How to write psychology research paper

how to write a psychology critique paper developmental psychology paper and also what is organizational psychology paper
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Published Date:16-07-2017
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Harvard Writing Center College WITIN r C g eNT B er rIF e UI g de SerIS e A Brief Guide to Writing the Psychology Paper or predicted data, which we call an empirical paper, or The Challenges of Writing in Psychology a summary of other people’s research, which we call a Psychology writing, like writing in the other sciences, literature review. These two types of papers follow the is meant to inform the reader about a new idea, theory same writing conventions, though their format is slightly or experiment. Toward this end, academic psychologists different. For both types of papers it is useful to think of emphasize the importance of clarity and brevity in writing Daryl Bem’s (2003) metaphor of an hourglass—you start while minimizing descriptive language and complex out with a broad introduction, then you narrow your sentence structure. The best writers of psychology have focus so that it gets closer and closer to your specific topic the ability to make complex ideas understandable to and point, and then toward the end you start to broaden people outside of their area of expertise. the paper again to focus on the big picture. This structure allows the writer to provide context for the paper’s central When you write a psychology paper, you are, above all, point. Remember: You need both a topic and a point; writing to convey factual knowledge that is supported even in a literature review, it’s not enough simply to by research. You are striving to be precise, and thus you reiterate what you’ve read – you need to add something should expect every word you write to be read literally. of your own, some insight or perspective. The context Psychology writing can be very dense, with many should allow the reader both to understand why what you references to previous research. Writers of psychology write is important and to understand your contribution. If almost never directly quote a source. Instead, they distill you aren’t sure how much context is appropriate to offer the essence of the idea or finding, and cite the appropriate in your introduction, you should ask your instructor. source. In the humanities, writers may repeat words or phrases for emphasis; in psychology writers rarely repeat words and phrases, and when they do so it is only to aid in Research Summary/Literature Review clarity. The primary goal of a research summary or literature review paper is to synthesize research on a topic in Common Types of Psychology Papers psychology while also shedding a new light on that topic. Writing a literature review paper involves first doing Research psychologists engage in a variety of kinds of substantial research both online and in the library. The writing, including grant proposals, research applications goal of your research should be not just to find all of the and renewals, review articles, research articles, and relevant articles on the topic, but also to evaluate those textbooks. sources. Reliable sources in psychology are generally As a student, you are most likely to be asked to write one those that have been peer-reviewed by other experts in of two types of papers, either a report of your own actual the field prior to publication. (see Sources section below Harvard College Writing Program Faculty of Arts and Sciences Harvard Universityfor more information). When you are writing a literature divided into six parts, indicated by subheadings: 2 review, you should not rely on other research summaries; • Abstract The abstract is a summary (usually 150 rather you should go to original sources. Original sources words or fewer) that provides the reader a framework are empirical sourcesthose that report research findings for what is to come. The abstract should appear on a for the first time. separate page and should summarize each of the paper’s After reviewing the research on your topic, you will want sections in a sentence or two. The abstract should be to come up with a thesis statement for your paper. Your comprehensible even if the reader never actually reads thesis statement should present some conclusion about the full paper. the research on that topic—a statement that summarizes, • Introduction The introduction should begin on integrates, or reinterprets the data. Your thesis may be, for the page after the abstract, and should not be labeled example, a theory that explains why two sets of research with a subheading. In the introduction you provide seem contradictory or a theory of how two seemingly your reader with information about what question you disparate research traditions are relevant to one another. have tackled (or plan to tackle) and how that question Literature reviews are not divided into a fixed set of relates to other work in the field. You should focus on specific sections, but you should use sub-headings when explaining why the question is important, summarizing introducing new topic areas within a paper. At the very the history of the question, and describing previous least a good research summary should include a clear theories and data that are relevant to the study you will introduction, a body in which the evidence is presented, describe. Finally, you should present the hypothesis and a discussion. Here are some questions to consider as that you have tested (or will test) in your study. You you draft your research summary: should also note alternative possible answers to the question you raise, and indicate how your study will • Introduction Why is this topic important? What is allow you to garner support for the hypothesis and at the history of this topic? What are the related theories the same time rule out the alternative possibilities. A or findings? What is your claim or thesis statement? study that will produce results that are consistent with • Body What is the evidence that supports your claim? all possible hypotheses is of no interest. What evidence runs contrary to your claim and how do • Method The method section explains how the study you reconcile that with your claim? The body of your was conducted (or how it will be conducted). This paper should describe the research that has previously section details the study’s participants, the materials been done on this topic, as well as any controversies or used in the study, and the procedure the participants alternate opinions. At each stage of your discussion, followed (or will follow) in the study. The format for you should relate the evidence you present to the major the method section is specified in the APA style guide. conclusions you are trying to make. You should include enough details so that another • Discussion/Conclusion/Implications – What is person could replicate your study precisely, without your final conclusion? What questions remain? What consulting you. does your conclusion mean for other people’s theories • Results/Predicted Results What did the study or explanations? In this final section you will want to find or what do you expect it will find? In this section synthesize the findings you described in the body into a your job is to provide the evidence that psychologists succinct summary. You should return to the issues that like best—data. In addition to detailing the results you raised in the introduction, and close the loop. You of the study, you will need to describe any steps you should also discuss the possible implications of your took in cleaning up the data (e.g., removing outliers, argument for existing theories and for everyday life. computing composite variables), the analyses used, and the results of those analyses. For a proposal you still Empirical Paper or Research Proposal need to describe how you will clean the data and what analyses you will conduct. Sometimes, for proposals, An empirical paper or proposal should describe a proposed professors will want you to speculate about what the or completed study in enough detail to demonstrate what results will look like. Present first the results that bear question the research was designed to answer, what else directly on your hypothesis, and always present the is known about the topic (which makes it clear why your descriptive statistics (typically means and standard errors study is needed and important), exactly what was done of the mean, often in a graph) along with the inferential or will be done in the experiment, and what the findings statistics (such as tests of an analysis of variance). do or will mean to the field. Your senior thesis will be an empirical paper; in some courses you will be asked to • Discussion In the discussion section, your main job design a research study but not to conduct the research. is to synthesize the results and offer your conclusions. This is a research proposal. This type of paper tends to be What do these results mean? How do these findings relate to the research you discussed in the introduction? 3 Sources used by Psychologists Do they support your hypothesis and rule out the other Most of your sources for psychology papers will be alternative answers to the question you asked? How do empirical reports found in journals, though you may also you explain any discrepancies between your predictions cite literature reviews, chapters, or books from time to and your findings? What are the implications of time. If you look at the reference section of your paper your findings? How does what you found support or and the majority of your references are secondary reports contradict established or provisional theories? What are of data, such as chapters and books, you will probably the real world implications for your findings? need to find more original empirical papers. It is important • References Your reference section should begin on to rely directly on empirical papers because when you a new page after the discussion section. The format cite from other authors’ summaries, you are asking your for your reference page is laid out by the American reader to gamble that the person whom you are citing Psychological Association (APA). You should consult understood and correctly represented the finding in the APA style manual for specific guidelines. question. On rare occasions it is not possible to find an original source, and in these rare occasions you will have to cite the secondary source. But in general, overuse of A Psychologist’s Use of Evidence secondary sources is considered sloppy scholarship. In psychology, evidence for one’s conclusions should One way to locate primary or empirical sources is to look rely on data, rather than people’s opinions. For example, up some of the empirical papers that your summary papers in order to conclude that Americans’ attitudes toward cite as a starting point. Whenever possible, you should gay rights have become more liberal, you would have to cite articles from peer-reviewed journals. “Peer-reviewed” rely on empirical demonstrations of the liberalization of means that a journal requires that an article be reviewed attitudes. You might say something like “Previous research by experts in the field before it is published. Findings that has demonstrated that attitudes toward gay rights have have not been published in peer-reviewed journals run a become more liberal over the last two decades (Jones, risk of having flawed methods, statistics, or conclusions. 2006; Smith, 1999)” or “In a 30-year longitudinal survey, You will likely search for articles either on PsycINFO or Smith (1999) found that attitudes toward gay rights Google Scholar. Both search engines provide information became more liberal.” On the other hand, a statement on how many times an article has been cited by other like “Smith argues that ‘attitudes toward gay rights scholars. In general, an article that has been cited many have liberalized over the last two decades’” would not times will be considered more central to the field than one be considered evidence in a psychology paper because that has not been cited. Of course, if a paper has only been psychologists do not consider opinions or direct quotations published recently, it will not yet have been cited multiple to constitute evidence unless they are accompanied by times. substantial empirical evidence. It is certainly acceptable to cite an opinion as a starting point for a discussion or as The citation of sources is very important in psychology. a claim that requires further examination; however, it is For all papers you will write for courses, you will use not acceptable to use opinions as evidence. For example, APA style. The best way to learn APA style is to buy the a philosopher may have argued that morality is innate. latest edition of the Publication Manual of the American You could cite this argument even if the philosopher did Psychological Association. This book is updated every not have data to back up the claim as long as you make it few years with guidelines for how to cite papers. Some clear that you are citing an opinion (e.g., you could state websites also describe APA format, but these websites may “Smith (2004) argues that morality is innate, which raises not be updated when new editions of the APA manual are a question for further research” but you could not state published. “Morality is innate (Smith, 2004).”) . Similarly, statements such as “Hurricane Katrina was a disaster” should not be stated as facts in a research paper. Ideally, such statements would be more specific (e.g., “Hurricane Katrina resulted in thousands of deaths, which researchers have attributed to the ineffective response by the U.S. government (Anderson, 2007; Williams, 2006).”). Even if the statement is something you (and your professor) personally believe, you cannot state it as fact unless there are data to serve as evidence.FOR FURThER READInG 4 CoNveNTIoNS oF WrITINg IN PSyCHology Although psychologists will to adolescent self-esteem is • Avoid jargon or overly unusual generally agree on the writing preferable to Frank wrote, “Our words except when it is absolutely conventions below, it is always results indicate that adolescent necessary. a good idea to check with your self-esteem is directly attributable • Be succinct and avoid wordiness. instructor about expectations for a to peer evaluations and scholastic • Use headings and subheadings. specific assignment. achievement.” • Always include a title for your • Avoid surprises. Psychologists • Use bias-free language. paper. like to be led through a paper Psychologists use bias-free without major surprises along the language, which typically means • The words “I” and “We” should way. This means being very clear that they refer to people as those always refer to the authors about what points you’re trying people refer to themselves (for of a paper and not to people to make and always showing how more information see the APA in general. You should check new evidence or theories relate Publication Guide). For example, with your instructor if you have to the bigger point of a paper. questions about using the first ° Do not use the male pronoun One easy way to remember this person as use of the first person is as a generic. Use he or she, his is to think that your reader wants not encouraged in APA style. or hers, etc. to know where you’re going in • Use active rather than passive ° Use phrases such as “people the intro, where you are during voice. with autism” rather than your presentation of evidence “autistics” and where you’ve been in your • Use the word “participants” rather discussion. than ”subjects” ° Use the phrases “gay men and lesbians” rather than • Avoid direct quotations. • The word data is a plural word “homosexuals” Psychologists seldom use direct (e.g., The data were…). Datum is quotes. Rather, they distill the the singular form of data. ° Don’t define people by what essence (not paraphrase, in they aren’t. For example, the sense of just re-arranging don’t say non-White. Instead, the words) the statements of say what people are, other researchers and cite those e.g., “Asian” or “African researchers’ work. American.” Keep in mind that not all people of African For example, Frank (1982) heritage are Americans and demonstrates that peer thus African-American is not a evaluations and performance in synonym for Black. school are the main contributors • Bem, Daryl J. (2003). Writing the empirical journal article. In J. Darley, M. Zanna, & H. Roediger, III (Eds.), The Compleat Academic: A career guide (2nd ed.) (pp. 185-219). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (also available at • American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.) Washington, DC: APA. Special thanks to Laura Chivers, Dan Gilbert, Mahzarin Banaji, Erin Hannon, Marc Hauser, Stephen Kosslyn, and Jane Rosenzweig. Copyright 2008, Kristina Olson and C.A. Meyersburg for the Harvard College Writing Center

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