Getting Started with Writing in Psychology
Often, the goal of writing in psychology is to analyze previous studies and integrate findings from those studies into current theoretical literature. By doing so, as an author you suggest to the academic community what conclusions might be made about "how the mind works," where research should go in the future, or things the public could do to improve such fields as mental health, or education, or criminal justice. Before you even begin writing, it helps to have that idea in mind, so that when you read and prewrite you are thinking about synthesizing the information from previous studies rather than just repeating their conclusions.
The Literature Review
Because writing in this field is very direct (meaning you can't write a "fluffy" paper and get a good grade) it's very important to have an organized set of notes for the studies you read. Hjortshoj (2009) reminds us that good notes don't have to record every detail, but should give you an outline of the reading that helps you "reconstruct" the text days, weeks, or months later (p. 22-23). This is important when writing a longer research paper, because you will save yourself time looking up the source for a factoid you know you remember but can't quite put an author and date to.
A helpful method of note-taking for studies with an experimental design is to summarize or put in bullets the key points from the four main sections of the paper (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion). Dr. Bishop from the UR biology department has also compiled a list of questions to ask yourself when reading a scientific article, to glean the most important points out of often dense texts.
A helpful method of note-taking for studies with an experimental design is to summarize or put in bullets the key points from the four main sections of the paper (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion). Dr. Bishop from the UR biology department has also compiled a list of questions to ask yourself when reading a scientific article, to glean the most important points out of often dense texts.If you plan on taking higher-level psychology classes, it may be helpful for you to download a pdf. reader and organizing software for your computer, such as readcube or Mendeley. These applications are free to use and allow you to quickly search through a saved cache of journal articles in case you need to look up something you didn't thoroughly explain in your notes. Mendeley also has a helpful tool to create your own bibliographies straight from the pdf.'s-- however, always make sure the citations conform to current APA format.
Outlining and Developing your Thesis
It's easy to get bogged down in facts and figures from previous research when writing a research paper or thesis. Constructing a basic framework for your paper helps tremendously with keeping your writing concise and directly related to your central topic.One point to keep in mind before trying to make an outline is what the thesis of your paper is. As you probably learned in English class at some point, a thesis is the "governing claim" to a paper, which encapsulates the essential point the author is trying to impart. Within the context of psychology, your thesis should be whatever prediction or conclusion you want to make about the data you will present in your paper. This would obviously change given the type of writing you are doing. In general, your thesis is your novel contribution to the research literature.
For instance, are you describing the results of a study/set of studies? Then your thesis could be your initial hypothesis about the data. This is because your hypothesis is the capstone to all of the previous studies you researched and their conclusions about whatever topic you're investigating. In our section "Lab Report Format and Style" we discuss in-depth what each section of a lab report (and therefore the standard empirical journal article) should have. Are you doing a review of the current literature on therapy techniques for a certain type of disorder? Then your thesis could be whatever main conclusion you want to put forth given your review and comparison of the different techniques.
Carson, Fama and Clancey (2008) suggest the following frameworks for constructing a thesis:
Pre-Writing StrategiesBelow are some techniques you can use for organizing your thoughts in consctructing a coherent and concise piece of scientific writing.
And of course-- don't be afraid to ask for help!
Hjortshoj, K. (2009). The transition to college writing. NY: Bedford/St. Martins.
Carson, S. H., Jama, J. & Clancy, K. (2008). Writing for psychology: A guide for psychology concentrators. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.