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Reading and Writing the

Research Article
A section-by-section introduction
Wait, why would I want to?
 Good question. Scientific conversations are often
temporally discontinuous
 It takes a long time to pose questions, longer to answer them, and
even longer to communicate those answers
 Research articles are the AIM logs of these conversations
 You learn more
 Becoming familiar with the research and methods in your field makes
it easy for you to design, conduct, and analyze your own projects
 Get practice thinking critically about design, implementation, analysis
 Sound smart in office hours!
 Lastly, if you’re a nerd at heart (and who here isn’t?) 
 research is really interesting
APA Style & Structure
 APA format is the official style used by the American
Psychological Association (APA) and is commonly used to
cite sources in psychology, education, and social sciences

 APA style (or the lack thereof) is really about structure, so
understanding the structure of a research article is key

 There are 6 parts to most APA articles
1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. Methods
4. Results
5. Discussion
6. References
The Abstract

 The first part you read, last part you write
 Four main ideas:
 Purpose of the study - overall question, objective,
hypothesis
 Experiment in a nutshell – participants, design,
manipulation, measures
 Results, including specific data – report quantitative,
statistical, and behavioral big-picture findings
 Important conclusions or questions that follow from the
experiment
Abstract Style
 A good abstract…
 Is CONCISE (not necessarily short)
 Is written in past tense
 Stands alone: does not refer to any other part of the paper, including
figures (possible exception for references)
 Focuses on summarizing results: limits background information to a
sentence or two, if absolutely necessary
 Is consistent with info reported in the paper, and representative of it—not
about awesomeness if the paper isn’t
 Satisfies the basics of high-quality professional writing:
 Correct spelling
 Clear sentences and phrases
 Logical transitions
Introduction
 Purpose: acquaints the reader with the rationale behind the work, with
the intention of defending it. Places the work in a theoretical context, and
enables the reader to understand and appreciate its objectives
 Describes the significance of the study
 Why was this worth doing in the first place?
 Characterizes the motivation for the study
 What literature relevant to this topic existed already? How does this study
contribute to the field (i.e., what gap in the literature does it fill)?
 Explains the methods
 Why use this approach? What are its advantages?
 Comments on its suitability from a theoretical point of view and indicates
practical reasons for using it
 Provides a rationale
 States specific hypotheses and objectives, with reference to the reasoning
that led to them
Introduction Style

 A good intro…
 Uses past tense: papers are only submitted after the work
has been completed

 Organizes ideas: makes one major point per paragraph

 Presents background info ONLY in support of a position
(readers don’t want to read everything the author knows 
about a subject)

 States the hypothesis and objectives precisely: does not
complicate, repeat, or oversimplify
Methods
 Provides enough info to replicate: Describes
methods completely, generally including specific
sections addressing:
 Participants (demographics, recruiting info,
compensation, anonymity, etc.)

 Procedure (task design, variables, controls)

 Measurements (materials or surveys, data scoring and
coding)
Methods Style
 A good methods section…
 Reports the methodology (but not details of each procedure that
employed the same methodology)
 Generalizes reporting of specific procedures, not how they were
specifically performed on a particular day. Info should be relevant to an
investigator at another institution, working on their own project.

 Reports at the right level of specificity: if well-documented
procedures/surveys/designs were used, they should be reported by
name with a reference, not described (e.g. FACS—the Facial Action
Coding System)
 Uses the third person: passive sentences about the experiment doing
itself detract less attention from methods than the informal use of the
first person
Results
 Purpose: presents and illustrates findings in a
completely objective manner (interpretations
belong in the discussion section)
 Summarizes findings in text
 Presents statistical information and summarizes the question
addressed by each reported finding
 Highlights the most relevant observations about the data

 Illustrates results with figures and tables

 Describes results of control experiments
Results Style
 A good results section…
 Provides the context for results by describing the question
that was addressed by each finding/observation
 Is laid out in a logical order (e.g., the order in which
components were assessed). Places figures and tables in
logical parts of the text
 Clearly numbers and refers to figures and tables
 Includes concise and informative figure captions and titles
 Includes figures that are sufficiently complete to stand alone
without the text
Discussion
 Purpose: provides an interpretation of results and support
for all conclusions, using evidence from the experiment
combined with previous findings. Clearly describes the
significance of the results
 Decides if each hypothesis is supported, rejected, or cannot be decided
with confidence (does not dismiss inconclusive data)
 Interprets results and discusses the relevance of the findings to the field
 Offers alternative explanations if reasonable alternatives exist
 Discusses whether the experimental design adequately addressed the
hypothesis, and if variables were properly controlled
 Explains limitations and suggests future directions, such as how the
experiment might be modified to accomplish another objective
Discussion Style
 A good discussion…
 Suggests mechanisms/explanations that account for the results
 Does not use limitations and future suggestions as a copout
 Distinguishes the present study from past studies with verb tense,
referring to work done by specific individuals in the past tense,
but to generally accepted facts and principles in the present tense
 e.g., “Barney et al. (1993) demonstrated that cookie intake was positively
correlated with satisfied tummy-rubbing. Cookies are small pastries which
are made with flour, sugar, butter, and chocolate.”

 Describes the theory that the evidence supports and explains why
results may differ from expectations (if that is the case)
References
 More on how to cite sources and write up references later,
but to familiarize yourself with APA style for references, see:
http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/apa

 Tips and guidelines in this presentation adapted from:
 http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~bioslabs/tools/report/reportform.html
 http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologystudytips/p/read_articles.htm
Reading the Research Paper
 Start with the big picture
 Keep the study’s objectives and hypotheses in mind
 Read for the story

 Think like a scientist
 Focus on methods and results
 Evaluate critically

 Investigate trends in the literature
 Compare and synthesize info across articles
 Pay attention to dates and authors

 Have fun!
 Ultimately, you’re doing this because it interests you—don’t 
underestimate how far curiosity alone will take you