.
Running Head, Title, Author, and Institutional Affiliation
These appear on the first page of the report in the stated order, one below the other. Use capital and lower case letters. The running head appears at the top of the page and the rest appear centered on the page. In selecting a title, it is a good idea to mention both the independent and the dependent variables - e.g., "The Effect of Food Deprivation on Activity in the Rat," or "Attitudes and Memory for Pro-Versus Anti-Attitudinal Statements." The Running head is a shortened title of no more than 50 characters including punctuation and spaces between words. The Running head is printed in all caps (the heading Running head is not capitalized) and is left-justified at the top of each page of the document.
Abstract (actual heading)
The second page contains a summary (usually between 150-250 words) of the content and purpose of the article. It should include statements of the problem, method, results, and conclusions. It should be accurate, concise, and coherent. Remember that the Running head appears left-justified at the top of each page, page numbers are right-justified.
Introduction (not used as an actual heading)
The introduction starts on a new page. The Running head is left-justified at the top of the page and the title (it should match the title on the title page) is double-spaced, centered, before the beginning of the text. The introduction should begin with a brief history of the problem (Obtainable from any source, including textbooks, lecture notes, journals, etc.) and it should clarify why the problem is interesting or important. In other words, the introduction serves as the justification for the current research project.
After the history, the hypothesis (or hypotheses) is presented and explained. The hypothesis is a statement of the kinds of results which are expected.
Method (actual heading)
This section describes in detail how the study was done. It is divided into three subsections (labeled as below). Each section is written in complete sentences.
Participants (actual subheading)
Describe in a sentence or two the number of participants and the population from which they were drawn; e.g., "Participants were pets brought to class by undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology at Lycoming College."
Materials and Procedure (actual subheading)
This section gives a complete description of the apparatus or materials employed. Clear operational definitions of all variables should be provided. If published measures or instruments are used, all psychometric properties should be reported.
Procedure (actual subheading)
This is a complete step-by-step description of the exact way the experiment was performed, including a summary of the instructions. A good rule for the entire Method section is to write it so exactly the same study could be repeated by someone unfamiliar with the situation.
Results (actual heading)
In this section, present the results together with a brief summary of your statistical treatment of them.
"...It was hypothesized that...Figure 1 shows the expected findings which pertain to this hypothesis. It can be seen that the mean for the kangaroos (52.5 cm) was greater than the mean for the armadillos (48.2 cm). The difference was statistically significant, t(48) = 2.22, p > .05 ..."
This section must be limited to facts. Do not discuss the implications of the results in this section. For example, it would be appropriate to say, "The kangaroos jumped further than the armadillos." It would not be appropriate to say, "This suggests that kangaroos are cantankerous whereas armadillos are uppity."
Discussion (actual heading)
Begin with a clear statement of how the data support or fail to support the original hypothesis. Examine, interpret, qualify, and draw inferences from the data. Discuss theoretical consequences and the validity of your conclusions. Relate your findings to previous research. Discuss limitations of the current study and propose areas for future research.
References (actual heading)
List in alphabetical order all sources which you have cited in your paper. Do not list sources you have not cited in your paper. There are several forms for references:
Books should be listed like this:
Elzey, F. (1967). A first reader in statistics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Singer, J., & Whaley, F. (Eds.). (1966). Patterns of psychological research. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Single chapters from an edited volume should be listed like this:
Mason, W. A. (1967). Motivational aspects of social responsiveness in young chimpanzees. In H. W. Stevenson, E. H. Hess, & H. L. Rheingold (Eds.), Early behavior: Comparative and developmental approaches (pp. 103-126). New York, NY: Wiley.
Articles are listed in a few different manners depending on what information is available. You should refer to the APA manual for a complete list of possibilities. In general, articles are listed like this:
Klein, D. B. (1932). Scientific understanding in psychology. Psychological Review, 32, 552-569.
Lamb, M. E. (1987). Predictive implications of individual differences in attachment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 817-824.
Although some older articles do not have a digital object identifiers (doi; sometimes located in the running head or in the author notes of the article itself, but also listed in the reference citation found through a database such as PsycINFO), most articles do:
Olson, K. R., & Dweck, C. S. (2009). Social cognitive development: A new look. Child Development Perspectives, 3(1), 60-65. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2008.00078.x
If the article is retrieved through a specific online source, you must also provide the URL for the source. You need not provide the retrieval date unless the information obtained changes over time (e.g., Wikipedia).
One change from previous editions of the APA manual is with respect to the number of authors. If a reference has up to seven authors, all authors’ names should be spelled out in the reference list. If a reference has more than seven authors, the reference listing is different:
Ge, X., Natsuaki, N. M., Martin, D. M., Leve, L. D., Neiderhiser, J. M., Shaw, D. S.,…Reiss, D. (2008). Bridging the divide: Openness in adoption and postadoption psychosocial adjustment among birth and adoptive parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(4), 529-540. doi:10.1037/a0012817
Secondary sources may be used if and only if the library does not have access to the book or journal (either electronically, in print, or through interlibrary loan) from which you cited information. List the secondary source in the reference list; in the text, name the original work and give a citation for the secondary source:
Mills and Rothbart's study (as cited in Mitchell, 1993)
In reference list:
Mitchell, P. C. (1993). From boys to men: Examining relations between early externalizing problems and later antisocial behavior.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 123-234.
Often you must use information obtained from online abstracts (this is usually the case with Dissertation Abstracts because they are very hard to obtain through interlibrary loan). If this is the case, then you must cite the source of the abstract as well:
Bismo, P.V. (1973). Behavior of pink elephants. Journal of Motor Behavior, 97, 407-426. Abstract retrieved from PsycINFO database.
Note: Only the first word of either book titles or article titles begin with a capital letter. Also, book titles, and volume numbers should be italicized. Present form dictates that journal names (e.g., Psychological Review) are spelled out and all major words are capitalized. See the Publication Manual or the Reference sections of any recent journals published by the American Psychological Association for specific examples.
Footnotes (actual heading, if needed)
Avoid using footnotes if at all possible. If you must comment about the paper in general, indent the first word and use complete sentences. If you must comment on some specific aspect, label that with a raised number and refer to it by the same number in this section. Footnotes are on a separate page. e.g.,
Despite my explicit instructions, my roommate typed the Results and Discussion sections in reverse order. There wasn't time to retype the paper.
1The distance one kangaroo jumped may not have been typical because its tail got caught in a desk just as it left the ground.
Tables must be mentioned in the text, but are not placed in the text (e.g., There was an interaction between jumping distance and gender for kangaroos (see Table 1).). The actual tables belong after References and Footnotes (if present). Be sure to accurately label tables, capitalizing first letters of major words. e.g.
(remainder of table)
Figures must be mentioned in the text, but are not placed in the text. The actual figures belong after the Table section (if present). Type each figure caption under the figure, on the same page. Only the first word and any proper names in the Figure Caption are capitalized. Be sure to label the coordinates of all figures.
Figure 1. A clear, brief description of the figure.
Note: Only one table or figure should be placed on a single page.
Additional Comments about Report Writing
- Use a formal writing style. Do not employ personal pronouns ("I," "we," etc.).
- Avoid sudden shifts in tense. Past tense is usually appropriate for literature review, experimental design and procedure. Present tense is appropriate for results that are literally before the reader. Future tense is rarely needed.
- "Data," "Criteria," and "Phenomena" are plural. Be sure that verbs agree with their subjects, and pronouns with the nouns to which they refer.
- Published reports attempt to convey research as accurately and concisely as possible. Part of the purpose of lab reports is to provide practice and guidance in writing concisely and objectively. A second purpose is to encourage creative thinking about a research exercise. Because of the latter objective, you may write a longer report than would be acceptable for publication. For example, you may want to include extra data analyses, whether or not they led to new discoveries. You may want to spend more space discussing the implications of your results. The introductory section may be expanded to demonstrate that you thought through the relationship between studies. The method section might contain more detail. The critical question is whether the extra length does in fact convey important or creative thought. If it doesn't, added length detracts from the paper.
- All papers must be double spaced throughout.
- The final authority in all matters relating to style is the more recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. A copy is on Reserve in the library.
Appendices are rarely used in published reports. Their usage is somewhat more common in student reports, because the process by which a report was written may be as important as the end result. Hence, it may be helpful to include raw data, calculations, data sheets, exact instructions to subjects, stimuli used in the experiment, etc. Such matter should be labeled as Appendix A (etc.) and included at the end of the paper. Reference may be made to such material in the text as follows: "See Appendix A for..." or simply, "(see Appendix B)."
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Steps in the Research Process for Psychology Experiments
- Your psychology professor will reserve several rooms on different days for research projects.
- Your professor will distribute sign up lists for the rooms.
- If you are collecting questionnaire data, then it is in your best interest to share a data collection time with other students, so certain rooms will be set aside for questionnaire data collection (these rooms should easily accommodate 2-3 research projects at the same time).
- Some rooms will be audiovisually equipped for those projects that require TV/VCR/DVD or PowerPoint presentations.
- You will be limited to a certain number of data collection dates/times to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to collect data.
- You MUST have a reviewed and approved IRB proposal/project BEFORE you can sign up for a data collection room/time. You will NOT be permitted to sign up for data collection if you have not turned in your IRB proposal and/or if it has not received approval from your psychology professor.
- After receiving IRB approval and signing up for data collection times, you should make a sign up list with:
- a brief description of your study (enough so students can make an informed decision regarding whether to participate, not enough to reveal your hypotheses, otherwise you will bias your sample)
- be sure to list the date/times/room in which the study will occur
- if you need to gather information from students individually or in small groups, you should have sign ups for time slots so students don’t have to wait around to participate in your study
- if you are gathering questionnaire data and/or can collect from a whole group of students at one time, you can simply have them sign the list indicating that they plan to show up at some time during your assigned data collection times
- regardless of how you are collecting data (e.g., individually or in a large group), ask students to write their name and email (so you can email them to remind them to show up!)
- Sign up lists should be posted NEATLY on the bulletin board located immediately outside of room B12 in the basement of the AC (and please be courteous, don’t cover up someone else’s sign up sheet or move it to make yours more “eye-catching” – you can rearrange sign up forms SLIGHTLY to make room for more, but please do not reorganize the entire bulletin board – preparation is key…first come, first served!).
- Check your sign-up list periodically to ensure that you are getting enough participants otherwise you may need to find other ways to recruit (e.g., contacting psych faculty and going to psych classes). Keep in mind that the preferred way to recruit is to use the sign up lists. You MUST demonstrate that you have hung your sign up sheet and failed to recruit an adequate sample BEFORE you will be permitted to contact psych faculty directly. Because the sign-up lists will be posted in a public area of campus, it might be in your best interest to check on them and replace “filled” lists with “empty” lists to ensure that lists with names do not “disappear.”
- Email students who signed up 2-3 days prior to data collection to remind them when and where to come for the study. You may also want to email them the day of the study as a final reminder.
- When students show up for your research projects, you should have students write down their names and the name of a psychology professor for whose class the student would like to obtain extra credit. Alert students that not all psych faculty may provide extra credit, but if they do, students can only write down the name of ONE psychology professor. Students are not allowed to obtain extra credit from more than one faculty member for participation in one study. If they are participating in multiple studies, they can list different faculty members for each.
- Be VERY aware of your behavior during your data collection sessions!! Remember how demand characteristics can affect behavior…participants will enter your study with a tremendous amount of curiosity regarding your hypotheses so everything you do (e.g., standing in the corner with your co-researchers chatting and laughing), how you are dressed, your mannerisms, and so on will be evaluated and interpreted. You do NOT want your behavior to affect participant responses (unless, of course, that is part of your hypothesis!).
- If you are able to debrief participants immediately after data collection, please do so. However, some “researchers” are concerned that debriefing participants prior to completing data collection could bias the sample (let’s face it, students talk…). Thus, if you would rather wait until data collection is over to debrief, you may email participants afterwards to debrief them. Your debriefing should include a brief description of the research study and what you expected to find. If you choose to debrief participants via email after data collection is complete, then you should also include a CONCISE overview of your results and a BRIEF explanation of the findings. You MUST debrief all of your participants and you MUST have your debriefing statement approved by your psychology professor PRIOR to distributing it to your participants. Thus, if you are planning to debrief orally immediately after data collection, you must get approval prior to collecting your data!
- After completing your data collection, provide a list of names of your participants to your psychology professor along with a BRIEF description of the research and the amount of time invested by participants (some faculty give extra credit based on time committed to each project). PLEASE be sure that all information is legible. If we can’t read participants’ names, we can’t give their names to the other psychology professors! Your psychology professor will combine information from all researchers and provide a concise “report” to the other psychology professors. Because your psychology professor will need to compile this list, all names of participants/information regarding your project MUST BE SUBMITTED to your experimental psychology professor by the end of class on the MONDAY of the last week of classes (Note that this is the last week of classes…NOT finals week…).
Other Notes Regarding the Research Process
- If you need to purchase materials (e.g., you are doing a study on the effects of scents on mood and need to purchase various air freshners; you are doing a study of taste perception based on whether participants believe they are eating regular or low-fat oreos and you need to purchase oreos), the psychology department may be able to purchase the materials for you. You MUST see your psychology professor to obtain approval for the purchase PRIOR to buying the items. If you purchase the items first, there is no guarantee that you will be reimbursed. After receiving approval, you will need to submit receipts for items purchased to your psychology professor who will obtain the reimbursement.
- Keep in mind that anything purchased by the psychology department becomes a possession of the psychology department. Thus, any purchased materials must be handed over to the psychology department upon completion of your project (obviously we don’t want the consumed oreos back…).
- If you need to make photocopies for your project (e.g., questionnaires, consent forms), you may do so using the psychology department account number. You must see your psychology professor for approval and for information on how to use the copier.
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(Prepared by Berthold, Revised by Olsen/Kelley)
Last Revised 9/23/09