10 Steps for Writing a Better Psychology Paper
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide
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Writing a research paper, essay, literature review or other written assignment can be a daunting process. In addition to actually writing the paper, you need to develop a strong topic idea, find relevant research organize your information. While the task may seem monumental, you can simplify the process by following some very simple steps.
The first step in researching your psychology paper is to choose a topic. Even if you have a general subject in mind, it is a good idea to spend some time brainstorming in order to narrow your focus and choose a specific approach. There are a number of different brainstorming techniques you can use, including mind mapping, freewriting, listing and charting. Use whatever strategy works best for you, or consider using a few different techniques in order to generate the most ideas.
2. Browse the Web for Ideas
After you've generated some great ideas in your brainstorming session, spend some time browsing the web to see what resources are available. This initial research session is a great way to further hone your topic, find intriguing references for further exploration and to get a general overview of your chosen topic.
3. Visit the Library
Look for books related to your chosen topic. Familiarize yourself with some of the basic concepts and look for information on some of the most notable researchers and authors in your chosen topic area. Once you have a general understanding of your topic, you can start narrowing your research and finding additional articles, research studies and essays to support your main thesis.
4. Utilize Online Databases
Your school library most likely offers access to a number of different databases, including PsychINFO, EBSCO, ERIC, JSTOR and others. Utilize these databases to search for articles that can be used as references in your paper. Some articles are available in full-text online, while others will need to be accessed in your school library's academic journal collection or on microfilm. Ask your librarian for help if you need assistance doing research, finding journals or accessing databases.
5. Create a Preliminary Reference List
Now that you have accumulated a number of different potential sources, it is time to make a preliminary list of all of the articles, online information, books and other primary sources that you might possibly use in your final paper. At this point, include every single source that you might possibly use. As you begin honing in on your topic and narrowing the focus of your paper, you can start eliminating some of the resources that do not quite fit in with your thesis or supporting information.
6. Organize Your Research
As you begin researching more deeply, it is important to carefully organize the information you find. Structuring your research can make writing your paper much easier. There are many different techniques you can use to accomplish this, so you should select the method that works best for you. Grace Fleming, About.com's Guide to Homework / Study Tips, has some great ideas in this article on organizing your research.
7. Create an Outline
The next step is to write a thorough outline to structure your paper. Writing a good outline can make the writing process much easier, so do not skip this important step. Start by creating a rough outline that includes the basic introduction, body and conclusion. Next, add your broad categories and sections. Finally, start including sub-sections related to each argument, idea or category.
8. Write a First Draft
Once you've drafted a well-organized and thorough outline, it is time to write the first draft of your paper. While this is just a first draft, include all of your references. It is always easier to include your references up front rather that to search and hunt for each individual reference after the paper is completed.
9. Proofread Your Paper
Review your draft for spelling, grammar, structure and quality of ideas. Basic spelling and grammar issues are easy to fix, but it may take longer to revise major problems with writing structure or poor arguments. Take careful notes as you read through your paper so you will know which areas to concentrate on during the revision process.
10. Revise, Review and Prepare a Final Draft
The next step is to revise and edit your paper. Fix the spelling and grammar errors you noted during your proofreading, and make and major fixes to organization. If necessary, rewrite problem areas or draft new sections to supplement your existing arguments.
After you have completed your revisions, ask a friend or classmate to review your work. Peer review is a great way to spot any areas you might have missed and to strengthen your work overall. Make revisions based on the feedback you received, and then prepare the final draft of your psychology paper. Be sure to check that all citations and references are in proper APA format.