A good essay on a topic within Psychology has many positive attributes. These guidelines will provide you with a clear idea of what these attributes are, in order to achieve your full potential with your studies.
Not only should all material be relevant to the question/statement to be evaluated, but the way in which it is relevant should be made clear and precise. A good starting point is to read the question and underline the key words. Try and include these key words in both your introduction and concluding paragraph.
- The essay should have a logical structure, which is clearly reflected in the paragraph structure.
- The opening paragraph should effectively set the framework for the rest of the essay. Avoid opening essays with overly general statements; focus immediately on the rest of the text.
- Points made within a particular paragraph should always be relevant to the essay question and be related to one another.
- The relationship between material in neighbouring paragraphs should be made clear, possibly by use of bridging statements such as 'Further evidence suggests...' and 'A contrasting view...'. Make sure that the reader is likely to know exactly what point is being made at any time.
- The final paragraph should provide a summary of the main conclusions of the essay, and may point to areas of future research which are likely to advance understanding of the specific topic addressed in the essay.
The writing style should be clear and straightforward, using good grammar and appropriate vocabulary.
A key feature of Psychology is that independent observations of behaviour (often, although not always, provided by experiments) provide the basis for building and evaluating theories.
References to specific studies (i.e. names and dates) should be stated where possible to provide support for the argument. In a good essay, the relationship between data and theory should be made clear.
It is important to demonstrate an understanding that more than one theory can account for the same set of data, and to understand that no theory can ever be 'proved' although it may be preferred over other accounts by particular evidence.
An excellent essay should evaluate data and theory, which goes beyond simple description.
Here are some ways in which this may be done:
- A brief description of a key experimental finding may be followed by an analysis of the shortcomings of the method.
- Two theories may be briefly described and then contrasted with one another. Are they basically different or not, or are they formally equal? What are their distinguishing features?
Science is a social activity and knowledge is gained through two routes: a) data obtained from practical studies and (b) theoretical ideas developed to account for patterns in the practical data. As noted in section 4, references to specific studies must be provided to support all statements that make use of other people's ideas and data.
At the end of the essay there could also be a special reference section that collects together and identifies the sources for all the published material cited in the text, allowing the reader to access further information about the study or theoretical statement.