Main Lab

   Describing aspects of
    a good theory.

Phases of research
  Steps for conducting a
    research study.

Research methods
  Different types of 
   research methods.

Sources for Info
  Primary & Secondary
    sources of research.

Journal Articles
  Understanding a
    typical journal article.

On-line Searches
  How to use PsycInfo 
    and other search
    engines.  Includes info
    on full text articles.

APA Format
   Learn to write in APA 

Activities & Quizzes
   A variety of activities
    related to research. 
   To be used in classes.


Topic:  Journal Articles:  Primary source

Most of us are familiar with reading recipes for making food such as chocolate chip cookies or lasagna.  Recipes typically are comprised of two parts:  a list of ingredients and instructions on how to create the food dish.  Our familiarity with this structure helps when it comes time to actually preparing the dish.  If we are heading out to the food store, we can quickly scan the list of ingredients to see which items we need to purchase.  In addition, the step-by-step instructions help even the novice cook make delicious meals. 

The primary goal of this tutorial is to help you become familiar with how to read published research that uses APA Style. Like a recipe, it has a specific structure and writing style that, when understood, helps readers digest the material. 

After completing this tutorial, you should be able to: 
  • become familiar with reading a typical journal article that uses APA Style

 A typical research article from a journal has 7 main parts:
            1 Title
            2 Abstract

            2 Introduction
            3 Methods
            4 Results, and
            5 Discussion
            6 References

The Title.

An article's title is often the first section read.  It should illustrate the main topic of the research study, including the important variables. A variable is a characteristic that can have more than 1 value.  Examples of psychological variables include intelligence, sex, status in a family, type of behavior, etc.  Most titles include both the independent and dependent variable (see this Cyberlab tutorial for more information on variables). 

TIP:  Use the title as a conceptual label in your mind and view the remaining details of the article as a subset of information.

The Abstract.
    The Abstract is a brief summary of the entire article, in approximately 120 words.  Its purpose is to provide the reader with a quick review of the article's content, and as such, is an important part of the journal article.  When people search for articles on-line, they will only use the article's title and abstract to make the decision of the article's relevance and contribution to their research.  Therefore, the perfect article may go unnoticed because of a poorly written abstract.

The abstract usually contains a concise summary of 
      (a) the article's problem under investigation or the hypothesis,
      (b) pertinent information on the participants, 
      (c) brief review of methodology, 
      (d) statistical analyses, 
      (e) results of the study, and 
      (f) implications of the study.

    However, not all abstracts will have this information.  As a responsible researcher, NEVER USE ONLY THE ABSTRACT when reporting information on a topic.  Often, authors make sweeping generalizations that are NOT accurate or appropriate. 

Tip:  Use the abstract as a starting point to help you with the rest of the article.

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The Introduction
   The Introduction serves as the body of the paper.  It begins with a broad statement of the problem under investigation and then proceeds to narrow the focus to the specific hypothesis or hypotheses of the study.  The purpose of this section is to introduce the reader to the overall issue/problem that is being tested and to provide justification for the hypothesis or hypotheses.  In order to accomplish these tasks, the author needs to review past research on the same topic, discussing their findings.  Some students get confused reading this section because it is hard to distinguish "previous research" from important information about the "current study"; consequently, we will take a closer look at the basic structure of a typical introduction.  (Keep in mind that not all published articles may have all of these sections.)

Introducing the problem
        The paper should begin by broadly specifying the research problem or point of the study.  This section is usually 1 - 2 paragraphs long and may include the research questions (= general questions asked by the study), a description relating the hypothesis and experimental design to the problem and the theoretical implications of the research.
Background literature
        This subsection will be the longest of the introduction.  It contains prior research studies relevant to the current study.  A researcher cannot merely create a hypothesis and test it.  He or she must provide a rationale or case for why that hypothesis should be tested.  For example, if I were to state the hypothesis "rats will press on a bar faster and longer if they are given a food reward each time than if they are given no reward", I would not get very far writing my introduction.  I would realize quickly that my hypothesis is not new, nor does it add anything to the "reinforcement" literature.  Therefore, the background literature section prevents people from 'reinventing the wheel'.  Likewise, if I make the bold claim "women are genetically superior to men" and provide no background literature to support such a claim or hypothesis, then every reader has a right to be extremely suspicious and regard my study as unscientific.  A helpful way to see an introduction is to view the author as a lawyer who must convince you, the judge/jury, that the proposed hypotheses improve upon past research and have some importance.  The "evidence" is the review of previous research. 
         TIP:  The best way to prevent yourself from getting lost in this section is to read the abstract first in order to get an idea about the point of this study.  Also, concentrate on the previous subsection, introducing the problem.  Once you understand the main point(s) of this study, read through the background literature constantly relating whatever study is being reviewed to the current study's main point(s).  A good writer will do this for you by giving you enough information to understand a previous study, and then relating it back to their current research.  However,  not every published article is written by good writers and you may have to glean this information.  If you still have trouble, continue reading the entire introduction, including the study's hypotheses, then re-read the background literature relating each past research to the current hypothesis or hypotheses. 
Purpose, rationale, and hypothesis
         The final subsection of the introduction includes formally stating the study's purpose, the rationale for that purpose, and the specific hypothesis or hypotheses.  The previous subsection should naturally lead up to this point.  A reader should be able to understand what is being tested and why.  There should not be a "surprise hypothesis" or something that was not covered under the background subsection.  Each hypothesis should have a clear rationale describing the logic behind the predictions.  Keep in mind that sometimes the hypotheses will be spelled out for you; other times, they may be listed as predictions or "we believe such and such will happen".

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Method Section
    The purpose of the Method section is to provide a detailed description of how the study was conducted.  An overarching goal of science is the replication of research.  It is in the Method section that authors need to specify their participants and procedures to allow others to duplicate the study.  Think of this section as being a recipe with an exact description for others to follow.  This section is usually divided into subparts: 

    (Participants is the term used when humans are involved in the study while Subjects is the term used when animals are in the study.) 
    This subsection contains information such as: 
         a) number of participants and how they were selected & assigned
                (e.g., at random?)
         b) major demographic characteristics 
                (e.g., sex, age, race, ethnicity, level of education, socioeconomic status)
         c) description of agreements and payments made
         d) statement of ethical principles used in relation to the participants
     For nonhuman subjects:
         a) genus, species 
         b) strain number or location of supplier
         c) number, sex, age, weight, and physiological condition
         d) ethical guidelines on treatment and handling

    This subsection allows readers to make comparisons of samples across different studies & to make judgments of generalizability of results. 
     (A classic example of the importance of looking at the participants is Kohlberg's research on moral development.  His sample contained men only; therefore, the stages he surmised could only be attributed to men.) 

         All physical aspects of the research design are described in this subsection.  It lists everything that was used in the study to help others replicate it (think of the "ingredients" section of a recipe). When an author uses new materials or measures for the study, often a copy of the information is included as an Appendix, located at the back of an article.
         This subsection provides a detailed account of what happened in the study (think of the "directions" part of a recipe). 

TIP:  Focus your attention more on the participant and procedure subsections upon first reading.  Then, refer to the materials or measures if you need specific information on what the author used. 

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    The Results section is the statistical reporting of the data.  Its purpose is to describe what was found after statistically analyzing the data.  Authors typically report results of each hypothesis, in order as they appear in the introduction to assist your comprehension.  Additional analyses may be described if initial results suggested a new direction.  Tables and figures are often used to convey important information in an organized manner.  

This section may not be fully understandable until you have had a statistics and/or research methods course.  Therefore, check with your professor to see how you should treat this section.  As a tip, you may want to rely on the next section, the Discussion, for an explanation of findings using non-statistical language.  

     It is beyond the scope of this tutorial to provide instruction on how to interpret the various statistical analyses that might be presented in articles.  Indeed, some statistical analyses might not be understood until you take graduate courses!  The results section, however, tends to become more important once one develops further as a scientific psychologist.

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The Discussion
    The Discussion section reviews, interprets, and evaluates the results of the study.  The review of the results is done in everyday, nontechnical language, using no statistics.  Discussion sections typically begin by listing the hypothesis or hypotheses and then stating if the results supported or contradicted the hypothesis or hypotheses.  Next, writers usually discuss similarities and differences between the current findings and findings of previous research.  Any weaknesses of the current study are also reviewed and suggestions are made on improving the research design.  Finally, a discussion section usually ends with the writer providing directions for future research.  Opposite to the Introduction, the discussion section begins with a narrow focus on the findings and then proceeds more broadly by drawing conclusions until it ends with future implications. 

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Reference Section.

The last important section of an article is the list of references (Note:  The reference section will be the last section unless an Appendix is used.).  It lists, in alphabetical order, the empirical studies mentioned throughout the paper.  There is a specific format that must be used to write references, which we will review in Unit 4. 

TIP:  Use the References to help you find related articles for any topic you need to research.  If you are assigned a paper and need to include a certain number of references, this section is a good source for finding additional information.  

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American Psychological Association. (2001).  Publication manual of the American
     Psychological Association (5th ed.).  Washington, D.C.: Author.