Laboratory Manual for PSY106W

Table of Contents

  • Goals of a Research Paper in Psychology
  • Stages in the Research, Thinking and Drafting Process
  • Writing the Abstract
  • Writing the Introduction
  • Writing the Method Section
  • Writing the Result Section
  • Writing the Discussion
  • Citing Previous Work
  • Revising
  • Appendix A: Point Allocation Guidelines
  • Appendix B: On-line Database Searches using PsycINFO and MEDLINE
  • Appendix C: Resources for Final Project Experiments

Goals of Research Papers in Psychology

When psychologists write a research paper in “the real world”, our intention is usually to submit the paper to a journal so that it may be evaluated for possible publication in the journal. After we have gone to the trouble of collecting and analyzing our data, we want to tell as many people as possible about it, and ensure that the right people see it. By “the right people”, I mean the people that we know do similar research, and who are the most likely to appreciate the work. Publication in a journal is the primary means of describing our research and distributing it to a wider audience.

Make the paper interesting to the reader. Now, we all know that some people simply don’t have any interest or expertise in your paper topic, and no matter what we do to make it interesting, those people won’t read it. Also, we know that people who do work related to your topic will already be interested in your topic, and those people will read your paper no matter what. The most important group, however, consists of the people who might read your paper if you do a good job of making it interesting, but who might move on to the next paper if you don’t. These are the people that you want to “grab”. If you do a really good job of making the paper interesting, you might even convince people who don’t think they are interested in your work that they should read your paper.

How to generate interest? Ultimately, you need to convince people they should be interested in your paper. One way of doing this is to demonstrate that the work is relevant to them in some way. A time-honored tactic for doing this is to describe how the cognitive or perceptual process you’re studying might get used in the everyday world. Is this something that happens to everybody? If so, when? Is it something that happens only under certain circumstances or to certain people? The conditions that you used in your experiment might occur, for example, when one turns out the lights before going to bed. They might occur to firefighters trying to navigate through a smoky building. They might occur for airline pilots under a high workload situation. They may occur to everybody as they walk from outdoors in sunlight to indoors under fluorescent lights; they might occur as we try to interpret black and white photographs. It may take some creativity on your part to think of a situation in real life that draws upon the cognitive or perceptual process you’re studying, but it’s a crucial part of writing research papers. One way to get some inspiration is to see what other authors write about in the first paragraph of their papers. Many of them will start off with this kind of comment. Another way to get inspiration is to think about how you would describe your topic to your grandparents.

Use proper APA format. Why does APA style have so many nit-picky requirements, and why do you have to learn them? APA style is designed to standardize the format of papers that get submitted for review for possible publication in a journal. Standardization is important for several reasons.

  1. Standardization means that papers won’t get unfairly accepted or rejected for publication simply because they use a more (or less) attractive font size or heading style or whatever. If you’ve ever submitted a resume, you’ve probably wondered whether other people’s resumes might have an edge over yours just because they “look” better visually. APA style is designed to remove that possible factor, and that’s a good thing.
  2. Standardization translates into more efficient reviewing. I get asked by journal editors to review 3 – 4 manuscripts per month sometimes, and this is not at all uncommon. If all the manuscripts have the same format, reviewers will know exactly what to look for at exactly the same place in every manuscript. This can be a HUGE time-saver for people who do a lot of reviewing.
  3. Standardization also translates into more efficient reading and researching. Scientists must read many papers every month to keep up with the latest developments. If all the papers have the same format, it is much easier to digest the information, because you don’t have to hunt for the information you need. Think about going to a familiar grocery store versus going to an unfamiliar grocery store. You’ll get out faster if you know where to find the things you need.

Write for the appropriate audienceIn papers for this class, assume that you are writing for an educated audience that is not familiar with your particular topic. This means that you can assume readers are familiar with basic concepts like retinal disparity, response time, independent variable, mean and standard deviation, and so forth. You will need to define more specialized terms like “specific distance tendency”.

Writing for an educated audience that is unfamiliar with your topic is actually a good rule of thumb to follow even if you are writing a paper to submit to a journal, for a couple of reasons: (1) If your paper is understandable even for people who are not familiar with your particular topic, this means it will be easier to understand for people who ARE familiar with your topic. (2) The reviewers or editors who are making decisions about whether or not to accept your paper for publication may not be specialists in your field. If your paper is understandable to non-specialists, this increases the chances that your paper will be accepted.

Present ideas clearly. There should be a clear, logical flow of ideas in each section of a research report in psychology. This is particularly important in the Introduction and Discussion sections. Does the flow of your ideas make sense? Here are some tips for creating clear, logical reports.

  • Make an outline. As is discussed below (“Writing the Research Report”), before beginning to write, it is crucial to make a detailed outline first. This will help you organize your ideas before committing anything to paper, and this organization will come through in the words you eventually write.
  • Make the structure obvious. One way to help the reader follow the flow of your ideas is to provide some foreshadowing for what topics you are going to cover. For example, after introducing your topic in the Introduction section, you might include several sentences like, “First, this paper will review some of the most relevant findings in the existing literature. Then, it will discuss some limitations of past work, and introduce an experiment designed to address these limitations.” It may initially seem odd to be so explicit about the framework of your paper, but in scientific writing, this kind of technique is a good idea, because it helps the reader follow the logic of your paper.
  • Create logical paragraphs. Paragraphs should have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning of any paragraph should introduce the topic to be discussed in the paragraph. This could include a transitional comment that links the ideas from the previous paragraph with the upcoming material. The middle of the paragraph contains the actual discussion of the topic. Finally, the end of the paragraph should summarize or conclude the discussion.

Stages in the Research, Thinking, and Drafting Process

Conducting research and describing the results follows several distinct stages: 

  1. Selecting a general topic
  2. Finding previous research related to the topic
  3. Developing a specific research question
  4. Creating an experimental design
  5. Collecting and analyzing data
  6. Writing the research report

Here, we will go into each of these stages in more detail.

1. Selecting a general topic

When you are new to a certain field of research, it can be difficult to come up with a research topic. You know very little about the field, so where to begin?

Lectures: if there has been something in a lecture earlier in the semester that caught your attention, brainstorm about that topic to see if you can turn that interest into an experiment.

Flip through the textbook: Some pictures or demonstrations may catch your eye. You could try going to the library to find other, similar textbooks. There also may be other books near that section that catch your eye.

Newspaper, magazine articles, emails: again, think about things that really “grabbed” you recently. Ask yourself what about the topic grabbed you, and think about what kind of cognitive or perceptual processes might be involved.

Hobbies: if you’re good at music, art, sports, video games, or something else, each of these pursuits requires a wide range of perceptual and cognitive processes. You can potentially get inspiration from thinking about what you like in your hobby, and then thinking of an experiment that might help you understand something about your hobby.

Remember that your topic should be fundamentally about visual perception. It can be a challenge to decide if your topic is really about visual perception, because there are so many things that involve vision.

NOTE: you will get a handout that describes the Final Project assignment in more detail.

NOTE: see Appendix C for a list of resources that are available for Final Project Experiments.

Unacceptable topics:

The effect of drugs / alcohol on __________. (obvious reasons!)

The effect of gender on ________ (typically, there aren’t enough men in class to do this)

How much change in the amount of sugar in a drink does it take for people to tell that more sugar has been added? (this does not involve visual perception)

Do children have different contrast sensitivities than young adults? (can’t do research involving people outside of your lab section)

Effect of soothing / loud music on ability to learn words presented on a screen (you are seeing the words, but experiment is more about hearing or attention)

Do people remember words better if are associated with a disgusting / sexy / scary image? (again, you’re seeing words and pictures, but experiment is more about memory than vision)

2. Finding previous research related to your topic

Textbooks: First, check to see if the textbook mentions the topic you are interested in. If it does, you may be able to find references to papers published on the topic. Also, you can use textbooks to get ideas about what keywords you could use when doing an on-line search.

Perception Handbooks: Another source for general information about topics in visual perception (and potential sources for published research) is to look for a perception handbook. These books have short articles on a wide variety of topics, much like an encyclopedia, but handbooks are a bit more in-depth and scholarly. On the main Gelman Library page (, type in “handbook perception” in the “ALADIN Catalog Quick Search” bar at the top of the screen, and be sure “keyword” is selected under “more search options”. This will yield a lot of handbooks to choose from. You will need to physically go to the library to look at these handbooks, but browsing through them is sure to give you some ideas, and will likely give you some leads on research articles.

On-line database searches: Perhaps the most helpful thing for finding articles related to your topic is to do an on-line database search through Gelman Library’s ALADIN site. This is described in detail in Appendix B. One of the biggest challenges in doing this kind of search is knowing what keywords to use. Simply putting in “visual perception” as a keyword search is a complete waste of time, because you will get a kazillion unhelpful hits. You can get inspiration for more specific keywords from textbooks or handbooks. If you have already found at least one article related to your topic, you could try entering words or phrases from the article title or abstract as keywords. Note that some articles actually provide keywords for you.

Internet searches: Finally, as a last resort, you could try doing a search using an internet search engine like or This kind of search should only be used as a means of thinking of appropriate keywords or getting ideas during the initial stages of selecting a topic. It should not be used as a primary means of researching your topic.

3. Developing a Specific Research Question

Once you have settled on a topic, you should develop a specific research question. A research question is the question your experiment is designed to answer. It should be a single sentence, phrased as a question, that captures the question your experiment is designed to answer. For example, “How do ____ and _____ affect our perception of _____?” Or: “Can this phenomenon be explained by ________?” “Does this phenomenon still occur when we use _____ instead of _______?” One you have your research question ready, you will be ready to move on to the next step.

4. Creating an Experimental Design

This is something that is something that entire semester-long classes are taught on, so we can only provide the bare essentials, here. The “design” specifies exactly what conditions you will be presenting and what kind of task you are asking subjects to perform. Your TA can give you some advice about how to design an experiment to address your research question, but here are some questions you should try to answer on your own first:

  • What is your research question? Make it as specific as possible.
  • What are your predictions?
  • Can you use the same design as a previous experiment?
  • Will you need to divide subjects into separate groups, or can each subject be exposed to multiple different conditions?
  • What are your independent variables? (what are you manipulating or varying?) In this class, you should have two independent variables (IV); each IV should have 2 to 3 levels.
  • How will subjects respond? What is their task?
  • How will you record subjects’ responses?
  • Will you collect multiple measurements for each condition?
  • How many trials will there be for each subject?

5. Collecting and Analyzing the Data

Once you have settled on a design, you will need to make all the necessary preparations for running your experiment. You will then collect your data during one of the two lab sessions set aside for the final project experiments. In this class, we do not use inferential statistics (ANOVA, T tests), but we do use descriptive statistics to help us compare the data. Usually, but not always, your descriptive statistics will include the class mean and standard deviation for each of the conditions you tested. So, for example, if you have 2 IV’s, each with 3 levels, you should report 6 sets of means (2 x 3) and 6 sets of standard deviations.

6. Writing the Research Report

Start Early. People who do a lot of writing agree that time is one of the most important factors in producing a good paper. You must start writing soon enough before the deadline that you have time to organize your thoughts, do a literature review, write the paper, and spend time revising and polishing. At a bare minimum, allow yourself a single day for each one of these steps. Ideally, you would spend more than a single day writing! But the point is that you should leave enough time that you can finish a draft of the paper, sleep on it, and come back to do the revising and polishing the next day. This will dramatically improve your final product, but you must plan ahead.

Make an Outline. Before actually starting on the paper, it is absolutely imperative that you make an outline first. The reason outlines are so important is that they shorten the overall amount of time it takes to complete the paper. Think about it: If you write an outline first, it makes you organize the ideas and logic of your paper and helps you identify and iron out difficult issues before you commit any words to paper. Then when you start writing, most of the hard issues have already been fixed. However, if you start writing without an outline, you run the risk of writing hundreds of words before realizing that what you’ve written will never work. Then you’ll have to start over, and this increases the total time you have to spend writing. So, if you want to minimize the amount of time you spend writing, you must make an outline first.

What should be in the outline? You should lay out the ideas in your first paragraph, in order. Then, you should lay out how you will describe previous research. What topics or theories will you cover? What terms will you need to define, and when will you define them? What specific papers will you discuss? What remains unknown about your topic? After outlining your discussion of previous work, you should lay out how you’ll introduce your own work: what is your research question? What are your hypotheses or predictions?

Get Motivated to Write. If you don’t feel like writing a paper, this can be a significant obstacle to getting it done. Even professional, full-time researchers go through times when they don’t feel like sitting down to write. The trick is NOT to force yourself to write when you don’t want to. Instead, you should think of ways that make you genuinely WANT to write. As you gain experience, you will start to develop a bag of tricks that reliably make you feel like writing. Ideally, your bag of tricks will get so big and so varied that you will always be in control of your motivation to write. If you need to write, you can reliably sit down and get it done.

  • Find a time of day: The ability to focus and get work done varies across the day for most people. What times of day are most productive for you?
  • Listen to music: Listening to favorite music or watching clips from a movie can help.
  • Reward yourself: promising yourself a reward after spending a couple hours of writing can be very effective.
  • Think about finishing: If writing feels like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, think about how good it will feel when you stop! Thinking about getting a project off your plate can be an extremely powerful motivator.
  • Think about a hero: We all know people who impress us with their ability to focus and attain their goals. This might be a musician, author, athlete, actor, family member, religious figure, or a professional in your chosen field. For many of us, writing papers is a way to attain our goals—whether it’s passing a class, graduating college, getting a promotion, or whatever. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone you admire can be a very powerful motivator.
  • Write a few sentences: The first few sentences are always the hardest! Go ahead and write a couple of sentences, without worrying about whether they are any good. Getting over this hurdle can sometimes get the ball rolling.

General Writing Tips and Reminders:

  • Effect vs. Affect: These are both real words that are used frequently in psychology, but they have different meanings. It is very easy to use them incorrectly without realizing it, because they sound so similar. This means that every single time you use one of these words, look closely to be sure you are using the word correctly. In most cases, “effect” is a noun; “affect” is a verb. For example: What is the EFFECT of turning off the lights? And: Does during out the lights AFFECT responses?
  • “Proves”: Psychologists are very reluctant to use the word “proves” in scientific writing. It suggests there is absolutely no doubt about the results of an experiment. Very few experiments in the history of psychology are completely beyond doubt. This being the case, you should make it a habit to avoid using the word “proves”. Instead, you can say “the results strongly suggest that…” or “the results indicate that…” or “the results show that…”.
  • Use IV / DV properly. The Independent Variable (IV) is something the experimenter manipulates, or varies, in an experiment, to see what effect this has on the participant’s responses. The Dependent Variable (DV) is the thing that is measured in a study. In psychology experiments, the DV will often be something like Response Time, number of errors, percentage of correct responses, magnitude estimation, or some kind of matching response.
  • Avoid sentence fragments. Every sentence should have a subject and a verb. Do not begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and”, “but” or “yet”. Starting with a conjunction automatically create a sentence fragment even if the fragment has a subject and a verb.
  • Use semicolons properly. The phrase after the semicolon should be a complete sentence that could stand on its own as a sentence if you took away the phrase before the semicolon. Avoid using too many semicolons: a good rule of thumb is no more than one semicolon per page.
  • Use correct verb tense. Events that have already occurred — history, procedure, results — should be described in the past tense. For example, “Smith and Wesson found …”; “The subjects were instructed …”. This specifically applies to all report sections with the exception of the Discussion.
  • Avoid using first person singular. Research reports should be impersonal and objective. Thus, you should avoid using “I” or “we”. Rather than saying “I told the subjects…”, you should say “The experimenter told the subjects…” or “The subjects were told….”
  • Write as if report is a professional manuscript being submitted for publication. Therefore, you should speak of an “experimenter and subjects” rather than a “lab instructor and students”.
  • “Experimenter” is spelled with “-er”
  • It’s / Its:
    • It’s” is a contraction and means “it is” or “it has”. EX: It’s lunchtime already. You should never use contractions in an APA-Style paper!
    • “Its” is the possessive form of “It”. EX: Participants turned on the computer and its monitor.
  • “Dependent” is spelled with “-ent”
  • “Stimulus” is singular; “stimuli” is plural:
    • “These stimuli were presented twice apiece.”
    • “This stimulus was presented twice.”
  • “Data” is plural: “This data supports our hypothesis”: INCORRECT!
    • “These data support our hypothesis”: CORRECT

Writing the Abstract

The GOAL of an abstract is to convey why you did your experiment, what general methods you used, what were the results, and how you interpret the results. The challenge, of course, is to do all this in a very small number of words. One strategy is to start off by devoting a single sentence to each of the following sections:

  • Why did you do this experiment? (What research question did you attempt to answer?)
  • General method (What did you manipulate? What was the subject’s task?)
  • Results (Don’t include numbers or statistics; were your predictions supported?)
  • Interpretation

This will take a lot of condensing and summarizing, obviously. Once you have your four sentences, see how many words they contain. You will probably have some additional words you could add. Take a look at what you have written and decide where it would help to add another sentence of explanation. Often, it will require more than one sentence to summarize adequately why you did the experiment or what methods you used.

You should also be aware that for many people, the quality of your abstract will determine whether or not they read your paper at all. Thus, ideally, the abstract should convey something of the importance of your work and convince readers that they should read the whole paper. You may not have enough space to say much about this, but it should always be in the back of your mind.

Writing the Introduction

The overall GOAL of the introduction is to tell readers why you conducted the experiment, give them enough background information to understand the topic you are studying, and convince them that it’s important. There are three basic parts of a good Introduction section: (1) Introduce the general topic; (2) Describe past research related to your topic; and (3) Describe the experiment you conducted. Here is a closer look at each of these steps:

1. Introduce the general topic: 1 – 2 paragraphs

The first paragraph of your paper is important for “grabbing” the reader. (See “How to Generate Interest”, above.) You may want to consider the following:

  • Begin with a general observation about the world that relates to your topic.
  • Or, begin with a real-life situation that is difficult for people because they make the kind of errors you’re interested in.
  • Or, begin with a real-life situation in which people use the cognitive or perceptual process you’re studying.
  • Next, point out how these general observations relate to a more fundamental cognitive or perceptual process.
  • Give some indication of what we still don’t understand about the cognitive or perceptual process you’re studying. In some cases, this will be a good place to state your specific research question. In other cases, you will need to provide more background information before your question will make sense. In either case, be sure to make it clear that your goal in the paper is to investigate either the general topic, or your specific research question.
  • If you use any specialized terminology in the first paragraph, provide a brief definition.
  • Close the first paragraph with a sentence or two describing why this phenomenon is important. These sentences should be your best argument for why readers should be interested in your topic. For example, if you have already shown that people use this cognitive / perceptual process every day or in important situations, you can point out that studying this process will lead to a better understanding of how people do __________ in their everyday lives.

2. Describe past research related to your topic

In the first paragraph, you introduced your topic in general terms. In the next few paragraphs, you should become very specific about your research question. Include the following information:

  • If you have not already stated your research question, do so as soon as possible after the first paragraph. Provide background information as needed.
  • Be sure to define all specialized terminology.
  • Provide citations for any ideas that are not your own (see “Citing Previous Work”, below); use correct APA citation style.
  • What is known about your topic?
  • What theories have been suggested to explain your phenomenon?
  • What aspects of these theories have been tested before?
  • How were these theories tested? (what methods were used?)
  • What remains unknown about the topic?

Where should you state your research question? Sometimes, your first paragraph will do a good job introducing your topic, and you can state your research question in the first or second paragraph. After stating your question, you will launch into what is known about your question, what theories have been suggested, etc. Other times, you will need to provide a little more background information about past experiments before your specific research question will make sense. If you need to provide background information first, it’s OK to do that. In general, however, a good rule of thumb is to give your research question in the first or second paragraph.

3. Describe your experiment

After describing past experiments and stating what remains unknown, you are in a good position to describe your own experiment. Consider the following:

  • How does your study differ from those that have been done in the past?
  • What new knowledge will be gained by using your methods? In Psy 106, our studies will often simply replicate past experiments with different methods. In this case, the new knowledge might be showing that your phenomenon holds true even when different methods are used.
  • Based on theories of the topic and past research, what is your hypothesis about what explains your phenomenon?
  • BRIEFLY summarize what methods you will use to test your hypothesis. What will you vary? What kind of task will people perform? It is important to keep this summary brief: shoot for 2 – 3 sentences, at most.
  • Based on your hypothesis and your design, what results do you expect from your experiment?

Writing the Method Section

The GOAL of the Method section is to provide all the information needed for another researcher to replicate your experiment. The Method section is relatively straightforward. APA Style specifies what sections should be included, so those guidelines should be followed (Participants, Apparatus, Procedure, etc.). Also, this section will include lots of demographic information and measurements, so be sure to check the proper APA format for reporting that information.

If you are new to writing Method sections, one of the most challenging things is to know how much detail to provide. It is important to be complete, but if you include too much detail, the Method section will be wordy and difficult to follow. Your goal, then, is to provide only the important information, without including unnecessary details. In general, more detail is needed for apparatus unique to your experiment; less detail is needed for standard materials your reader will be familiar with.

Information that is necessary:

  • Who were the participants? (# of males / females; average age; age range; were they students?)
  • What was the participants’ motivation (course credit? monetary payment?)
  • If subjects were paid in exchange for participating, how much were they paid?
  • The variables you are manipulating (Independent Variables) and how you are measuring participants’ responses (Dependent Variable).
  • The crucial pieces of equipment and materials used in your experiment
  • The crucial steps involved in actually running the experiment
  • What information was given to the participants regarding their task? Use block quotes to include specific instructions if it is important to the experiment.

Information that is typically NOT necessary:

  • Name of the university or city where students were enrolled
  • Name or number of the specific course in which students were enrolled
  • Dimensions of sheets of paper used for responses
  • What type of writing utensil was used, if responses involved writing
  • Non-crucial procedural details (for example, “Participants were greeted and handed a sheet of paper.”)

Writing the Results Section

The GOAL of the Results section is to report the data you collected. Your top priority should be describing the data clearly, and in a way that is effective in showing your reader why it is important. In this class, we do not use inferential statistics (ANOVA, T tests), but we do use descriptive statistics to help us compare the data. Usually, but not always, the descriptive statistics will include the class mean and standard deviation. Be sure to check the proper APA format for reporting numbers and referring to any tables or figures you are including in your paper.

  • Report all statistics in a way that makes it clear how each group performed. For example: “The Reversal Group had a mean errors-to-criterion score of 13.2 with a standard deviation of 1.4. The Standard Group had a mean errors-to-criterion score of 8.5 with a standard deviation of 0.6.” This format may appear repetitive, but in the Results section, clarity is more important than elegance when presenting data.
  • Include comparisons of all the data that you report and any trends you find. For example: “There was a difference of 4.7 errors between groups, with the Reversal Group having more errors than the Standard Group.”
  • DO NOT include any interpretations in the Results section. The Discussion section is where you interpret what your data mean and how your findings relate to your predictions.
  • Prepare any figures and tables so that they are understandable without accompanying explanations. This means that for most reports, your data will appear both in the text of your Results section and in an accompanying figure. Tip: before finalizing your figure or table, try thinking of several alternative ways of presenting the data, and then choose style of presentation that you think will be most striking, most clear, or most compelling.
  • Always refer to your figure or table in the Results section. For example: “Mean responses and standard deviations were calculated for both groups to aid comparisons (see Figure 1)”.

Writing the Discussion Section

The GOAL of the Discussion section is to interpret the data presented in the Results section and examine whether or not the hypotheses stated in the Introduction were supported.

  • Begin the Discussion with a short summary (2 – 3 sentences) of your results. Follow this summary with a statement that conveys how your results relate to your predictions: Did you find what you expected? Were your predictions upheld?
  • The rest of the Discussion will be devoted to drawing conclusions from your data. If your predictions were upheld, how do you explain this? How does this further our understanding of the phenomenon?
  •  If your predictions were NOT upheld, discuss why this may have happened. All of your data that pertains to the conclusions must be analyzed, not just the data that support your hypothesis! Consider the following questions:
    • Were there methodological flaws in the experiment?
    • If so, what were they, and how could they account for the data?
    • Where there problems with the foundations of your original hypotheses?
    • Are there alternative theories that can account for the data? (If so, cite and discuss.)
    • How do your results further our understanding of the phenomenon? (In some cases, methodological issues may mean that your results do not contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon. That’s OK!
  • Discuss how previous research relates to the results and conclusions that you are making. A good rule of thumb: Every study cited in the Introduction should be mentioned and cited in the Discussion
  • At the end of the Discussion, include suggestions for further research. In the Introduction, you mentioned research done in the past. Here, you can suggest work that might be done in the future to further understand your topic.
    • Avoid obvious suggestions like increasing the sample size, because these could be applicable to any study.
    • Try to think of what other aspects of the topic were not touched by your study. How could the next study be done to incorporate those?

Citing Previous Work

Citations occur in the text of your paper and often look something like this: (Smith, 1990). Many of your citations of past work will occur in the Introduction and Discussion sections. References occur near the end of your manuscript on the Reference page. This is where you provide the full author list, date, title, and journal information for the work that you cited.

  • Use proper APA style for citations and references. Unfortunately, there are many rules for proper usage. When in doubt, make your citations and references look like the ones in the sample paper in the APA Manual.
  • Whenever you express an idea that is not your own, provide a citation to the researcher(s) who expressed the idea previously. Thus, you will need to provide citations for all definitions you use, any previous theories or hypotheses, and any previous experiments or experimental results that you discuss.
  • Avoid plagiarism at all costs! Copying someone else’s work without giving them credit is a VERY serious offense in any science. Doing so has ruined reputations and careers. Even at GW, passing off someone else’s work as your own can lead to failing an assignment, failing an entire class, or even expulsion from the university. If you have doubts about whether or not you may be plagiarizing someone else’s work, even unintentionally, consult the APA Manual for a more extensive discussion.
  • Never use direct quotations. Although you should always give credit to other people for their past work or ideas, direct quotations are rarely used in scientific writing. Thus, avoid saying something like: Smith and Wesson (2008) defined threshold as “the smallest stimulus intensity that may be detected.” Instead, you should paraphrase their definition—that is, rephrase it in your own words: The smallest physical amount of a stimulus required for detection has been termed the threshold (Smith & Wesson, 2008).
  • Avoid over-citing. Sometimes you may need to devote an entire paragraph to discussing work by a single previous paper. This might happen when you are presenting a previous theory in depth or discussing the methods used in a previous study. In this case, you do not have to include a citation to the original authors after every single sentence. The rule of thumb is that when writing the paragraph, you should make very clear which ideas are due to the original authors. If someone is reading your paragraph, can they tell that the entire paragraph refers to the same past work? If so, it may be acceptable to provide citations to the original authors only in the very first and very last sentences of the paragraph.
  • If you use multiple citations for a single comment, the citations should be listed in alphabetical order, based on the first author. Do NOT list the citations in chronological order!
    • CORRECT: (Bart & Smith, 1990; West & Smith, 2001; Zebra & Finch, 1989)
    • INCORRECT: (Zebra & Finch, 1989; Bart & Smith, 1990; West & Smith, 2008)
  • Always use the correct order of authors. The order of authors in within a single citation is very important, because usually the order reflects who did the most work or had the most important role in the paper. So, when citing a paper that has multiple authors, do NOT alphabetize the author list—use the same order that is given in the original paper (this will also be the same author order given in PsycINFO or MEDLINE).

Revising Your Manuscript

Once you have written an initial version or “rough draft” of your manuscript, most of the hard work is over, but you still have a fair amount of work ahead of you. The next step is to revise your manuscript—go over it very carefully to be sure it is free from grammar and spelling mistakes and that you have followed all the APA style rules. Perhaps most importantly, however, this is the stage at which you will be trying to maximize the impact of your work. Do you present your ideas clearly, so that an educated reader can understand what you’ve written? Have you done a good job making the paper interesting? Have you made a compelling case for your arguments? Does any information need to be added? Can any information be taken out? Here are some tips for how to revise research reports in psychology so that they are as good as you can make them.

  • Have someone else read your paper before submitting it. When a researcher is submitting a paper for publication, that person will almost always ask someone else to read the manuscript before submitting it. This is absolutely crucial, because any mistakes or unclear parts of the manuscript could cause months of delays or even rejection of the manuscript. So, having someone else read our manuscripts is something research psychologists always do, because we want to iron out any mistakes before submitting. You should do the same.
  • Read your paper out loud. This is a time-honored method for uncovering parts of your paper that are ineffective, wrong, or simply don’t sound right.
  • Use of GWU’s writing resources. GW has several resources to help you write and revise your papers:
    • (1) The Student WID Studio: This is an on-line resource that provides resources related to academic integrity, reference and citation styles, paraphrasing, plagiarism and other issues:
    • (2) The Writing Center: The Writing Center offers free one-on-one appointments with trained writing center tutors. The tutors can assist you in developing, focusing, and organizing your ideas, as well as avoiding syntax and grammatical errors.
  • Leave enough time for someone else to read your manuscript. This will mean that you need to plan on finishing a draft of your manuscript a day or two before it is actually due. Do whatever it takes to convince yourself deep down that the due date is actually 2 days early! Your draft should be as complete and error-free as you can make it. That way, your reader can concentrate on the less-obvious errors.
  • Do proofreading “sweeps” for one thing at a time. When proofreading, it can be very helpful to scan through your manuscript looking for one type of error at a time. For example, on the first pass, you might check for subject-verb agreement. On the next pass, you might check for correct APA citation style, and so on. This technique is most useful when proofreading your reference page. For instance, on one pass, you might check to be sure there is a period after the year of each publication: (2008). On the next pass, you might check to be sure you have the initials of the authors in the correct order, and so on.
  • Verify subject – verb agreement: Be sure that if the subject of the sentence is plural, the verb case is also plural. Similarly, if the subject is singular, the verb should be singular. You will need to check each and every sentence.

Appendix A: Point Allocation Guides

  • I. Introduction (22 points)
    • A. Background Development (4 pts.)
      • 1. Theoretical/experimental context of area of investigation
        • a. relevant theories
          • i. experiments that gave rise to theories
      • 2. Citation style
    • B. The Experiment (4 pts.)
      • 1. Summary of procedure
      • 2. Comparison to experiments in background
        • a. Similarities/differences
      • 3. How/why method and/or design is revealing
    • C. Hypothesis (4 pts.)
      • 1. Clear statement of hypothesis
      • 2. Rationale behind hypothesis
    • D. Organization, coherence and overall quality of section (10 pts.)
  • Il. Method (24 points)
    • A. Participants (2 pts.)
      • 1. Demographic info (age, sex, number, GWU, etc.)
      • 2. How obtained/reason for participation
    • B. Apparatus (2 pts.)
      • 1. Description of all (non-standard) materials
        • a. how any unusual materials were made
      • 2. Purpose of all materials
      • 3. Manufacturer name and model no., etc.
    • C. Design (4 pts.) and Procedure (6 pts.)
      • 1. Definition of variables
        • a. Describe the DV and IV; describe the factors of the IV and give the levels of each factor
      • 2. Sampling and selection procedure
        • a. random assignment to groups
        • b. counterbalancing, practice effects, etc.
      • 3. Type of design and no. of experimental groups
        • a. Experimental, 5 groups, etc.
      • 4. Complete delineation of all steps
        • a. Instructions, paraphrased or verbatim
        • b. Experiment conducted in cubicles or classroom, etc.
    • D. Completeness and coherence (10 pts)
  • III. Results (15 points)
    • A. Effectiveness of description of data (9 pts.)
      • 1. What type of stats used? (Means? Percentages? Standard deviations?)
        • 2. Completeness
          • a. Description of all trends evident in figure
          • b. Comparisons of all data in table
        • 3. Measures used
          • a. If scores were rounded, describe method (e.g., “…rounded to the nearest tenth…”)
        • 4. Presentation should not be done in interpretative manner
        • 5. Use of data when making comparisons
        • 6. Use of differences between data of compared groups
    • B. Figure and Table Presentation (6 pts.)
      • 1. All tables and figures referred to in text
      • 2. All tables and figures stand alone
        • a. Effectiveness of title
          • i. Both IV and DV in title
          • ii. Use of Arabic (not Roman) numerals
        • b. Labeling- figure
          • i. x axis – IV, y axis – DV
          • ii. curves – different designations for each
        • c. Labeling – table
          • i. columns
  • IV. Discussion (23 points)
    • A. Discussion of Hypothesis (4 pts.)
      • 1. Data support or fail to support hypothesis
    • B. Interpretation of results (5 pts.)
      • 1. Completeness
        • a. All data analyzed
      • 2. Use of data in support of discussion
      • 3. Flaws in methodology
    • C. Coordination with background (4 pts.)
      • 1. All background information provided in introduction addressed in light of results of experiment.
      • 2. Theoretical and practical implications of results
      • 3. Suggestions for future research
    • D. Organization, coherence and overall quality of section (10 pts.)
  • V. Supplementary (16 pts.)
    • A. Reference List (6 pts.)
      • 1. Completeness
        • a. All cited works in list
      • 2. Correct format
    • B. Abstract (8 pts.)
      • 1. Page numeration (it is page 2!)
      • 2. Summary of purpose, methods, results, conclusions
      • 3. Results in general terms (no data given)
      • 4. Theoretical and/or practical implications in conclusion
      • 5. 120 words or less
    • C. Title Page (2 pts.)
      • 1. Title, author, institution
      • 2. Effectiveness of title
      • 3. Centering

Appendix B: On-line database searches using PsycINFO and MEDLINE

PsycINFO is a computerized database of abstracts of all articles, which have been published in peer-review publications related to the field of psychology. MEDLINE is another database that contains many psychology-related publications. These databases are valuable sources of information, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Many publications are listed in both PsycINFO and MEDLINE, but some can only be found in one or the other.

To get to the Gelman Library home page from outside the library:

  1. Start at the GWU home page (
  2. Click on “Libraries” under “Service Links” on the right side of the page.
  3. Click on “Gelman Library.”
  4. Click on “ALADIN Research Portal.”
  5. Under “Databases by Subject”, select Psychology and click “OK”
  6. Click on “PsycINFO” or “MEDLINE”.
  7. At this point, you will be able to search by keyword, author, title (of the article), or journal (name of the journal). Then click “Search.”
  8. Look at the Results column. This will tell you how many articles that PsycINFO or MEDLINE has found on your topic.
    1. If the number is very large (more than 100), your search term was too broad. You can either LIMIT or COMBINE your search to get this number down to a more manageable amount. See below for these procedures.
    2.  If the number in the results column is ever 0, your search term was too narrow. Think of another area, which is related to the first keyword that you typed. Type this keyword into the box and click on “Perform Search.”
  9. Click on “Display” to see a list of all the articles that the search has found.
  10. Click on “Abstract” to read a brief summary of the article. If it seems like what you are looking for, then click on the box next to the Citation number to save that article for printing later. NOTE: there may be an on-line version of the article available. If there is a “Full Text” button on the right-hand side of the reference, click on it to see if you can download the article.
  11. To go back to the list of articles, click on “Titles Display.” To search a new topic, click on “Main Search Page.”

Other Search Tools


This allows you to combine two or more searches. For example, if you find that your search has turned up 34 articles about Topic A and 12 articles about Topic B, and you want to find articles which are about both topics, then click on “Combine,” use the checkboxes next to the searches that you want to combine, and click “Combine Searches.”


This allows you to limit a search you’ve already done to reduce the number of articles that the search returns. You can limit your search to only a particular year, range of years, type of publication, or type of population studied, to name a few. For example, if you find that PsycINFO has 729 articles on Topic C, you might choose to limit your search to the years from 1999 to 2009. Click on “Limit,” click the circle next to the search that you want to limit, and use the arrows next to the From: and To: boxes to select 1999 to 2009. Click “Limit Search” to see how many articles were published during those specified years about Topic C.

Electronic Journals: A Tale of Two Libraries

  1. If you have already found the article you want through PsycINFO or MEDLINE, you may be able to download a copy without having to go to the library. If there is a “Full Text” button on the right-hand side of the reference, clicking on that button will give you information about whether or not an on-line copy is available.
  2. Another way to find out about on-line journals is to search for the journal name to see if GWU has on-line access to that journal. There are two libraries at GWU that carry electronic journals related to psychology: Gelman Library, and Himmelfarb Library. You may not know about Himmelfarb–it is the medical center library. In general, try finding your e-journal at Gelman Library first. If Gelman does not have electronic access to the journal, then try Himmelfarb.

Finding e-journals at Gelman Library:

  1. Starting from, click on “Libraries” under “Service Links” on the right side of the page.
  2. Click on “Gelman Library”.
  3. Click on “e-journals”. This will take you to a page where you can search on the name of the journal your article is in, to see if you can access that journal on-line.

Finding e-journals at Himmelfarb Library:

  1. Starting from, click on “Libraries” under “Service Links” on the right side of the page.
  2. Click on “Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library”.
  3. Click on “e-journals”. This will take you to a page where you can search on the name of the journal your article is in, to see if you can access that journal on-line.

We Don’t Have It! Consortium and Inter-Library Loans

Sometimes you will want to get an article that GWU does not have, either on-line or in hardcopy. You might still be able to obtain a copy through a consortium loan (that is, get the item from one of the other universities in the Washington, DC metro-area) or inter-library loan (when none of the Consortium libraries has the item). Information about how to place these loan requests is given in the links below. NOTE: these requests can take anywhere from 2 days to a week or more, so you must do your literature reviews well in advance of beginning to write your paper to allow time for these articles to come in.

Information about how to place a Consortium Loan request:

Information about how to place an Inter-Library Loan request:

Appendix C: Resources for Final Project Experiments

The following materials will be available for your use during both weeks of student experiments

  • Overhead and slide projectors
  • slide frame cassettes and glass mounts – used to make slides for projector / tachistoscopic presentation
    • 1) For best results, make the slide material by computer (you’ll probably have to use really small fonts). Print out a sheet of your stimuli (the height and width dimensions of each stimulus pattern should be no larger than 2.5 cm x 3.5 cm)
    • 2) Laser print stimuli onto transparencies
    • 3) Cut out each stimulus pattern and tape transparency cut outs onto glass slide mounts
    • 4) Snap the cassette frame shut
    • 5) Be sure to label the outside of the cassette (i.e., identifying information about the stimulus / condition, etc.)
  • hand-held stopwatches
  • chinrest – for immobilizing the head
  • vision tester – can test acuity and stereoacuity, as well as diagnose some forms of color blindness
  • treadmill

Some Possible Lab Projects

These are just to get you thinking. You can of course come up with something of your own devising…

Illusion Figures (pp. 185 – 189 in Goldstein, 6th edition)

  • you don’t have to use computers to measure strength of illusions—use magnitude estimation, etc.
  • plenty of prior research
  • stimuli are easy to make with laser printer

Contrast threshold

Adaptation experiments:

  • measuring orientation adaptation (p. 63, Goldstein)
  • measuring spatial frequency adaptation (p. 64, Goldstein)
    • how does presentation time affect threshold?

Color Perception

  • color mixing: there is a computer program available which allows users to mix different amounts of red, green and blue primaries to create a wide variety of color hues; could be adapted to measure color appearance (for example, before and after chromatic adaptation, or under different color of illumination to study color constancy)
  • simultaneous contrast (p. 53-54; 153, Goldstein)
  • chromatic adaptation and opposing afterimages (p. 157-158, Goldstein)

Binocular Rivalry (p. 111, Goldstein)

  • Sometimes when two very different images are presented, one to each eye, the two images will “take turns” becoming more salient. Under what conditions does this occur? Does it occur for whole images or for parts of images?
  • Stimuli can be made using laser printer

Space Perception

  • Do people do better estimating distances using a familiar remembered unit (e.g., feet) or with an unfamiliar standard unit that they can see?
  • Moon Illusion (pp. 188-189, Goldstein): why does the moon appear large on the horizon?
  • Size-Distance Scaling and Emmert’s Law (pp. 183-184; 189, Goldstein)
    • can use camera flashbulb as stimulus
    • under what conditions does this scaling work?

Depth Estimation: anything relating to the walking / matching lab


  • apparent movement (pp. 98-99; 196; 209-211, Goldstein): much like in cartoons or motion pictures, when two stationary images are presented in rapid succession, we sometimes see a single image undergoing motion. Under what conditions can we see apparent motion? Can we see apparent motion in depth?
  • stimuli can be easily made using a laser printer and ordinary paper
  • motion adaptation (p. 197; 212-213, Goldstein): to what extent does this phenomenon transfer across eyes? (i.e., adapt to motion in one eye, then observe motion aftereffects in the opposite eye)