How to Write a Psychology Paper: An Expert Guide

How to Write a Psychology Paper: An Expert Guide

Last update: 10 November, 2021

Writing a research paper for a psychology class is no easy task, especially if you’ve never done one before or you struggle with writing in general. Are you expecting to fail before you even start? Do you find the complexity of instructions or readings overwhelming? Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. Luckily, we know exactly how to tackle this challenge. In fact, if you follow these nine steps to get things under control, you’ll end up with an excellent psychology paper.

1. Choose a topic you’re actually excited about

Psychology is one of those disciplines where choice overload is inevitable when you’re selecting a topic to write about. Indeed, everything seems so fascinating that would-be writers can often spend hours jumping from one option to another. However, to avoid this, try and think of something you’re genuinely interested in. Perhaps you’re a die-hard procrastinator. Or, maybe a person you love has recently dealt with a mental health issue. Remember, writing a research paper is no walk in the park. Furthermore, you’ll make it much easier for yourself if you choose a subject that you’re personally invested in. Besides, you can’t hide your attitude from the reader and they’re much more likely to enjoy reading your paper if you enjoyed writing it.

A girl studying.

2. Read as much literature as you can on your topic

As you probably know from other classes, extensive research is behind all good research papers and essays. Naturally, you’ll already have some background knowledge on your topic, but it won’t be nearly enough. In fact, to write a competent, relevant, and convincing paper, you need to know what others have said on the subject before. Therefore, the quality of your sources is what matters most here. To be on the safe side, stick to books from academic publishers (NYU Press, Oxford University Press, etc) and peer-reviewed articles from academic databases. Great databases to use for psychology-related sources are those available through EBSCO. For example, PsycINFO and Academic Search Complete.

An important tip: Take notes while you read. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Develop an outline, a research question, and a hypothesis

An outline is a point-by-point roadmap you’ll follow when you start writing. Think of how you’d like your paper to look. What arguments are you going to cover? In what sequence? What objections do you need to debunk? Feel free to use bullet points but don’t be too brief.

A research question is basically your topic in the form of a question. For example, say you want to research the effectiveness of regular goal-setting on people’s self-assurance. In this case, your research question might be something along the lines of ‘Does weekly goal-setting have a positive effect on one’s self-assurance?’ Be specific.

Finally, a hypothesis is your own assumption about the results of your research. For instance, it could be ‘Weekly goal-setting will increase participants’ self-assurance’. Keep in mind, though, that a hypothesis is supposed to be tentative. That’s because it might well turn out to be wrong, so you should be prepared for this.

4. Come up with a research design

Not all student psychology papers require an empirical part, but if yours does, you need to develop a research design. This is the plan of the steps you’ll take to test your hypothesis. Any study, be it experimental or not, requires a sample (who the participants are and how many of them will be hired), a setting, an instrument (for example, a questionnaire), and more. Think of your research and try to imagine every detail. Most importantly, decide on your variables: are they dependent and independent, or correlational? You can get custom-written psychology papers and professional essays from a paper writing service if you want to get a better understanding of what research design is all about.

5. Find a sample

This is often the trickiest part, even for a professional researcher. If your paper requires an empirical section and implies a study, you’ll need participants. There are many sampling techniques out there (simple random, stratified, systematic, to name a few), and it’s a smart idea to read up on them. However, what matters the most, at least for a student paper, is how you intend to find participants and convince them to take part in your research. Perhaps, you’ll connect with them online, on social media. Alternatively, you might ask your classmates. Consider the options available to you and find the most realistic yet appropriate one.

6. Do the research

Once you have a research question, a well-thought-out research design, and a sample ready, it’s time to do the research. This is the second part of the paper-writing process, the empirical data collecting stage. The first part was purely theoretical when you researched your topic and prepared a literature review. To make sure that everything runs smoothly, follow your research design. It might help you to write down the process in the form of custom step-by-step guidelines to have close at hand.

7. Analyze the results

This stage is when you take the data you’ve collected and try to make sense of it. The ‘Results’ sections of academic articles often look terrifying, but this is rarely the case with student papers. In fact, all you have to do is systematize the data and identify the patterns that are relevant to your research question. For example, if you’re investigating the relationship between goal-setting and self-assurance, you’ll have to compare participants’ self-assurance levels (which you measured using a questionnaire) before and after the intervention.

Man reading.

8. Consider the implications and limitations of your research

These are what really matter to most readers. With regards to the implications of your research, you need to answer questions like “So what?”, “Why should people care?”, and “How can my findings be useful?” Once you’ve done this, you’ll basically have your ‘Implications’ section ready. Don’t be too humble here. This is your chance to ‘sell’ your research to the reader.

As to the limitations, these are the things that mean your study isn’t as flawless as you’d like it to be. In fact, since students don’t have the same resources as professional researchers, student papers tend to have quite a lot of limitations. Among others, some of the common ones are the size of the sample, the sampling technique used, and reliance on self-report instruments alone.

9. Start writing

Finally, you need to take everything you’ve done so far and turn it into an elaborate, well-structured, coherent paper. Professors usually instruct students on the required sections but if you’re in any doubt, stick to the basics, as follows: Introduction, Literature Review, Research Design (participants, instruments, method), Results, Discussion (including implications and limitations), and Conclusion. Since you were taking notes throughout the research process, you’re unlikely to experience any difficulties at this stage. However, if you do, it might be a smart move to enlist the help of CustomWritings.

Another important tip: Don’t forget to edit, revise, and proofread (at least three times).

A bit of a pep talk

You might be feeling rather overwhelmed now. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly okay. After all, a psychology paper is supposed to be challenging for a student to write. Just don’t let blank page anxiety get in the way of your academic success. Push through and, if you feel like you need to, don’t hesitate to consult the resources that offer recommendations on overcoming the fear of writing. You can do it!

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