A research paper is a scholarly work containing original research or documenting a new invention that is usually supposed to be published in an academic journal and be subjected to peer review. It is the most widespread form in which scientists and researchers show the results of their work to the academic world. If you intend to pursue a career in academia, you have to start learning the specifics of this type of work as early as possible. In this psychology research paper writing guide, you will find a step-by-step instructions you can use to make writing your first research paper much easier.
The goal of writing a research paper is to demonstrate your ability to do original, unsupervised research: gather and analyze information, make conclusions and support your point of view with viable evidence. As a result, students are normally free to choose any topic within the scope of their course (although it is still necessary to discuss it with your tutor).
A topic you are comfortable with is a foundation of every good paper, so don’t take this step lightly. Here are some suggestions that can help you make a choice you won’t regret:
In the end, your topic should be sufficiently narrow to do in-depth research, e.g.:
Thesis statement is the main point of your research paper boiled down to one sentence. It is important to differentiate between the topic, the research question and the thesis statement.
Thesis statement should be located at the very beginning of the paper (first or second paragraph), with the body paragraphs providing evidence to support this claim. Don’t make it vague – the reader should immediately understand what you want to prove and what the main point of your paper is. Word your thesis statement precisely and make it narrow enough in scope to allow yourself to thoroughly investigate the topic.
Although a research paper should contain original research and your own findings, no work in psychology exists in isolation from the existing body of research on the subject. You will have to work with many sources of information to prove the credibility of your work and your knowledge of the topic.
The majority of sources you use should come from peer-reviewed psychology journals, although other publications (books, web resources, mass media etc.) are acceptable as well. Just make sure to differentiate between low- and high-value sources and put emphasis on the latter.
If you are unfamiliar with the subject matter of your paper, finding viable sources may be difficult. Here are some suggestions where to start:
Most of your information should come from empirical reports from psychology journals. Rely on secondary sources of data (e.g., chapters and books) only if you cannot locate the original source.
Take notice of how many times an article has been cited so far (most scholarly databases provide this information) – usually the more times it was cited, the more important it is considered to be in the field. However, this factor isn’t absolute – if an article is recent, it simply didn’t have enough time to be extensively cited.
Outline is a plan or a blueprint of your research paper that helps you organize your thoughts and make sure each paragraph serves a specific purpose and is logically connected to the rest of the paper. Depending on the structure of your paper, it may be different, but usually it runs along the following lines:
If you mark what you intend to mention in each part of your section before you start writing it, you will see if there are repetitive ideas that can be merged or eliminated, if some parts don’t logically flow into one another, if some sections are redundant and have to be removed.
An outline can be formal and informal. An informal or working outline is your personal plan that helps you arrange your thoughts. However, sometimes you are asked to submit a formal outline along with your paper. In this case, you should follow one of several accepted formats to organize your ideas (e.g., an alphanumerical system that uses numerals and letters for formatting).
Psychology research papers are written using the APA (American Psychology Association) format that covers everything from the use of bias-free language to the way of organizing references and bibliographies. You can find all the necessary information about these aspects in an official style guide, on the APA website or on numerous other online resources dedicated to it. It doesn’t make sense to try and repeat some of the style rules here – the list will by definition will be incomplete. If you ever have any questions concerning it, consult one of the official resources – there you will find information about all the possible situations organized in meticulous detail.
Revision shouldn’t come as an afterthought – it is just as important a part of working on a research paper. Some students decide to revise their papers if they have time before submitting it. Don’t repeat this mistake – a couple of hours spend revising a paper can mean the difference between a failing and a passing grade.
Here is how you can improve the quality of your revision:
In the end, the only way to get good at writing psychology research is to practice doing it. These psychology research paper writing tips, however, can give you enough basic knowledge to prepare your first work.