A Brief Guide for Research Paper

B. Trite Language

Inexperienced authors commonly use phrases such as “In today’s society…” or “In the world today…”  Please do not say such things – they are trite and really say nothing.  In today’s society – compared to yesterday’s society?  These phrases are often used to begin a paper – you can just as easily introduce the topic in any number of other more effective and interesting ways. 

C. Un-validated Claims

Also avoid claims that are impossible to validate.  “Since the beginning of time…”  “People all over the world…” “All people…”  “Everyone knows that…” We cannot know what has happened since the beginning of time, unless we have access to time machines or omnipotent powers. 

D. Properly Referencing in APA Style

APA (American Psychological Association) style is very intimidating for many people, but it really is not too difficult unless you write a very serious article for publication.  For this course you only need to know a few simple rules/styles. Below are common areas that are often confusing to students.

  1. Using “and” or “&”.  When you cite a reference in parentheses, use “&”.  Research indicates that people engage in self-deceptive processes to enhance self-esteem (Taylor & Brown, 1988).  If you do not place authors in parentheses, use “and”.  Taylor and Brown (1988) argue that people engage in self-deceptive processes to enhance self-esteem.
  2. When citing more than one reference at a time, they should be alphabetized.  For example (James, 1989; Turner & Barlow, 1919).
  3. For references with more than 2 authors, you type all the names the first time the reference appears in your paper.  For example, one of your references has three authors.  The first time you cite this reference, you might type it as follows, (James, Turner & Barlow, 1989).  Future instances of this reference should be shortened to (James et al., 1989).
  4. The reference page: This should begin on a new page and look something like this:


The new APA manual requires the use of digital objective identifier (DOI) in citations for online periodicals.  When DOI is present, you no longer need to include the URL, when

DOI is not present, include the URL. For example:

Herbst-Damm, K. L., & Kulik, J. A. (2005). Volunteer support, marital status, and the

survival times of terminally ill patients. Health Psychology, 24, 225-229. doi:


When the DOI is not there:

Sillick, T. J., & Schutte, N. S. (2006). Emotional intelligence and self-esteem mediate

between perceived early parental love and adult happiness. Applied Psychology,

2(2), 38-48. Retrieved from http://ojs.lib.swin.edu.au/index.php/ejap

Barkley[A2] , T[A3] . & Pullock, A. (1999).  Memory constraints of rats with injuries to the

frontal cortex.  Journal of Memory, 16[A4] , 22-41[A5] .

Nunoz, C., Smith, T. & Alberson, T. T. (2005).  Memory bias and self-esteem.  Journal of

Personality, 32, 1020-1040. 

**Not that it is not necessary to include retrieved date unless the source may change over time.

**It is also not necessary to include the database that it was retrieved from.

E. Prove

Avoid the word “prove” and words with similar meaning.  It is very difficult to prove, especially in the social sciences.  First of all, conditions and people are always changing – we cannot know if a phenomenon that occurs with great predictability in one situation will occur in another.  Second, scientists are a skeptical lot.  If you try to say that you have proved something, chances are one can think of 100 questions regarding this proof that you probably will have difficulty responding to.

F. Writing Clearly

Psychology is a science, and as such, clarity is paramount.  It is not impressive when a student uses fancy words or states something with enormous sophistication.  When people try to sound smart, they often fall short.  This is not to say you are not smart – but unless you are an expert in the field, it is best to use more simple language.  Many students try too hard to sound fancy and when I ask what they are trying to say, they can verbally explain it beautifully.  If you can verbally communicate something but your writing is confusing, it may be a good idea to record yourself explaining something and then going back to type it out and edit.

G. Use an Outline

People hate using outlines.  I suspect that this is so because many consider it a waste of time.  I assure you, using an outline will save you time and vastly improve your writing!  Plan out what you are going to say before you say it, otherwise your paper will lack direction and confuse the reader.  If your writing has a clear direction, then writing it will be easier.  Outlines can be very simple, such as subject headings, or they can be as detailed as planning out every sentence. 

H. Active Voice

Which sentence is more interesting to read?  (a) There are a great number of treatments to bipolar disorder.  (b) A great number of treatments exist for bipolar disorder.  The first sentence uses passive voice, the second uses active voice.  Sure, the difference may seem small, but an entire paper of passive voice is bound to get boring!  Just for starters, go through your final document and find all instances of “there are” or “there is”, etc and replace them.

I. Effect and Affect

Effect is an outcome, affect is to change something.  “The psychoactive medications had a profound effect on his behavior”.  “Alcohol can greatly affect a driver’s ability to avoid accidents.”

J. Proof Reading

It is shocking how frequently people fail to proofread their work.  Remember that this work is a reflection of you – surely reading your paper aloud is worth your time.  Occasionally an incorrect word slips by us all, but a paper littered with such errors is not acceptable at this level.

K. Formatting

Use Times New Roman at a 12-point font.  Also use standard double spacing.  Do not alter the margins (use 1 inch margins all around) and do not space extra between paragraphs, sections, etc.  Attempts to make your paper look longer through such means (changing fonts, spacing, etc.) gives a bad impression of the quality of your work.

L. Use of Acronyms

It is nice to use acronyms. Instead of typing post traumatic stress disorder over and over, use PTSD. To do this, you should establish the acronym upon the first instance of the term. “Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among veterans of war.” Since the acronym is now defined, you should use it instead of the spelled out version. Many students establish the acronym and then continue to write it all out – please avoid that mistake.

M. Revisions and My Help

Note also that I am very happy to meet with you to work on your writing.  I will always provide you with feedback if you forward me your work at least 5 days before the due date.  I will always be happy to meet with you and review your work in great detail at office hours or by appointment.  The ability to write well is hugely important, and I truly want you to excel.

Note that when I return your papers (whether a draft or a final assignment), I will insert comments and track my changes.  If you do not see anything, select, “View” and “Markup” on the toolbar (for MS Word). Also, while your grade will certainly benefit by sending me a draft, I cannot guarantee your paper is going to get an A if you make the suggested changes.  Also note that I often cannot tell if you plagiarized by reviewing your draft. We use turnitin.com and that helps me determine cases of plagiarism for the final draft.  I do my best, but I cannot catch everything. I can guarantee that you will earn a better grade than if you don’t submit a paper for my review.

N. A Few Other Notes

(1) The minimum page requirement does not include title pages, abstracts, references or other documents (such as appendixes, figures, tables). 

(2) Don’t type the running head on each page – use the “view header/footer” function on MS Word.  Once you select this, you can type your running head, insert page number and it will automatically appear.

(3) When using Turnitin.com, make sure you upload the correct paper!  I will not accept stories such as “I accidentally uploaded my roommate’s paper”, or “That was just a draft”.  Double check it before you upload because the uploaded paper will be evaluated (for grade and plagiarism). 

(4) When discussing a source, don’t write the authors’ position and title. For example, students sometimes write, “Dr. Charles Bronson, director of Psychological Studies at Harvard University, argues that…” That’s just a waste of space. Instead, just type his idea and cite him normally.

(5) Don’t use the word “society”. It is used in really silly ways and it rarely says anything meaningful. “In today’s society…” “The effect on society…” Society is diverse, we can’t talk about it like a unitary entity that is affected or is effecting. “Society puts pressure on people to…” Again, it’s just so vague and meaningless. About 1% (at most) of the sentences I see with “society” in it are good sentences. The same applies to similar words like the “world”, “humans”, “media”, “people today”, etc.

(6) Use sub-headings. They are a great way to improve the organization of your paper (for some classes, one of the grading criteria is paper organization). Make them fairly descriptive, I often get headings like “Consumerism”. That’s too vague – specify in relation to what; for instance, “How Marketers Prey Upon Individuals’ Consumerism”. Also, don’t have a section called “Literature Review”. It is expected that you will review the literature – instead use a heading that helps organize the literature review. You can see how to use headings in example papers I provide or in most journal articles. Note that the newest APA style requires the use of bold headings rather than the old format of italics. We usually use three levels of headings, level1 is for major headings, level2 for secondary, and level3 for tertiary and are as follows.

Level One[A6] 

Level Two[A7] 

            Text begins here…

            Level three.  [A8] Text begins here…

O. Resources

The Purdue Owl is a concise and useful link for APA formatting questions.


Further, the university offers tutoring both in person and online.  http://www.undergrad.nova.edu/AcademicServices/tutoring/

One final note – enjoy writing.  Often we are hurried and short on time so writing is a burden.  Take the time to enjoy what you are writing and the task will become more than something that you just have to do. It is an opportunity to explore an intellectual question and also to hone the important skill of communicating effectively.

 [A1]Centered, bold

 [A2]place references in alphabetical order.

 [A3]don’t type first names or middle names, just their initials.

 [A4]volume number of the journal

 [A5]page numbers of the article.

 [A6]Capitalize first letter of each word, bold, and center

 [A7]Capitalize first letter of each word and bold

 [A8]Only capitalize first letter of first word, end with a period, and start the text on the same line.

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