General Tips for Writing in PsychologyWriter's Web
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Keep Your Focus

As Shaparenko (2005) discusses in her article, "Focus on Focus," successful writing is both focused and clear. In contrast to the flowery and sometimes superfluous language used in literary writing, scientific writing should be direct and concise. To keep this focus in mind, reread each paragraph in your paper, identify the main idea, and then verify that the content in that paragraph is needed to support the main idea (ie. take out unnecessary information). It is crucial that you incorporate background information, such as past studies related to your experiment (note: experiment and study will be used interchangeably on this web page). That said, you must also contribute your own voice, which should be clearly identifiable, by interpreting, analyzing, and/or further developing the information you use. Remember to cite your sources; in psychology, the appropriate citation format is APA (American Psychological Association) style. Refer to the section labeled "How to Cite Using the APA Format" to learn how to cite your sources using the APA style.

Your first draft should never be your last! After finishing your first draft, take a day or so away from your writing to look at it again with "fresh eyes." Your professors can tell when your paper is rushed. When looking over your paper again, The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors suggests some points of consideration on your draft:

  • Did you follow through on points made in your thesis (or for a research paper, does your discussion follow through on points addressed in your introduction and hypothesis)?
  • Did you offer enough supporting details and evidence to support your claims?
  • Did you explain the relationship between ideas?
  • Did you follow the organizational scheme relevant o your assignment? (APA has specific organizational requirements for research papers, but projects like single-source reviews or reports may have requirements given by your professor).
  • Did you consider your audience?

To help weed out sentence-level errors, try reading your paper aloud. When reading silently you will often miss small errors because your brain corrects them automatically. Reading aloud will help you notice missing words or confusingly-structured sentences because you hear your voice speaking the words rather than hearing what you expect the words to be in your mind.

Want some extra advice on your writing?

The University of Richmond has a great Writing Center whose Consultants can help you through your writing process. Whether you'd like our Consultants to review and offer suggestions on a completed draft, some ideas on how to continue a paper you've already started, or even just some help in figuring out what you should write to begin with, our Writing Consultants would be happy to meet with you. Check out the Writing Center Webpage to make an appointment to see a Writing Consultant for your next assignment!

The Writing Center website is also home to Writer's Web, a free, public-access writing handbook with tips and explanations that may be helpful to you.

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