- RESEARCH DESIGN AND STATS
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.
The Discussion section of the report allows the researcher
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.
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.
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.