Psychology journals publish a number of different types of articles, including reports of empirical studies, review articles, case studies, and theoretical articles. When writing an essay for a university psychology course, it will usually be the last of these that you will be required to submit.
The purpose of a theoretical article is to provide a critical discussion of currently published research with the aim of contributing to theoretical understanding in the field. This might mean setting forth and defending a particular thesis, providing a critical assessment of existing theories by identifying their shortcomings, or arguing for the advantages of one approach over another.
As in many other subjects, a major pitfall is that students take the title as an invitation to write all they have learnt about the topic from their lectures and reading. This is a common but serious mistake.
If you want to attain a high mark in your psychology essay it is crucial that you not only answer the specific question set for you, but that you also demonstrate your understanding of its nature and significance.
Moreover, answering the question itself is a necessary but insufficient condition for a high grade. However straightforward the title you are given may seem, you will always be expected to provide some critical evaluation while drawing upon relevant data.
If you are asked to write about the philosophical presuppositions of behaviourism, for example, you should not simply describe what these assumptions are, but also critically assess the adequacy of such concepts as operant conditioning and reinforcement with reference to pertinent examples.
A good psychology essay, then, comprises a structured argument supported by evidence. Typically this will include a discussion of relevant and up-to-date experimental data drawn from peer-reviewed publications.
A good answer to most psychology essay questions will also incorporate critical evaluation, involving a careful and reasoned appraisal of evidence and the analysis of alternative theoretical approaches in order to assess the logical coherence and empirical adequacy of particular positions.
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