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General Psychology
Title 3 Supersite



As with every discipline, psychology has its own type of papers common to the discipline. Such papers usually fall into the category of writing known as academic writing. Academic writing is designed to demonstrate your critical thinking and analytical skills. The ultimate purpose of academic (and any other type of writing) is to communicate information between you and an audience. 

Academic writing is formal writing which is different from the type of writing you might do when you write to a friend or jot a note on email. As formal, academic writing it follows rules and conventions that are not used in informal writing. 

We shall discuss some of the types of papers that are common in psychology momentarily. Psychology also has its own style of writing or rules for formatting and writing papers commonly called APA Style. APA style comes from the American Psychological Association and can be found in the Style Manual of the American Psychological Association. The Fifth Edition came out in summer of 2001. This is the only accepted style guide for psychology. While some of  its conventions may seem awkward or useless, there are reasons why formats are done as they are. 

APA style  refers primarily to formatting and citation issues. All of the general rules of good writing apply to any document written in APA style.

Some of the types of papers that students write include:
critique of research
review of literature (psychological)
opinion paper
book review
traditional term paper
research proposal
case study

There are also many other types of papers which you may write as a psychology student. Most papers in psychology are research based. The research done for psychological papers is different from experiential research that we often hear about on television or in other popular press. Academic research is investigative in nature and requires that we find evidence to support the points we make when writing.  Research requires discipline and careful evaluation of our sources.

Some aspects of a source include:
1) Is the writer qualified to write about the topic? Generally we look for some academic credentials.
2) Is the information factual and can it be verified by other research? 
3) Is the material objective? Is it free from advertising and bias (which may be hidden)?
4) Is the material up-to-date? In fields such as psychology, information can become dated very quickly.
5) Is the material in context? 

Elements of APA style will be common to all these types of papers, as are the aspects of the source above. It is always important to check with your instructor about what elements they want you to use.

APA Style use what is sometimes called the author-date method. You will cite your sources right in the body of the paper and you will put the full bibliographic citation at the end of the paper on a page called "References."

No matter what style of citation you are required to use (Chicago, MLA, BMPD, Turabian, APA), there are some commonalities. We cite information so that we are not claiming an idea for our own that belongs to someone else. In other words, citation is a way to avoid stealing someone else's work. Citation of information helps other researchers to locate the information you use when they need it in their own work.

One big issue for student writers is plagiarism. If a paper is plagiarized, there is academic dishonesty and a failure to maintain integrity. Plagiarism is a serious issue in publishing and in academia. ANY plagiarism will be penalized. This penalty can include failure of the assignment, failure of the course or more serious College or  University sanctions. (See the catalogue for a full description of penalties.)

Plagiarism means, in the simplest terms, using someone else's work or ideas without crediting the original source. You may certainly refer to written works, web site or other's comments but you must give them credit. Failure to do so is plagiarism. It is plagiarism even if you do not directly quote the original source. It is plagiarism EVEN IF IT IS UNINTENTIONAL. If you are unsure about whether or not you should cite something, check with me. Alternatively, it is better to overcite than undercite.

Plagiarism is more than copying from another sources without credit. You may describe Freud's theory of development but you must identify it as Freud's and you must credit your source (even if it is not the original source by Freud). You may summarize an article that you read but you must indicate the source. If you copy verbatim, you must enclose those quotes in quotation marks and include page numbers.

Submitting work done by another student or prepared by someone else (e.g. a website) is a form of plagiarism.

PLAGIARISM IS A VERY SERIOUS OFFENSE. If you are not clear about what constitutes plagiarism, ask your instructor.

One way to avoid plagiarism is to acknowledge the source of all information you use. This includes printed information as well as information in informal communications. Most everything in print (including electronic print) is copyrighted. Therefore you must give credit where credit is due. You must acknowledge ideas that you use as well as words you quote directly. You must cite even paraphrases. You must cite material even if it is very familiar to you.  If you are to document what work you use, this means you must carefully document what sources you are using and your records should be impeccable.  Documenting your sources also helps other researchers follow your logic and locate sources they may need for their own work. 

Some ideas are widely acknowledged and accepted. They are regarded as being in the "public domain." You do not have to cite knowledge that is in the public domain. The problem for most students in being able to differentiate between what is public domain knowledge and what is not. Sometimes you have to have extensive experience in an area before you know what is public domain. The best rule of thumb for students in to cite (acknowledge) when in doubt.  This does not mean you must cite every sentence you write. If you express an idea that is based on logic and any reasonable person would reach the same conclusion, then you do not need to cite the idea even if you read it in another book. You may not, however, use someone else's words directly to explain your conclusion.

You may also only reference sources which you have read personally. You may not imply that you have read something that is referenced (secondary source) in the source you are reading (primary source). There is a citation format for such information. Generally you acknowledge where you found the information (i.e. Smith, in Jones 1975). Making it sound as though you read the original or including a book on your reference list that you did not read is plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

Common Writing Problems:

These are some of the most common problems that students encounter with APA style and with writing. They are not in any particular order.

1) When you use a direct quote or quote a statistic, you need to include the page number. The purpose of that is to allow a reader to go to exactly where you found the quote. This is particularly important for the writer since if the original source was wrong in some way, it is the original source’s error.  
2) APA style uses only the first initial in the author's name(s). The first line is indented 5 spaces and they are double-spaced.
3) Words have connotation as well as denotation. Pay attention to both.
4) Word pairs are commonly confused. Some of the biggest problems are effect/affect, there/their.
5)  Overuse of commas and parentheses. These punctuation marks have very specific uses.
6) Generalizing, not supporting statements made. Unsupported generalizations are  a major problem for many students. They are easy to avoid if you have actually done the research and could cite a source or two to support your ideas. 
7) Make sure the antecedents of  your pronouns are clear.
8) Make sure your subjects and verbs are in agreement.
9) Avoid second and first person in a formal paper. Those points of view are informal. (This means do not use "you" and "I".
10) When referring to an expert you have read, use their last name. (i.e Smith (1978) found...  not John found).

Examples of APA Reference Styles  - Pay particular attention to the details of capitalization and punctuation.

The explanation will be given the first time the item appears. Refer back to earlier types of references for details.

Periodicals/Journal Articles

Davis, S. F., & Ludvigson, H. W. (1995). Additional data on academic dishonesty and
      a proposal for remediation. Teaching of Psvchology. 22. 119-122.

author’s names, only first initial, use the ampersand to connect two names, use ampersand between last two names if there are more than two, use commas to separate others – period – year in parentheses – title (only first word capitalized, first words following a colon are also capitalized – comma, -journal title, major words capitalized, underlined – volume and number – pages of articles without pp.


Davis, S. F., & Palladino, J.J. (1997). Psychology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
     Prentice Hall.

Title of book underlined, first word capitalized, any edition, except first, in parentheses following title, not underlined – city of publication – name of  publisher

Landrum, R. E. (1998). A guide to teaching introductory psychology. Fort Worth, TX:  
     Harcourt Brace.

only first word capitalized

Landrurn, R. E. (1997). Introduction to psychologv: A general guidebook (2nd ed.).
     Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt

Capitalize first word after a colon which indicates a subtitle – include the state if the city is not well known

Book Chapters

Davis, S. F. (1994). You take the high road, I'll take the low road: A satisfying career at
     a small state university. In P. A. Keller (Ed.), Academic paths: Career
     decisions and experiences of psychologists.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

 Note that if the entry is more than one line, indent the first line five spaces. References are double-spaced.  No quotation marks, only first words capitalized. – title of  chapter is  followed by the word In editor of book, first initials, last name (Ed.) – note the period and parentheses followed by a comma, title of book as above

Internet Materials

Note that how we format information from the Internet is a changing body of knowledge. There are sites on the APA website with the latest updates. The ultimate goal of citing information is to enable others to follow your path to the same information. The Sixth edition of the APA Manual will contain the latest guidelines for citing electronic material. The Sixth Edition is due out in the summer of 2009.

Guidelines for formatting references for all other types of materials can be found in the APA Style Manual.

APA Format Typing Instructions

There are a number of specific details that are followed when preparing a manuscript in APA format. Some of the more basic guidelines are presented here.  

Do not use italics, only underlining. Do not use fancy colors or other fancy types.
Double-space everything, including the reference page
Use a one-inch margin on all sides.
Do not justify lines if using a word processing program (i.e., you should have a ragged right margin).
Use a 10- or 12-point font, preferably Times New Roman
Make sure the font is absolutely readable.
Number every page, including the title page (except figures)-upper right-hand comer, inside the one-inch margin.
Indent the first line of every paragraph using the tab key (usually set at one-half inch indention), or use five to seven spaces to indent.
Center the title page information on a page; it should contain the paper's title, the author's name, and the author's affiliation
Place the abstract on a page by itself (page 2 of the paper). The word "Abstract" should be centered at the top of the page. The abstract        
          should be about 120 words in length and must be typed as one blocked (not indented) paragraph.  
        (Note: for most of Dr. Finley’s papers, you will not have an abstract. If you need one, I will tell you when).
APA requires only one space after punctuation in the body of the paper and Reference section.
Check with your instructor on his or her preference. Some instructors may want you to follow AP A format exactly; others will want two spaces because they believe it improves readability and others won't care. Also leave a space after the period used in the initials of people's names listed in your reference section.

The Reference section starts on its own page. It is called References. In APA style, the term bibliography has a very specific meaning.

Websites for Writing Help 

This site has one of the most extensive APA style bibliographies online. It has just about any type of resource you would need to cite.


This site is from the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to information on how to cite sources, it gives an overview of APA style.

This site contains a guide to writing papers using APA style. It is written in a question and answer style which makes it use-friendly. It comes from Capital Community College in Connecticut.

This site from APAOnline gives the latest updates and clarifications for the ever-changing world o electronic citation.

Print Resources for Writing Paper

The Publication Manual of the APA (Style Manual) 
is available from commercial book stores as well as from APA (www.apa.org). The Soxth edition of the Manual will be published during the summer of 2009.

APA Helper is software designed to aid in formatting papers in APA style. It can be purchased from APA.

Writing Papers in Psychology: A Student Guide (5th ed.) Ralph L. Rosnow, Mimi Rosnow
        Wadsworth Publishing, 2001, ISBN: 0-534-52975-5.
     This is a small paperback that give students a good guide for writing papers in psychology.It is generally under $20.00

Writing for Psychology. Christopher Thais and James F. Sanford. Allyn and Bacon, 2000. ISBN 0-205-28001-3
        This small paperback contains a section on giving oral presentations as well as including a brief guide to APA citations. There is also a chapter on taking tests.

Writing in Psychology, (2nd ed.) T. Raymond Smith. John Wiley & Sons, 1996 (This may be in a later edition but I could not find one).