APA Method Section

Always keep in mind that APA wants your writing to be concise, precise, and logical --ALWAYS.
In your APA manual, it tells you that the Method section describes IN DETAIL, how the study was conducted. However, there are thousands of details in any experiment, what exactly is meant by IN DETAIL?

IN DETAIL means those things that could logically expected to influence the results. It also means providing enough information so that the reader could replicated your experiment. However, since you must be concise, only the information that is essential for understanding your experiment should be included.

At the top of page 18 in your APA manual, you are given the balancing act you must perform in writing the Method section (as well as all section of and APA write-up.

"Insufficient detail leaves the reader with questions; too much detail burdens the reader with irrelevant information."

The Method section typically consists of three subsections: (1) Participants, (2) Apparatus (or Materials or Apparatus/Materials), and (3) Procedure.

You can choose to add other subsections if they can be justified.

Your instructor (or the journal in which you wish to publish) may request additional subsections.

Participant Subsection

The Participant subsection is the first subsection, and it tells the reader a minimum of three pieces of information:
(1) who was in your study
(2) the population used
(3) any restrictions in the nature of your participant pool.

You must give the following information in your Participant subsection
1) the total number of participants and the number assigned to each experimental condition.
2) the major demographic characteristics of the participants (such as age, sex, etc.).
3) You must report the way the participants were selected.
Were they randomly selected from the whole population or only from volunteers?
Were they not randomly selected but only volunteers?
Were they offered money or course credit to volunteer?
4) You must indicate if your participants are not representative of the general population and if the selection process was restricted in any way.
Did the study use only psych majors, only women, only deaf.
Did the study eliminate any people with vision problem, color-blindness, hearing problems, etc.
5) You must indicate how the participants were assigned. Were they all assigned to the same group or did different one's go to different groups.
If they went to different groups, were they randomly assigned?

Example Participant Subsection

Twenty-seven students from the University of Calgary (12 women and 15 men) ranging in age from 17 to 43 years old, voluntarily participated in this experiment. There were 9 participants randomly assigned to each of the three probe type conditions. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

More Examples

Ten healthy university students and staff members (8 women and 2 men), aged 18-24 years, volunteered to participate in the experiment. All were assigned to the same experimental task. In this experiment, informed consent was obtained from all participants.

University of Calgary undergraduates ( N = 19; 13 women and 6 men) ranging in age from 18 to 31 years ( M = 21.1 years, SD = 3.1 years) volunteered to participate. Ten participants were randomly assigned to the detect-T1 condition; the remainder were assigned to the ignore-T1 condition. In this experiment, informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Sixteen undergraduates at UC at Berkeley (12 males and 4 females) participated in exchange for partial course credit. All participates performed in the same way. Data from 5 subjects who indicated that they did not learn English before 5 years of age were excluded from all analyses. No color-blind subjects were included in any of the experiments.

We recruited 29 subjects (17 male, 12 female) from two introductory psychology classes. They were given a choice of extra course credit or $5.00 for their participation. Subjects selected had taken Pettigrew's Category Width Scale on the first day of class and scored among the top or bottom 10% for their sex in their respective classes. Selected subjects were unaware of why they in particular were being asked to participate. All Ss were assigned to perform the same task. For the final data analysis, the 20 subjects with the fewest missed responses in the experimental tasks were used.

Apparatus/Materials Subsection

The Apparatus/Materials subsection is the second subsection, and it tells the reader what equipment and tools you used to run your experiment and to acquire data. Sometimes it is not clear whether something is an apparatus or a material. You do not have to worry about losing points for mislabeling apparatus or materials.

It is traditional to label the Subsection "Apparatus" if you are mostly describing mechanical devices, to label it "Materials" if you are describing mostly paper and pencil type items, and to label it "Apparatus and Materials" if you are describing both.

The rules for writing this subsection are as follows:
1) Standard equipment (such as screens, timers, keyboards, etc.) can be mentioned just by name and without detail.
2) Specialized equipment should give name, model #, and supplier name and location.
3) Complex is named and then the reader is referred to the appendix for illustrations and greater detail.
4) Custom equipment is named and labeled as custom equipment. Then the reader is referred to the appendix for illustrations and greater detail.
5) In your descriptions of the apparatus and materials, do NOT tell in detail how you will use them.
How apparatus and materials are used belongs in the Procedure subsection.

Example Apparatus/Materials Subsection

The stimuli were generated by an Apple Macintosh II computer. We used custom software (see appendix) and displayed the stimuli on an Apple 19-in. color monitor. Participants viewed the display binocularly from a distance of 35 cm, and we stabilized their head position with the aid of a chin rest.

More Examples


A survey was constructed and used that contained six simple yes or no questions dealing with honesty, cheating, stealing, and not getting caught (See appendix). A Monopoly gameboard was used for demonstrating question one.


The Social Phobia Scale was utilized in this study (see Appendix). It is a questionnaire consisting of 15 items in which the subject is asked to put a checkmark in the blank in front of any item that has applied to them in the last six months. It was created as an assignment in Psychological Statistics and Measurements class (PSY 300) at Missouri Western State College. Internal reliability has been determined for the scale, and content and construct validity have been established as well.


The materials used for this experiment were provided with a sign-up sheet, a sheet of instructions with a written paragraph, and pens. The sample of these forms are shown in the Appendices A, B and C. All subjects circled the words they selected.


A mainframe computer was used to survey subjects on 15 indicators of depression. Then the subjects were asked to predict whether a schematic of a face that they would be shown next on the computer screen would be smiling or frowning.

Apparatus and Materials

Stimuli for a lexical decision and valence identification task were displayed on an IBM PC compatible 486 computer with a 14 inch color monitor. Research participants sat approximately 28 inches from the bottom of the stimulus. Stimuli were drawn in lowercase letters approximately 5/8 inches high on the monitor, subtending 1.21 degrees of visual angle. Two sets of 10 positive, 10 negative, and 10 neutral words, balanced for normed affect, word frequency, and word length were chosen from Siegle's (1994) corpus.

Apparatus and Materials

A website was created for presenting various surveys (see Appendix). The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (Keirsey, 1998b) and the Keirsey Character Sorter (Keirsey, 1998c) were utilized to measure personality type. Two other surveys developed by the researcher were also administered: a short demographic survey (see Appendix) and an assessment of the degree of domestic violence experienced by each participant (see Appendix). All the surveys were conducted on a computer with the results recorded on an answer sheet (see Appendix).

Procedure Subsection

The Procedure subsection is the third subsection, and it gives the reader a summary of each step in the execution of the research. This summary must be concise, precise, and logical. Do not burden the reader with too much detail but give enough so the reader can follow what is being done.

For the Procedure subsection, you must give the following information.
1) A description of the design (between, within, factorial, correllational, etc.
2) A summary of the instructions to the subjects (do not give the complete instructions unless you do so in an appendix).
3) A description of the specific experimental manipulations. This means that you are operationally defining your IVs, and showing how the participants are exposed to the IVs.
4) A description of counterbalancing or other control features in the design.

NOTE: A description of counterbalancing or other control features in the design is NOT included at this time, but must be included in your final project. We will have lectures on counter-balancing and control features later. Therefore, by your final project, you should be able to include this information.

Example of Procedure subsection

Participants were given a sheet of paper consisting of both humorous and non humorous sentences. They were given 5-7 minutes to read and comprehend all that they could in that time limit. After reading the sentences, the participants were given a small distracter task that consisted of 8 basic computational math problems. They were given 3 minutes to complete the dissector task. When the math problems were completed, the participants were given a recall test. On the recall test, the first few words of each sentence were given as a clue and the participants had to fill in the rest of the sentence, or at least as much as the could remember. After the tasks were completed the tests were scored on how many sentences of each, humorous and non humorous that each participant got correct.

A Better Example


Subjects were told that the study investigated the relationship between personality traits and academic performance as indicated by an anagram task and an attentional task. Subjects were informed that a practice anagram task would be followed by an attentional task, and then by the main anagram test (which was never administered). The intention of this misleading information about a second anagram test was to maintain state anxiety levels during the attentional task, which lasted several minutes without interruption.

All subjects were told that anagrams would be presented one at a time on the computer screen and, when they knew the solution, they should press the yes key and then write it down on paper; otherwise they should press the no key to move to the next anagram. They were asked to solve as many as possible in 3 minutes. False feedback was then shown on the screen. Subjects under high stress were informed that they were performing well below average and, as a consequence, they had been selected to be videotaped during the main anagram task later in the session. To add credibility, video-recording equipment was present in the test room. Subjects under low stress were told that they had performed well above average and were reassured that the video equipment was not being used in this experiment.

The attention deployment task was then given with the same instructions as those used by MacLeod et al. (1986) . Subjects were asked to read aloud the top word of each word pair and to press a response button as quickly as possible whenever they saw a small dot probe. There was a short practice session before the main task. After the main task, the nature of the experiment and the reason for the deceptive feedback were fully explained. Subjects under high stress were also reassured that the feedback provided no indication of their academic ability.


Between Subjects vs Within Subjects AKA Between Group and Within Group

Between Subjects

In between subject designs, the group of participants exposed to one IV are completely different than the group of participants exposed to other Ivs. The groups are said to be unrelated or independent.

The most common between subject design has only two groups (experimental and control). The experimental group experiences some kind of experimental manipulation. The control group is identical to the experimental group in every way except the control group does not experience the experimental manipulation.

All groups in a between subject design are measured by the same DV.

Within Subjects

In within subject designs, there is usually only one group of participants.
All participants are exposed to all IVs. Each time a participant experiences an IV, it is said to be in a group for that IV. Since all IV groups are, in effect, the same people, the groups in a within subject design are called related or dependent.

All groups in a within subject design are measured by the same DV.

RULE: The DV always measures all participants no matter what the design.

Why differentiate between BETWEEN and WITHIN?

The answer has to do with control and confounding differences that we will discuss in detail later.

For now a brief introduction.

Participants inevitably differ from one another. In an experiment on children's memory, some children will remember more than others; in an experiment on depression, some subjects will be more depressed than others; in an experiment on weight control, some subjects will be heavier than others. It is simply a fact of life that subjects differ greatly.

This difference in participants matter in between-subject designs.
The difference in participants DOES NOT matter in within-subject designs.
In between-subject designs, the differences among participants is what is being compared.
These differences are uncontrolled and therefore can be biased.

In between-subject designs, random assignment is used to try to control the differences and therefore eliminate any bias. The randomizing theoretically makes one group of participants statistically equal to the other group of participants. Random assignment does a pretty good job of eliminating biases due to differences among participants, but it is not perfect.

In within-subject designs, the same participants are tested in repeatedly in all conditions.
Therefore, each participant is being compared with only him or her self and not with other participants. Therefore, differences among participants don't matter because these differences are not being looked at.

All of the on-line experiments you will do are within group.

This is because only one group did them, and each participant did all parts of the experiment. For the IV your results were compared against your other results.

IV = Positive vs Negative Wordings
Randomly assign half the class to respond true/false to only the positive wordings (i.e. is equal). The other half of the class class does only the negative wording (i.e. not equal).

IV = Many trades vs Few Trades
Randomly assign half the class to make many trades and the other half to make few trades.

Within-subjects designs are very good, but they are not perfect.

Because you need to repeatedly measure the participant's responses in within subject designs, you can get error due to this repetition (such as practice effects and fatigue effects).

For within subjects designs, you can use randomization to try to control the error due to practice effects and fatigue effects, in a similar fashion to how you use random assignment to control error in between subject designs.

What you do for within subjects designs is randomize the order of trials each participant experiences.

Another way of trying to control the error due to practice effects and fatigue effects is called counter-balancing. You may be most familiar with counter-balancing from sporting events. In football, for example, to balance out the effect of wind, teams switch sides every quarter. Thus, if the wind is consistent, each side goes into the wind the same amount of time.

In two group counter-balancing, one group is often called A and the other B.

One way of counter-balancing is to randomly assign half of your participants to do the experiment in A then B order and the other half to do it in B then A order. It is assumed that any benefit or harm created by practice or fatigue is "balanced out" by the other order.

One problem with counter-balancing is that it doesn't work if the order effects are inconsistent. For example, what if, at the football game, a big wind storm occurred during the fourth quarter? Then, the counterbalancing would not have balanced out the effect of wind.

Another problem is that it doesn't work if the order effects are more powerful for one type of order than the other. For example, if fatigue affects performance for condition A but not for condition B.

Still another problem is that counter-balancing only works if your have just 2 or 3 comparisons. When you get 4 or more comparisons, the number of conditions needed gets so large, you can only do partial counter-balancing.

GROUP 1 A1 A2 A4 A3
GROUP 2 A2 A3 A1 A4
GROUP 3 A3 A4 A2 A1
GROUP 4 A4 A1 A3 A2

So which design is better? Different researchers have different preferences. Some objective criteria are:
1) Within subject designs require less participants.
2) Between subject designs are easier to design and control
3) Within subject designs get to use more powerful statistical analyses
4) Between subject designs are easier to do with double blind.

Factorial Designs

Pure within or pure between are not the only possible designs. Another popular design is to combine within and between. These are typically called factorial designs.
The simplest is 2 x 2.

APA formatting

You must use APA formatting when you write up your method section.
The APA formatting for the Method Section is as follows.

NOTE: The formatting in the "Doing Psychology Experiments" is not always correct. It is using an old APA style. Use your APA manual.

1) Everything is double-spaced and ONLY double-spaced. Some students last quarter double double-spaced between subsections. That is NOT correct.
2) The word "Method" is centered.
3) The subsection titles are left justified and in italics. Thus, "Participants", "Apparatus and Materials", and "Procedure" are left justified and in italics.
4) The beginning of every paragraph is indented.