Format For Laboratory Reports
John H. Krantz
Hanover College


Format For Laboratory Reports

    The quality of your grade for the laboratory portion of this course depends almost entirely upon the quality of your laboratory reports. Here are the instructions for writing these papers.

General Format Information

    The format for your laboratory reports described below is a modification of the format required for all papers submitted to the American Psychological Association (APA) journals. You may have become acquainted with this format from Psychology 325 and 426. Note that this format is different, and where the two systems differ, this format is to be followed for your reports.

Spacing and Condition of the Report

    All papers must be typed and double spaced. Handwritten material will not be accepted. (It really adds to the time it takes to grade the reports.)

Page Numbering

    In the upper right hand corner from the page (0.5" from the top and 1" from the right) is the page number with the title page being number 1 and labeled. Five spaces before the page number on the same line is the first two or three words of the actual title.


    Margins for the body of the laboratory report should be 1" on all sides as on this handout.

Section Headings

    Major section headings (see below) should be centered and only the first letter of the word is capitalized. Secondary section headings (see below) should be left justified, capitalized first letters, and underlined. No period should follow the secondary headings and the text for the section should begin on the next line. Examples of how the various heading levels are shown on this report.

Specific Format Information

Title Page

    The first page of the report should be as follows:


Title of the Study
(your name)
Hanover College.

    The title should be a concise description of the research contained in the report. The title should be complete enough to let someone browsing through a journal determine if the research is interesting or not.

    The first line of title page, and it is literally the first line of the page and not lowered to any degree, is the running head which is a summary of the title. This phrase would be placed at the top of pages of your paper if it were ever published.

Purpose Section

    On the second page of the laboratory report, the major section heading Purpose should be printed at the top of the page. Under this caption write out a concise, yet understandable, statement of the problem that you are working on. Include in your Purpose section any hypotheses (and the rationale for these), and variables (either manipulated or measured), or other relevant information whenever appropriate. Make sure that the Purpose section contains sufficient detail that the reader can understand the purpose and hypotheses of your inquiry.

Method Section

    The next major section of your laboratory report is labeled Method (major heading). This section should contain a concise description of your research design and procedure and any special equipment being used.

    The Method section should tell your reader how the study was conducted. The Method should be described in enough detail to permit an experienced investigator to replicate (i.e., to do the exact study again) your study if he or she so desires. A description of the Method is divided into the following labeled (secondary headings) subsections: subjects, apparatus and/or material, and procedure.

    A major question on these subsections is how much detail to include. You can affect the quality of your laboratory report by including too much or too little. Most beginning students of science tend to include too little. The basic rule is: Include only information essential to comprehend and replicate the study. It is good advice to have a person outside the class read this section and see if they can repeat back what your did (don't prompt them and make sure they comprehend the details). Further information on each of the subsections is given below.

    Subjects. The Subjects section should answer three questions: Who participated in the study? How many participants were there? How were they selected? Give major demographic characteristics such as sex and age as well as any other relevant information. State the total number of participants and the number assigned to each condition. If any participants did not complete the investigation, give the number and reasons. Report selection and assignment procedures.

    Apparatus and/or Materials. This subsection should include a brief description of the apparatus or materials used and their function in the research. Standard laboratory equipment, such as furniture, stopwatches, or screens, can usually be mentioned without details. Specialized equipment obtained from a commercial establishment should be identified by the firm's name and model number. In the case of complex, or custom-made equipment, a drawing may be useful. Describe all materials used as stimuli in enough detail that they could be reproduced.

    Procedure. The procedure subsection should be a summary of the each step in the execution of the research. It should include the instructions to the participants, formation of groups, and the specific experimental manipulations. Describe randomization, counterbalancing, and other control features of the design. State instructions in summary form unless they are unusual or comprise an experimental manipulation. Remember the Method section should tell what you did and how you did it.

Results Section

    The next major section is labeled Results. In this section the primary focus is the reporting of the factual results of your study. Many times you will be gathering either individual or small group data. Usually, however, your laboratory and the discussion will depend upon the data from the entire class.

    Some laboratories will require that you put your data into either a graph or a table. The graphs should be referred to as figures. The figures should be labeled in sequence at the bottom of the figure as Figure 1, etc. You should refer to the figure in the body of the report when you are describing the data presented in the figure using the figure number. Tables should be numbered and titled at the top of the table as Table 1, etc. Tables should also be referenced in the body of the text by their numbers. When making figures, use care to make sure they are neat and clear. Sloppy and inaccurate figures are either useless or misleading to the reader. In addition, be sure to clearly label you axes, including the units of measurement.

    In addition to the data, your Results should include any other observations that you make during the course of the investigation. Record any special observation that may be useful in the future, i.e., anything that may have affected your results but was not noted in the Method section.

    Any statistical procedures (and results of statistical tests) should also be included in the Results section. We will not be doing any "fancy" statistics, but you might find it useful to use any of a number of summary or descriptive statistics, e.g., mean or standard deviation.

Discussion Section

    Next comes the Discussion section (major heading). This section discusses your analysis of the information in the Results section. When analyzing your results (the data), speculation is allowable and the use of information from other sources (e.g., your text, other scientific literature) is encouraged. The goal here is to openly discuss the question "What can we make out of these data?" You should evaluate and interpret the implications of your results with respect to any hypotheses. In a Discussion section you are free to draw inferences from your results. If your are doing any speculation you should: (1) identify it as such, (2) make sure that it logically follows from your obtained data or some other clearly specific theory, and (3) express your thoughts as concisely as possible. Rambling speculation is not permissible.

    In general, you should be guided by the following questions: What have I contributed here? How has my study helped to resolve the original problem or purpose?

Improvements Section

    The next section is titled Improvements (major heading). Here you suggest ways in which the study might be improved. You can be very creative and critical in this section. Do not put silly or irrelevant suggestions, such as "This experiment could be improved if I read all instructions and come to class on time" or "This experiment should have more subjects." Your suggestions for improvement should be directly related to the study itself.

Use of References and Citations

    If you refer to any information from an outside source in any part of your report, it should be properly referenced in a section titled References (major heading). The order of the references should be alphabetical by the first author. In general the format should be:

Authors are listed by Lastname, F.I., where F.I. refer to the first initials.

    You must also cite these references in the body of the text where information from this reference is used. The format for the citation is: Lastname (YEAR) when the authors name is used in the sentence or (Lastname, YEAR) when the names are not used in the sentence. YEAR refers to the year the article or book was published.

    It is of vital importance that you properly reference and cite any information or ideas that are not your own. To not use proper references and citation is a form of academic dishonesty and plagiarism and will be treated as such following school guidelines.

Summary of Format of Laboratory Report