When you are preparing a study for submission to a journal it is important to follow strict conventions or rules. There are several mandatory sections which are each described below. When you write up your practicals you will need to follow the advice provided here in addition to nay extra guidance provided for the specific practical.
The Abstract: This is a brief summary of the report and covers the aim/hypothesis, method and design, variables, procedures, results (may refer to the actual quantitative data and p value if a stats test has been conducted) and conclusions. This is an important section as abstracts are entered into searchable data-bases like PsycINFO so that researchers can easily find all the papers on a certain topic that they might be researching themselves.
Introduction: The introduction is a review of the literature that already exists on the topic of interest and will include references to published theories and research studies. The introduction includes theories and studies which support the hypothesis that is being investigated and therefore provides the reader with an academic context which will help them understand how the researcher came to his or her hypothesis. Unlike an essay, the introduction does not systematically evaluate each study or provide competing arguments as such, unless this is directly relevant to their hypothesis and study, e.g. demonstrating the weaknesses of existing work, upon which the current study will build. The introduction will provides the reader with in-text citations or references to other useful published work and it is critical that each time ideas are referred to which are not the author’s own, they must be referenced properly, see below. This is called academic honesty and is a critical consideration in academic writing which, could cost you your degree if you mess up at university!
Tips for writing your own: When writing your own, you should aim for the introduction to develop logically towards a concluding statement regarding the reason for the current study, leading the reader neatly into the aims and hypotheses. Always keep you references neatly organised whilst you are working so when the submission deadline is looming you don’t have a mad rush at the end trying to locate the papers that you used in order to write your references section!
Aims and hypotheses: The aim refers to what it is that the study is exploring, what is that the researcher is trying to find out? This should be clear from the abstract bit also again it will be clearly stated somewhere in the introduction. The paper should also state the exact hypotheses that are being tested (experimental studies) or the research question (non-experimental and qualitative studies).
Tips for writing your own: In your own reports, use a subheading so the reader can quickly find your aim and hypotheses. Research hypotheses should be clearly justified by previous research and be fully operationalized. Your literature review will help you to decide whether the hypothesis should be one tailed or two tailed (directional or non-directional). When the existing literature has contradictions, a two -tailed hypothesis may be more appropriate. Make sure you don’t forget to include your null hypothesis, and always ensure that if the experimental hypothesis, is one tailed, the null should be as well.
Method: The method section should be broken down into as many as four separate sections, for example design, participants, materials and procedure.
The design will include the experimental design (if it is an experiment) and the fully operationalised IV and DV and a detailed account of how ethical standards were upheld. The participants section should include details about the target population and the sampling technique and relevant details about the participants. The materials section should include a description of the necessary materials or apparatus. The procedure should be a “blow-by-blow” account of exactly what was done in order to to collect the data. The level of detail should mean that the study can be replicated. This section will again make reference to ethics in terms of specific point sin the procedure when ethical issues are relevant, e.g. the debriefing. The procedure will also cross-reference the reader to all the necessary paper based materials which will be included at the end of the report as appendices.
Tips for writing your own: when you are writing up your practicals, you will usually be given some detailed advice to follow by your teacher to ensure you do not leave out anything important. Use this wisely! If you are writing a report which will be marked, follow the mar scheme with care!
Results The results section presents the reader with the outcomes of the analysis of the data. In a quantitative study this will include descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. Percentages and measures of central tendency and dispersion are likely to be presented in a summary tables and there may be a range of appropriate graphs and charts. This is usually followed by the outcomes of any inferential statistical analysis. Quantitative data analysis will also be accompanied by an explanation of the findings in writing and references will be made to the hypotheses.
Tips for writing your own:
- follow mark schemes carefully for assessed practicals
- title and label all your tables, graphs and charts with care. Row and column heading in a table and axes labels on a graph, for example, should make it perfectly possible for the reader to be aware of the hypothesis from looking at these items alone and not reading any of the rest of the report. This referred to as a “stand-alone” table or graph and is best practice.
- include references to appendices containing your raw data and all calculations, including those of the descriptive statistics
- For completeness, in an experimental study, you may also wish to include a photocopy of the critical values table with the appropriate critical value highlighted
- be sure to justify (explain – reasons why) the choices of statistics that you have made (descriptive and inferential) with reference to the design of the study and the level of measurement of the data
Discussion: The discussion section will start be reiterating the findings of the study with reference to both the descriptive and inferential statistics before going on to exp,ore how these findings fit in with the literature reviewed in the introduction. There will be comparisons of the data obtained in the current study and the existing studies and a discussion of why any similarities and differences may have arisen. The discussion will then move onto an analysis of the current study looking at it various scientific limitations and the impact these may have had on the data. There should also be a consideration of how the study could be modified to overcome these problems and how the data might change as a result. There is also likely to be a discussion of potential future research in this area and with a consideration of applications of new knowledge to society. The discussion will finish with a clear statement of the conclusions of the current study.
Tips for writing your own:
- In assessed practical, follow the specific mark scheme with care
- apply all your usual tips for good “writing for psychology”; chains of reason need to be logically developed and substantiated (backed up/supported by) accurate and thorough knowledge and understanding of methods and statistics; competing arguments should be injected to show you are thinking in depth about your findings and how they relate to the literature base and any limitations in your design etc.