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How to write a Psychology essay

Info: 1310 words (5 pages) Study Guide
Published: 13th May 2020

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The organisation and process of writing the psychology essay is essentially the same as any other requiring careful planning, comprehensive research, research analysis, and secondary research and analysis before you begin your writing. Once your topic is well researched you can begin outlining and then writing the actual essay. After you write, follow-up steps include review and editing. 

How the psychology essay is different than others

Psychology essays are more likely to query your understanding of a specific reaction or situation your instructor is emphasising; for example the role genetics play when combined with environmental issues related to the two hit theory of schizophrenia by assigning an essay on the neurological antecedents associated with schizophrenia. Psychological essays are also more likely to ask for your interpretation and opinion in addition to citing literature and relating its applicability to the topic than mathematics or physics essays. 

The first paragraph of your essay is an important one. You need to get your reader’s attention and drawn them into the topic you’re writing about. Use of statistics related to a problem, such as the number of people with learning disabilities, the number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia, etc. can help focus the reader and add a sense of urgency. 

1. Plan your strategy

Pre-planning begins with carefully reading your assignment. Don’t make the mistake of quickly glancing at the topic, picking out key words and going from there. For example, if your assignment is to write an essay on the neurological antecedents associated with schizophrenia don’t just focus on schizophrenia and antecedents or you may end up writing an essay that is not focused and targeted to your assignment. This is also the time to plan your method of attacking the essay; how much time will you need for research, how much time to write the paper, etc.

2. Research and analysis

University library based academic databases are a great start for researching your topic. Most universities have access to such academic psychology databases as PSYCHNET or PSYCInfo. Following your library based research, accessing the internet can provide you with a great wealth of information through such academically based websites as http://scholar.google.com or http://www.allpsych.com. Both of these provide access to professionally written articles and/or abstracts published in peer reviewed psychology or related professional journals. The internet is also a great source for researching through access to professional association websites that have special sections on their website for publications and/or links to other respective websites of interest with information to offer.

Highlighting pertinent sections or phrases in the actual journal articles you retrieve will make referencing easier during the writing phase. You are more likely to recall information you’ve keyed into with your highlighted when it comes to organising your essay. Additionally, you will have the information readily available with the appropriate reference.

3. Outlining – is it necessary?

If you are a prolific writer, you may decide to skip this phase. However, for the college essay, preparing an outline serves as a method of organising your work and creating a roadmap. It also assures you stay focused on your topic. Careful preparation of the outline will assure all areas related to the topic are covered properly, keeping like information together. The outline also makes it easier to fill in the rest of the essay as your idea generation essentially takes place for each paragraph as you prepare your outline. As a result, all you have to do in the next step is access your references and fill in more detail on the points you’ve outlined.

4. Writing the paper

As stated above, an outline helps speed the actual writing of the essay. However, for those that have not prepared an outline, the essay flow is important. Typically, the following sections are used with or without appropriate subheadings.

  • Introduction
    This section will contain attention-grabbing facts, figures and will present the background to the problem including what the focus of the essay is, why the approach is unique, etc. You need to stress your rationale for writing the essay. For example, studying depression in adoptive parents – the symptoms are the same as presented for post-partum depression in birth mothers but little is known or written about the phenomenon.
  • Research question
    Once you state your topic area, your research questions should follow. In a literature review type essay or one based on qualitative research, only research questions are asked. For quantitative studies, a research hypothesis is stated.
  • Literature review
    The reviewed literature should provide insight into the topic or research question(s) asked through evidencing what is stated in current academic literature. A recap of the literature cited in the form of a critical analysis should follow your presentation.
  • Conclusion
    The conclusion should recap what you’ve presented and leave the reader without any additional follow-up questions. If there is still a question in the reader’s mind, or you’ve left them seeking something more from your essay, you’ve not properly concluded the work. Adding words such as “In conclusion….” is an effective way to draw the reader into your concluding remarks.

Most psychology essays are requested in APA format developed by the American Psychological Association. Other common formats are Harvard. Make sure you pay proper attention to the formatting requested by your instructor as many educators will deduct points if the format requested is not followed. An ‘A’ essay will suddenly become a B or C depending on the number of formatting infractions.

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5. Proofread and Edit

Even the best writer must proofread their essay. If you are using a computer, it is recommended that you use an up-to-date spell check set for your language, such as UK English rather than US English which will also checks for grammatical errors. Re-read your essay again after your spell check to assure that you’ve said what it is you really want to say. Don’t write just to fill word count requirements. Make each word meaningful.

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