Writing an Empirical Paper in APA Style

A lab report is a writeup of an experiment and has the same components as a published research study.

Using APA Style

Manuscripts submitted for publication in American Psychological Association (APA) journals must use APA style, as described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, commonly referred to as the “APA Manual”. Many instructors relax these formatting requirements for writing assignments, but most require students to at least cite references in APA format.

Organization of APA-Style Papers

Lab reports have eight sections

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Tables and Figures

General Requirements

Spacing: Double-space all text

Margins: APA specifies 1-inch margins all around (top, bottom, left, right).

Pagination: Use your word processor’s header function to put page numbers in the upper-right-hand corner one inch from the right-hand edge of the page. Start with the title page and go all the way through. Figures placed at the end of the lab report are not numbered.

Running Header: Also often used only in formal APA style, this is a short descriptive title that appears at the top of every page in the published journal. In a manuscript, it appears on every page (including the title page), flush left, in uppercase letters, on the same line as the page number.

Headings: Headings are the titles of each of the sections of the research report. Center headings of all major sections, using upper and lower case (Abstract, Method, etc.). The heading for the introduction is the title of the paper, not the word “Introduction”. Headings for subsections (subheadings) of the paper are bolded and flush with the left margin, with text beginning on the next line. Subheadings are used mainly in the methods section. For descriptions of how to do further subdivisions, see the APA Manual.

Tables and Figures: For student papers, either place these at the end of the paper (formal APA style) or incorporate them into the text; ask your instructor.

How To Proceed

  • The hypotheses, methods and results are the easiest to write because they are the most concrete, so you may want to write these first. The introduction and discussion are often written next. The title and abstract usually come last.
  • Make sure that all the sections are well integrated. Start by finding your hypotheses in the introduction and making sure that they are clearly stated. Then see whether each hypothesis is addressed, usually in the same order, in the Results and Discussion.
  • Pay attention to scientific terminology. Scientific reports don’t sound like essays or news stories. They are more condensed and use more precise language. For example, we cannot “prove” theories in science (we give supporting evidence or fail to find such evidence). Similarly, avoid adverbs (e.g., “really”, “very”, “surprisingly”); they are not quantitative and therefore add no information. See also our handout, Style Points for Scientific Writing.
  • Check tables and figures (graphs) for accuracy and captions for specificity.
  • Check for spelling and typographical errors. Don’t rely only on spell checkers; they often miss errors (e.g., affect/effect, its/it’s).
  • Proofread. Ask at least one other person to read what you have written; they will catch things that you miss.

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