English for Psychology


Text type 1: Experimental report

Experimental reports detail the results of experimental research projects and are most often written in experimental psychology (lab) courses. Experimental reports are write-ups of your results after you have conducted research with participants.  

Abstract: An abstract gives a concise summary of the contents of the report. A good piece of abstract should observe the followings:  

  • It should be brief (about 100 words) 
  • It should be self-contained and provide a complete picture of what the study is about 
  • It should be organized just like your experimental report—introduction, literature review, methods, results and discussion 
  • It should be written last during your drafting stage 

Introduction: The introduction in an experimental article should follow a general to specific pattern, where you first introduce the problem generally and then provide a short overview of your own study. The introduction includes three parts: opening statements, literature review, and study overview.  

  1. Opening statements: Define the problem broadly in plain English and then lead into the literature review (this is the "general" part of the introduction). Your opening statements should already be setting the stage for the story you are going to tell.
  2. Literature Review: Discusses literature (previous studies) relevant to your current study in a concise manner. Keep your story in mind as you organize your lit review and as you choose what literature to include. The following are tips when writing your literature review:
  • You should discuss studies that are directly related to your problem at hand and that logically lead to your own hypotheses. 
  • You do not need to provide a complete historical overview nor provide literature that is peripheral to your own study. 
  • Studies should be presented based on themes or concepts relevant to your research, not in a chronological format. 
  • You should also consider what gap in the literature your own research fills. What hasn't been examined? What does your work do that others have not? 

III. Study overview: The literature review should lead directly into the last section of the introduction—your study overview. Your short overview should provide your hypotheses and briefly describe your method. The study overview functions as a transition to your methods section. 

Thais and Sanford (2000) recommend the following organization for introductions: 

  • Provide an introduction to your topic 
  • Provide a very concise overview of the literature 
  • State your hypotheses and how they connect to the literature 
  • Provide an overview of the methods for investigation used in your research 

MethodsWith 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: 

  1. 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 aparticipant not a subject. 
  2. 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. 

Results: The results section is where you present the results of your research-both narrated for the readers in plain English and accompanied by statistics. Depending on the requirements or the projected length of your paper, sometimes the results are combined with the discussion section. Bem (2006) recommends the following pattern for presenting findings: 

  • Remind readers of the conceptual hypotheses or questions you are asking 
  • Remind readers of behaviours 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 

Discussion: 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. 

Conclusion: The conclusions section sums up the key points of your discussion, the essential features of your design, or the significant outcomes of your investigation. As its function is to round off the story of your report, it should: 

  • be written to relate directly to the aims of the project as stated in the Introduction 
  • indicate the extent to which the aims have been achieved 
  • summarise the key findings, outcomes or information in your report 
  • acknowledge limitations and make recommendations for future work (where applicable) 
  • highlight the significance or usefulness of your work. 

Citation style: APA (7th ed.) 

Text type 2: Critical analysis or review of research

Often called "term papers," a critical analysis of research narrowly examines and draws conclusions from existing literature on a topic of interest. These are frequently written in upper-division survey courses. 

Introduction: Introduce the research paper and theory you will analyse in your critical analysis. You can mention the title, author, the topic/ argument or thesis to be analysed. This forms your thesis statement on which the whole critical analysis will be based. 

  • Briefly orient the reader to the area by giving a few sentences about what previous studies have shown.  
  • Briefly tell the reader why it is important to reconsider or further analyse the previous research in this area.  
  • Make sure to define key terms that the reader will need to understand in order to follow your argument.  
  • Then, tell your readers what your reconsideration/new analysis of previous research has led you to conclude. That is, tell your reader what your novel conclusion (thesis) is. You need to state your thesis plainly, clearly, and soon. Indeed, when you write, you should present your thesis within the first page or so.  Sometimes, students feel as though they don’t want to give too much away in the introduction, but an academic paper should introduce the main points of the argument, as well as the thesis, early in the essay. Don't make the essay into a mystery novel, where the reader must guess at the point you are trying to make.  
  • Finally, after stating your thesis, tell your readers why they should care about your thesis (you may remember this from Expos as question, problem, or what's at stake). That is, why is it important? 

Summary: Summarize the author’s work. You only need to cover the general information of the work in the summary. You should not include tiny details of the work as this will appear like you’re copying the whole of the author’s work. The key word here is ‘summary,’ so keep it clear and concise. Tell the reader what you would want to know about the study before you accepted it as evidence for whatever point another author was making. Some things critical readers often want to know about a study being cited as evidence are: 

  • What did the study researcher hypothesize? 
  • How did the study researcher test his or her hypothesis (procedures, sample, limitations, etc.)? 
  • What did the study researcher find? 
  • How did the study researcher interpret her results? 
  • What controls were used to rule out alternative interpretations? 
  • How do you interpret the results? Why? 
  • Finally, do not forget to tell the reader how the study results (or your interpretation of the results) support whatever point (main or mini) that you are making. Remember, the whole reason that you are describing the study is because you are using it as evidence to support your argument. 

Analysis: This is where the real critique takes place. Here, you only need to elaborate on the evaluation that you’ve already made in your rough draft. Describe all the author’s main idea in the text. Describe how he/she supported each of the main points and then analyze and critique the effectiveness, efficiency, validity, and strength of the argument based on a context. Discuss the implications of the arguments made by the author and any question(s) that rises from the discussion. Assess whether those implications are positive or negative (bad or good). Also, highlight how effective or ineffective the author has dealt with the issue. 

Conclusion: Conclude the analysis by giving a brief review of what you’ve written in the paper. Some questions you need to find answers to in your report are: i) What finding or solutions have you made from the author’s argument? ii) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s topic and argument? and iii) What are the shortcomings of the sources and the methodology? Comment on the results and conclusion made by the author. Here are some guidelines for writing a strong conclusion. 

  • Restate your conclusion/thesis, summarizing the evidence that supports it. 
  • Do not introduce new evidence in the conclusion.  
  • Do not lead the reader through twenty pages of literature review only to leave them with a conclusion that is unrelated (or only tangentially related) to the research that you have reviewed!  
  • You can offer future suggestions for research, but again, be sure to base any suggestions for future research on what has been reviewed in your paper.  
  • Finally, restate the importance and relevance of the topic of your paper (without overstating the importance or implications of your thesis). Leave the reader feeling that they have learned something very worthwhile. 

Citation style: APA (7th ed.) 

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