Psychology Writing Guide
Compiled by Andrew Ward, Barry Schwartz, and Jeanne Merecek
- You're NOT going to earn any points for jargon. Any psych professor at Swarthmore will not only be unimpressed by the fancy terms you can throw around, they're liable to assume you're using them because you don't know that material . Make sure your essay clearly shows that you, not the author you're citing, understand the material.
- Unlike what you might have been taught in your English classes, variety in your word choice is not usually something that is desirable when writing your psych paper. If you're describing the same thing, say it the same way. One of the most common complaints from psych professors after reading a batch of intro (or even advanced) papers is the lengths students go to find creative synonyms. This makes your paper needlessly confusing and does not add to your argument.
- There's nothing that says you can't use the first person. Most professors would tell you that if it makes your point clearer or easier to understand, the first person is fine to use. Be aware, however, that there are some professors who prefer that psychology papers follow a more scientific format, in which the first person is avoided. To err on the side of caution, you should find out your professor's preference before you write.
- Eliminate needless words. There's no need (ever) to say "it is important to note that" or "the fact that." Just say what you mean. Also, don't say, "In this paper I intend to show...." Just show it. If you eliminate all the fluff, your argument will be clearer, more concise, and easier to understand. And your professor will be happier, too.
- Use APA citations: If you are citing a work by a single author, use the surname (do not include suffixes such as Jr.) and the year of publication separated by a comma in parentheses: "ln a recent study of reaction time (Rogers, 1994)...". If you have just stated the author's name in the text, put only the year of of publication in parentheses: "Peplau (1985) defines loneliness as a difference between desired and achieved social relationships." If you are citing a work with two authors, always cite both names every time the reference occurs in text: "Loneliness is inversely related to communication competence (Reinking & Bell, 1991)." If you are including a quotation or referring to a specific part of the source, list the page number(s) after the year: "A lack of career success may lower men's value in the marketplace of relationships" (Reinking & Bell ,1991 , p. 368)."
- Do not use footnotes. Unlike the authors of typical sociology or political science papers, psychologists do not favor footnotes. If the information is important enough to include in your paper, just include it in the body of the paper. lf not, don't include it.
- Datum is singular; data is plural. Use them correctly!
- In psychology, both "affect" and "effect" can be used as either a noun or a verb. Use them correctly. 99% of the time, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun. If you want to make a statement like "the psychopharmaceuticals affected the patient's affect," be absolutely sure of what you're saying!
- Avoid imprecise language. The major player in this is the passive voice. When you use it, use it wisely and cautiously.
- Watch out for misplaced modifiers. For some reason, psych papers seems to draw these out of people.