How to Structure Reports on Experiments in Human-Computer Interaction

Saul Greenberg
Department of Computer Science
University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada T2N 1N4


This document describes how a researcher should structure a report describing experiments in human computer interaction. The framework provided follows that of most scientific reports, where sections should: introduce the topic and problem; describe the experiment; note the key results obtained; discuss and interpret the results; and give concluding remarks. The document also indicates what archival records should be kept of the experiment.

Note: The title should be descriptive and enticing, and should be followed by the full names, contact addresses, and email address of the authors. Abstracts are typically a 100-150 word overview of experiment, results and discussion. Better abstracts summarize the key findings of the paper as well as introduce the problem.

1. Introduction

This section should give an overview of the general problem area, and should then focus on the particular problem you are going to investigate. Some things typically included in an introduction are:

You should also introduce the structure of the rest of the paper.

Please note that the recommendations provided are meant to guide, not to restrict the writer; in themselves they are not a recipe for a good paper presentation (which often depends upon the kind of experiment done). However, this structure has been tried and tested over many decades in thousands of scientific research reports.

You should also know that typesetting requirements and paper length restrictions are often set by paper solicitors (especially for conferences). You will find that your biggest problem is fitting and pruning your write-up to the few pages allowed by the publishers!

2. Description of the experiment

A critical aspect of scientific work is the ability for other researchers to replicate the experiment. This section should clearly define the problem, describe the subjects and the materials required, indicate the methodology (eg experimental design, how the experiment was run), and list any problems encountered. Depending upon your particular experiment, you may add further subsections.

2.1 Introduction and hypotheses
Introduce your experiment, and present your hypotheses.

2.2 Subjects
Indicate who your subjects are, how you obtained them, what incentives (if any) were provided, any relevant demographics, how they were divided into categories, and so on.

2.3 Materials
Describe any special apparatus used, such as programs and computers. Screen snapshots of systems are particularly useful.

2.4 Methods
Describe the method employed to run your experiment. This should include the experimental design, variables examined, how data was collected, conditions for running the subject, and so on.

2.5 Problems
Describe any problems/limitations encountered that will help other researchers avoid or account for them if they decide to replicate your experiment.

3. Results

This section is an objective report on what the numbers show. You should not try to interpret the meaning of the numbers in this section. Some of the things you may do here are:

Only critical raw data and summary statistics should be included in the actual report. However, you must keep all your raw data in a separate archival report.

4. Discussion

Interpret the results. Although you should still try to be as objective as possible, the discussion section should illuminate your critical thinking about the results. Explain what the statistics mean, account for anomalies, and so on.

4.1 Interpretation of results
Discuss what you believe the results really mean. For example, if you find a significant difference for some effect, what does that mean to the hypothesis? Is the different seen an important one?

4.2 Relation to other works
How do the results youíve obtained relate to other research findings?

4.3 Impact for practitioners
As computer scientists, we are particularly concerned with the implications of our findings on practitioners. Should existing interface constructs be designed differently or used in a new context? Do you have suggestions for new designs? How can the findings be generalized?

4.4 Critical reflection
Critical reflection is one of the key foundations of science. You should criticize your work (constructively, if possible), indicate possible flaws, mitigating circumstances, the limits to generalization, conditions under which you would expect your findings to be reversed, and so on.

4.5 Research agenda
The best experiments suggest new avenues of exploration. In this section, you should reflect and refine your hypotheses, describe new hypotheses, and suggest future research, ie research that you would do if you continued along this path.

5. Conclusions

Summarize the report, and speculate on what is to come.

Acknowledgements. This section should give thanks to the major people (supervisors, associates) and organizations (sponsoring agencies, funders) that helped you. For example,, I would like to thank Ben Shneiderman, whose report framework was used to build this one.


This list should contain only papers that have been cited in text. Citations should be in a standard form, and should include all citation information. An example citation is given below (Greenberg 1991).

Greenberg, S. (ed.) (1991) Computer supported cooperative work and groupware. In Computer and People Series, London, Academic Press.

Appendix: Archival report

The archival report is a separate report that contains all the artifacts of the experiment: raw materials, notes, statistical printouts, preliminary results, and so on. You should treat is as a true detailed record of what you and your associates actually did. This record will help you (and others) reconstruct the experiment and its conditions, look for any errors (if you suspect something went wrong later on), and further explore the data set if new ideas come out. You should also treat it as records available for auditing; if someone wants to go over your raw work, they should be able to. Typical sections are described below.

A. Experimental materials
This section should include location of programs, instructions,questionnaires, test materials, transcripts of sessions, photos of screen presentations if required, etc.

B. Pilot study results
Include your preliminary experiment, what you did and saw, how and why you modified the experiment.

C. Raw Data
Include raw data elicited from subjects, verbal comments from subjects, videotapes, etc. You should also consider including your notes here. Large amounts of data are best kept on magnetic media (eg tape). Public data should be available on ftp for replication purposes.

D. Statistical runs from computer
Include printouts of your statistical analyses.

E. Experimental consent forms
Include proof that your subjects consented to do the experiment, and any other relevant documentation.