Understanding and Helping those who Self-Harm

Although deliberate self-harm involves inflicting pain or injury on one’s self, it can actually be a coping mechanism to help deal with difficult feelings. Understanding the motivations behind self-harm can better inform treatment. The reasons differ from individual to individual but the following themes are the most common:

  1. If people have a problem they may feel trapped and helpless. Self-injury may help them feel more in control. Problems can also be confusing. Self-harm brings pain, but it’s a pain that they control and a pain that they understand. It’s an immediate pain, so it takes up attention over the emotional pain. A ‘pleasure’ or sense of relief can come from replacing a pain that’s uncertain with a certain pain.
  2. Feelings of guilt or shame can be unbearable. Self-harm can be a form of punishment that relieves the pain of guilt.
  3. Feelings of anger or frustration can lead to a person feeling incredibly tense. Self-harm can relieve the tension.
  4. Shock, abuse or some form of emotional trauma can be extremely upsetting. As a defence mechanism some people may try to deaden some of their emotions or pretend things never happened. These people can sometimes suffer from feelings of “numbness” or “deadness”. Self-harm can relieve this by helping people experience feeling alive and connected.

Self-harm can occur at any age but is most common in adolescence and young adulthood. Young people who are depressed or have an eating disorder are at higher risk. So are people who take illegal drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol. Older people who self-harm are at higher risk of serious injury and suicide. Self-harm is most often done without suicidal intentions but this link can sometimes exist.

There may be clues such as refusing to take off clothes for sports or refusing to wear shot sleeves. It can be difficult for people to talk about their self-harm and the reasons behind it. You can help by:

  • Listening to their worries and problems while taking them seriously.
  • Offering sympathy and understanding
  • Offering help to solve problem
  • Staying calm and in control of your own feelings.
  • Being clear about the risks of self-harm and ensure the that, with help, it will be possible to stop once the underlying problems have been addressed. When doing this make sure NOT to say things like “Don’t be stupid” or “It’s not very smart to hurt yourself”. It just displays a lack of understanding and can make them feel worse.
  • Encouraging them to develop support links e.g., friends, family, general practitioners, teachers, etc. You may feel worried about betraying a confidence and you may need to explain that self-harm an endanger their lives. For this reason, it should never be kept completely secret.

Here are some useful contacts:

  • SAMARITANS (24 hour confidential phone line) for people feeling despair and the need to talk to someone: 1850 60 90 90. Email jo@samaritans.org
  • CHILDLINE offers 24 hour support for children and young people in distress. 1800 66 66 66
  • AWARE (DEPRESSION AWARE) offers a listening ear for people in distress and their families (10am – 10pm). 1890 303 302
  • BODYWHYS offers support and information for people with eating disorder as well as their family and friends. 1890 200 444. Email: alex@bodywhys.ie
  • HSE West Drug and Alcohol Action Services. Free and confidential services including outreach, counselling and drug and alcohol education. Clare number: 065 686 5852. North Tipperary: 067 42 220. Slainte Limerick: 061 318 633

Unless it is severe and an emergency, patience is the most important thing. It can take time for people to change their behaviour and to deal with underlying stressors. Common examples include: over-dosing (self-poisoning), picking skin, hitting, cutting, or burning oneself, pulling hair, self-strangulation. When helping other people When you help others you are being a fantastic human being. Just remember, it’s important to take time to look after your own mental health as well 🙂

Lion on stilts chasing giraffe

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Ideas to Make People Smile

Banana Chocolate Heaven

Banana Chocolate Heaven. As if you need an excuse…

Certain foods can chemically boost people’s moods because. Chemicals such as endorphins (natural opiates) and serotonin (a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act) reduce stress and promotes calmness. Potassium counteracts electrolytes and helps oxygen. Vitamin B, folic acid and iron helping red cell production. Dark Chocolate has endorphins and serotonin. Bananas have such goodness as potassium, serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine can also be found in almonds, avocados, low-fat dairy, meat and poultry, lima beans, sesame and pumpkin seeds.

Your Facebook Profile
Catalina Toma, PhD. researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison, did some very interesting research on Facebook. Apparently, examining your own Facebook profile for even five minutes can sometimes boost your self-esteem.

Hugging can release oxytocin feel good chemicals. In a study conducted in five counties with over 1,000 couples it found that men who agreed that regular cuddling was a part of their relationship were on average 3 times happier than those where such cuddling was absent.

Pro-social Spending
Spend money on experiences and other people. Individuals who spent monetary incentives on each other rather than themselves increased job satisfaction, team performance (sales and sports teams) and sales.

Moving the Lawn
When grass is cut it releases at 5 chemicals that lover stress (some may even help improve memory function or at least help prevent memory loss). Doing small chores can also help. When we complete a task the accomplishment releases feel good chemicals like dopamine so helping around the house can help you.

A meta-analysis study led by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England found that volunteers reported lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being. Approx 20 % reduction in mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers. (though researchers note the findings have yet to be confirmed in trials).

Expressing our gratitude to others makes us happier Seligman (et al 2005).

Puppies and Kittens
Play with puppies and kittens. Research has that positive interaction with animals can boost moods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-24M3tdxe8

Sad Movies
Some research has indicated that watching sad movies can make you happier later on. The idea is that by comparing your current situation to the movie you feel better about yourself through comparison.

Unique Gift Ideas
If you don’t have Photoshop you can use free online generators to put someone of the cover of a magazine. For example: http://funny.pho.to/magazine-covers/
Free online generator for fun Hogwarts invitation letter: https://photofunia.com/effects/hogwarts_letter

Mindfulness Training
Free online mindfulness training course: http://palousemindfulness.com/selfguidedMBSR.html

More ideas:
Here’s a link for tips on how to cheer people up: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/25-simple-and-creative-ways-cheer-someone.html

If you’ve any ideas yourself please add a comment 🙂

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Quick Computer Tips to Help Organisation and Research

Labelling and organising computer files is always important. However, it can be really annoying clicking through folders until you get to the file you want. If you’re using a file often it can be tempting to have it somewhere like the desktop where it’s faster to access. However, if you do this too often your desktop can get overloaded. A solution to this is pinning.

When you open a programme like ‘Word’, a symbol appears in your taskbar to show that the programme is running. Right click a programme in the taskbar and select the option to ‘pin this programme to taskbar’. Now even when you turn off the programme a shortcut will be available in the taskbar.

You can drag relevant files (e.g. a Word file for the Word programme) over the programme shortcut. This will ‘pin’ those files to that programme shortcut. Now if you right click the shortcut it will show you a shortcut to that file(s). This means your files can be neatly organised into folders and subfolders but still be quickly accessible from your desktop. You can unpin anything with ease.

Another useful programme is the Snipping Tool available on most computers. Sometimes you want an image or just part of image. You might want a screenshot of a PDF or Word file. Do a search in your computer for ‘Snipping Tool’ (I recommend pinning it). It’s an extremely user friendly tool that allows you to take pictures of whatever is displayed on your computer. Just use the tool to highlight the part you want and it will create an image for you.

For free computer virus protection try Googling either ‘Super anti-spyware’ or ‘Advanced Care System’. The free version of things like ‘Advanced Care System’ will clean your computer of any junk files without deleting anything important.

Dropbox is an extremely useful tool. Install Dropbox on computers you use to create a dropbox folder. When you save a file in this folder the internet will update that file on your other computers. It’s a good backup for files in case one computer gets broken. You can also share folders with others making collaboration work easier. Just use this link: https://db.tt/c4Dpjxrl

Not everyone can afford or has the time to learn image editing software like Photoshop. Luckily there are free and more simpler programmes out there (e.g. PIXLR.com or just Google ‘free alternatives to Photoshop’, there are loads.)

Hello Kitty Gandalf

Image editing tools: Because sometimes your research needs a makeover

When you have a folder open click on view and make sure details panel is on. Click on a Word file in that folder (just once or you’ll open it) and details about the document will appear. There’s a tag option. If there are documents or tasks I need to finish working on I like to add the tag ‘to do’. Now when I search ‘to do’ on my computer the documents I need to finish working on show up and are easier to find. It makes keeping track of what you need to do a little easier. Collectively these tips should save you a LOT of time, hope it helps 🙂

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Often Overlooked Issues with Sweets in Studies

Here are a few tips if you’ve gotten ethical approval and are now allowed collect data for a study. If offering participants sweets as compensation for their time, I like to make sure there is a vegan option. I recommend Jellytots or polospearmints available in most shops. If you’re lucky enough to live near a dedicated sweet shop you may even find vegan cookies which come in a variety of flavours.

Some participants won’t take sweets if it’s Lent and to escape temptation may avoid your study during this time. Having some alternative healthy foods is a really good idea.

People can have braces so keep that in mind when choosing foods. Hard foods and chewy candies can be a bad idea.

Depending on how long you plan to run a study, be careful about foods that expire or go stale.

Sometimes researchers pour different sweet bags into one container for ease of access. Be careful if pouring different sweets into the same container. Someone might accidentally pick up something they’re allergic to. I personally like to avoid foods with peanuts in them but other common food allergies include: milk, soya, nuts from trees, eggs and wheat. Keep separate foods separate.

Keep a bin or bag nearby for loose wrappers.

If you’re running studies with electrical equipment avoid bringing liquids, or at the very least make sure there is some distance between them and the machines.

Open bags. Most participants only take a few sweets but if you’ve left bags unopened the rare participant might think of taking an entire bag or two which isn’t nice if you’ve spent money on those bags. Another reason to open bags is that some people may be shy and not want to open anything unopened, even if they really want sweets. Keep everyone happy 🙂

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Qualitative Research: A Quick Guide

I’ve talked a lot about quantitative research and statistical methods in the past so this post is dedicated to qualitative research.

My Qualitative Research Definition
Qualitative research is the observation, recording and search for meaning in experience as well as the context of that experience. This experience is usually human experience but can also refer to the experience of entities such as a business or organisation.

Qualitative Vs. Quantitative
Quantitative research attempts to be as objective as possible. It’s about looking for facts, exploring numbers and measurements. It typically involves using structured questions or stimuli with a limited amount of predetermined responses. In contrast, qualitative research is much more subjective. It seeks to explore and looks at individuals or cases in much more detail. Qualitative research often looks for themes. Quantitative research tends to require a large number of participants or entities whereas qualitative usually focus on one or a small number of participants or entities.
It’s worth noting that, paradoxically, the interpretation of quantitative research data is itself often a very qualitative exercise since that interpretation for meaning is often subjective.

Researchers sometimes argue which one is better but the appropriateness of a given approach usually depends greatly on a given situation, research question or purpose. In general, a mixed methods approach usually is typically best.

Common Examples of Qualitative Research

Interviews (semi-structured, structured, unstructured/free, cognitive mapping)
Focus Groups
Usability Studies
Observational Study
Document Review
Dialogue review
Critical discourse analysis
Participatory Observation
Projective Techniques

Qualitative Main Advantages
Given the extra detail in qualitative research it is likely to find something important that quantitative research alone could miss.

Qualitative research is more likely to generate research ideas and hypotheses.

Qualitative research can sometimes be more feasible when large samples of a target group are not available or difficult to access.

Qualitative Disadvantages
A potential flaw with qualitative research is nominal or naming fallacy i.e. the idea that you’ve explained something by naming or describing it. For instance, you could name a bed, say it’s made of wood and a mattress and a blanket. You could describe it extremely well and not understand that it’s a place for sleeping. Qualitative research can sometimes facilitate this fallacy when it’s used to find themes.

Qualitative research can be slow and tedious

Privacy is often at risk

The interpretation of qualitative data is subjective. You can never be certain how valid an interpretation is. However, you can approximate validity. One way to do this is triangulation.

Triangulation basically refers to trying to make sure that qualitiative data gathered is of a good quality and that interpretations are of a reasonably high standard. It can result in three outcomes:

  • Confirmation of observations and interprations
  • Ideas about how different people could interpret data in various ways
  • Further uncertainty

One form of triangulation is having multiple researchers interpret the data. These interpretations can then be compared and consistency of interpretations can be assessed.

Another form of triangulation is using multiple methods to examine the same thing. Data and interpretations produced by methods can then be compared and examined for consistency.
Theoretic sampling can be a type of triangulation whereby research data on a sample or parts of a sample are compared with each other. Does research generalise to a different time of day or location or to different people, etc.

Another one is theoretic triangulation whereby you can have multiple explanatory views e.g. behaviourism and cognitivism, expressed attitudes and behaviour, child explanation and nanny explanation and parental explanation etc.


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Tips for Dealing with Heavy Workloads: Preventing Stress and Maximising Performance

I’m involved in a few things so people kept asking me how I was getting so much done. Here are a few tips for how to deal with heavy workloads.

In order to maximise your performance it’s not just enough to have a good time plan. You also need good back up plans. Things can go wrong, people can interrupt, someone whose name I won’t mention could have the hoover blasting at 3am in the morning and then I’m groggy the next day and get less done. So when you’re making a time plan, make back up plans as well. It’ll stop you from panicking or getting stressed if something goes wrong.

Be very clear on what your goals are and work out the steps you need to take for achievement. Role ambiguity is associated with things like depression and poor self-esteem. So when making plans try and go into as much detail as possible.

Another thing you can do is tell people about your plans or goals. That social pressure can help to motivate you so you’re less likely to quit once you start.

When planning anything always set yourself deadlines. I like to always aim to get stuff done early, so it’s like having two deadlines. I use an unusual strategy that involves milk. Let’s say my deadline is the twentieth of April. I’ll try and get my work done before the expiration date on milk bottles in the shop gets to the 20th. This encourages me not to procrastinate and even if I don’t meet that early deadline I’m not stressed because I’ll have most of the work done and there’s still time till my actual deadline.

Know what you’re priorities are. Be prepared in advance to make choices in case anything conflicts.

If you’ve any other tips drop a comment, might help someone else.

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Statistics Tips (part 7): Descriptive Vs Inferential (and teddy bears)

Descriptive statistics involves summarising a set of data. This can involves things such as means, standard deviation, distribution graphs, etc. See the following for more information:


Descriptive statistics are used to describe data for entire group. In contrast, inferential statistics typically involve gather data from a small group to infer or deduce things about a larger group. Inferential is typically used when it’s not feasible to gather data about an entire group or population. Instead, inferential gets a subset (sample) of the larger population. We examine the traits of this sample (e.g. mean) and infer that these traits apply to the larger population.

The given subjects or individuals use in a sample are usually chosen at random. For various sampling methods, go here: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/sampling-methods-and-zombies/



Imagine a teddy bear factory. One out of every 50 teddy bears is hugged to test if they are cuddly soft and suitable to be sold to children. The factory workers determine if the teddy bears are suitable by sampling some of them and generalising the information they gather to all the teddy bears they produce. This is an example of inferential statistics.


Imagine a teacher wants to know what the average grade of her students are. So she looks at all the student grades and calculates their average score. There’s no sampling being done so this is descriptive.


Imagine a government is trying to determine how much money they need to spend on healthcare. Instead of collecting data from millions of citizens it is fat easier and cheaper for them to collect the data off of a few hundred individuals. They then look at the sample’s average healthcare costs and then use this as an indicator of the average healthcare cost per citizen in the entire country. This is inferential.


Inferential occurs when we don’t gather data from entire population. Sampling is used

Descriptive is used when you look at an entire set of data.

It’s important to note a bit of overlap here. You can examine the descriptive data of a given sample itself. It’s only when we use the sample to deduce or guess further information about a larger population or sample that it becomes inferential.

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Ways to Acquire Knowledge: Pirates, Colour Lies, Backdraft Explosions, Horse Teeth and Richard Feynman

There are six main ways to acquire knowledge, some of them are much more reliable than others. To remember them I use the abbreviation ‘I STARE’ which refers to: ‘Intuition’, ‘Scientific Method’, ‘Tenacity’, ‘Authority’, ‘Rationalism’ and ‘Empiricism’.

Hint: scientific method is the one you’ll want to use.

Intuition refers to the process or act of acquiring knowledge without apparent inferring or reasoning. This isn’t always unreliable. Sometimes our brain works faster than our conscious mind can keep up with. For instance, I remember a story about a fireman who instinctively told his comrades to get out of a burning building just before it exploded. He had no idea how he knew that the building was too dangerous. It seems his subconscious mind with years of fire fighting experience noticed that smoke was being sucked into the building rather than coming out of it. See this video for an explanation:

So the next time you do something without knowing why, you may have just prevented major disaster without realising it.

Authority refers to accepting information or ‘facts’ because they come from a person of high status or a highly respected resource. This needs to be distinguished from our increasing reliance on experts for information. An authority approach dictates that we agree to whatever is said, often without room for questioning or doubt.  In contrast, we are free to scrutinise, accept or reject whatever an expert says.

Tenacity i.e. the persistence of a superstition. Supersitions represent beliefs that are reacted to as if they facts e.g. back in the days of pirates women weren’t allowed on a ship because of the superstition that it would cause bad luck and tattoos and piercing are said to ward off evil spirits.


Rationalism, using reasoning to arrive at knowledge while assuming that valid knowledge is acquired if the correct reasoning process has been used. It used to be believed (especially during sixteenth century) that knowledge gained from reason was more valid than knowledge acquired from observation. I remember a lecturer during my undergraduate degree (amazingly articulate woman who taught me most of what I know about research methods) who provided us with this extreme example.

In the year of our Lord 1432, there arose a grievous quarrel among the brethren over the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse. For thirteen days the disputation raged without ceasing. All the ancient books and chronicles were fetched out, and wonderful and ponderous erudition such as was never before heard of in this region was made manifest. At the beginning of the fourteenth day, a youthful friar of goodly bearing asked his learned superiors for permission to add a word, and straightway, to the wonderment of the disputants, whose deep wisdom he sore vexed, he beseeched them to unbend in a manner coarse and unheard-of and to look in the open mouth of a horse and find answer to their questionings. At this, their dignity being grievously hurt, they waxed exceeding wroth; and, joining in a mighty uproar, they flew upon him and smote him, hip and thigh, and cast him out forthwith. For, said they, surely Satan hath tempted this bold neophyte to declare unholy and unheard-of ways of finding truth, contrary to all the teachings of the fathers. After many days more of grievous strife, the dove of peace sat on the assembly, and they as one man declaring the problem to be an everlasting mystery because of a grievous dearth of historical and theological evidence thereof, so ordered the same writ down. (Francis Bacon, source: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/horse.htm)

Empiricism, refers to accepting something as true if you have experienced it. Information that contradicts experience gets rejected. In other words, our past experiences can influence how we perceive the present. Empiricism  is problematic on its own. Our experiences do not always reflect the norm. There is evidence that humans often edit their memories. Our perceptions can be altered. For instance, if I told you that purple does not really exist most of you would not believe me. However, this video might change your mind as you realise that purple is nothing more than an illusion.

So beware of relying on your experience. Then again, I’m only using that purple example because most people I’ve mentioned it to were surprised. Empiricism is used in the scientific method. However, in science empiricism refers to information collected or produced from the use of the scientific method.

Scientific method, refers to a logical process of enquiry. Basically, you just follow these steps:

Identify a problem or question e.g. why does chocolate taste so good? Normally, you should try and find a problem that really matters to society. In this case, the problem is of great importance to food companies or anyone who likes to bake.

Refine question. Previous research shows that chocolate has sugar in it, therefore I refine my question to “does chocolate taste good because it has sugar in it?”

Form a hypothesis. Previous knowledge shows that sugar makes most things taste good. Therefore, I hypothesise that sugar makes chocolate taste good.

Design experiment (preferably with my blog post on ‘research designs’ in mind: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/understanding-research-designs/) in order to test the validity of my hypothesis.

Try and come up with ‘controls’ to stop potentially confounding variables e.g. milk content of chocolate could influence results. So if you’re comparing two different types of chocolate with different sugar contents then make sure they have the exact same milk content.

Watch out for ethical issues. Try and get ethical approval from a reputable ethics committee approval. This is important so that you can protect yourself legally e.g. if you gave participants a bar of chocolate you could get sued for giving someone diabetes. Madder things have happened.

For example, one experiment involved giving people fake alcohol. Participants were told non-alcoholic drinks were alcoholic. One participant, thinking she was drunk, later walked onto road and got into a car accident. She sued the college for making her think she was drunk and getting into car accident. She won.

Conduct experiment and collect results e.g. in the name of science you must eat lots of chocolate and compare results (for the good of society).

Use collected data to test hypothesis. Usually you use statistical software like SPSS to examine results.

Communicate results. There’s no point doing research if you don’t communicate the results. Write a research report, attend conferences, maybe even submit it to a reputable psychology database or journal.

Science has 4 aims

1 Describe

Clear operational definitions are really important. Otherwise two people could think they’re studying the same thing when they’re not. Two researchers could study chocolate but they might both be using different brands of chocolate. Researcher 1 might be using chocolate with 5% milk content, researcher B could have 10% milk content, milk chocolate, baking chocolate, white chocolate etc. Always be precise. Leave no room for ambiguity.

2 Explain

This doesn’t just mean understanding what a phenomenon is but also why it exists and what causes it.

3 Prediction

Finding out that something will happen before it happens. Or when A happens, then B tends to happen.

4 Control

Control can refer to a few things:

·         Restraint, keeping controlled conditions constant or reducing the influence of extraneous variables (for explanation see: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/statistics-tips-part-1-basic-definitions-and-the-flying-spaghetti-monster/)

·         Guiding events in order to produce an exact change or a specific behaviour that you want to occur e.g. rehabilitating someone with a drug addiction, stopping a child from being aggressive, stop myself from going on Facebook when I should be doing work, etc.

·         Check/Verification in terms of comparison. For instance, are my measurements examining what they’re supposed to measure and are they accurate? I could check this by comparing my test to an established test to see if they’re measurements have a strong positive correlation. An example of how this could be useful is if you developed a test which was shorter and more time efficient than an established test. Do my research findings and methodology apply to my target population in different laboratory settings or other non-laboratory settings.

The best explanation of the scientific method I’ve ever seen was by Richard Feynman

Science relies on scientifically acceptable evidence. By acceptable, we usually mean objective. Something than can be physically seen or observed (preferably directly). Sometimes you can observe a phenomenon indirectly. For instance, if I wanted your opinion on your favourite brand of yogurt I wouldn’t open up your skull and watch your brain cells to find out. I could simply ask you. Your statement would be observable evidence. However, it’s not as reliable because it’s indirect. You could be lying, you might have temporarily forgotten a better ice-cream, you could have misinterpreted the question, etc. An alternative way to find the answer is to observe what yogurts you buy in the future. That behaviour is observable evidence. Different methods to answer the same question can lead to different answers. This is another reason (as I’ve emphasised in previous posts) why replication of research by different researchers is important. It stops us making giant mistakes. For example, a guy called Andrew Wakefield did ‘research’ and found that vaccines could cause autism (specifically e combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine). Wakefield manipulated evidence to his liking, had more than a few conflicts of interest and broke a number of ethical codes. There are still groups of people out there who believe vaccines cause autism despite the general scientific community screaming no. Wakefield’s lie caused vaccination rates to drop resulting in deaths and severe injuries. This was mostly the media’s fault. Moral of the story: be careful what you hear on the news and be wary of relying on any single study in isolation.

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A1 Psychology Research Report Writing: Each Section in Detail

This is for an old version of APA so this post is a bit out of date. APA is subject to change and there are different types of reports. Some tips here are still useful but please keep in mind that nothing in this post is set in stone.

First: A few things to be aware of

If you’ve a report writing assignment and you’re unfamiliar with the area, start as soon as possible. When giving grinds, I’ve noticed that a lot of students underestimate the time this can take.

Another thing to note; different lecturers/supervisors can have different preferences. Some might like the use of bullet points for lists, others do not. Some might like adding a table to give a visual representation of participants, others do not. Some might like you being very detailed in the procedure section, others do not e.g. ‘Participants were given biros to fill out forms’ Vs ‘Participants were asked to fill in forms’. Always ask for guidelines and remember to ask again should your lecturer/supervisor change. Otherwise, you could get marked down for doing something a previous lecture told you to do and, trust me, it’s really annoying. The more specific or detailed your questions then the more helpful the answers.

Avoid absolutist terminology. Don’t say this study “proves”. Instead, say things like this study “indicates” or “strongly supports”.

If you don’t understand any terminology used in this post, then please look at my previous blog posts for important definitions (e.g. https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/statistics-tips-part-1-basic-definitions-and-the-flying-spaghetti-monster/). With that in mind, let’s get started.

Cover Page

As with the essay writing guidelines I gave you before (https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/a1-essay-writing-tips/), always have a nice cover page. Make sure your college logo is at the top, it helps to give your document a more professional look. Ensure that the following are clearly labelled:

  • Student name
  • Student ID number
  • Department
  • Module title
  • Module code
  • Assignment Task(s)/Question(s)
  • Report Title
  • Lecturer(s)
  • Date
  • Word count

Some universities request that you include a signed statement declaring that the essay you have written is of your work and sources of information have been clearly referenced.


Start on new page. Usually best to aim for 200 words. Usually you don’t give this section a heading. Very briefly:

  • Describe background
  • Outline aims of research (include hypotheses if appropriate)
  • List methods used
  • State findings and give any general conclusions

It’s sometimes helpful to lookup published research articles and see how their written. This can help you get an idea of how to phrase things and appropriate word choice. Some lecturers may prefer you to:

  • Format the abstract with a slightly smaller font size than the rest of the research report (don’t ask me why)
  • Have no indent at the beginning of a paragraph
  • Justify format the abstract i.e. increase the left and right margins of the page


Start on new page. In general, you should thank lecturers/supervisors for advice and opportunity to conduct study. You can thank participants for participating as well as family/friends for their support. Try and keep this section as short as possible. Mix up your terminology a bit e.g. ‘I am grateful towards…’ or ‘Person A must also be thanked for…’

Index/table of contents

Start on new page. Outline report sections (Microsoft Word has a very useful index feature). You might want to have a separate index for:

  • list of figures
  • list of tables
  • list of appendices

Abstract, acknowledgements and index should have page numbers in roman italics (i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, etc.). In Microsoft Word, go to ‘Insert’- ‘Page numbers’. Page numbers for future sections should start at 1 and carry on as normal. In Microsoft Word, go to ‘Page Layout’ – ‘Breaks’ – ‘Insert New Section’. You may need to double click on page number, highlight number and unclick ‘link to previous sections’ in the ‘Header and Footer’ tab which appears after the first double click.


Start new page. A title is always a nice touch. A good title should be concise and reflective of the reports content.

You now start your introduction/literature review. The usually has no main heading but you may want to provide headings if you break up the literature review into sub-sections (usually appropriate for large scale projects, not done as often for small research projects done by undergraduates). Your first paragraph should very briefly describe the general background/issue your research examines. Give operational (i.e. clear and not likely to be misinterpreted) definitions of key terms where appropriate. Outline projects main goals. Personally, I like using numbered bullet points when outlining aims (if you’ve more than 1). It makes it easier for the reader to understand your research purpose/s. However, some lecturers/supervisors/graders don’t like the use of bullet points so check with your lecturer for advice.

In subsequent paragraphs you summarise and analyse previous research and research findings. In other words, researchers examined A, hypothesised B based on previous research/theory C, using methods D, found out that E, study had strengths F (e.g. large population size, good methodology) and weaknesses G (did not take into account alternative interpretation of statistics, poor methodology, etc.) Repeat with different studies as necessary.

You might discuss psychometric approaches if you research involves designing or using a new measurement scale. Psychometrics refers to the design, implementation and interpretation of quantitative tests used to measure psychological variables. This will likely impress your lecturers who don’t usually expect this (especially from undergraduates).

Last paragraph. I sometimes like to use the last paragraph to describe hypotheses based on previous research findings. Alternatively, you could mention hypotheses just after you describe general research background in first paragraph. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation/understanding of something. Hypotheses should be based on previous research e.g. previous research has shown that chocolate can enhance happiness. Chocolate contains the hormone ‘serotonin’. Based on this evidence, the present study hypothesises that serotonin levels are positively correlated with happiness. Be careful not to mix up hypothesis, hypothesises and hypotheses (educated guess, guessing, guesses) (singular, active, plural).

Method (centred heading)

Start on new page. Method is broken up into four subsections:

  • Design
  • Participant
  • Materials and Equipment
  • Results

If you’ve done more than one experiment or used multiple methods you might want to break up your research into multiple studies. In this case, you number each study and give it a title (e.g. Method for Study One) and re-use the ‘Design’, ‘Participant’, ‘Materials and Equipment’ and ‘Results’ headings as appropriate. Where relevant, instead of writing out the participants or materials and equipment section, you can sometimes say something like “Participants used in study 2 were the same as those described in study 1”.

Design (heading at left side of page)

This section outlines the research design your study uses, variables the research examines, controls used and general ethical considerations. See my previous blog post on how to choose the appropriate research design(s). You need to list and define the both the independent and the dependent variables. You then explain what extraneous variables you’ve controlled for and briefly explain how you’ve controlled for them. You then outline ethical considerations e.g.


This was a both a quantitative study which used a repeated measures research design. The study had ___ independent variable(s) and __ dependant variable (s). The independent variable was A. A refers to _________. The dependent variable was B. B refers to____________. Participants were recruited on a volunteer basis and participants could withdraw their data or leave the study at any stage. Participants were fully informed as to the purpose of this study and their confidentiality was maintained. This study examined attitudes towards drug use in young adults (target participant population). As such, participants were asked if they had ever taken drugs which may have influence their perceptions.

Participants (heading at left side of page)

This section describes participant demographics which can include: age, ethnicity, geographical location, education, work status, etc. State what sampling method you used and where participants were from (see this blog post for a discussion on sampling methods: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/sampling-methods-and-zombies/). Some lecturers prefer you use entire words rather than numerical figures e.g. ‘A hundred and twenty participants (n=120) were recruited…’ VS ‘100 participants (n=100) were recruited…’ Some lecturers like it when you add a table summarising information. Some don’t. Always, ALWAYS check with your lecturers to see what their preferences are.


100 (n=100) were recruited through opportunity sampling. Participants were recruited from Northern Ireland. Participants comprised of students and their ages ranged from 18 years of age to 70 years of age. 45 participants were female and 55 participants were male. 51 participants were undergraduate students. 27 participants were postgraduate students. 22 participants were neither undergraduate nor postgraduate students (other). This data is summarised in table 1.

Table 1: Participants



Status Number of Participants (%)
Gender Male Female Total
Undergraduate 37 14 51
Postgraduate 12 15 27
Other 6 16 22
Total 55 45 100

Materials and Equipment (heading at left side of page)

Start new page. Sometimes called ‘Materials’, ‘Apparatus and Equipment’ etc. Check with lecturer for their preference. In this section you outline what materials you used to conduct the study as well as their general purpose. Where relevant (e.g. for questionnaires), you should refer to the appropriate appendix. Personally, as well as the individual appendix I like to refer to the exact page number that appendix is on but that’s usually not necessary). Strictly speaking, the scientific method should require you to mention everything you use down to the colour and brand of the biros that you gave participants. Many lecturers don’t find this necessary.


Ballpoint biros (blue) were distributed to participants. Information sheets were distributed to participants. These informed participants as to the general nature of the study (see appendix A, p. 19). A consent form was given to each participant. This form requested that participants give their written consent before taking any further part in the study (see appendix B, p. 20). A demographic questionnaire was given to each participant so as to measure age, gender and participant status (see appendix C, p. 21). Three versions of a sample text (each with a readability, likability and reliability Likert scale) were distributed to participants. Version one identified the writer as an undergraduate student (see appendix D, p. 22). Version two identified the writer as a postgraduate student (see appendix E, p. 23). Version three did not identify the status of the writer (see appendix F, p. 24). A debriefing form was given to each participant. This form outlined the specific purpose of the study (see appendix G, p. 25).

Procedure (heading is usually on the left)

Explain how you carried out the study. You never explain the function of materials in this section. That’s what the previous section is for. This allows you to avoid wordiness, be concise and to the point.


Participants were given a biro and an information sheet they were asked to read and sign. Participants were then given a consent form that they were asked to read and sign. Participants were then given a demographic questionnaire they were asked to fill out. Participants were then given one randomly selected version of the sample text. Participants were asked to read the sample text and to indicate their opinion of the text by using the three Likert scales provided directly below the sample text. Participants were then given a debriefing form to read and sign. Results were then collected for analysis and participants were thanked for their contribution.

Results (heading to the left)

The content of this section depends on what statistic tests you use. See my previous blog posts on ‘parametric and non-parametric tests’ (https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/statistic-tips-part-5-parametric-vs-non-parametric-tests/) and ‘choosing the correct statistics test’ (https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/statistics-tips-part-6-choosing-the-right-test/). A really good book which guides you on how to report data from statistics tests is: Pallant, J. (2007) “SPSS Survival Manual: A Step by Step Guide to Data Analysis using SPSS for Windows“, 3rd ed., New York: Open University Press. If psychology had a bible, this would be it.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to include every table that every statistic test you use produces; just the relevant ones which would help experts see where you got the data from. Some tables produced by some tests in statistic software packages won’t fit within the margins of Microsoft Word Document. I like to recreate the table from scratch using Word’s table features. It can be a tedious repetitive pain but it fits, looks way neater and your lecturer might gasp and swoon with euphoria.

Discussion (heading is usually on the left)

You’re nearly finished J

Interpret data from results section and use specific examples. What did your study find? What did it not find?

Did your study support any hypotheses you mentioned? Answer this question in the context of previous research findings that you mentioned in your literature review.

Did your study have weakness? If it could have been improved suggest how. Make suggestions for future research.


As with your citations in the previous sections of the document, use A.P.A. format.

The last three sections are ‘Appendices’, ‘List of Tables’ and ‘List of Figures’.

In general, reference only things you have actually cited. An exception to this might be books, articles or amazing blog posts on something like report writing itself or statistics. As always, check with lecturer.

Some Final Remarks

For a detailed research example, go to: https://sites.google.com/site/tierneycv/research-sample

You’ll notice it differs slightly from the guidelines here. That’s because it was tailored to suit a specific group of lecturers. Use it as a rough reference to guide you if you get stuck. In the example, you’ll notice I numbered each section which is a nice touch. Every little thing adds when you’re trying to get the A1. Your college should give you access to other research reports as well through databases such as ‘Psycharticles’. You may notice that different researchers have their own preferences. In particular, look out for research reports that your lecturer/supervisor has been involved in. It’ll help give you an idea of their personal preferences.

Another thing to be aware of is “that” verses “which”. Use “that” when you’re defining something. Use “which” when you’re also making a comment about something. For example:

The pet that I adopted is a puppy. My new pet, which is a puppy, is so cute.

Personally, I think either one has semantic validity (I’ve also got a background in linguistic theories) but a professional/academic norm has already been established and it’s always best to keep your lecturers/supervisors happy. I also recommend getting a classmate or friend to proofread your work. It’s often a good idea to get someone who isn’t familiar with the subject matter to read your work. If they can understand everything then that’s usually a good sign. If not, ask them where they’re getting confused and try to rewrite those sections. Good luck.

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Statistics Tips (Part 6): Choosing the Right Test

Before reading this post it’s recommended you know the difference between parametric and non parametric (see: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/statistic-tips-part-5-parametric-vs-non-parametric-tests/). The following is a rough guide for choosing the correct statistics test. Con stands for continuous variable. Cat stands from categorical variable (for explanations see: https://dtpsychology.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/statistics-tips-part-1-basic-definitions-and-the-flying-spaghetti-monster/)



Some of you studying statistics might notice that instead of doing a MANOVA you could do a series of simpler ANOVA for each dependent variable. However, you should NOT do this because it increases the risk of a ‘Type 1 error’ i.e. where you find a difference between groups but it doesn’t actually exist.

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