In this tutorial, we’re going to talk about the kind of papers you will be expected to write in psychology classes and some general tips for good writing in psychology.
The information in this tutorial comes from the writing centers at the University of Richmond and Purdue University.
Psychology writing may expect you to do one or more of the following:
To summarize information accurately,
To synthesize information from different sources,
To interpret the validity of different sources,
Or to present your own findings in a research article.
There are four different types of psychology papers reflecting these expectations: reports, reviews, literature reviews, and research articles.
Let’s talk about each one of these in turn.
In a report, you present information from a single source.
You should focus on summarizing the author’s argument, not assessing it or stating whether you agree or disagree.
While you do not need to write the traditional five-paragraph essay, the report should have a logical introduction, body, and conclusion.
Your conclusion may explore how the source relates to other research or to the “real world.”
In a review, you analyze and critique the argument of a single source.
You must summarize the author’s argument as you would do in a report, and then offer evidence as to why you agree or disagree with each point.
Your evidence may be logical or it may require more research on your part.
The conclusion should discuss wider implications and suggest which topics require more research.
A literature review is one of the most common types of writing in psychology and many other disciplines, so you need to learn how to write it well.
In a literature review, you present arguments and theories from many different sources on a single topic.
You must also evaluate the arguments, compare and contrast the sources, and present all the information in a logical fashion.
So a literature review is basically the same as a review, except you will be writing about and integrating your thoughts on many different sources.
This means you will need to search for various books, articles, and websites that offer different perspectives on one issue.
The issue you choose should be narrow so you can adequately discuss the major sources that talk about it.
For example, learning disabilities would be too broad a topic for a literature review.
You might instead write about the pros and cons of a certain therapy or medication for treating a specific type of learning disability.
Finally, the largest and most comprehensive type of writing in psychology is the lab report or research article.
A research article has 7 main sections:
The title page includes your paper’s title, your name, the name of your college or university, and a type of header called a “Running head” that goes throughout your entire paper.
The abstract summarizes the entire paper usually in 120 words or less.
The introduction provides an explanation of the problem you are investigating and usually includes a literature review on what other experts have said on the problem.
You should specify how your research responds to these experts and fills a gap in knowledge.
Finally, you should introduce your hypothesis and the variables, populations, and methods you use in your study.
The methods section explains how you conducted the experiment, who it was conducted on, and with what materials.
Descriptions of participants and testing procedures should be clear, concise, and not refer to the results of your study.
The results section gives the specific data resulting from your study.
This will often be in the form of statistics, tables, and figures with some commentary.
The discussion section is your extended commentary on your data and a restatement of your findings.
You should examine patterns in your data, discuss any conclusions you made, and describe what steps could be taken to improve your study.
You should close with a discussion of why your study is relevant to the larger issue you brought up in your introduction.
Finally, you end with your list of references.
Every source you mention in your article must have a full citation in APA style corresponding to an in-text citation in your paper.
All your sources should be scholarly and relatively recent, unless they are classic, important works in the field.
Let’s close with some general tips for good psychology writing in any type of paper.
You should write in plan, concise, and clear language.
Psychology writing is formal, scientific, and focused on empirical evidence. It is not the place to tell stories, inject humor, or employ creative literary devices.
This means your arguments must result from a consideration of the evidence, not from examples, narratives, or opinions.
Finally, remember to always use APA formatting style from the American Psychological Association.