Psycholinguistics is interdisciplinary field combining aspects of psychology, cognitive science, neurobiology and linguistics in order to arrive at a scientific understanding of the cognitive processes that enable human language acquisition, production and comprehension. Essays in psycholinguistics should aim to combine the qualities of clarity, concision, coherence and critical thinking which exemplify scientific writing at its best.
A psycholinguistics essay must do more than regurgitate or summarise information from textbooks, lecture notes and readings. Minimally, it must integrate information from various readings and provide critical discussions of the material. It is important that your discussion is contextualised with relation to previous research rather than written as if in theoretical vacuum. Reading beyond the basic reading list is recommended, but always make sure that any additional material is relevant to the essay question.
In order to learn how to write a psycholinguistics essay you should familiarise yourself with journal articles in the field. Read published articles both for content and as examples of good scientific practice; that is, as models for the general approach, formulation, structure and style you should be aiming to emulate.
Write as simply and clearly as possible so that the reader can easily follow what you are saying. Use technical terms when it is economical to do so, and always be sure of their precise meaning. Never strive to sound “clever” or “academic”; the goal should be clear, direct communication, not fancy words or elaborate sentences. Avoid rambling and strive for economy of expression.
Always keep the question in mind and never lose sight of the specific goal of your paper. This applies to your reading and note-taking as much as to your writing. Beware of getting lost in aspects of the literature which are not immediately relevant to your essay. Never include tangential material, no matter how interesting it may be.
A clear, coherent essay structure is crucial. The organisation of the paper should reflect your line of argumentation. The introduction should provide relevant theoretical background and state the hypothesis to be discussed, and each claim should be supported by appropriate evidence and argumentation.
It is advisable to divide your essay up into numbered sections and subsections which reflect the structure of your argument. Within each section and subsection the discussion should be divided into paragraphs, with each paragraph devoted to a single claim that builds upon that which preceded it. Likewise, each sentence should be relevant to the immediately preceding one. Your argumentation and evidence should support the claim of each paragraph, and each paragraph should support the overall thesis. Padding out your essay with tangential or redundant information will not earn you marks.
In a research paper the methods section should include details of the data collection process. Ideally, you should include all and only those details that would be needed for another researcher to replicate your research or compare it with related studies.
In psycholinguistics you will deal with both quantitative and qualitative results. The quantitative should be presented in the results section, but qualitative results might be better suited to the discussion section. However you organise them, the main statistical findings should be reported first, and qualitative data should be discussed only after you have presented the numerical data.
Tables and figures should be carefully integrated within the structure of your essay. Always explicitly direct the reader as to what to look for and explain what they are supposed to show. Never simply assume that they are self-evident or speak for themselves.
This is where you analyse and interpret your results in depth. Your strongest, most interesting findings should be introduced first, explicitly relating them to the argument or hypothesis set forth in your introduction. Discuss whether and how your results support or fail to support your hypotheses and identify the implications and limitations of your study.
Your conclusion should restate the research question or hypothesis and summarise how the evidence and analysis presented in the body of the discussion support or falsify it. It may also indicate potential areas of future research that follow from your findings.
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