Marquette UniversityWriting Across the CurriculumHeader Picture
LH Picture
Only the WAC Site
All of

Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in Psychology Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

1. What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in Psychology?

     Shorter writing assignments tend to be favored by psychology professors, although fairly extensive research reports are usually required in Psych 090, Research Methods and Designs in Psychology. In small upper-division classes, term papers or lab reports may be assigned. Types of shorter assignments used in various classes include the following:

  • Reviews of scientific articles
  • Book reviews
  • Position papers
  • Commentary on biographical and autobiographical material in light of course concepts (See “Special do’s and don’ts” below.)
  • Papers linking course material to current life experiences (such as Service Learning, art museum visits, or an exploration of industry standards). In some cases such material is used as the basis for class presentations or group discussion.

     For longer writing assignments, you will typically be expected to summarize current psychological research, grapple with controversial issues in the field, and actively integrate theory and course material with everyday situations.

     In large upper-division courses, you should expect some short-answer essay questions on exams, while in small upper-division courses (fewer than 15 students) most exams will involve extensive written essays.

2.  What qualities of writing are especially valued in Psychology?

  • Logical and well-developed argumentation with support from scientific resources
  • Clarity of written expression
  • Good organization
  • Grammatical adequacy
  • Proper citation of others’ work
  • Concise presentation of ideas and arguments

 3.  What kinds of evidence are recognized as valid in Psychology?

     We consider ours to be a scientific profession, so empirical research is our standard for the validity of the assertions made in student papers. This would ordinarily involve obtaining supportive material from refereed professional journals and books of equivalent caliber, although in some few instances it might be the product of empirical investigation on the student’s part.

4.  What citation conventions will I be expected to use in Psychology?

    The fifth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is the expected source for citation format.

5.  Special do’s and don’ts for writing in Psychology:

  • Do demonstrate an understanding of the scientific enterprise when you present material. (Among other things, this would involve presenting not only supportive data but also contradictory information.)
  • Do master the distinction between the use of personal experience as illustration and its use as evidence; while personal experience might well be reviewed in the light of scientific findings, it has only limited use as evidence for arguments advanced in a paper.
  • Do present material with sufficient fullness so that it does not require a great deal of inference on the part of the reader.
  • Do pay careful attention to advice about avoiding plagiarism—click on the “Avoiding Plagiarism” navigation bar link above for resources and advice.
  • Don’t make unfounded, sweeping statements.
  • Don’t rely excessively on Internet sources or on material from popular publications.

Tip: When you search periodicals databases for good sources, check the box that limits a search to scholarly and peer-reviewed journals.

  • Don’t merely insert quotes from references without clearly exploring their applicability.

Tip: One psychology professor’s advice for developing an elegant writing style: consider subscribing to The Vocabula Review.

E-Mail to a Friend

Page Last Modified: October 18, 2018

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
© 2005 Marquette University.
P.O. Box 1881 · Milwaukee, Wis. USA · 53201-1881