These are brief guidelines that you can follow. A more comprehensive outline can be found in "Field, A & Hole, G (2003). How to design and report experiments. London: Sage."
The writing of laboratory reports is an essential part of the practical course and one function of this course is to give you practice and feedback about how to write such reports.
The purpose of a lab report is to communicate to others what you did, why you did it, how you did it, what you found and what you think it means. Readers of reports will sometimes want the answer to very precise questions and do not want to wade through the whole report looking for this information. For this reason it is essential to follow a standard format. with headings and subheadings which allows the reader to locate the information that he or she requires immediately without having to work through the entire report.
The simple rule for report writing is 'Could someone replicate your experiment using the information you have provided them with? '. Reports are intended to be read by someone who knows nothing about your experiment. They will usually see the title first, then maybe read the abstract and only then read the bulk of the report.
There is no single style which is more 'correct' than any other. However, there are widely accepted standards and conventions which should be followed. Most report write-ups adopt the format outlined here which we use at Nottingham. The British Journal of Psychology is an excellent place to browse, especially if you are unsure as
to correct format or style.
The practical report is composed of a series of separate sections in which specific information is to be reported. Your task in the report is to tell your reader all about the study you conducted. The main sections of the report should be as follows:
As you can see, the method section is composed of a number of sub-sections. There is some disagreement over the precise order in which these sections should appear. The above specified order is the one that we have adopted in the Psychology department and should be used in all your write-ups. Remember the most important thing is that you report the appropriate material in the right way in these sub-sections.
HINT. You should try to write your report as if the person reading it is intelligent but unknowledgeable about your study and the area of psychology in which it took place. The marker will be checking to see that you have written your report with this sort of reader in mind. So, you must make sure that you have:
- provided sufficient background material to understand what you did and why you did it have spelt out and developed your arguments clearly defined all technical terms provided precise details of the way in which you went about collecting and analysing the data.
Putting the report into specific sections makes this task much easier than it might otherwise be. The rest of this handout will consider each of the sections in turn and explain what you need to put in them and why.