In many psychology classes, research papers are the most significant factor in your final grade, which means the writing-challenged can quickly find themselves floundering. It’s obvious that you need to use proper grammar, avoid run-on and fragmentary sentences, and vary your word choice. Good writing, though, is about so much more than this. Indeed it’s possible to write a paper that uses a variety of words, varies the length of sentences, uses proper grammar, and is still terrible. If you want to fine-tune your writing skills, try these simple tips.
Argue a Clear Thesis
Your thesis is a succinct statement of your paper’s central argument. Good papers focus on one narrowly focused topic rather than providing a general overview of the issue. Your thesis will help to guide the direction of your paper because every sentence should relate directly back to your thesis.
“Sigmund Freud influenced the direction of psychology” is a terrible thesis because it is vague and unclear. Instead, your thesis should explain what you mean by influence and what direction you think psychology took. An improvement on this thesis might read, “Although other approaches to therapy have proven more effective, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis is so well-known that it continues to color the public’s perception of what constitutes good therapy.” The paper must then prove every portion of the thesis.
Keep a Laser-Like Focus
When you’re not sure what to write, it’s easy to begin rambling. Every paragraph should have a distinct topic, and once you’ve addressed that topic, there’s no need to revisit it. Otherwise, your paper will be repetitive, disorganized, and poorly argued.
Cite Your Sources
Most students know that you have to cite sources, but the purpose of citing sources is to lend credibility to your arguments. There is no room for speculation, philosophizing, or opinion in a psychology paper; psychologists are scientists. No statement should ever begin with “I think….” or “I believe…” Instead, you’ll need to establish basic facts, then provide a context for them. For example, never say, “I believe that television is bad for kids.” Instead, say, “The American Academy of Pediatrics states that television – including educational television – is damaging to children under the age of two.”
Your references to sources should also be specific and accurate. “A study proved being gay is genetic” is bad because it’s misleading; no study has yet proven this. A better sentence might read, “A 2014 study found that a protein occurred with greater frequency among subjects who self-identified as homosexual.”
Keep Your Language Clear
Particularly among novice writers, it’s tempting to use as many big words and as much academic jargon as you possibly can. Big words have their place, but you should only use them when they’re the best word – not the most impressive. Similarly, keep your sentences as short as possible, and eliminate unnecessary words. Scan your paper to double-check that you don’t repetitively use the same words over and over; many novice writers over-rely on adverbs such as clearly, simply, apparently, and obviously.