Writing in Psychology Overview
Written for undergraduate students and new graduate students in psychology (experimental), this handout provides information on writing in psychology and on experimental report and experimental article writing.
Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Aleksandra Kasztalska
Last Edited: 2013-03-12 09:53:54
Psychology is based on the study of human behaviors. As a social science, experimental psychology uses empirical inquiry to help understand human behavior. According to Thrass and Sanford (2000), psychology writing has three elements: describing, explaining, and understanding concepts from a standpoint of empirical investigation.
Discipline-specific writing, such as writing done in psychology, can be similar to other types of writing you have done in the use of the writing process, writing techniques, and in locating and integrating sources. However, the field of psychology also has its own rules and expectations for writing; not everything that you have learned in about writing in the past works for the field of psychology.
Writing in psychology includes the following principles:
- Using plain language: Psychology writing is formal scientific writing that is plain and straightforward. Literary devices such as metaphors, alliteration, or anecdotes are not appropriate for writing in psychology.
- Conciseness and clarity of language: The field of psychology stresses clear, concise prose. You should be able to make connections between empirical evidence, theories, and conclusions. See our OWL handout on conciseness for more information.
- Evidence-based reasoning: Psychology bases its arguments on empirical evidence. Personal examples, narratives, or opinions are not appropriate for psychology.
- Use of APA format: Psychologists use the American Psychological Association (APA) format for publications. While most student writing follows this format, some instructors may provide you with specific formatting requirements that differ from APA format.
Types of writing
Most major writing assignments in psychology courses consists of one of the following two types.
Experimental reports: Experimental reports detail the results of experimental research projects and are most often written in experimental psychology (lab) courses. Experimental reports are write-ups of your results after you have conducted research with participants. This handout provides a description of how to write an experimental report .
Critical analyses or reviews of research: Often called "term papers," a critical analysis of research narrowly examines and draws conclusions from existing literature on a topic of interest. These are frequently written in upper-division survey courses. Our research paper handouts provide a detailed overview of how to write these types of research papers.