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Writing a Lab Report in Psychology

Lab reports are a critical aspect of learning to write in psychology, and comprise a large part of the Intro to Psychology lab grade at Richmond. Although they may seem overwhelming to you now, lab reports can be written efficiently and effectively if you follow a formula that optimizes clarity and concision. It's important for you to learn how to write a lab report early on in your psychology studies; psychology isn't just about studying the human mind and its functions, but also about communicating what you've studied. Ultimately, you want to make a contribution to the field of psychology, whether it be a report for an introductory psychology course or groundbreaking research that will be published in a prestigious scholarly journal. It all begins with the lab report.

The Student-Teaching Fellow Relationship

Up until now, your assignments have been graded primarily by your professor. In contrast to this traditional evaluation, psychology lab reports in Intro to Psychology are graded by teaching fellows - upper-level undergraduates who are majoring in psychology. This type of grading allows students to become familiar with peer review. Peer review is a practice in which scholars review the writing of their colleagues (or peers) in a particular field of science or literature. In this case, teaching fellows (TF's), peers of Intro Psychology students who have extensive knowledge in the subject of psychology, review the lab reports and provide constructive feedback.

In an effort to preserve objectivity, both teaching fellows and students must act with discretion. To maintain anonymity when being graded by your teaching fellow, be sure to use your University ID ( in substitution of your name) in lab reports, particularly on the title page. Also, remember to write out the honor code and sign it with your University ID. Teaching fellows attribute lab report grades to your University ID instead of your name and are not allowed to associate your ID number with your name.

APA Format for Lab Reports

In many disciplines, professors may discourage the adoption of a single template for writing assignments. However, in psychology, formal papers are usually required to follow APA format. Below is an overview of how to specifically format lab reports for Intro to Psychology lab classes, but a more in-depth discussion of formatting papers in APA style is located here. The lab report follows the same basic "hourglass" structure as an empirical journal article (without the abstract):

    1. Title Page
    2. Introduction
    3. Methods
    4. Results
    5. Discussion
    6. References
    7. Appendix/Tables and Figures
You can also reference this template for Intro to Psychology lab reports.

Title Page




Review of Background Literature

Defining Theories and Terms







Your Discussion section should contain five main parts. They do not need to be written necessarily in the following order, but you should try to devote at least a paragraph to each point.


Previous Research


Future Research



Other Stylistic Pointers

Writing with focus

As Shaparenko discusses in her article, "Focus on Focus," successful writing, which includes lab reports, is both focused and clear. In contrast to the flowery and sometimes superfluous language used in literary writing, scientific writing should be direct and concise. To keep this focus in mind, reread each paragraph in your report, identify the main idea, and then verify that the content in that paragraph is needed to support the main idea (i.e. take out unnecessary information). It is crucial that you incorporate background information, such as past studies related to your experiment (note: experiment and study will be used interchangeably on this web page). That said, you must also contribute your own voice, which should be clearly identifiable, by interpreting, analyzing, and/or further developing the information you use.


The tone of your report should be formal, but not too elevated. Remember what your assignment is: to present the findings of a psychological study. Your tone should be scientific and sophisticated, but not to an inappropriate level. Keep these tips in mind as you write your report.


When writing your lab report, use common sense when figuring out which tense to use.


Jargon refers to any technical terms that are specific to a field of study. The general public is not expected to know or understand these terms, so using them in your paper can be confusing. Keep your audience in mind -- if you are writing for a journal, it is more appropriate to use technical terms freely. However, always define your terms, such that an intelligent layperson could read your paper and understand it.

Another problem with using jargon is that it can change the whole tone of the report. You should only use terms that you are very comfortable with -- using words that you do not have a full understanding of, or including terms that you believe make your paper seem "smarter," can be a big mistake. Make sure that you are writing within a comfortable vocabulary. Doing so will ultimately make your paper stronger, because you will avoid misusing terms. A good rule of thumb is this: if you cannot explain the term aloud to a friend, you may want to reconsider using it in your paper.


Try to be as concise as possible in your writing. A psychology report is not the place to practice the type of flowery writing you might use in an English class -- you want to stay on topic and be brief. Here are some tips for staying concise:

Passive Voice

Scientific writing often encourages the use of the passive voice. In APA style, however, active voice is encouraged, as it specifes the actors in each stage of the experimental process. Consider the following sentence:

The passive construction focuses on the participants (the objects of the sentence, as they "were led") but detracts focus from those who were doing the test administration. This is important information, because an experimenter bias could occur if the researcher who administered the test was aware of what experimental condition the participant was assigned to. Consider this next sentence:

This sentence specifies who administered the test, and is a more direct way of stating that information. Always use active voice, if possible.

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