Forensic psychologists use their expertise in both psychology and law to provide reports, evaluations, profiles, recommendations, analyses and testimonies across a wide range of legal and criminal contexts. The ability to write clearly, concisely and effectively, and to communicate complex ideas to a variety of audiences, is therefore crucial for anyone training in the field.
Forensic psychology is the field in which applied psychology intersects with the legal system. Since it involves providing competency evaluations, sentencing recommendations, clinical assessments, case presentations, and expert testimonies, the ability to convey psychological findings in readily intelligible form is one of the most important skills for any aspiring forensic psychologist to acquire. If you are studying for a qualification in forensic psychology, therefore, it is crucial that you master the skills of clear academic writing as soon as possible.
Courses in forensic psychology typically use a range of assessment methods, including essays, literature reviews, practice-based reports and examinations. No matter what you are writing about, be it eyewitness identification, jury behaviour and selection, the psychology of policing, criminal profiling, crime trends, domestic violence, legal decision-making, offender rehabilitation or risk assessment strategies, it is crucial that you take heed of the following advice. Developing these skills will help you to acquire essential transferable skills for practising as a forensic psychologist.
You should first of all make sure that you understand the exact requirements of the question. Before you start collecting materials, then, spend some time thinking about the question, its rationale, implications and parameters. This understanding should then guide your reading and note-taking, helping you to sift through what is and what is not going to be relevant in order for you to properly address the topic.
Your writing style should make it easy for your reader to follow what you are saying. Your goal should always be to communicate as clearly and effectively, never to “sound clever”. Strive for economy of expression. Clear sentence construction, along with faultless spelling, grammar and punctuation, are essential. If you use technical vocabulary, be sure to clarify what it means.
Never try to cram into your essay everything you know about a given topic. Rather, you must always set out to answer a specific question. Everything you include in the essay must be relevant to answering the question, whether by supporting or falsifying the hypothesis. Never include irrelevant or tangential material, however interesting you may find it, as it will only compromise the focus and clarity of your paper.
Every essay should have a clear and coherent structure. Always make use of the signpost principle: every step in the argument should be clearly marked out, and the reader should never be left wondering where an argument is going or why a particular point is being made.
Too many student papers end abruptly without providing a proper conclusion. A conclusion should not be a word-for-word restatement of the thesis but rather a succinct summary of the main points you have made in the body of the paper. You might then briefly gesture towards the wider implications of your argument. However, a conclusion is not the place to introduce new claims, evidence or arguments.
Do not neglect to proofread and edit your paper, and to include a complete list of references in accordance with your department's preferred citation style. Upon carefully re-reading your paper (which is preferably done after taking a short break of at least a day or two), you will also be able to strip away redundancies and find better ways to clarify certain points.
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