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Essay Writing Tips

Study Skills workshop for Experimental Psychology students at the University of Sussex

Rob Lee

on 10 October 2013

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Transcript of Essay Writing Tips

Types of Assignments you will do over the year
Statistics Portfolio assignments
(the point of these is to show what you’ve learnt by doing the correct tests then reporting them concisely in APA format, not by over-explaining what each test means)
Introduction sections in journal articles
Literature Reviews
(You will read many more than you will write)
Only one for Social Psychology
Critical Review
Really pick apart a single paper
Structured like a mini journal article
Lab Reports
The best practice for writing your dissertation
What did You Study?
Brain + Behaviour
Philosophy of Psychology (Perspectives on Psychology?)
Abnormal and Clinical Psychology
Developmental Psychology
What made a good essay in your old subject?
Good background knowledge

Good research

Critical thought

Independent thought

How to build up good background knowledge?
Start with the relevant lecture/seminar, any pre-existing knowledge

See if any other topics in the module link in

Try a few textbooks/Wikipedia articles

Introductions of journal articles can sometimes give a really good overview
How to do good research?
You don’t necessarily need to read a journal article front to back;
Results are usually summarised in the first paragraph of the discussion.

If a paper seems really useful, use Google scholar
to check out which papers have since cited it
some might only tangentially mention it
(is it in the first 4 or 5 paragraphs of the intro?),
but some may directly critique/build upon its findings.
What can you critique?
You can critique:
a theoretical background,
a theory,
a study.
When critiquing a study, what could you question?
Whether its hypothesis stems from/tests the theory it’s meant to

Whether the study tests the hypothesis it claims to test

The methodology of the study

Whether the results support the conclusion

Whether other results bring these results/conclusions into dispute
Independent thought
– new arguments and links
Sheep herding
Are there alternative hypothesis that might be supported by the results of some studies you have found?

Can some new research you’ve found contribute to an old debate (explain not just the immediate conclusions but the [reasonable] wider implications)?

Could two (apparently not linked) areas of research impact upon each other?

(Could a particular debate be resolved by a [feasible but not yet undertaken] experiment?)
If creative/independent thought is your strength, try to do a bit of research before planning your essay, otherwise you may find that most of your ideas have already been addressed/negated in the pre-existing research

If research is your strength, take the time to draw up a mind map after each couple of useful essays you read, to see if any particular arguments/positions that you could promote/defend present themselves.

Don’t try to fit in too much

It’s at the lecturer’s discretion whether to penalise for going over the word limit
Tip – play to your strengths, but try to fill in/develop the gaps
There is not enough time on the course to craft a perfect piece of writing.
It’s only an essay.
65% in exam + 58% in essay = 63.95% in module
65% in exam + 78% in essay = 66.95% in module
Remember: each essay is only worth 15% of each module, so it’s good if you can avoid spending too much time on it.
58% in exam would need to get 72% to get 60.1%

If you get 72% in an exam and 58% in essay, you would get
69.9% (probably still a distinction)
If possible, think of essays as a learning tool,
that leads to a better understanding of a topic
and helps the module to click.
(Particularly for Brain & Behaviour)
Most essays will be on one lecture out of two for each week’s topic – if you have time, learn about both topics whilst writing your essay, since it is more likely the other topic will come up in the exams (note: this doesn’t always work).
You will be writing mini essays in the exam, and everything suggested here still applies to those essays; you just don’t need to do any of it quite as well to get good marks.
Summer term
Winter term
Autumn term
Christmas Holidays
Easter Holidays
Summer 'Holidays'
Chose supervisor about ½ way through autumn term following the two 'meet the potential supervisors' days
Started going to ChaT lab meetings each Monday
Worked on Lab Report
and Philosophy Essay over Christmas
Felt inspired by the idea of using a computer game mid January, following a ChaT lab meeting where one of the PhD students mentioned his autistic son was unusually good at it
wrote some of ethics form over Easter,
did test run (failed),
re-thought experiment,
put on hold whilst starting revision
Finished Exams,

Submitted Ethics form,

Prepared Experiment,

Undertook Experiment (60 participants),
Finished Experiment,

Did SPSS coding,

Did video coding (had a research assistant [in reality a ChaT lab volunteer whom none of the PhD students could think of a role for])

Wrote Results

Wrote Discussion

Wrote Method

Wrote Intro
re-wrote Results based on Intro

re-wrote Discussion based on results

wrote Abstract

Handed everything in

Chose supervisor about ½ way through autumn term,

Chose to be in a group project of 4 people, constructing a website/app to implement computer-based MCBT

Met fairly regularly (weekly?)
Fran + Andy
Fran wrote her Introduction over Christmas

Andy began trying out website ideas
The team constructed computer CBT course over Winter term,

Abandoned website idea, went with Emails
Fran + Andy
Had a lot of group meetings over Easter,

Did a pilot final two weeks of Easter
Fran + Andy
The group did multiple runs of the 2-week program through summer term

Although this mainly involved sending out daily e-mails, it proved to be a massive hassle with exams

An additional difficulty was recruiting people - around exam time, fewer people were prepared to participate

However, they had collected all their data by the end of exams
Fran + Andy each had to explore different questions using the data; spent around 1 month on SPSS

Fran re-wrote her introduction
(first written over Christmas)

Both spent about 2 months writing up
Chose supervisor ½ way through Autumn term,

couldn’t decide on a project
Did exams,

submitted ethics form after the exams,

Constructed a facebook questionnaire
received 120 responses,

wrote up in 3 weeks,

got good data
Also, most people I spoke to really enjoyed their dissertations
Unless you leave things too last minute, or get stuck,
your work rate on dissertations will probably expand/contract to fill the amount of time you have left.
Is there anything else you would like to cover in this session?
Fran + Andy
Fran + Andy
A really useful resource created by students over the past 2 years:
Password: sussexep
Contains essays, mock questions, dissertations etc.
Full transcript