Five-Step Guide to Writing a Worthy Research Paper in Psychology

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Blog / Write Psychology Research Paper: Steps, How-tos, and Tips

Studying psychology is not for everyone. Writing research papers is not for everyone. Writing a psychology research paper… well, you get the idea. Nevertheless, like in any other task, the hardest thing in crafting a worthy academic paper is to start. In this guide, we will show how you can hack the system by breaking down your psychology research assignment into five workable steps.

This tactic proved effective in accomplishing any other writing task – from one-page essay to high-volume coursework or dissertation. Dividing the long-running and labor-intensive process into smaller manageable stages will also help you make your writing better organized and structured, as well as allow to more clearly convey your message to the reader.

Let's start!

Step # 1. Determine the type of a research paper you will be working on

The very first thing you need to do is to decide on what kind of paper you are going to write – there are not that many of them used in college psychology course. Usually, the format is set by your tutor. Otherwise, explore the options below and choose one to your liking.

Literature Review

Research paper in the form of the Literature Review is arguably the simplest and most popular kind of psychology research. Reading and summarizing works of prominent minds on a specified topic allows to establish a solid theoretical foundation for your further academic progress.

When executing psychology literature review, you are expected to meet requirements regarding the length of the paper and the number of cited sources. On average, a college-level research assignment entails citing 5 to 20 studies and being up to 15-20 pages in volume. As a rule, the structure of literature review includes the following sections:

In the introduction, you should set the main research question, which determines the area of your research. In the body of the paper, you set the insights on particular studies relevant to your research area and provide their detailed description, analysis, and comparison. The concluding part must contain your findings on the subject and offer the discussion.

Original research or Lab report

While the Literature Review tests your ability to consume, analyze and summarize, original research validates more practical skills. You are expected to develop and conduct your own psychological experiment, report on its findings and draw theoretical generalizations based on empirical results. The paper is usually presented as lab report in an APA format and consists of the following structural elements:

Remember that your instructor hardly expects you to come up with the completely new psychology concept and shape up as new Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. So, when considering taking on original research, be humble.

Step #2. Good idea/topic is half the battle for a great research paper

Unless your instructor or professor assigns you a specific topic, it is your task to plot out a valid idea for your psychology research paper. Sometimes, tutors draw overall thematic contours of the desired research – use it as guiding light to take you to the right place.

When formulating the topic, stay away from too broad issues and overly general problems. For instance, if you're only planning to write about various aspects of the delayed gratification concept, stop right there. Instead, zoom your research into how the delayed gratification concept influences the view of own future in teenagers. Get the idea?

Step #3. Stay focused, take notes and build a bibliography

Once you come down to exploring psychology studies, make it a strict rule to take accurate notes of relevant references and their sources. Thus, when you start writing, you will be able to stay focused as you won't have to get distracted every time you need to find THAT exact information in the pile of books and magazines or on one of a dozen browser tabs. Along the way, you can build your bibliography and avoid the dreadful experience of trying to recall whether you've used this source and if you did, where specifically.

So, once again: carefully write down all available study data about each reference – author(s), title, source journal or website. Add a short description of what an article or a book was about.

Step #4. Write a detailed outline

The final step before you get down to writing is creating a detailed outline of what you're going to write in each section of your paper. Fight the temptation to skip this stage as it will definitely backfire later when making adjustments will be time-consuming and too hard or even impossible. Creating an outline will also allow you to recognize and fix flaws in structure and streamline paper's flow.

Keep in mind that the paper should be structured serving one main mission, which is to support hypothesis you put forward in the introduction! Reasonably, the introduction is the first section you should detail in your outline. Then move to the body of the research and divide it into chapters and subchapters according to the paper flow. The conclusion is the last loading point.

Remember a time-proven fact: the more specific and detail-oriented you are in the outline, the smoother your research writing will be.

Step# 5. Write, revise, edit, proofread

After all preparations are done, you're all good to start writing. Be sure to follow your outline, adhere to APA guidelines and format, back your implications with evidence and cite all your references. When finished with the first draft, don't rest on oars! Give it some time and then come back to critically read and revise your paper. You can also ask your peers or adults to have a look at your work and comment on it; then, edit your research if necessary. The final step is to thoroughly proofread the entire paper – specialized software or online services can be of great help here.

As a parting thought, we'd like to emphasize once again that you mustn't become dispirited when facing the necessity to write a psychology research paper no matter how intimidating it may seem at first glance. Follow our guide, break the task into smaller-scale gigs – and accomplish them one by one. Being scrupulous about choosing a good topic, taking notes during sources' analysis and creating a point-by-point outline will definitely make your job easier to carry out!