Writing the Introduction to a Research Report
The introduction to a research report accomplishes two goals:
• informs the reader by providing information from the research literature necessary to
understanding the project;
• persuades the reader that the research question is valid by providing the gap in the literature.
How are these goals accomplished? The writer provides a brief review of the literature in the correct order (given below!). The content of the introduction informs; the organization of the introduction persuades.
5 steps to Writing the Introduction
1) Establish Topic -- quick, concise (what is being studied)
2) Provide significance -- research, practical, clinical (why it is generally important)
3) Review the relevant literature -- what the expert literature reveals (what we know already)
4) Point out the gap -- what's missing in the research literature (what we don't know -- motivation for study)
5) Reveal the research question (and sometimes, hypotheses) -- the specifics of this research
You might have noticed while reading in the research literature that research reports tend to start immediately – there’s very little “warm up” material involved. However, we are so used to writing this way that it may not be possible to just start at the beginning. If this is the case, go back and cross out the first couple of lines.
Example of student opening line -- note the courageous writer who manages to simply eliminate the first few sentences!
The second step to the introduction is to offer the first bit of persuasion to the reader: show the importance of the topic by offering something of practical or research significance. However, it is very important for the writer to understand that “significance” does not mean an opinion about why the topic is important. Rather, the significance comes from the research literature, too. Read the examples below, then we’ll craft one from the literature on young children and computers.
Calvert, Strong, and Gallagher. Control as an engagement feature…AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST, Vol. 48 No. 5, January 2005 578-589
New interactive media are now integrated into the fabric of children’s daily lives (Rideout,Vandewater,&Wartella, 2003). Online programs for very young children are routinely accessible, and promises of enhanced learning from this potential new form of education abound. For young children, this means early computer experiences that focus on preacademic skills, such as prereading activities, can be targeted.
Analysis: The first sentence is the topic sentence. The next two point out a practical (real world) significance: first, interactive media are available; second, there may be educational benefits. The reader is now a bit more convinced that research about very small children and computer programs makes sense.
Plowman and Stephen. Children, Play and Computers, British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 36 No 2 2005,145–157
Pre-school education is a particularly interesting area for investigating the use of computers. Pre-school environments offer opportunities to observe the relationship between formal and informal learning, the balance between learner-centred and adult-directed activities, and the use of computers by children who are unable to follow text-based instructions.
Analysis: The topic of the report is laid out in the first sentence. The following sentence provides research significance – in other words, explains why the topic is useful as an environment for scholarly study.
Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
Appropriate health care services are often not available in many rural and remote areas, and this problem is expected to intensify in the near future, exacerbating existing rural health disparities that need to be addressed (Institute of Medicine, 2004). “Telehealth” interventions represent a strategy for potentially addressing such access to care problems. Although telehealth services do not directly address overall shortages of clinicians, they can improve access to health services in rural areas by providing a way for clinicians located in urban areas to deliver care to rural patients in relatively distant locations. Therefore, telehealth applications are becoming widely used to provide much needed medical and mental healthcare services to people in rural areas (Heinzelmann et al., 2005; Jennett et al., 2003).
Analysis: The topic in this case actually occurs in the second sentence as the "reply" to the significance laid out in sentence one. The rest of the paragraph lays out a bit of background on the current state of affairs.
Review the Relevant Literature
Following the first paragraph which introduces the topic and provides significance, the writer must now review the literature for the reader. The literature review (hereafter, “lit review,” the short phrase used by research writers everywhere) accomplishes many objectives at once. First, the lit review informs the reader of the most important research needed to understand the research question. Second, the lit review gives credibility to the writer as someone who knows what they are talking about. Third, the lit review is organized so that the research question is validated; in other words, the review leads the reader to a “gap” or “conflict” in the literature.
This is not as complicated as it sounds. You’ve got the annotated bibliography to help organize the literature you’ve read. You’ve got the research question. The task is to join the two pieces. You'll note as a reader that the lit review is where you see the most citations; you should also be able to see how well synthesized material is! In some longer reports where the research is investigating complex interactions you may see that the lit review is organized using subheadings. Just as often it is not -- instead, the lit review is organized so that each major idea is presented in its own paragraph/s. The conventions governing science still apply: thou shalt make it as easy as possible for the reader to locate information. For this reason, do not "weave" different ideas together in the same paragraph. For complex topics, present each part separately, then write a paragraph that combines the ideas (honestly, this should make it easier to write -- concepts maps are very useful for planning this section of the paper).
Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
Recent reviews of empirical data indicate that psychiatric interviews conducted via telehealth or telepsychiatry are reliable, and that patients and clinicians who use this medium for clinical services generally report high levels of satisfaction (Frueh et al.,2000; Hilty et al., 2004; Monnier et al., 2003; Morland et al.,2003). Although this early research suggests that clinical needs might be met via telepsychiatry among mental health patients, little is known about the acceptance of such applications among broad populations. In other words, although those who actually receive telepsychiatry services are satisfied, we do not know how such services are perceived among people who are not seeking mental health treatment but who might have cause to use such services in the future. Because telepsychiatry programs are rapidly appearing all over the world, health services research that addresses the acceptance of this mode of service delivery is needed to guide development efforts for health care systems (Frueh et al., 2000; Frueh et al., 2007; Hilty et al., 2004; Monnier et al., 2003; Morland et al., 2003; Ruskin et al., 2004).
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) serves as a good test case for telepsychiatry, as this disorder is prevalent in the general population at 6% to 14% (Kaplan et al., 1994), and because (compared with other psychiatric disorders) it is associated with nearly the highest rate of medical service use (e.g., Greenberg et al., 1999; Kessler et al., 1999). Additionally, individuals with PTSD may avoid treatment since avoidance and social isolation are core features of the disorder. Thus, the impact of additional barriers to care is of particular relevance to this clinical population. To date, there is preliminary evidence to support the use of telepsychiatry for PTSD specialty care among combat veterans, including strong levels of patient satisfaction and comparable clinical outcomes with traditional face-to-face care (Frueh et al., 2007).
In a cross-sectional survey we sought to examine attitudes towards medical and mental health care delivered via telehealth applications in a sample of adult rural and urban primary care patients. We also sought to examine attitudes among a sub-sample of patients with PTSD, a group likely to need help accessing a range of relevant clinical services.
Point out the Gap
The “gap” in the literature is a conflict or missing piece of information which your research question will answer. If the research has already been done, then why waste your time and the reader’s time with all this work? The gap also explicitly identifies the contribution a piece of research makes. It’s as though the writer is saying “See, Scientific Community, this is what we know but this is what we do not know.” The reader needs to be shown that this gap exists in order to believe that the research makes a contribution. Providing the gap is part of the writer’s job.
ExampleAttitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
There are no extant data on how representative patient populations, such as primary care users, view telehealth interventions. Satisfaction with care has only been documented among relatively narrow populations that have already received mental health care via telehealth.
Reveal the Research Question
The final part of the Introduction is the Research Question – this is the part that everything else has been leading to. This is where the writer presents the question that will answer the gap as revealed by the literature to be a missing piece of the topic’s research puzzle! The RQ may be expressed as either an actual question or a declarative sentence. Some journals seem to prefer that research writer’s express the RQ as a question; some prefer the RQ is expressed as statement. Following the research question may be a hint of method, hypotheses, or nothing at all.
Example Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
What remains unexplored is the acceptability of such services to a broad group of people who have not yet tried it but who may face real decisions about how to best access care in the future. These data should yield useful information regarding patients’ beliefs toward telehealth applications and ways in which to address concerns patients may have with this mode of service delivery.
How to Write a Lab Report
Saul McLeod published 2011
Conducting a piece of research is a requirement for most psychology degree courses.
Of course, before you write up the report you have to research human behavior, and collect some data. Final year students often find it difficult to choose a suitable research topic for their psychology lab report, and usually attempt to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Ask you supervisor for advice, but if in doubt, keep it simple, choose a memory experiment (you don't get extra marks for originality). Remember to make sure your research in psychology adheres to ethical guidelines. You will also be likely to write your paper according to APA style.
Ethical Considerations in Research
If the study involves any of the following, due consideration should be made about (1) whether to conduct the study, (2) how best to protect the participants’ rights.
• Psychological or physical discomfort.
• Invasion of privacy. If you are researching on private property, such as a shopping mall, you should seek permission.
• Deception about the nature of the study or the participants’ role in it. Unless you are observing public behavior, participants should be volunteers and told what your research is about. If possible obtain informed consent. You should only withhold information if the research cannot be carried out any other way.
• Research with children. In a school you will need the head teacher's consent and, if (s)he thinks it is advisable, the written consent of the children's’ parents/guardians. Testing children in a lab requires the written consent of parents/guardians.
• Research with non-human animals. Experimentation with animals should only rarely be attempted. You must be trained to handle and care for the animals and ensure that their needs are met (food, water, good housing, exercise, gentle handling and protection from disturbance). Naturalistic observation poses fewer problems but still needs careful consideration; the animals may be disturbed especially where they are breeding or caring for young.
When conducting investigations, never:
• Insult, offend or anger participants.
• Make participants believe they may have harmed or upset someone else.
• Break the law or encourage others to do it.
• Contravene the Data Protection Act.
• Copy tests or materials without permission of the copyright holder.
• Make up data.
• Copy other people’s work without crediting it.
• Claim that somebody else’s wording is your own.
Infringement of any ethical guidelines may result in disqualification of the project.
Lab Report Format
Title page, abstract, references and appendices are started on separate pages (subsections from the main body of the report are not). Use double-line spacing of text, font size 12, and include page numbers.
The report should have a thread of argument linking the prediction in the introduction to the content in the discussion.
1. Title Page:
This must indicate what the study is about. It must include the IV & DV. It should not be written as a question.
2. Abstract: (you write this last)
The abstract comes at the beginning of your report but is written at the end.
The abstract provides a concise and comprehensive summary of a research report. Your style should be brief, but not using note form. Look at examples in journal articles. It should aim to explain very briefly (about 150 words) the following:
• Start with a one/two sentence summary, providing the aim and rationale for the study.
• Describe participants and setting: who, when, where, how many, what groups?
• Describe the method: what design, what experimental treatment, what questionnaires, surveys or tests used.
• Describe the major findings, which may include a mention of the statistics used and the significance levels, or simply one sentence summing up the outcome.
• The final sentence(s) outline the studies 'contribution to knowledge' within the literature. What does it all mean? Mention implications of your findings if appropriate.
The purpose of the introduction is to explain where your hypothesis comes from. You must be explicit regarding how the research outlined links to the aims / hypothesis of your study.
• Start with general theory, briefly introducing the topic.
• Narrow down to specific and relevant theory and research. Two or three studies is sufficient.
• There should be a logical progression of ideas which aids the flow of the report. This means the studies outlined should lead logically into your aims and hypotheses.
• Do be concise and selective, avoid the temptation to include anything in case it is relevant (i.e. don't write a shopping list of studies).
• Don’t turn this introduction into an essay.
• Don’t spell out all the details of a piece of research unless it is one you are replicating.
• Do include any relevant critical comment on research, but take care that your aims remain consistent with the literature review. If your hypothesis is unlikely, why are you testing it?
AIMS: The aims should not appear out of thin air, the preceding review of psychological literature should lead logically into the aims.
• Write a paragraph explaining what you plan to investigate and why. Use previously cited research to explain your expectations. Later these expectations are formally stated as the hypotheses.
• Do understand that aims are not the same as the hypotheses.
HYPOTHESES: State the alternate hypothesis and make it is clear, concise and includes the variables under investigation.
Assume the reader has no knowledge of what you did and ensure that he/she would be able to replicate (i.e. copy) your study exactly by what you write in this section.
Write in the past tense.
Don’t justify or explain in the Method (e.g. why you choose a particular sampling method), just report what you did.
Only give enough detail for someone to replicate experiment - be concise in your writing.
State the experimental design, the independent variable label and name the different conditions/levels. Name the dependent variables and make sure it's operationalized. Identify any controls used, e.g. counterbalancing, control of extraneous variables.
Identify the target population (refer to a geographic location) and type of sample. Say how you obtained your sample (e.g. opportunity sample). Give relevant details, e.g. how many, age range.
Describe the materials used, e.g. word lists, surveys, computer equipment etc. You do not need to include wholesale replication of materials – instead include a ‘sensible’ (illustrate) level of detail.
Describe the precise procedure you followed when carrying out your research i.e. exactly what you did. Describe in sufficient detail to allow for replication of findings. Be concise in your description and omit extraneous / trivial details. E.g. you don't need to include details regarding instructions, debrief, record sheets etc.
The results section of a paper usually present the descriptive statistics followed by inferential statistics. Avoid interpreting the results (save this for the discussion).
Make sure the results are presented clearly and concisely. A table can be used to display descriptive statistics if this makes the data easier to understand. DO NOT include any raw data.
Use APA Style
Numbers reported to 2d.p. (incl. 0 before the decimal if < 1.00, e.g. “0.51”). The exceptions to this rule: Numbers which can never exceed 1.0 (e.g. p-values, r-values): report to 3d.p. and do not include 0 before the decimal place, e.g. “.001”.
Percentages and degrees of freedom: report as whole numbers.
Statistical symbols that are not Greek letters should be italicised (e.g. M, SD, t, X, F, p, d).
Include spaces either side of equals sign.
When reporting 95% CIs (confidence intervals), upper and lower limits are given inside square brackets, e.g. “95% CI [73.37, 102.23]”
What information to include:
The type of statistical test being used.
Means, SDs & 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for each IV level. If you have four to 20 numbers to present, a well-presented table is best, APA style.
Clarification of whether no difference or a significant difference was found the direction of the difference (only where significant).
The mean difference and 95% CIs (confidence intervals).
The effect size (this does not appear on the SPSS output).
For example - “A ____ test revealed there was a significant (not a significant) difference in the scores for IV level 1 (M =___, SD =___ CI [____, ____]) and IV level 2 (M =___, SD =___ CI [____, ____]) conditions; t(__)=____, p = ____”
• Outline your findings in plain English (no statistical jargon) and relate your results to your hypothesis, e.g. is it supported or rejected?
• Compare you results to background materials from the introduction section. Are your results similar or different? Discuss why/why not.
• How confident can we be in the results? Acknowledge limitations, but only if they can explain the result obtained. If the study has found a reliable effect be very careful suggesting limitations as you are doubting your results. Unless you can think of any confounding variable that can explain the results instead of the IV, it would be advisable to leave the section out.
• Suggest constructive ways to improve your study if appropriate.
• What are the implications of your findings? Say what your findings mean for the way people behave in the real world.
• Suggest an idea for further researched triggered by your study, something in the same area, but not simply an improved version of yours. Perhaps you could base this on a limitation of your study.
• Concluding paragraph Finish with a statement of your findings and the key points of the discussion (e.g. interpretation and implications), in no more than 3 or 4 sentences.
The reference section is the list of all the sources cited in the essay (in alphabetical order). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).
In simple terms every time you refer to a name (and date) of a psychologist you need to reference the original source of the information.
If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.
References need to be set out APA style:
Author, A. A. (year). Title of work. Location: Publisher.
Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number(issue number), page numbers
A simple way to write your reference section is use Google scholar. Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the 'cite' link.
Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.
Once again remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2011). Psychology research report. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/research-report.html