How to write a research paper for psychology class

So, your college professor is requiring you to write a psychology paper on a specified topic and you have no idea how to write it – what do you do? You come here of course!! Yes, it is time to pull out your trusty Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) and Diagnostic and Statistical (DSM-V) Manual, the “holy grails” of psychology. The DSM-V provides in-depth information on various psychological disorders and mental illnesses, while the APA teaches you how to cite and reference your psychological sources. It is important that your paper include certain sections (title page, abstract, introduction, literature review, methods, results and conclusion). You will also need to include a reference section, in which your references (materials used) are cited. Even if this is your first time writing a psychology paper, it is important that you write it as if your paper is going to be published in a psychological journal. Following the APA and DSM-V manuals will help you make an “A” on your psychology paper!
Listed below are some steps that will help you write a psychology paper for class:
• Paper Format

What type of paper is required? In other words, are you supposed to write a psychological review, research report, case study or critique? Review your class syllabus to determine what kind of paper you are supposed to write. If you are unfamiliar with the required format – research it. Peruse the internet for instructions on how to write a particular type of paper. Lastly, look for examples of how to write different types of psychology papers. Stick to the paper requirements and do not go over or under the required word count.

• Choose a Topic

Choose a topic that interests you and stick with it! For example, if you decide to write about manic depression (i.e. bipolar disorder) do not venture off course and start talking about clinical depression. Stay on topic. If you have a habit of rambling or “going off topic,” create an outline and follow it religiously. Check off each subheading on your outline once you finish talking about it in your paper.

• Research Your Topic

Next, you will need to research your psychology topic thoroughly. In other words, collect between 8 and 10 resources for your paper. Skim them to find information that will be useful in your paper. Make sure to make copies of the material and write down the reference information (author, date, title of the piece, publication and website address). Your psychology instructor may have a required resource/reference amount so make sure you check that before you start writing your paper. Try to collect a variety of perspectives on your topic. Also, make sure you have both pros and cons to your topic and that you list both equally in your paper. Lastly, make sure you get your references from credible sources, preferably academic (edu) or organizational (org) sites.

• Craft a Rough Draft

Once you have researched your topic and collected your resources, it will be time to craft a rough draft. This paper is called “rough” for a reason. It is not supposed to be perfect, but it is supposed to be a way for you to get your thoughts and information organized on the page. If possible follow an outline – it will help keep you on track as you write the draft. Most of the time you do not have to cite all of your references in the rough draft, but check your class syllabus for more information. The purpose of the draft is to help you work towards a complete and cohesive psychology paper. It is also used to help you determine what areas are lacking so that you can fill those areas in with researched information. Refrain from using jargon and slang and make sure you have complete sentences. Proofread your draft before submitting it to your professor for review. You do not want to have multiple sentence structure and grammatical errors in your psychology paper.

• Use the Correct Tense

Make sure you use past tense while writing your abstract, introduction, literature review and methods and present tense when writing your results and conclusion. Also stay away from contractions like “haven’t” or “won’t” and focus on creating a catchy, thought-provoking topic sentence. Your topic sentence will either draw your audience in or push them away so it is important that you have the best topic sentence possible. Spell out your words “I have not or I will not” and make sure your topic sentence is connected to your topic.

• Make the Corrections

Once you turn your draft paper into your instructor and receive feedback – make the corrections. If you do not understand the suggestions – ask questions to clarify what is needed. Ask a friend or relative to proofread your paper before submitting the final draft. Once you feel confident, submit the paper to your instructor for a grade.

George Mason University. (2014). Criteria to evaluate the credibility of www resources. Retrieved from
Plonsky, M. (2014). Psychology with style. University of Wisconsin. Retrieved from

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