Components of a Lab ReportWriter's Web
(printable version here)
by Tori Giaimo


The shape of an article (Bem, 2003).
Part of report Sample topic sentence
The introduction begins broadly: “Individuals differ radically from one another in the degree to which they are willing and able to express their emotions.”
It becomes more specific: “Indeed, the popular view is that such emotional expressiveness is a central difference between men and women.... But the research evidence is mixed...”
And more so: "There is even some evidence that men may actually...”
Until you are ready to introduce your own study in concep- tual terms: “In this study, we recorded the emotional reactions of both men and women to filmed...”
The method and results sections are the most specific, the “stem” of the martini glass: (Method) One hundred male and 100 female undergraduates were shown one of two movies...”
“(Results) Table 1 shows that men in the father-watching condition cried significantly more...”
The discussion section begins with the implications of your study: “These results imply that sex differences in emotional ex- pressiveness are moderated by two kinds of variables...”
It becomes broader: “Not since Charles Darwin’s first observations has psychol- ogy contributed as much new...”
And more so: “If emotions can incarcerate us by hiding our complexity, at least their expression can liberate us by displaying our authenticity.”


APA headings have five levels. The levels always follow in the same order, and they are organized according to level of subordination. The levels of headings are as follows:

1. Level 1 headings
Bolded, Uppercase and lowercase, and Centered

2. Level 2 headings
Bolded, Uppercase and lowercase, and Aligned to the Left

3. Level 3 headings
bolded, lowercase, indented, followed by a period.

4. Level 4 headings
Bolded, italicized, lowercase, indented, followed by a period.

5. Level 5 headings
italicized, lowercase, indented, followed by a period.

In level 4 and 5 headings, the body text follows the heading directly.


Headers and Page Numbers

APA style reports include a header, which runs along the top of the paper. The header usually consists of a modified version of the title, and the page numbers. For example, if the title of your report was "The Effect of Techno Music on College Students' Sleep Patterns," your title page would look like this:



The Effect of Techno Music on College Students' Sleep Patterns

Jamie Smith

University of Richmond

As you can see, the title page has the words "Running head" before the header, with a colon. This is only the case on the title page -- all subsequent pages have only the capitalized, shortened version of the title as the header. Page numbers go in the top right-hand corner of the page.


Your audience could be a professor, a group of researchers, your classmates, or even the general public. Knowing who your audience is will help you a lot when writing your report. Your audience will dictate the type of language you use, how detailed and technical your analysis is, and even the organization of your paper. Regardless of your audience, you will want to include some background information in your report, but knowing your audience will keep you from including too much or too little explanation.


Set-Up of a Lab Report

The set-up of a lab report could be compared to the shape of a Martini glass. In this analogy, each section corresponds to a different part of the glass. A typical APA lab report consists of the following sections:

  • Introduction -- the body of the glass is the introduction. The introduction starts broad, and becomes narrower as it proceeds. At the bottom of the glass (at the end of the introduction) is the olive, or thesis. The thesis is the argument of the paper; in this case, it is the hypothesis of the experiment.
  • Methods -- the methods section is within the stem of the glass. This section is specific and factual. There is no room for analysis in the methods section. The point of this section is to give information about how the experiment was carried out.
  • Results -- the results section is also housed within the stem of the glass. This is the most specific section of the report, and consists solely of data. There is no analysis whatsoever in a results section. Instead, the straight facts are given about how the data from the experiment was analyzed, but not what these analyses mean.
  • Discussion - the discussion section is the foot of the glass. It starts out narrow, and then becomes broader as it incorporates new ideas and future implications of the research. The discussion section contains the analysis of the results, which helps the lab stand on its own.

The job of the author is to make each of these sections informative and interesting, both on its own and as part of the whole paper. The Abstract is also an important part of a lab, so it will be included on this page, even though it does not coincide with the Martini glass analogy. More expansive advice about each section of a lab report is included below.



An abstract is a general overview of what will be talked about in the paper. It is intended to describe the paper, not to evaluate or defend it. The abstract is found on the second page of a report, and is the only section found on that page. It should be double spaced, written in block form (no indents), and titled with "ABSTRACT," in all capitals, centered at the top of the page. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Key words -- the key words of the paper should appear in the abstract so that readers can determine the most important parts of the report.
  • Keep it short! -- an abstract should be between 75 and 120 words, and it is only one paragraph. Regardless of how long your report is, the most important information needs to be able to fit within this limit. Consider it the equivalent of a tweet for your lab; you are only allowed so much space.
  • Don't rush into your abstract -- even though writing a paper chronologically is the most common practice, it is not always the best one. Consider writing your abstract after you have written the rest of your paper. That way, you will already know what the most important parts are, and writing the abstract will be a breeze.
  • Avoid the first person -- the abstract is a formal part of your report. Avoid sentences such as "In this paper, I will be discussing..." or "This report discusses my research on..." It is much more professional to write in the third person.

Remember, the abstract is the part of your paper that potential readers will see first, and it will determine whether they want to read the rest of your report. Readers should know exactly what your report is about simply by skimming the abstract.



As mentioned before, the paper's introduction is a broad overview of the research question, which narrows into why this research is important. The introduction should answer the question "what was done, and why?" It contains background information about the subject, including prior research done, and states how this new study fits in with previous research. There should not be a heading for the introduction section. It begins on the third page, directly below the running header. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Stay reasonably narrow -- although you want to include background information in the introduction, beginning with a "When the human brain evolved..."; type of statement is unnecessary. Start with relevant background information that is broad enough that you can still narrow it down to your specific research, but not so broad that you end up with a 4-page-long introduction.
  • Don't be too forceful -- while your research may have backed up your hypothesis perfectly, your hypothesis is still a debatable issue, and should be phrased as such in your introduction. Remember, you cannot prove anything to be absolutely true in psychology, so your claim should be stated in a way that lets the reader know that it can still be disproved.
  • Avoid making assumptions -- remember that your audience is most likely not comprised of experts. Therefore, introduce key terms in your introduction, to make sure that readers who are new to the topic can glean enough information to understand your report. On the other hand, do not assume that your reader knows nothing about psychology. An introduction to psychological science, for instance, is not necessary, unless it is entirely relevant to your report.
  • Paraphrase -- the introduction is where other research articles and reports can be referenced. Avoid quoting directly from other people's work. Paraphrasing and summarizing other research will help you to relate it to your own in a much easier way than you could with direct quotes. Remember, you are not analyzing another person's research; you are using other research to explain the importance of your own.

Remember, the introduction does not include any conclusions about your research. Introduce the topic and your experiment without giving too much information that will be covered in other sections of your report (for example, it should not contain any results or analysis).



The methods section is where you tell your readers how your conducted the experiment, so that they can replicate it in the future. This section is the first section of your paper to have a heading (see Writing a Lab Report for more information about headings). This section is typically broken down into two subsections: participants, and procedures. There is also sometimes a list of materials used. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Stick to the facts -- this section is informational, not analytical. It should contain only the necessary information about who participated in the experiment, what took place during the experiment, and what materials were used. Be concise, and remember the Martini glass analogy; this section is part of the stem, and as such it is very narrow (see Writing a Lab Report for more information about being concise).
  • Be specific -- other researchers (or students) may use your report as a jumping-off point for their own research. They may even want to copy your experiment exactly, to see if they can replicate your results. Therefore, it is incredibly important to be as specific as you can. When discussing participants, specify whether they volunteered or were recruited; whether they were compensated; how many females were studied versus how many males; their ages; and any other pertinent details. When discussing the method, be as specific and detailed as you can, including measurements used, the type of environment the experiment took place in, and other factors. These factors will become the controls if your experiment is replicated.
  • Use the past tense -- everything included in the methods section has already happened, so it should be reported in the past tense. This includes discussions of participants, as well; they were participants in the study at the time, but, unless the study will continue after you write the report (which is unlikely), they are no longer participants.
  • Use subheadings -- whether your methods section has two subsections or three, each one should have a heading. The description of the participants should be in a separate section from the description of the procedure, and the list of materials should be it's own section as well.

Remember, the methods section does not need to be as long as the introduction; in fact, it most likely will not be. Instead, focus on making it as detailed -- but also as concise -- as you can.



The results section answers the question "what did you find out?" In this section, all statistical data, calculations, and major findings should be reported. This section also should have its own heading. Some people have trouble reporting statistics correctly, so they consider this section to be the most difficult, but the good news is that the results section almost always follows one very standard format, so following an example can be very helpful if you are having trouble. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Explain new statistics -- if the type of statistical analysis being used is uncommon, or is being used in an unconventional way, it should be explained before the data is reported. Remember that not everyone who will read your report is an expert on statistics, and they may need a refresher if an unusual type is being used.
  • Use correct formats -- every type of statistic has a specific format it needs to be reported in, whether it is italics, [brackets], (parentheses) or boldface. Follow the proper rules for formatting all of your statistics.
  • Do not repeat -- if you are using tables or graphs, do not restate statistics that are shown in these images. Every table or graph used will have a short description underneath it, which will include all statistical data evidenced by the image. Redundancy should be avoided at all costs.

Remember, this section may be the shortest in your report, and that is ok. The results section is not a place to analyze or elaborate. Make sure to remember the Martini glass analogy -- the results section is the narrowest section of the stem of the glass.



The discussion section is where you finally get to analyze your findings, and explain why your research is so important. In this section, you will discuss what your results mean, why they are important, any further research that could be done or recommendations you have, and anything that could have been improved (or went wrong) during your research. This section is really where you, as the author, get to have the greatest impact on the reader's opinion of the topic, so have fun writing it! Remember, this is the section where you get to share your analysis of the results. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Explain, don't just state -- the discussion section should be an explanation of the findings, not just a list of statements. The most important part of this section is the analysis you add, because it allows your findings to relate to other research. Make sure you tell your readers not just what you found, but also why it is important.
  • Add new ideas -- this section is called the "discussion" section for a reason. In writing it, you are entering into a conversation with other researchers about your topic .Therefore, you should raise new questions and suggest new ideas for future research.
  • Don't ignore failures -- if your results completely disagreed with your hypothesis, your research is not a failure. There is always a way to analyze your findings and use them to further the discussion. Do not ignore results that go against your hypothesis; incorporate them into the conversation, and use them as a basis for further questions.
  • Don't generalize -- your report is discussing one study out of many. Do not assume that your results are indicative of a larger population than the one you were studying. Incorporating other studies into your conclusion as reference is fine, but avoid trying to claim that your results speak truths about people in general.

Remember, this section closes out your paper, and flows in the opposite direction from the introduction ("narrow-to-broad" as opposed to "broad-to-narrow"). Since this section will close out your paper, try to add new information rather than repeating information you already shared. Many people consider the discussion section to be the most important part of a report, so try to make it as informative and interesting as you can. This is your chance to contribute something important to the discussion - run with it!


Bem, Daryl J. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In J. Darley, M. Zanna, & H. Roediger, III (Eds.), The compleat academic: A career guide (2nd ed.; pp. 185-219). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Other Disciplines Writer's Web | Writing Center | Make an Appointment | Library | Department of Psychology
Copyright Info