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.
Briel begins her discussion section by providing a sentence about her hypotheses—what she expected to find. She immediately follows this with what she did find and then her interpretation of those findings. After discussing each of her major results, she discusses larger implications of her work and avenues for future research.
References should be in standard APA format. Please see our APA Formatting guide for specific instructions.
Throughout the course of our studies, we have all read a lot of literature reviews or scientific papers, those whose methodological standard we could have learned from and improved and others that make us wonder how they ever made it through the peer- review process of the journal. Nevertheless, we have to admit that we all still make mistakes and sometimes submit manuscripts that do not match APA guidelines. In order to improve our general knowledge about how to format papers in our beloved APA style or to refresh our previous knowledge related to it, this post intends to give a brief overview over the structure of a scientific paper and some other crucial APA features your paper should contain.
Main sections of your research paper
Whereas a literature review summarizes the most important experimental and qualitative studies that have been conducted in a specific are of interest, the experimental report is the most common form, one that you will employ when reporting the results of your own thesis or study. Its structure reflects the scientific method and the steps relate to the course your research project follows. It helps interested readers to quickly find the section they are looking for and as it is universally determined by the APA guidelines, it is easy to memorize since you will always have to follow the same structure. Thus, your paper should cover the following areas of interest:
- why is the topic so important and what the research question and problem is (covered in your introduction)
- what you did in order to approach and solve the problem/research question (covered in your method section
- your findings that will help make the academic world a little bit brighter (result section)
- such as the interpretation of your findings and posterior work should investigate in the future (covered in your discussion section)
Your paper should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. APA recommends you to use 12 pt Times New Roman as your font, since it is well readable. Nevertheless, make sure to check the guidelines for paper submission every journal has in order to prepare and structure your research work according to their wishes. If you refer to them, it might help you speeding up the reviewing process a little bit, since they will not have to make a large amount of technical corrections. In the following paragraph, the sections of a scientific paper are listed chronologically from the beginning of the paper to its end providing some short ideas on the core features that those sections should contain. Normally an experimental report consists of the following sections:
- The title page
The title page should contain the following important parameter: title of the paper, the author’s name, and the institutional affiliation. Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.
All subsequent pages of your article should contain a running head that indicates the title of your paper in the left column of the page, like this:
TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
[Text you want to write on this page]
Beginning a new page after the first one introducing your research, your abstract page should already contain the above mentioned running head. On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, no formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).
Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. Moreover, it should be a single paragraph double-spaced with a normal lenght of somewhat between 150 and 250 words.
You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.
After having briefly described your entire research conducted in your paper, you can now focus on a more detailed presentation of the theoretical background of your research topic. Never forget to refer to the authors you received the theoretical information from and to enlist them later on in the reference list.
4. The method
This section will contain information about the participants of your experimental study, the research design you have employed, the procedure underlying your experiment (or whatever it is you did to collect some qualitative or quantitative data) such as a brief information about the analysis method (for instance: a two- factor ANOVA) you have used to analyze the data collected. Materials or questionnaires that you have presented the participants should be referred to briefly and added to the Appendix section at the end of your paper, because it would interrupt the flow of reading if you inserted it here.
5. The results
A description of the results you have obtained from your research is destined to be presented here. Sometimes, it is useful to present your results in a table or a figure, but they should simply be additional to the results you have mentioned in the text, not replacing it. Focus on a rather descriptive information about your results, since its discussion will follow in the next part.
6. The discussion
Since the result section is rather descriptive and you have suffered from not being able to reveal the brilliant interpretations, this is where you can impress the world out there or your supervisor with the conclusions you have drawn from your data analysis. Nevertheless, do not forget to include limitations and future research ideas in this section.
7. The reference list
Sometimes, you feel like the reference list and those thousands of different citation rules you have to stick to need an entire study programme on its own. It really is crazy, but those previous posts about referencing software and ideas could help you manage it.
8. Appendices (if you have any)
9.Tables and/or figures (if you have any that have been too large to insert already in the result section)
If all of those guidelines seem familiar to you, you have known already and frequently design the papers you write according to it, then you seem to be an APA genius. If this post helped you sort the diffuse ideas you had in your mind, you are more than welcome. But if there are some questions that remain unanswered, discuss them with us here or in our APA Questions and Answers tool here.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
As being part of EFPSA’s JEPS team, Sina Scherer works as JEPS Bulletin’s editor and is currently enrolled in the last year of her Master programme in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. Her fields of interest cover the areas of Intercultural Psychology, Personality and Organizational Psychology such as Health Psychology.
Sina Scherer, studying at University of Münster, Germany, and University of Padova, Italy. I have previously worked as JEPS Bulletin Editor and am active in a NMUN project simulating the political work of the United Nations as voluntary work. I am interested in cognitive neuroscience and intercultural psychology, anthropology and organizational psychology (aspects of work-life balance, expatriation).