PSY2005 Guide to Writing a Qualitative Lab Report

Writing a Qualitative Lab Report

The aim of any lab report is to communicate a study to a wider audience and should be written in a style that matches relevant publications, but use language that can be understood by a reader who is unfamiliar with the research topic. A lab report should tell the reader what you did, why you did it, what you found and how that contributes to knowledge.

A qualitative lab report should not frame the analysis using assumptions that would be appropriate for quantitative research. For example, it would not be appropriate to explore gender differences in approaches to friendship unless you are very clear that you are analysing the data from the perspective of gender as a social construct and taking a social constructivist approach to your work.

The layout for qualitative work differs a little from quantitative work (see below for details of the sections that should be included in your lab report). This lab report should be written using APA referencing style.

Sections and Sub-Sections for Qualitative Lab Reports

This section provides an overview of what you should include in each section and sub-sections of your qualitative lab report.


  • The title of your work should clearly indicate what the project is about, the approach taken and the methods used.
  • The title can be closely linked to the research question and should include concepts that are appropriate to a qualitative project.
  • The title is not included in the word count.
Example of a good titleExample of a bad title
Students’ perceptions of lesbian and gay parenting: A focus group studyStudents’ attitudes about parenting


  • Provides background to the research and situates the research in the wider society.
  • Provides a review and synthesis of relevant literature. Successful synthesis of information should combine information from different sources to produce original ideas, and should avoid simply listing previous research (see here for more guidance on synthesising).
  • Explains key concepts relevant to the research (with reference to the relevant literature).
  • States the objectives (aims) of the research and provides the rationale for the research. The rationale and research questions should be supported by the literature reviewed in the Introduction. Whereas quantitative research aims to test alternative theoretical accounts of a phenomenon, qualitative research does not attempt to test a hypothesis so the rationale for conducting qualitative research usually centres on how findings will add to existing knowledge of a phenomenon.
  • The introduction should have a ‘coherent narrative’ that shows a clear understanding of the research question and development of your argument from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph (see the following resource for more guidance on coherence).
Example paragraph from introductionBreakdown
“Friends are a crucial influence and source of support for young people moving away from their families and starting university. Young adults are the most active users of social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook and MySpace (Duggan & Brenner, 2013), and use SNS to manage their personal relationships (Tapscott, 2009). SNS have a number of features that allow images to be uploaded and broadcast beyond friends to a wider, and often invisible, audience. There has been little systematic research that has investigated young adults’ understanding and practices of friendship within the framework of their uses of SNS.”The first couple of sentences provide the background and an explanation of how the research is located in current practices related to the use of social media.               The final section provides an account of why this research is worthy of study and the rationale which is that the use of SNS may have changed the nature of friendships and research has yet to explore this.


There are a number of sub-sections in the Methods section, as detailed below.


  • Describe your research philosophy considering the relevant epistemology and ontology of qualitative research. This section should include details of the flexible nature of qualitative research.
    • Example → “The aims of this research stress the multiple viewpoints of its participants. This is consistent with a social constructionist research design. The implications of adopting this research design include the choice of qualitative methods in preference to quantitative methods, an emergent design as opposed to one that remains fixed from the beginning of the inquiry, the production of ‘theory’ that is ground in and induced from the ‘data’ collected as opposed to testing some priori theory, and the production of research outcomes that are tentative rather than law-like generalisations.”


  • Should include relevant details of participants.
  • It is usual to include information regarding the age range of the participants, their ethnicity and employment status and whether they received remuneration for taking part in the research.
  • It is also common for researchers working with qualitative methods to provide a breakdown of their relationship with the participant (e.g., whether the participants are known to them in any capacity or not).
Example Participant sub-sectionBreakdown
“Twelve friendship group discussions were conducted, with a total of 51 participants aged between 18 and 25 years (26 women; mean age 20.2 years). All participants were of New Zealand European ethnicity except one Maori man, and one woman who originated from South Africa. Participants were diverse in their occupations, education, geographic locations and relationship status. Friendship durations ranged from many years (from childhood) to a few months and years (from meeting mainly through work and education venues). All participants were Facebook users, consistent with population statistics demonstrating a high use of social networking in this age group in New Zealand with Facebook as the dominant SNS (Bell, Crothers, Gibson & Smith, 2012).”Standard features of a participant section are included in the example: Numbers of participantsParticipants age rangeParticipant ethnicityParticipant employment status           Information that is pertinent to the research: Duration of friendshipsWhat sort of social network sites participants used.


This section describes how the qualitative data was collected. For your lab report, you should:

  • Describe the method of data collection (e.g., interviews, questionnaires etc.).
  • Provide an overview of the questions asked during the interview (add the full list of questions to the appendices and provide examples in this section).
  • Mention whether the interviews were recorded and how they were made available (e.g., you had access to them via Blackboard, along with the transcripts).
  • Provide an indication of the duration of the interviews (e.g., interviews lasted between 75 to 110 minutes).
Example Procedure sub-sectionBreakdown
“In-depth, semi-structured interviews based on McAdams’ (1995) Life Story Interview (LSI) protocol were administered to discern the main plot, turning points and themes expressed by participants in regards to the experience of leaving home and life on the streets (see Appendix I). Before starting the interview, each participant was given an informed consent form to sign, which was read aloud, explaining that participants would be welcome to leave at any time without penalty, that confidentiality would be maintained, and that the interview would be audio-recorded. Interviews lasted between 45 minutes and two hours and were recorded on a digital audio-recorder.”Method of data collection.   Overview of the questions asked.       Details of the procedure for consent.             Mention of the interviews being recorded. Mention of the duration of interviews.    

Analytic Procedure

This section describes how the data was transcribed and your approach to analysis.

  • Mention the style of transcription (e.g., Playscript or Jeffersonian transcription).
  • Briefly describe how the analysis was conducted (e.g., reflexive thematic analysis) and refer the reader to Braun & Clarke’s guidance for details.

Ethical Considerations

Qualitative work usually includes a section that describes the ethical procedures that were followed and a section that requires the researcher to engage with a reflexive practice. For the purposes of this lab report, we are only asking you to include a section that outlines the ethical considerations for the current work. You should include the following points based on the information in the Assignment 1 Essential Information document that is available on Blackboard:

  • Details of how consent was obtained.
    • Details of how participants were informed of their right to withdraw.
    • Details of the measures in place to preserve participant confidentiality.
    • Details of how ethical approval was obtained.


The analysis section (sometimes referred to as “findings”) should outline your themes, extracts (quotes) relevant to the themes, and an analytical interpretation of the data that goes beyond a simple description. You should ensure that your themes, extracts and analysis are clearly linked to your research question. You should follow the guidance provided in the following resources:

  • Weeks 1-4 of the PSY2005 module.
  • The six phases for analysis by Braun & Clarke
  • “Successful Qualitative Research” by Braun & Clark

Themes → You should decide on 2 or 3 themes, or 1 theme with 2 or 3 sub-themes, and provide a brief account of why these specific themes/sub-themes were selected for inclusion in your report (e.g., most strongly aligned to my research question, said something interesting about the data). Your themes should allow you to provide an analysis of the data in relation to your research question. Themes do not need to be supported by quotes from all participants in the study. Themes should be included as subheadings.

Quotes → You should include two or three quotes in relation to each theme. Quotes should also only include the part of the transcript that is relevant for your analysis – you do not need to include the full answer/sentence provided by the participant. You should also avoid repeating the same quote in your analysis.

Formatting quotes → Quotes should be indented from the main text so that it is clear to the reader that this is a quote. You can format quotes using italics and add the pseudonym for the participant in brackets after the quote, or you can start the quote with the participants pseudonym and not use italics.

The paper you were asked to read in Week 1 provides a good example of an analysis write-up. Below is an excerpt from that paper. You can see that the themes that have been generated from the data are used as subheadings and the analysis is written in a narrative style, using quotes to support statements made about the data.

Excerpt from Niland, Lyons, Goodwin & Hutton. (2015). Friendship work on Facebook: Young adults’ understandings and practices of friendship. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 25, 123-137. DOI: 10.1002/casp.2201
Friendship as ‘fun times together’   In the participants’ discussion about friendship, we identified a central theme of friendship as ‘fun times together’. To be together as friends was predominantly ‘just fun’ – a phrase that highlights enjoyment is taken for granted in their socialising. Yet this enjoyment was also consistently and repeatedly described as ‘real’, ‘good’, ‘best’, and ‘so much’, suggesting it is a prized outcome of being together. To ‘have fun’ was embedded in shared activities such as talking, watching movies, playing sports and games, drinking and ‘hanging out’. Participants’ descriptions of all the activities centred on the fun, laughter and entertainment they experienced together. When participants were asked ‘who was a friend’, they emphasised that a friend is socially fun person:         Jack:…you’ve gotta have a fun time with them otherwise it’s just it’s just an awkward mess      really. (FG7)       Andy: Yeah funny. I’m a pretty funny dude and I want to hang out with funny mates…Otherwise if my mates are dry they’re not really my mates you know. (FG11)   Overall, friendship as ‘fun times together’ evoked a strong sense of camaraderie, positioning friends as outgoing, inclusive, positive and entertaining. This theme demonstrates the value of investigating young adults’ shared meaning making, opening up a new perspective for their friendship practicies beyond developmental framings (Giordano, 2003) and a privileging of romantic and sexual relationship (Collins, Welsh & Furman, 2009).


The conclusion should be fairly brief. It provides a summary of the analysis that draws out key analytic points from across the analysis and provides an interpretation of these points. The report should finish with a sentence that sums up the main points and leaves the reader with a clear ‘take home message’.


You should include references for any literature you have cited in your reference list. The reference list should come at the end of your assignment and should follow APA guidelines.

  • The reference list at the end of your assignment is not included in the word count;however, in-text citations are included in the word count.
  • Use APA referencing 7th edition (see the following website for guidance:

Other resources to help you with referencing are listed below:

  • Referencing: the essentials (online tutorial)
  • Why reference?
  • Plagiarism and referencing quiz (online tutorial)


Appendices contain extra information that is not necessary for a reader to understand the study, but can be useful if people want to know more about the materials used in a study.

All appendices are referred to in the main body of the text (appendices are presented in the order in which they are mentioned in the main body of the text).

Each appendix is given a number or letter (e.g., Appendix 1, Appendix 2; or Appendix A, Appendix B) and a clear and informative title. Each appendix is presented on a new page. Appendices should come after the reference list.

Appendix examples (which would be in separate pages)

  • Appendix 1: Section of transcripts you have transcribed.
  • Appendix 2: Interview guide.

Academic Writing Style

Please pay attention to your writing style. Follow the tips below to improve your writing.

Writing Style

  • Make sure your language is precise and clear – use words that you understand and avoid using overly complex language.
  • Make sure that your sentence structure is appropriate – avoid using overly long sentence structures and embedded clauses. This will help to make your points clearer.
  • Writing in the first person is advised for the methodology section because this section is about you and your approach, but avoid writing in the first person in the analysis section.
  • Write in the past tense when talking about your study. The research you are describing has already taken place so it is reported in the past tense. In other words, you should describe what DID happen, not what may happen.

Structuring Your Writing

It is particularly important to make sure the structure of your work is logical in qualitative work. This means you should present information in an order that makes it easy for the reader to follow, rather than presenting information in the order that you found it.

Even though your assignment is going to be read/marked by people who are already familiar with the concepts you are going to discuss, your writing should include enough information for anyone to be able to understand it. You should assume that your reader has limited experience with psychology or qualitative research. Avoid introducing concepts without first providing the reader with an account of those concepts.

  • For example, if you introduced the ‘Theory of Planned Behaviour’, you would need to make sure you first provided a brief outline of the theory for the reader before moving on to discuss how the theory relates to the present study.
    • “The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) relates a person’s beliefs to their behaviour and suggests that intention to act will be based on a combination of attitudes, subject norms and perceived behavioural control.”

Make sure that your writing is coherent – lack of coherence results from narratives that are unclear and where ideas are not clearly connected. If your writing is difficult to follow, the reader will be unable to understand the points you make. One way to improve the coherence of your writing is to avoid jumping from one concept to another without linking ideas and concepts. The narrative you develop in your analysis section should link the extracts you include from your transcripts into a clear and coherent account of the data. It’s also good practice to make links between your themes, offering a coherent narrative of your broader findings.

Use correct grammar

  • Make sure you are writing in correct English grammar.
    • If you are not a native English speaker, it may be worth getting your lab report proofread before you submit it.
  • Before you submit your assignment, check that all words are spelled correctly (think of common mistakes such as their/they’re/there, its/it’s, then/than, effect/affect).

Terms should be used consistently

  • Avoid using multiple terms for the same thing.
  • Acronyms can be helpful for saving space and making your writing more succinct for the reader. For example, using the term “SNS users” is a lot easier than having to write “the people who regularly use social networking sites” every time you want to talk about this group of participants.
  • If you decide to use an acronym, make sure you include the full term first, then place the acronym in brackets immediately after so the reader knows what the acronym refers to (as in the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) example above).
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