PUBLICATIONS - RESEARCH DESIGN AND STATS

Elements of a Research Report

Title

Abstract

Introduction

Literature Review

Method

Results

Discussion

References

The Tone of Technical Writing


Elements of a Research Report

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Publication Manual (2001) provides the report format which is followed by most researchers in rehabilitation and the social sciences. When reviewing research articles published in peer-reviewed journals, it is likely that most will comply with APA guidelines and will contain the following elements: Title, Abstract, Method, Results, Discussion, and References.

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Title

While this element of a research report may seemingly require no explanation, it is important to understand that most indexing and categorization systems identify key words within the title as a basis for grouping articles by topic area. Further, most search systems allow users to search for articles of interest according to key words as they appear in the title.

The APA (2001) suggests a title of 12-15 words which accurately and concisely identify the topic of the research report, the variables studied, and key concepts of the project. Authors should be mindful of indexing procedures when selecting the most effective title in leading others to their article. Extraneous words and phrases should be avoided to allow for both general and specific search queries to retrieve the article.

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Abstract

The abstract provides a potential reader with a “detailed summary” of the research article. It summarizes the purpose, objectives, hypotheses, sample demographics, methodology, variables, and results so that readers can determine whether the parameters of the study meet their particular needs. For example, an abstract might specify that all subjects were under the age of 18 years. This may, or may not, influence whether the results of the study will be of benefit to the potential reader.

Many journals have begun publishing abstracts of articles online so that researchers are better able to ascertain the contents of specific reports without having to physically locate the journal and review the abstract in print. This saves the researcher a great deal of time, but is also a critical consideration of the author. The abstract must accurately and succinctly communicate the essential elements of the research project.

Life care planners should consider the title and abstract of a research article, but must read further in order to fully appreciate the scope of the study. It is not enough to simply report the findings documented in the abstract as a basis for plan recommendations. The theoretical perspective, procedure, methods, normative population, and interpretation must also be considered.

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Introduction

The introduction broadly discusses the topic of the research project and describes the underlying theories, concepts, and developments within the field from which the present study evolved. The research problem is discussed in detail and serves as an orientation to the components of the project. The introduction helps to clarify the relationship between what is “known” in the field and what remains to be discovered. After reading this explanation, the reader should be in a better position to understand the importance of the current study, how it contributes to the general knowledge of the field, and why the findings of the study are relevant to the overall theory or practice of interest.

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Literature Review

A review of the relevant literature in the field provides a foundation for the present study and builds upon the collective knowledge accumulated by other professionals and researchers. Previous research studies which contribute directly, and perhaps indirectly, to the present research question, hypotheses, and methodology are described. This section of the article leads the reader through the reasoning process exercised by the researcher in conceptualizing the current project.

After reading the literature review, the reader should be able to independently arrive at the same logical connections and draw the same conclusions as were determined by the researcher. The literature review helps the reader to understand why the present study was designed, executed, and analyzed in the ascribed manner.

The literature review puts the current study into perspective, defines the field, describes what has been effective/ineffective in the past, and helps the reader (and researcher) to interpret the significance of the results obtained from the study.

Unfortunately, the Literature Review sections of published research reports are often edited in journals in order to conserve space. For professionals familiar with the theoretical suppositions from which the study was developed, this does not pose an especially critical problem. For those seeking to build an understanding of all aspects of a problem, or are unfamiliar with the underlying theory of the discipline, this poses a challenge. Additional reading and attention may be required to fully appreciate the foundations of the reported study.

The researcher typically concludes the literature review (or begins the Methodology section) with hypotheses statements regarding the expected outcomes of the study. Based upon the previous findings in the literature, the researcher asserts the expected relationships among the variables measured in the study. For example, a hypothesis may read: “High school students who participate in a Work-Study program will obtain competitive employment at a higher rate upon graduation than those who do not participate in a Work-Study program.”

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Method

This section of the report describes how the study was conducted in such detail that it could be replicated by another researcher. In most cases, the Method section includes the following information:

Participants or Subjects: The total number of subjects, how subjects were selected, and demographics (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, disability, age of onset of disability, etc.) or other characteristics of interest within the study.

Variables: The operationalized definitions of all study variables are provided. Operationalized definitions specify how the constructs of interest will be identified and measured. In the example cited in the previous section, “Work-Study programs” may be defined as year-long courses offered to high school students during their senior year which provide direct instruction of employability skills. The “higher rate” of employment may be determined by administering a follow-up questionnaire/survey six months after graduation to students who participated in the program and comparing those results to a random sample of students who did not participate in a Work-Study program.

Instrumentation: All instruments, standardized assessments, surveys, etc. used at any point during the study (e.g., sampling, follow-up) must be identified. The instruments are thoroughly described in terms of the number of test items, mode of administration and response, method of scoring, and the associated reliability and validity. The author should clearly describe how each instrument relates to the variables of interest in the study and why the chosen instruments were more effective measures than other test alternatives.

Materials: All of the items necessary to replicate the study should be specified. Examples include written instructions, tools, software, equipment, supplies, and other materials used by the subjects and researchers in gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data.

Research Design: The research design connects the hypotheses to the scientific procedure of analysis and describes how the results of the study were analyzed and interpreted. Because the design of the project greatly influences the type and depth of information that can be extracted from the results, researchers must clearly communicate the theoretical basis of analysis.

Procedures: The author describes the sequence of tasks accomplished throughout the study in such detail that the procedure may be replicated by others. From the beginning of the sampling process through the final stages of interpretation, the researcher explains how each step of the project was completed.

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Results

The Results portion of the report includes all findings derived from the research data. Depending upon the research design, some authors may choose to divide results into two categories: descriptive (i.e., means, standard deviations, etc.) and statistical analyses (i.e., analysis of variance, multiple regression analysis, etc.). Results are limited only to those findings derived from the present data; no attempt to interpret the data is included in this section.

Authors may include tables and charts to visually display data and allow readers to more fully appreciate the results obtained. Many researchers believe that all results should be reported, whether significance was achieved, or not. Readers may not be able to ascertain whether this occurred, but should be aware of all results that should have been derived from the data collected.

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Discussion

The Discussion section of the report allows the researcher to contextualize

findings, speculate as to the effects of unforeseen challenges, and link the present study back to the research literature existing in the field. Most authors cite the limitations of the study (e. g., subjects limited to one geographic location) and offer suggestions for future research.

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References

All references cited within the body of the text should be specified so that a reader may locate the original sources utilized by the researcher in developing the study.

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The Tone of Technical Writing

Simple, concise sentence structures are used to communicate the contents of a research article. Rather than load sentences with adverbs, adjectives, and extraneous phrases, authors attempt to use direct and uncomplicated language.

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