PREPARING YOUR LABORATORY REPORT
by Dr. Jan Kennedy
Psychological report writing involves making your research
findings public to enable others to learn about what you have done. In
this way, society benefits from scientific research by allowing
others to revise, expand, or criticize scientific work.
The format and style used to prepare lab reports is the same as
is used to prepare articles for publication. This format is
standardized and is detailed in the publication manual of the
American Psychological Association, fourth edition. The following
is an abridgement of the major rules for the preparation of
Organization of Reports
There are seven sections to a report. Their headings appear
centered on the page. Under some of the major sections, there
are subsections which are located at the left margin and are
underlined. The seven sections are: Title, Abstract,
Introduction (no heading), Method, Results, Discussion, and
References, if any.
After the short title and page number, the running head should be
given. This is typed flush left in all uppercase letters. Do
not exceed 50 characters, including punctuation and spaces. An
Running head: LONG-TERM MEMORY OF EARLY DENTAL EXPERIENCES
The title should be a concise statement of the main topic of the
report, usually consisting of about 12 to 15 words. It should
refer to the major variables or theoretical issues under
investigation. Since the purpose of the title is to inform the
reader, it should be explanatory when standing alone. Avoid
words that serve no useful purpose and only increase the length.
Such phrases as "A Study of..." or "An Experimental Investigation
of..." should be avoided. Do not use abbreviations in the title.
All words should be spelled out for clarity. Centered directly
under the title should appear your name and under it your
Page two of your report is the abstract. The word "Abstract" is
centered on the page. Then a one-paragraph summary of your
research report is given, consisting of 960 characters, including
punctuation and spaces (about 120 words). This paragraph is not
indented. It should be written last. This paragraph should
concisely describe the problem under investigation, the
participants, the experimental method, findings, and conclusions.
To conserve characters in the abstract, type all numbers except
those that begin a sentence as digits.
Page three of your report begins the introduction. The
introduction does not require a heading; however, the title of
the paper should be typed, centered at the top of the first page
of the introduction. A good introduction addresses two
questions: What has been done in this area by other researchers?
and, What is the point of the present study? The introduction is
the place to include the review of the research literature that
led to your hypothesis. For instance, you might show how prior
findings are inconsistent or ambiguous. Explain how your
experiment may clarify the problem. State your hypothesis
explicitly toward the end of the introduction, after you have
explained the research and thinking that led to it. Identify
independent and dependent variables here. You may want to
include a sentence or two about operational definitions (or you
can do it in Method). If you have made predictions about the
outcome of the study, say so. Be sure you say why you expect
these results. Do not expect readers to guess what you are
thinking. In the introduction, you are moving from the general
to the specific: a general discussion of the problem area, to
your specific hypothesis.
This section must be very detailed and clear. It tells the
reader that someone else can repeat the experiment just by
reading your method section. The method section generally
consists of three subsections: participants, apparatus (or
materials), and procedure. A fourth, optional, subsection is
The age, sex, and any other relevant demographic data are
presented here. State how many subjects participated, how they
were selected, and how they were assigned to groups.
Apparatus or Materials
A description of the apparatus used is given here. In the case
of standard laboratory equipment, rather than describing the
entire apparatus, the company name and model and/or serial number
is sufficient. If this is not possible, the equipment should be
described in detail.
If materials (such as a questionnaire) were used, either cite
your source (if published materials were used) or provide a copy
in the appendix of your paper if you devised the instrument
yourself. You should describe the instrument in your materials
section. For example,
A 50-item six-point Likert-type questionnaire was devised by
the experimenter to measure attitudes toward authority
figures. Half of the questions were worded such that....The
highest (positive) score that could be attained on the
measure was 300; the lowest (negative) score was 50. Thus,
higher scores reflected more positive attitudes toward
This seciton describes what the experimenter did and how it was
done. It is a detailed description of the events that the
experimenter went through from the beginning until the end of the
study. Such things as experimental and control group assignment
to conditions, order or manner of experimental treatment
presentation, and a summary of the instructions to the
participants are presented here. Include a statement about your
research design and the operational definitions of your
variables. (If your design is complex, a separate section can be
designated for this information.)
This section is where you present your data and analyses. The
experimenter gives a description and not an explanation of the
findings of the experiment. In order to fulfill this
requirement, the results section should include descriptive
statistics (rather than the raw data) and statistical tests if
used. Include degrees of freedom used, obtained values of
inferential statistics performed, probability level, and
direction of effect. Underline letters used as statistical
symbols, such as "N", "F", "t", "SD", and
"p." (Use underlining, not quotation marks. Since
many Web browsers using underlining to indicate a link, avoid
underlining within web pages.) Make reference to any figures and tables used,
for example, "(see Table 1)."
The reference to the table or figure should be close to the
relevant material in the text. Never use a figure or table
without referring to it in the text.
Tables are often used when presenting descriptive statistics such
as means, standard deviations and correlations. Pictures,
graphs, and drawings are referred to as figures. You should use
as few tables and figures as possible. They should be used as
supplements, not to do the entire job of communication. (See
the APA manual for detailed guidelines for Tables and for Figures.)
Generally, one reports descriptive statistics, then inferential
statistics, then states in words what was found.
In this section, you state your conclusions on the basis of your
analyses. The conclusions should be related to the questions
raised in your introduction section. How is this study, and
these results, relevant to the field? You should open the
discussion section with a statement of support or nonsupport for
your original hypothesis. You may want to point out differences
or similarities between other points of view and your own. You
may remark on certain shortcomings of the study, but avoid
dwelling on flaws. In general, this section allows you
relatively free rein to examine, interpret, and qualify your
FIGURE CHECKLIST: A BRIEF GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT GRAPHS IN APA STYLE
Completed figures as they should appear in a written manuscript
can be seen in the publication manual itself.
- All figures included in a paper should be necessary for
understanding the results.
- Figures should be simple, clean, and free of elaborate
- Always double-check to see if data have been plotted
- All figures should be mentioned in the text (see Figure
- Figures are included within a paper after any appendices and
- Each figure should be typed on a separate page.
- Figure pages, just as every other page in a manuscript,
should have the short title and page number in the upper right-hand corner
(unless a photograph).
- All figure labels are numbered consecutively (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.).
- The length of the vertical (Y) axis should be approximately 2/3 the length of the horizontal (X) axis.
- The dependent variable is plotted on the Y-axis, and the
independent variable is plotted on the X-axis.
- Clearly label each axis with respect to what was measured,
quantity measured, and units in which the quality was measured.
- Choose the appropriate scale units (length of intervals) so
that the figure will not distort actual data points.
- Make sure that the scale points on each axis have equal
- All figures are followed by a caption, which is written
below each figure and ended with a period.
- Figure labels beginning each caption are underlined and
followed by a period. For example:
Figure 6. Reaction time in seconds as a function of
the intensity of the stimulus.
TABLE CHECKLIST: A BRIEF GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT TABLES IN APA STYLE
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- All tables included in a paper should be necessary for
understanding the data.
- Tables should be simple, clean, and free of elaborate
- Always double-check to make sure the data are correct.
- All tables should be mentioned in the text.
- Tables are included within a paper after any appendices and before any figures.
- Each table should be typed on a separate page.
- All tables are double-spaced.
- Table pages, just as every other page in a manuscript, should have the short title and page number in the upper
- All table labels should be numbered consecutively (Table 1, Table 2, etc.).
- The data are listed in an orderly fashion with the decimal points falling in a straight vertical line.
- All tables include a caption which is located directly below the table label and is capitalized just as a title
would be, underlined, and is not followed by a period.
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