The purpose of writing essays in psychiatry is to train students to write about a subject in a clear and concise manner appropriate to publication in scientific journals. Your essays should examine a single topic in greater depth than your lectures and tutorials and should draw upon recently published findings, papers and reviews. In what follows we provide essential advice for both theory and research papers in psychiatry.
A good psychiatry essay comprises a well-structured discussion supported by evidence and argument. Typically this will include an analysis of relevant and up-to-date experimental data drawn from peer-reviewed publications. A good answer to most psychiatry essay topics will also incorporate critical evaluation, involving a careful and reasoned appraisal of evidence and the analysis of alternative theoretical approaches.
Before setting out to write your essay, spend time thinking about the question and what information will be required to answer it. Everything you include in your essay must be geared towards providing an answer to the question. Excessive or tangential details will only divert the reader from the argument you are building in support of your conclusions.
Strive for economy of expression and avoid wordiness. Avoid overuse of qualifiers such “suggests”, “seems”, “appears”, “apparently”, “may be”. Although qualifiers can be important, excessive usage suggests hedging, uncertainty and indecision.
The structure of your essay should be clear and coherent. Each statement should be buttressed by evidence and argumentation. Evidence may take the form of citations from peer-reviewed publications or findings taken from your own research. Argumentation employs logical reasoning to derive valid conclusions from your premises.
Your abstract should comprise a short paragraph of no more than a few hundred words which succinctly summarises the objectives, methodology, results and conclusions of the study.
Your introduction should foreshadow what is to follow. It should briefly explain the background and theoretical context of the project, the topics to be discussed or hypotheses to be tested, and indicate the wider significance of your work.
Where a literature review is required be sure not to range too widely and to limit your discussion to a critical analysis of the literature which has direct relevance to your research question.
Your methods section should explain the manner in which the data you collect will enable you to effectively address your research question, as well as provide reasons why you chose the method you did rather than another. This section should be thorough and precise yet avoid unnecessary detail, including only what is necessary in order for the experiment to be replicated or meaningfully compared to similar studies.
Your results section should clearly and concisely present the experimental findings which are essential for establishing your principle conclusions. Remember that negative results are every bit as valuable as positive ones, so be sure to include them.
You may wish to present your results in the form of tables, lists, graphics or charts. If you do so, remember to make them as clear as possible and never assume that they are self-evident. What they purport to show must be explicitly discussed in the body of the text.
Your discussion or analysis chapter should not be a simple summary or recapitulation of your empirical findings. Rather, this is where you must provide an interpretation of your data and demonstrate the extent to which you have succeeded in achieving your research objectives. You should provide a clear statement of how and why your findings either corroborate of differ from those discussed in your literature review. You should also address possible objections to your conclusions and identify the limitations of your study and its implications. Take special care not overstate your results by overgeneralising or making claims for causation where only correlations have been established.
The conclusion should refer back to the objectives stated in the introduction, summarise your findings and discuss the implications of your study. You might also briefly indicate possible lines of follow-up research.
Always make sure that your essay is carefully revised and edited, and correctly formatted and referenced, before submitting it.
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