***Have you read the Plagiarism Handout & Chapter 2 of the APA Manual?***


How to Write Introduction and Method Sections

(This handout provides general instructions but also tips relevant to the campus survey project in particular.)




Use the following as a guideline for what to include in the introduction and how to organize it.


1.  Try to capture the reader’s interest right away. You might want to introduce your topic by posing an interesting question.  In this opening paragraph do NOT use jargon.  See more on the next page.


2.  Next, introduce the relevant literature.  In the next few paragraphs discuss previous literature that can speak to your question.  Conceptually define all your terms when you first introduce them.  Discuss findings or theorizing that is relevant to your question. This will be the longest section of the introduction. You should organize this section of your paper in such a way that you logically build to YOUR study.  Here is a vastly oversimplified example of this sort of logical progression:


Past research suggests that, among women, self-esteem is correlated with physical attractiveness (Crocker, 1989; Davidson & Wells, 1990).  This research found that....  Other studies, however, have shown that self-esteem and physical attractiveness are only minimally related (Robinson, Geller & Thomas, 1988, Hobson & Mills, 1992). Most of these studies included both males and females (e.g., Robinson, Geller & Thomas, 1988) or both college-aged and older women (e.g., Hobson & Mills, 1992).  For example, Hobson and Mills sampled both female students at a small college and female faculty and staff.


Hopefully it is obvious to you that my next point is that the gender and/or age thing is what is responsible for the contradictory findings... I might then review the literature on gender (age) and self-esteem and/or gender (age) and physical attractiveness. This will lead to MY study (see #3).


Note:  There are many ways to integrate the previous literature into your explanation of the purpose of the present research.  You might find a contradiction in the literature that leads to your study (as in the example above).  Alternatively, you might find: 1) a reason why the views reflected in the reviewed literature might be wrong;  or, 2) a gap in the literature – something you consider important that has not been dealt with in your reading; or, 3) a point that, although it is dealt with in the readings, ought to be extended further in some other dimension. The framework you choose will, of course, be guided by what you find in your literature search.


3.  Introduce the present study. The reader should have been able to predict you were going to examine the variables you discuss here from the reasoning you laid out in #2. Go ahead and use the past tense as though you have already done this research. Example:  “The present research examined the relationships between X and Y.” This will save editing later on. Explain what variables you looked at and generally what you did to look at them (e.g. administered a survey).  This short paragraph is where you narrow your paper to your very specific topic.


4.  Finally, state your predictions formally.  This will probably be the final sentence of the above paragraph.  Make sure to talk about the DIRECTION of the correlations you predict (negative or positive).  Example:  “I predict a negative correlation between X & Y...”


Opening Statements


Remember that your paper is telling a story to an educated audience interested in your research. The first task of your paper is therefore to get the reader interested in what you have to say! You might want to start with an interesting, very general question or point raised by your research. Avoid clever openings that don’t lead fairly directly into the topic of your paper.


5 rules of thumb for your first paragraph:


1. Write in English prose, not psychological jargon.

2. Don’t plunge readers into the middle of your problem or theory.  Take the time and space necessary to lead them up to the formal of theoretical statement of the problem step by step.

3. Use examples to illustrate theoretical points or to introduce unfamiliar concepts or technical terms. The more abstract the material, the more important such examples become.

4. Whenever possible, try to open with a statement about people, not psychologists or their research (this rule is often violated, so DON’T use journal articles as a model here).

5. I’d suggest writing your brilliant opening paragraph after you've written the rest of the introduction.


Examples of the 1st sentence of Opening Statements (which ones are better?)


1. Recently, Ekman (1972), Izard (1977), Tomkins (1980) and Zajonc (1980) have pointed to psychology’s neglect of the affects and their expression.

2. Individuals differ radically from one another in the degree to which they are willing and able to express their emotions.

3. Research in the forced-compliance paradigm has focused on the effects of predecisional alternatives and incentive magnitude.

4. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance has received a great deal of attention during the past 20 years.


(2 is better than 1 which is too abrupt; 4 is not great, but better than 3 which has too much jargon)


Now read the following paragraph:


     The individual who holds two beliefs that are inconsistent with one another may feel uncomfortable.  For example, the person who knows that he or she enjoys smoking but believes it to be unhealthy may experience discomfort arising from the inconsistency or disharmony between these two thoughts or cognitions.  This feeling of discomfort has been called cognitive dissonance by social psychologist Leon Festinger (1957), who suggests that individuals will be motivated to remove this dissonance in whatever way they can.


Note how this example leads the reader from familiar terms (beliefs, inconsistency, discomfort, thoughts), through transition terms (disharmony, cognitions), to the unfamiliar technical term cognitive dissonance, thereby providing an explicit, if non-technical, definition of it.


Information taken directly from:  Bem, D. (1997).  Writing the empirical journal article.  In M.P. Zanna & J.M Darley (Eds.)  The Compleat Academic.  Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.




All method sections need three basic categories of information:

Participants – who was in your study and did they volunteer or get some sort of course credit.

Materials – what were your measured variables (a.k.a. operational definitions)

Procedure – what exactly did you do (literally during the study session)


You may choose to use three different heading for this information (as presented in the example below), or you might want to combine procedures and materials into one section.  Format the method section however it works best for you – but be sure to put participant information first and in its own section. Write in the past tense. The below example and the sample paper should help provide you with some commonly used (conventional) ways of writing out this information.




Participants were __N___ college students enrolled in introductory psychology classes. The students received extra credit in exchange for their participation.

Note:  In the participants section, gender, age (or year in school), and ethnicity are typical standard demographic statistics to include . You should also report any other demographic statistic that relates to your hypothesis.



Contingencies of Self-Worth. Selected subscales from the contingencies of worth scale (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001) were used. The subscale of interest for this study was the school competency scale. The measure of school competency as a basis of worth consisted of # items. An example item is:  “…..” Participants indicated the extent to which they endorsed each statement using a 7-point Likert type scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree). After reverse coding the appropriate items, the scale was created by averaging across items.  The internal consistency for the scale was adequate (alpha = xx).


Another Scale or Variable.  Continue in a new paragraph with a new heading for any other scales THAT ARE RELEVANT TO YOUR HYPOTHESIS. You do not need to report scales that you are not relevant to your hypothesis.  For example, if you aren’t interested in self-esteem, then don’t discuss self-esteem. Its okay to leave it out even though it is part of the data set – if you mention self-esteem, I’ll be expecting (as the reader) to read results about self-esteem. Be sure to always include a reference for the scale/variable (unless you wrote all the items), the response format, the internal consistency, and an example item.  NOTE:  FOR THIS SURVEY, I’M ANTICIPATING YOU WILL PICK ONE OF THE THREE CONTINGENCIES OF WORTH AND SEE HOW IT RELATES TO MASTERY, PERFORMANCE AND WORK AVOIDANCE GOALS.  THUS, YOU WILL BE DISCUSSING THOSE 4 VARIABLES.  IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT, BE SURE TO DISCUSS IT WITH ME.



Tell what participants were told about the study, how they run (e.g., what order the questionnaires you described above were in), debriefed, etc.  You’ll probably want to combine Materials & Procedure for this campus survey paper.