General Comments on Psychology 461 Papers


1. Try for an adequate discussion of the historic context in which your events occurred. This means coverage of events prior to, or following, the events that are your main focus. Take about a quarter of your paper to discuss events prior to your focal event (your icon), half the paper to discuss your focal event specifically, and about a quarter of the paper to discuss events that followed from your focal event.


2. In some of your papers, there will be foreign words and names that require accented letters, such as ť, Í, and Ł.Find out how to do these on your word processor or draw them in by hand.


3. Check your paper for proper spelling. If you are unsure, look up the word in a dictionary.


4. Check your paper for proper indication of possessives and plurals. Only add an apostrophe when you want to indicate a possessive word, not when you want to indicate a plural. A common error, for example, is to treat decades as possessives ("1980's") when they should be written as plurals ("1980s"). People are becoming increasingly proud of their ignorance and many examples of the incorrect use of an apostrophe can be found, even on public signage (For example: "No dog's allowed." "20% off on all book's"). Please don't contribute to the creeping apostrophication of our language.


4a. There's a confusing exception to the rule about adding apostrophe-s to indicate a possessive. The possessive of the impersonal pronoun "it" is formed by just adding an s ("its"). "It's" means "it is." "Its" is the possessive form of "it."


4b. While we're on this general topic, "there," "their," and "they're" all have different meanings and are spelled differently. The spellings are not interchangeable.


5. Follow APA style in citing your references. There are many examples to follow in the APA style manual.


6. Strive for a scholarly writing style. Avoid colloquialisms. Don't refer to historic figures by their first names alone. This is not a letter to a friend. Try for precise language that could be read and understood internationally by anyone who knows English. Donít depend on the reader knowing jokes, popular expressions, TV shows, and the like.


7. Read your paper aloud to someone to see if the sentences are logically connected to each other and to your overall theme. Attend to possible grammatical errors in sentence structure. Try to read the paper from the perspective of a first-time reader to see if your ideas are presented well. Remember that, if a sentence sounds awkward or vague to you, it will sound ten times more confusing to your reader. Change what you've written until your meanings are clear. This takes time and attention.


8. Create original writing from the facts you gather to make your paper more than a compilation of quotations and paraphrases.


9. Use direct quotations sparingly. Quotations are usually used to document or offer proof of a point, such as proof of a disputed fact, or to document someone's elegant use of language. They should not be used as a substitute for your own narrative writing.


10. Attend to proper use of capital and lower-case letters. Capitalize the first letter of every sentence, the first letter of a complete sentence following a colon, and proper nouns. Proper nouns are the names of particular people, places, and things. Just because a word means something important doesnít make it a proper noun. Our university seems to have adopted the style of capitalizing the words dean, vice president, provost, trustee, and president whenever they are used, whether they are used as proper nouns or not. This is wrong.


10a. You can change the case of the first letter of a quotation to make it fit the correct punctuation of the sentence it appears in.


11. Commas and periods go inside of quotation marks. There are several examples of this rule elsewhere in this guide. The only exception, in APA style, occurs when a direct quotation is followed by a bibliographic reference. In that case, the punctuation comes after the reference. Example:

Thorndike began his address to the International Congress of Psychology with the words "I was wrong" (Watson, 1963, p. 45).


12. Avoid run-on sentences. These are sentences with multiple subjects and verbs. Run-on sentences can usually be separated into two distinct and succinct sentences with the insertion of a period. For example: "Thorndike began his studies of learning with chickens then he switched to cats when his landlord complained about the chickens." This sentence should be divided into two sentences by replacing the word "then" with a period. The general rule is to communicate one idea per sentence.


13. Avoid sentence fragments. These are portions of a sentence, without a subject or without a verb. Like this. Sentence fragments are not always short. A more elaborate example of a longer sentence fragment, without either a subject or a verb.


14. A pronoun is generally assumed to refer to the proper noun that most immediately preceded it. In the sentence, "when Fido and John went for a walk, he urinated on every bush," the reader will assume that "he" refers to John because "John" is the closest preceding proper noun. If that's not what you intend to say, either rearrange the order of the proper nouns or use the proper noun instead of a pronoun. In the sample sentence, the second remedy would probably be best.


15. The abstract should be a short summary of the content of the paper, not an introduction to the paper or the story of how you wrote the paper. It should state each of the main points of the paper. It should only be 120 words long.


16. Every source referred to in the text should have a corresponding entry in the reference list. Every entry in the reference list should be referred to in the text.


17. When writing about an individual, focus on his or her work and contributions to psychology. Don't dwell much on the details about family, childhood, education, etc. unless those are somehow related to the person's place in the history of psychology.


18. Double-space everything, including the abstract. Don't let your word processor put four spaces between paragraphs.


19. Don't use word processor text enhancements such as fancy fonts, different sizes of fonts, colors of text, boldface, or full justification. Italics can be used for titles of books and journals.