Writing Research Proposal and Reports

Main Menu

Back to Research Design Explained Professor's Home Page

Key Issues

  1. How do you write a research proposal?
  2. What general strategies should you follow in writing the abstract,introduction, method, results, and discussion sections?

  3. How do you go from a research proposal to a research paper?

  4. How can you determine that your paper follows APA style?

Six Exercises to Improve Student Papers:

  1. Ruth Ault has designed an activity that helps students understand how journal articles are organized.
    Ault, R. L. (1991). What goes where? An activity to teach the organization of
    journal articles. Teaching of Psychology,18, 45-46.

    If you want to use Dr. Ault´s activity, this handout will make life easier for you. To use it,

  2. To improve general writing style and adherence to APA style, download this APA style self-test.

  3. Suzi Shapiro (e-mail) has developed a model "bad paper." She hands it out the class meeting before and then, during class, they rewrite the paper. This works best if you have a computer hooked up to an overhead projector because changes can be made easily and students can see how they would actually use a word processor to type their paper.

  4. An alternative to Dr. Shapiro's exercise is to have students convert a published APA article into APA submission format. This exercise alerts students about the value of using a published paper as a model, but also alerts them to some important differences, such as: Note that it may be best to break up this assignment into several exercises. For example, one assignment may be to construct a title page from the article, another assignment may be to construct part a reference page, and yet another may be to put the Abstract into APA submission format.

  5. David Strohmetz (e-mail) has an assignment that should help sensitize students to some of the differences between how writing for a professional, scientific audience differs from writing for the lay public. Dr. Strohmetz has students read one popular press article and one journal article (warning: some students do not know the difference between the two) and then write about the differences between the two types of articles. This assignment may help students be more aware that they need to (a) write objectively, (b) support their claims with evidence, and (c) qualify their conclusions.

  6. To improve the quality of the introductions (especially the literature review section), you might have your students write what Bruce Henderson calls a "reader´s guide to the literature in X," with X being their topic. As Henderson (2000) notes, students could prepare the guide as a team. One way to structure the assignment is to be sure that students include the following sections in their report:

    1. Remind students that following Web Appendix B's tips on searching the literature will help them complete this assignment.
    2. You may wish to consult Henderson's original article.
      Henderson, B. B. (2000) The reader's guide as an integrative writing experience. Teaching of
      Psychology, 27, 130-132.

    To the top of this page

    Tips for Getting Better Papers

    Remind students that

    1. They should critique their paper according to the guidelines in Chapter 4 (the chapter that teaches them how to evaluate published research).

    2. Even though students are not to interpret their results in the results section, students are to let the reader know what the results have to say about the hypotheses. In other words, readers should not feel like they have been given the raw output from the computer (albeit retyped and in a random order). So, just as a box score tells the reader who lost, a results section should tell the reader whether the hypothesis was supported, not supported, or refuted.

    3. To minimize the number of technical errors, they should :

      • Use the APA format checklist in Appendix A and

      • Use the sample paper in Appendix B as a model of proper format.

    4. They will have to write many drafts of their papers.
    5. They will benefit from outlining their papers, especially the introduction and discussion sections.
    6. Plagiarism is (a) taking other people's words or ideas without giving credit for them and (b) a serious offense.

      You can discourage plagiarism by registering with If you can't register with them ( the fee is $1.00 per paper and students must submit the papers via the web), they do allow you to submit up to five papers for free. Another possibility is to get your department to get a subscription to "Turnitin."

      To the top of this page

      APA Style Guides, Tips, and Checklists

      General writing books

      Presenting and Publishing Tips

      Journals that Publish Student Research

      To the top of this page


      I. Overview

      II. Aids to developing your idea

      A. The research journal

      B. The proposal

      III. Writing the introduction of your proposal

      A. The elements of an introduction

      1. Establishing the importance of your study

      a. Demonstrate the concept's prevalence

      b. Demonstrate the concept's relevance to real life

      c. Demonstrate historical precedence

      2. The research summary

      a. Goals of the research summary

      b. Deciding which research to summarize

      3. Stating your hypothesis

      4. Justifying your manipulations and measures

      5. Overview of the introduction

      B. Justifying specific types of studies

      1. The exploratory study

      a. New is not enough

      b. Spell out your reasoning

      c. Defend your procedures

      2. The direct replication

      a. Document the original study's importance

      b. Explain why the results might not replicate

      3. The systematic replication

      a. Improved power

      b. Improved construct validity

      c. Improved external validity

      4. The conceptual replication

      a. Using a different measure

      b. Using a different manipulation

      c. Using a different design

      5. The replication and extension

      a. Rationale for additional factors or measures

      b. Rationale for additional criterion variables

      6. The theory testing study

      IV. Writing the method section

      A. Participants

      B. The design section

      C. Apparatus

      D. Procedure

      E. Putting the method section together

      V. Writing the results section

      VI. Writing the discussion section

      VII. Putting the front and back on

      A. The title and the title page

      B. Abstract

      C. References

      VIII. Writing the final report

      A. What stays the same or changes very little

      B. Writing the results section

      1. Results describing the distribution of scores

      2. Results supporting the measure's validity

      3. Results of the manipulation check

      4. Results relating to your hypothesis

      5. Other significant results

      6. Tips on writing the results section

      IX. Writing the discussion section

      X. Concluding remarks

      To the top of this page

      Back to Research Design Explained Home Page