Psychology Report Writing Guide
by Saul McLeod published 2011
Conducting a piece of research is a requirement for most psychology degree courses.
Of course, before you write up the report you have to research human behavior, and collect some data. Students often find it difficult to choose a suitable research topic for their psychology research report, and usually attempt to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Ask you psychology lecturer for advice, but if in doubt, keep it simple, choose a memory experiment (you don't get extra marks for originality). Remember to make sure your research in psychology adheres to ethical guidelines. You will also be likely to write your paper according to APA style.
You can download a simplified version of the information below in PDF format about writing your psychology research report.
Ethical Considerations in Research
If the study involves any of the following, due consideration should be made about (1) whether to conduct the study, (2) how best to protect the participants’ rights.
• Psychological or physical discomfort.
• Invasion of privacy. If you are researching on private property, such as a shopping mall, you should seek permission.
• Deception about the nature of the study or the participants’ role in it. Unless you are observing public behavior, participants should be volunteers and told what your research is about. If possible obtain informed consent. You should only withhold information if the research cannot be carried out any other way.
• Research with children. You will need the head teacher's consent and, if (s)he thinks it is advisable, the consent of the children's’ parents/guardians.
• Research with non-human animals. Experimentation with animals should only rarely be attempted. You must be trained to handle and care for the animals and ensure that their needs are met (food, water, good housing, exercise, gentle handling and protection from disturbance). Naturalistic observation poses fewer problems but still needs careful consideration; the animals may be disturbed especially where they are breeding or caring for young.
When conducting investigations, never:
• Insult, offend or anger participants.
• Make participants believe they may have harmed or upset someone else.
• Break the law or encourage others to do it.
• Contravene the Data Protection Act.
• Copy tests or materials without permission of the copyright holder.
• Make up data.
• Copy other people’s work without crediting it.
• Claim that somebody else’s wording is you own.
Infringement of any ethical guidelines may result in disqualification of the project.
Research Report Structure
1. Title Page:
This must indicate what the study is about. It must include the IV & DV. It should not be written as a question.
2. Abstract: (you write this last)
The abstract comes at the beginning of your report but is written at the end.
The abstract gives the reader a chance to find out the bare essentials without going any further. Your style should be brief, but not using note form. Look at examples in Gross: Key Studies. It should aim to explain very briefly the following:
• Start with a one sentence summary, giving the topic(s) to be studied. This may include: the hypothesis, some brief theoretical background, similar research findings.
• Describe participants and setting: who, when, where, how many, what groups?
• Describe the method, what design, what experimental treatment, what questionnaires, surveys or tests used.
• Describe the major findings, which may include a mention of the statistics used and the significance levels, or simply one sentence summing up the outcome.
• What does it all mean? State your conclusion(s). Mention implications of your findings and suggestions for further research.
The purpose of the introduction is to explain where your hypothesis comes from.
• Start with general theory, briefly introducing the topic.
• Narrow down to specific and relevant theory and research. One or two studies is sufficient.
• Leading logically into your aims and hypotheses.
• Do be concise and selective, it’s very tempting to put anything in case it is relevant.
• Don’t turn this introduction into an essay.
• Don’t spell out all the details of a piece of research unless it is one you are replicating.
• Do include any relevant critical comment on research, but take care that your aims remain consistent with the literature review. If your hypothesis is unlikely, why are you testing it?
• Don’t include material more appropriate to the discussion or you won’t have anything left for that section.
AIMS: The aims should not appear out of thin air, the preceding review of psychological literature should lead logically into the aims.
• Write a paragraph explaining what you plan to investigate and why. Use previously cited research to explain your expectations. Later these expectations are formally stated as the hypotheses.
• Include a justification of the direction of your hypotheses. This means explaining why it is one-tailed (e.g. ‘previous research suggests that people remember more in the morning, therefore the hypothesis is one-tailed’) or two-tailed (‘previous research is not clear which group will do better, therefore the hypothesis will be two-tailed’).
• Do understand that aims are not the same as the hypotheses.
HYPOTHESES: State the alternate hypothesis and whether it is one- or two-tailed. Make sure that this is unambiguous and understandable to someone who has not yet read the rest of your report. You can write several sentences, such as ‘Participants in condition 1 perform better than those in condition 2. Condition 1 involves words which are hierarchically organized and condition 2 consists of randomly organized word lists'.
State the null hypothesis. This is a statement of ‘no difference’ or that any difference is due to chance factors alone. It is not the opposite of the experimental hypothesis.
Assume the reader has no knowledge of what you did and ensure that he/she would be able to replicate (i.e. copy) your study exactly by what you write in this section. Write in the past tense. USE THE FOLLOWING SUBHEADING:
State the experimental design, independent and dependent variables (both operationalized). Say what the independent conditions were and what participants had to do (i.e. their task). Identify at least one extraneous variable; say how it could have affected the results if you hadn’t controlled it. Finally, say what you did to control the extraneous variables.
Identify the target population (refer to a geographic location) and type of sample. Say how you obtained your sample (e.g. opportunity sample) and why you chose this sample. Give relevant details, e.g. how many, age range, background etc. If appropriate, details of how participants were assigned to each IV group.
Describe the materials used, e.g. pictures, word lists, instructions, debrief, record sheets etc. Give plenty of detail and explain why you chose these things. Tell the reader they are in the appendix.
Describe the precise procedure you followed when carrying out your research i.e. exactly what you did. Anyone should be able to copy what you did from this. Include the brief, standardize instructions and debrief all word for word. Start with a sentence like “Participants were approached in the college library and asked if….” Clearly refer to at least one ethical issue you considered and say what you did about it (use BPS terminology)
If you have used Descriptive Statistics
• Calculate the mean, mode, range and standard deviation etc.
• Display your result in an appropriate summary table (with title).
• Make sure all calculations show workings out, and put them in the appendix. A table of raw data should also go in the appendix.
• Use a suitable graph. The DV and Both IV conditions should be included in the graph title. Remember to label the axis (inc. units).
• Include a verbal summary of what the graph shows. Say whether of not the results for the two IV conditions vary, e.g. “Notice from table 1 that the mean for the organization condition (7) is higher than the mean for the random condition (3.2)”.
If you have used Inferential Statistics
• State the test(s) to be used.
• Justify the choice of statistical test (e.g. parametric/non-parametric).
• In the main text, state the observed and critical values of the test, degrees of freedom, significance level and whether the test was one- or two-tailed. State your conclusion in terms of the hypothesis (i.e. accept/reject null hypothesis).
• Present the mathematical calculations in an appendix. If you use a computer or calculator program you still must present all data except the mathematical workings. Never photocopy someone else’s workings.
• Relate your results to your hypothesis, have you accepted the hypothesis or rejected it.
• Compare you results to background materials from the introduction section. Are your results similar or different? Discuss why.
• Say what your findings mean for the way people behave in the real world.
• Identify limitations of your study, e.g. stimulus material used, sampling method etc.
• Suggest constructive ways to improve your study.
• Suggest an idea for further researched triggered by your study, something in the same area, but not simply an improved version of yours. Perhaps you could change one of the variables (IV or DV).
• Concluding paragraph Finish with a statement of your findings and the key points of the discussion, in no more than 3 or 4 sentences.
This section is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used). It should be a list of all the material (i.e. studies) you have referred to (i.e. in the introduction) even if you have not personally looked at it. If you do not have the original you can find all the necessary details in the reference list at the back of the book which did mention the source. References need to be set out "APA" style:
Family name, first initial(s). (year) Title. Publisher.
Gross, R. (1992). Psychology: The Science of Mind and behavior (2nd ed). Hodder and Staughton.
Author (date). title of article; title of journal and volume number all in italics or underlined; page numbers.
Flanagan, C. (1997) How to pass A level. Psychology Review, 2, 23-45.Websites:
Author (date) Title of website (year as appearing on site) [online]. [Date accessed]. Available from World Wide Web : <url of site>
Hawking, S. (2000) Professor Stephen Hawking's website [online]. [Accessed 9th May 2002]. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.hawking.org.uk/home/hindex.html>
References must be in alphabetical order of surname.
Research Report PDF Downloads
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2011). Psychology Research Report. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/research-report.html