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Psychology: Reading Experimental Research

Guide to information resources suitable for psychology classes.

Experimental reports or research articles in the Social Sciences follow a specific format. Understanding this format helps you in two ways. First, you can identify experimental reports or research articles when you review search results from a database. Second, when you need to read the report for an assignment you will can more easily find the relevant sections.

The six sections of an experimental report are explained below. This information is adapted from "Writing the Experimental Report" at Purdue OWL.

1. Abstract

An abstract is included in most academic journal articles. The abstract is a summary of the article or study. Typically, they contain 100 words or less and are organized exactly like the experimental report: introduction, literature review, methods, results and discussion.

If you only see an abstract, you do not have access to the full text of the article. To find the full text of an article you are looking for, ask a librarian. 

2. Introduction

The Introduction section follow a general to specific pattern: first introducing the problem in a general description, then a short overview of the study, including the hypothesis. Introductions will typically include:

  • Opening statements
  • Literature Review
  • Study overview

3. Methods

The Methods section will be organized in three parts:

  1. Participants: who was enrolled, demographics of participants, etc.
  2. Apparatus and materials: equipment and materials used for data collection, such as computers, eye-tracking devices, surveys, software, etc.
  3. Procedure: step-by-step details of the experiment, including the design, variables, participant instructions, etc.

4. Results

The Results section is where the author(s) present the results of their research. You may see the Results and Discussion sections combined in some articles. Results can include:

  • Organization of results
  • Preliminary discussion
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation of results

5. Discussion

In the Discussion section, the author(s) will talk about what the results mean to the topic or subject. This section moves from specific to general. Here, you may find:

  • Interpretation of findings
  • Evaluation of hypotheses or research questions
  • Discussion of unexpected results
  • Connection to previous literature

6. References

The References list includes any sources cited or referred to in the paper. Typically, Psychology and Sociology studies will be in APA format.