Writing Resources

Writing in Psychology: A guide to helping you write for our classes

Psychologists have some fundamental ways of looking at individuals and doing scholarly work. Sometimes outsiders or newcomers misunderstand or are confused or surprised by the rituals, methods, and assumptions about our field. 

Our field tends to value the importance of evidence and the individuals who are the originators of concepts/theory/ideas. Often, personal anecdotes are not as valued. We tend to write in genres such as journal articles and research reports. We rarely write narratives or personal accounts.

We find writers to be credible when they include clear connections to previous work, expand upon that work, and have a clear focus. There is an expected structure to the communication, to help the reader anticipate what is to come and they support their research claims with strong empirical evidence.

Effective writing in Psychology tends to convey clearly new knowledge and has a distinct audience. 

Our citation practices embody and help enact our values and goals. You can see this in how we emphasize the name and the year in citations, valuing vintage, foundational, as well as contemporaneous accounts.

Thus, our advice to you when you write in our classes is: 

  • Look for a mix of both vintage and contemporary scholarly sources (understand their value)
  • Be sure to give credit to the work you are referencing (do so accurately following the APA guide)
  • Embrace your own voice and ability to paraphrase (avoid the use of quotations)
  • Only cite sources you have read yourself (as in the source in front of you, not the citations within the source)
  • Respect the order of authors, and give credit to all (do not reorder alphabetically, learn the citation rules for citing specific numbers of authors)
  • Use the resources available to you!

Need more help?

Helpful writing tips

Citations and APA Format

When in doubt, use APA format when writing in Psychology courses! A number of helpful resources are available for writing and citing in APA format, such as the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University. A copy of the APA manual is available in the Center for Psychological Inquiry. 

Latin abbreviations

  • Et al. stands for et alia, which means “and other things.” Et is not an abbreviation and does not require a period after it. Al. is an abbreviation, and does require a period.
  • I.e. stands for id est, the Latin phrase meaning “that is.” Both letters are legitimate abbreviations, and so they both take periods. Use this abbreviation within the parentheses. The English phrase “that is” goes outside the parentheses. In either case, follow with a comma.
  • E.g. stands for exempli gratia, the Latin phrase meaning “for example.” Both letters are abbreviations and both require periods. Also, as above, if you use the phrase inside parentheses, use the Latin abbreviation, and outside the parentheses use the English equivalent. Either way, follow it with a comma.

Avoiding wordiness and redundancy

Avoid using more words than you need (based on the fact that = because), and try not to say the same thing twice (could be perhaps because = could be because). Eliminate all unnecessary words. Some examples include:
  • The results revealed that…Omit the entire phrase and start your sentence with the word that would come next.
  • The obtained data showed = The data showed.
  • Participants for the study were = Participants were
  • Due to the facts that = because
  • The reason is because = The reason is
  • A total of eight participants = Eight participants
  • …has been previously found = has been found
  • In his study, Smith reported = Smith reported
  • Distinctly different. Choose one word or the other

General style guidelines

  • The title should be centered on a line on the upper half of the page and broken up, if necessary, at a meaningful point.
  • Do not use “the current study” or “the present study” to refer to someone else’s work.
  • Do not indicate what researchers thought, felt, believed or said. Use instead reported, have shown, and replicated.
  • Avoid long quotations and frequent brief quotations.
  • Do not refer to yourself as “we” and do not call the reader “you.”
  • Start every paragraph with a topic sentence and never write one-sentence paragraphs.
  • Do not write “he” when you mean “he or she.”
  • When talking about a child, use he or she, when talking about children, use they or their.
  • Do not leave prefixes hanging loose from words.
  • The plural of these singular words datum, criterion, phenomenon, stimulus, and hypothesis are data, criteria, phenomena, stimuli and hypotheses.
  • Introduce abbreviations in parentheses and use the abbreviations rather than the full term thereafter.
  • Use past tense to describe research findings – your own and those covered in your literature review.
  • Racial and ethnic group labels are proper nouns. Capitalize them.
  • The tone of technical writing is not conversational or informal. 
  • Contractions are illegal. Use apostrophes only to indicate possession. 
  • Use while in its temporal sense only. If you can’t substitute simultaneously, consider although or whereas.

Video: Nuts and Bolts of APA Format with Dr. Aaron Luebbe