Tips for Writing About Psychology Research
Common writing errors to avoid and my most crucial advice!
- Quotations – use sparingly (if at all)
- APA style – follow it (for both in-text and Reference section)! The Purdue Owl site provides the basics
- Rely largely on peer reviewed empirical articles (not dissertations, book chapters, internet reports)
- Your outline and integrated analysis of the literature should drive your writing. Your paper should be a narrative that makes a series of points. You should not write a paper in which each paragraph summarizes a single research article
- Cite often – if the statement that you’re making isn’t common knowledge, you need to cite
- Make sure that you understand what you’re writing
- Whenever possible you should be reading entire articles – not just abstract, or a summary in another paper
- Read your paper aloud to yourself – this is a great way to catch errors and make sure that the grammar and content make sense
- Make an appointment with the ARC to read and edit your paper
- Re-write and revise and re-write. You should expect to write many many many drafts (I know – it’s a tremendous amount of work, but I promise that it pays off!)
Tips for Writing About Psychology Research
Step 1: Read and Critically Analyze the Research
- Skim the Abstracts and Titles: Research your topic on PsychInfo. Do many searches using multiple variations on your search terms to find all the articles relevant to your topic. Skim the titles and abstracts to see which articles are most related to your topic.
- Read Relevant Articles: Read the articles that are most relevant to your topic, paying close attention to the introduction sections of the articles. Especially helpful are recently written review articles related to your topic. Both will give you an understanding of the current research on the topic along with the gaps in current knowledge. Skim these articles and look up the useful resources the authors cite in their articles. Often, one or two related articles can give you access to most of the relevant resources of use to you.
- Create an Annotated Bibliography: While reading your articles, create an annotated bibliography of the relevant articles you found. An annotated bibliography consists of the article reference information and 2-4 sentences describing why the article is useful to you. This will help you organize your articles when it comes time to write your first draft.
Step 2: Create an Outline
- Create a Thesis Statement: Based on your reading, determine what you want to say about your topic. Create a strong thesis statement that clearly states the main point of your entire paper. This will probably be the last sentence of your introductory paragraph.
- Create Supporting Statements: Based on your reading, which ideas did you find in the research that help support your thesis statement? Do not structure your supporting paragraphs around each article; instead, structure each paragraph around a single idea/argument, which may have multiple articles in support of that argument. Note: Include in your outline which citations help support each idea.
- Introduction & Conclusion: Remember that every good paper includes an introduction and conclusion.
Step 3: Write a First Draft
- Hour Glass Shape: Every good paper follows an “hour glass shape” meaning that your introduction should start very broad and introduce the reader to the topics significance or relevance. Then get more and more specific in the body of your paper. At the conclusion, broaden your focus back out by summarizing your main thesis and arguments presents, and discuss its broader implications.
- Topic Sentences: New paragraphs should be formed when a new idea is being introduced and when there is a naturally occurring change in the content. Have clear topic sentences at the beginning of each supporting paragraph. Do not start a paragraph by talking about a specific study. Instead, write a topic sentence. For example: “Research has examined the role of social support in the management of schizophrenia and found that those with strong social support are more likely to stay adherent to their medications. For example, Smith and Forest (2007) conducted a study of…”
- Organization: The organization of your paper needs to be clear and make sense based upon the
content you are presenting. There needs to be a clear organizational strategy. Use organizers
(“First”, “Second”, “Third”, “Finally,”) to present a series of ideas or findings. Subheadings
enhance organization within a paper. Attend to transitions between sections (at the very least
between major sections).
- Third Person Voice: Since the paper is probably not focused on your experience of finding each article, do not write in the first person voice (e.g., “The first article I found was by Smith and Forest (2007)…I found this interesting because…”). Instead write in the third person voice (e.g., “Smith and Forest (2007) conducted a study of…These findings suggest…”).
- APA Style: Use APA style format when writing the paper. Please use APA style in-text citations and an APA style reference page. Here is a good website for how to use APA style: .
- Reference Page
- Start a new page with the word “References” centered at the top of the page
- Double space your reference page
- Alphabetized by last name
- Use initials of first and middle names. Only write out last names
- Separate multiple authors with commas and the last author with an “&” not “and”
- After the author(s) comes the year (in parentheses and followed by a period)
- For the title of a journal article, only capitalize the first letter of the first word of the title. If there is a colon in the title, only capitalize the first letter of the first word after the colon
- For a journal reference, italicize the title of the journal, volume number, and adjacent punctuation marks with a single unbroken line. Capitalize the important words of the journal title (see example reference page below)
- For a book reference, just italicize the title. Only capitalize the first word of the title. Do include the city (if there are multiple cities, use the closest city), state (use the two letter U.S. postal abbreviation), and the publisher’s name
- Text citations
- Source material must be documented in the body of the paper by citing the author(s) and year(s) of the sources. The underlying principle here is that ideas and words of others must be formally acknowledged. The reader can obtain the full source citation from the list of references that follows the body of the paper.
- There are numerous ways to formally cite a reference in the text. Examples include: Some fact (last name, year). Or, Last name (year) found that…. Or, In year, (last name) reported that…
- When the names of the authors of a source are part of the formal structure of the sentence, the year of publication appears in parentheses following the identification of the authors. Consider the following example:
- Reference Page
Wirth and Mitchell (1994) found that although there was a reduction in insulin dosage over a period of two weeks in the treatment condition compared to the control condition, the difference was not statistically significant.
[Note: and is used when multiple authors are identified as part of the formal structure of the sentence. Compare this to the example in the following section.]
- When the authors of a source are not part of the formal structure of the sentence, both the authors and years of publication appear in parentheses, separated by semicolons, in alphabetical order. Consider the following example:
Reviews of research on religion and health have concluded that at least some types of religious behaviors are related to higher levels of physical and mental health (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Koenig, 1990; Levin & Vanderpool, 1991; Maton & Pargament, 1987; Paloma & Pendleton, 1991; Payne, Bergin, Bielema, & Jenkins, 1991).
[Note: & is used when multiple authors are identified in parenthetical material. Note also that when several sources are cited parenthetically, they are ordered alphabetically by the first authors’ surnames.]
- When a source that has two authors is cited, both authors are included every time the source is cited.
- When a source that has three to five authors is cited, all authors are included the first time the source is cited. When that source is cited again, the first author’s surname and “et al.” are used. Consider the following example:
First time cited: Reviews of research on religion and health have concluded that at least some types of religious behaviors are related to higher levels of physical and mental health (Payne, Bergin, Bielema, & Jenkins, 1991).
Second (& third, & fourth, etc.) time cited:
Payne et al. (1991) found that …
- When a source that has six or seven authors is cited, the first author’s surname and “et al.” are used every time the source is cited (including the first time). In the reference section, list all authors.
- When a source that has eight or more authors is cited, the first author’s surname and “et al.” are used every time the source is cited (including the first time). In the reference section, after the sixth author’s name, use ellipses (…) in place of the authors’ names, and then list the final author name. There should be no more than seven names.
- Using quotations
- When a direct quotation is used, always include the author, year, and page number as part of the citation.
- A quotation of fewer than 40 words should be enclosed in double quotation marks and should be incorporated into the formal structure of the sentence. Example:
Patients receiving prayer had “less congestive heart failure, required less diuretic and antibiotic therapy, had fewer episodes of pneumonia, had fewer cardiac arrests, and were less frequently intubated and ventilated” (Byrd, 1988, p. 829).
- A lengthier quotation of 40 or more words should appear (without quotation marks) as a free-standing block of text indented 5 spaces from the left margin (doubles spaced as usual). Omit the quotation marks and include the page number in parentheses after the last period. Also, if the quotation is more than one paragraph, indent the first line of the second and any additional paragraphs 5 spaces.
- Focus on the Ideas, Not the Articles: Write about the ideas that are supported by the research, not about the authors or the articles. Each paragraph should focus on one main idea which is supported by one or multiple research studies.
- DO NOT focus each paragraph around each research article. Often papers that require three references will have three paragraphs, each summarizing what each reference said. Do not do this. Instead, focus each paragraph around a single idea, which may have multiple references in support of it.
- DO NOT use quotes (e.g., “The authors found ‘no significant difference between the exposure treatment and control group in a sample of children with panic disorder’”.) Psychologists are not interested in the specific words that are used in the article; they are interested in the ideas that the research supports. Summarize the research findings instead of using direct quotes (e.g., Glass and Kline (2010) conducted a study of the effectiveness of exposure therapy on panic disorder in children and found that exposure therapy was not effective at reducing panic symptoms.)
- DO NOT include the full names of the authors or the titles of the studies (e.g., Mark Smith and Jennifer Glass (2009) conducted a study of…). Cite your paper using APA style in-text citations (“Smith and Glass (2009) conducted a study of…”).
- DO NOT include the entire abstract of the study in your paragraph. Only include information that helps support your main argument to your reader. (For example, “Smith and Glass (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of the various therapies used to treat panic disorder and found behavioral therapies to be the only effective treatments at reducing panic symptoms.”)
- DO NOT use the word “prove”. Research findings “suggest”, “imply”, “support” and “indicate”, but they do not “prove” that something is true.
Step 4: Rewrite and Edit
- Re-Read and Edit: When you have written your first draft, give yourself at least a day away from the paper and then re-read it. You should find yourself needing to clarify or re-write some sections of the paper. All good writers need to write multiple drafts.
- Have Someone Else Read the Second Draft: Ask a friend who is a strong writer to read your second draft and make suggestions. Better yet, bring it to the ARC to have someone read your paper.
EXAMPLE FIRST PAGE OF A RESEARCH PAPER:
AUTHENTICITY IN RELATIONSHIPS 1
Authenticity in Relationships and Depressive Symptoms:
A Gender Analysis
Authenticity in relationships is defined as the ability to be open and honest in meaningful relationships….
(Note that you repeat the title instead of using the word Introduction)
The first article I found was in European Eating Disorders Review and was entitled “Family‐based early intervention for anorexia nervosa”. It was written by Megan Jones in 2012. She said, “this study explores whether potential risk factors for anorexia nervosa (AN) can be modified by a family‐based Internet‐facilitated intervention and examines the feasibility, acceptability, and short‐term efficacy of the Parents Act Now program in the USA and Germany.” Forty‐six girls aged 11–17 were studied during a 12‐month period and evaluated at screening, baseline, and post‐intervention. Parents participated in the six‐week intervention. Twenty‐four per cent of girls (n = 791) screened met the risk criteria for AN. Parents accessed the majority of the online sessions and rated the program favorably. An ANOVA was conducted and yielded significant results. At post‐assessment, 16 of 19 participants evidenced reduced risk status. Participants remained stable or increased in ideal body weight and reported decreased eating disorder attitudes and behaviors. Results suggest that an easily disseminated, brief, online program with minimal therapist support is feasible, accepted favorably by parents, and may be beneficial for prevention of exacerbation of AN pathology. I thought this was a really interesting article because it was the first one I read that found that you can use the internet to treat disorders.
Research suggests that new technologies can be used to treat individuals with anorexia. For example, Jones (2012) examined the effectiveness of a six-week family-based treatment for anorexia which was conducted entirely online. Eating disordered attitudes and behaviors were assessed pre- and post-intervention and found that the online intervention was effective at reducing eating disorder risk. This finding suggests that internet-based interventions may be effective at reducing eating disorder symptoms.
EXAMPLE REFERENCE PAGE:
Mash, E. J., & Wolfe, D. A. (2009). Abnormal child psychology (4th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishers.
Power, M. J. (1988). Stress-buffering effects of social support: A longitudinal study. Motivation and Emotion, 12, 197-204.
Turner, R. J., & Turner, J. B. (1999). Social integration and support. In C. S. Aneshensel & J. C. Phelan (Eds.), Handbook of the sociology of mental health (pp. 301-319). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Tutty, L. M., Bidgood, B. A., & Rothery, M. A. (1993). Support groups for battered women: Research on their efficacy. Journal of Family Violence, 8(5), 325 – 343.
Yegidis, B. L. (1992). Family violence: Contemporary research findings and practice issues. Community Mental Health Journal, 28, 519 – 530.
Book: (Mash & Wolfe, 2009)
Journal article (1st time cited): (Power, 1988; Tutty, Bidgood, & Rothery, 1993; Yegidis, 1992)
Journal article (2nd time cited): (Power, 1988; Tutty et al., 1993; Yegidis, 1992)
Book chapter: (Turner & Turner, 1999)