Writing psychology essay papers: how to find an interesting topic
Though many subjects may claim it, psychology is definitely one of the most popular literature-based disciplines of today; without contest (not to mention the second most popular college major according to the Princeton Review). Communities of psychologists conduct thousands of research projects quite frequently, whether they be original empirical studies or theory based initiatives . There are many interesting topics to be covered, much to be said, and lots and lots to be written. Which can make choosing a topic seem even more difficult. So where do you begin? A good starting point, though not the only one, would be to simply review the different types of writing in psychology to see exactly where you fit in.
Steps to choosing a topic: Identify a purpose
Before you can choose a topic you need to know the type of writing you are required to do. This will in turn allow you to identify your purpose or reason for writing. Essentially each type of writing in psychology will either serve the purpose of ; reviewing, reporting, or researching.
Different types of writing
Many articles in psychology focus on interesting aspects of research. In one way or another most psychology writings will either relay the specific results of a research project, review someone else's project, or conduct a literature review of several authors, projects, and publications. More specific details of each category can be seen below.
(a) Review: The review is a common form of writing for students, despite educational background or years of college study. Professors often require students to conduct extensive reviews of specific experiments as well as reviews of the general literature on a topic to demonstrate a concrete understanding of what's being discussed. This involves critical thinking as well as in-depth analysis of key concepts and ideas. *Overall interpretation and evaluation are the major components of review writing.
(b) Report: In some cases students may be asked to do a more basic or preliminary review of a particular source; without going into much examination or critique. The report may not show any strong support for or against the source but simply present the main components of the article, book, or other publication. Similar to a book review, it is acceptable to include some observations as well as to make general connections to the 'real world' or other than it.
(c) Research: As with the review, research writing in psychology is another very popular form of writing. Empirical studies are often conducted by students and professionals covering a wide range of interesting topics. Professors may require students to conduct light or intensive experiments depending on the particular course and year of study. Most research writing in psychology follows the same guidelines as that of lab reports in other sciences and may include things such as; a title page, literature review, methods section, results, and conclusion.
Searching for ideas: Sources of inspiration
Now that you know why you are writing you can start to hone in on the different categories that would be suitable for your specific type of writing. If given a lot of direction from your instructor this task can be simplified by just following the guidelines given.Otherwise a little more effort will be required on your part.
(1) Scan psychology publications: Headlines and cover stories are usually very good places to search for 'hot' topics in any field. If not abreast to the newest research or most troubling issue or trend, these publications will often help inform you of what is new and current in the psychology community.
(2) Work from your own interest: Since psychology deals with how we interact with the world around us, you can literally take most life events or interests and find a way to examine them from a 'psychological perspective.' You can consider interactions, common behaviors, patterns, mental processes and so on. For example, if you've always wondered about the relationship between you and your pet, or how humans interact with animals, you can opt to conduct a literature review on one specific issue connected to human-animal interactions.
(3) Check in with psychology organizations: Along with psychology publications different psychological organizations also may have their own newsletters or publications as well as recent and up-to-date news articles on a variety of psychology topics. The American Psychological Association for instance, has an option on their website to review the most popular topics being searched. This may also give you a starting point for topic selection.
Brainstorming is a very common method of generating topics. This is best done with a topic that you are already familiar with and interested in. To begin you would simply take a familiar topic and list different issues related to it. Also you may decide to free write and review the ideas generated from that (or use your initial list to prompt additional list until you find a suitable and narrow topic).
Choosing something close and familiar
Often times you'll hear that these are the best topics to choose from. Why? Because if you're interested in something you'll likely do a better job of writing about it-not to mention you may also find it much easier to investigate. Take for instance a former police officer. If he decided to do a criminal justice paper, his brain storming list will likely fill up much faster than someone who is a former teacher. Since he has experience with the criminal justice system as well as with many issues that arise in that line of work, he can more readily pinpoint a narrow topic to investigate for a good paper. Likewise, the same applies to other areas of expertise, whether from personal experience, educational foundations, or work-related knowledge-sometimes we just fare better when we stick to what we know.
How not to choose a topic
Finally, some things you want to avoid are (a) very broad topics and (b) narrowing down unfamiliar ones on your own. For instance, subjects such as bipolar disorder and eating disorders are very popular and heavily researched in psychology. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? In some ways good and in some ways bad. The bad thing is that since there is a lot of information regarding them it can be quite difficult to do any type of justice to the material that is available in terms of a literature review, for instance. But the good thing obviously is that since the area is well-researched and defined you should have no problem finding the resources you need.
Also, regarding the second point, if a topic is unfamiliar to you its best to leave the narrowing to the experts. That is, there really is no need in racking your brain to come up with a narrow topic for either one of the above examples. A quick search through your library's card catalog or an electronic database such as Ebscohost should provide you with enough results to identify one or two areas of concentration.
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