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 example:
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 institution.
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 design.
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
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 authority figures.
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
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
FIGURE CHECKLIST: A BRIEF GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT GRAPHS IN APA
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
- 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
- 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
- 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 right-hand
- 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.