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How to Write a Psychology Research Paper
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
James Lacy, MLS, is a fact-checker and researcher.
Are you working on a psychology research paper this semester? Whether or not this is your first research paper, the entire process can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Knowing where to start the research process can make things a lot easier and less stressful.
The following tips will help you organize your research and improve your writing. While a research paper can initially be very intimidating, it is not quite as scary if you break it down into more manageable steps.
Decide Which Kind of Paper You Are Going to Write
Start by finding out what type of paper your instructor expects you to write. There are a few common types of psychology papers that you might encounter.
Original Research or Lab Report
The first type is a report or empirical paper that details your own research that you conducted. This is the type of paper you would write if your instructor had you perform your own psychology experiment. This type of paper would follow the basic format similar to an APA format lab report and would include a title page, abstract , introduction, method section, results section, discussion section, and references.
The second type of paper is a literature review that summarizes the research conducted by other people on a particular topic. If you are writing a psychology research paper in this form, your instructor might specify the number of studies that you need to cite as well as the length. Student literature reviews are often required to cite between 5 and 20 studies and are usually between 8 and 20 pages in length.
The format and sections of a literature review usually include an introduction, body, and discussion/implications/conclusions.
Literature reviews often begin by introducing the research question before narrowing the focus down to the specific studies of interest in the paper. You should then described each study in considerable detail. You should also evaluate and compare the studies that you cite and then offer your discussion of the implications of the findings.
Start by Selecting a Good Idea for Your Research Paper
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Once you have decided which kind of research paper you are going to write, it is important to choose a good topic . In some cases, your instructor might assign you a subject or at least specify an overall theme on which to focus.
As you are selecting your topic, try to avoid general or overly broad issues. For example, instead of writing a research paper on the general subject of attachment , you might instead focus your research on how insecure attachment styles in early childhood impact romantic attachments later in life.
Narrowing your topic down allows you to focus your research, develop your thesis, and fully explore the pertinent findings.
Develop an Effective Research Strategy
As you find references for your psychology research paper, take careful notes on the information you search for and start developing a working bibliography. It is much harder to organize information and cite sources if you constantly have to look up information. And there’s nothing worse than having a completed paper with an important bit of information that you cannot seem to track back to the source.
So as you do your research, make careful notes about each reference including the article title, authors, journal source, and what the article was about.
Write an Outline
You might be tempted just to dive right in and begin writing, but developing a strong working framework can save a lot of time, hassle, and frustration. It can also help you spot potential problems with flow and structure.
By lining out what you are going to write about right off the bat, you will be better able to see how one idea flows into the next and how your research supports your overall hypothesis .
Start by noting the three most fundamental sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Then, start creating subsections based on your literature review. The more detailed your outline, the easier it will be to write your paper.
Draft, Revise, and Edit
Once you have a solid outline, it is time to begin writing. Remember to follow APA format as you write your paper and include in-text citations for any material that you reference. Add any information that you cite in the body of your paper in your reference section at the end of your document.
A Word From Verywell
Writing a psychology research paper can be intimidating at first, but breaking the process up into a series of smaller steps makes it much more manageable. Just be sure to start early by deciding on a substantial topic, doing your research, and creating a good outline . Doing these supporting steps will make it much easier to write your paper when the time comes.
- Beins, BC & Beins, A. Effective Writing in Psychology: Papers, Posters, and Presentation. New York: Blackwell Publishing; 2011.
By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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