down arrowMenu

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Tips for Writing Papers

  1. Buy the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (APA, 2009).
  2. Make an outline before you start so that your ideas are organized and flow logically from one idea to the next one.
  3. Do not use first person narrative (I, we, us) or 2nd person narrative (you) in a formal paper--especially a research paper. You can refer to yourself (if you really feel compelled to do so) as "the author" or some other euphemism. The only exception to this rule is an informal paper, such as a journal or reaction paper.
  4. When reporting information from other sources, such as books, studies, and research projects, use past tense in explaining the findings or other information (e.g., "the researchers suggested that their study supported the idea that…").
  5. Use headings and subheadings to help organize the paper.
  6. Have transition sentences--either at the end of the paragraph before the transition OR at the beginning of the next paragraph that introduces a new idea--even if you have headings and subheadings, you must still use transitions to connect your ideas and let the reader know that you are introducing a new topic.
  7. The introduction of the paper should tell the reader what the paper is going to be about--in it, you tell the reader what you are going to write about in brief sentences that basically list the topics covered in the paper. You should also discuss why your topic is important, answering the question, "So what?"
  8. At the end of your paper, you should have a conclusion or summary, in which you summarize what the paper has covered and make conclusions based on the material you have covered in the paper. You should not introduce new ideas in the summary/ conclusion section.
  9. When you are reporting information that is not common knowledge/common sense, you MUST reference your sources.
  10. When you have more than 1 reference for a section, the references need to be listed in alphabetical order.
  11. Double space everything in the paper--including quotes and references.
  12. Number your pages and provide a heading at the top of each page.
  13. If you summarize research studies, it is important to point out any methodological flaws in them in a separate paragraph. (e.g., if one of the studies you use has only 3 subjects and the researchers are making generalizations about the efficacy of the treatment based on such a small sample size, you might want to write something like, "Based on such a small sample size, it would be difficult to justify making generalizations about the effectiveness of this treatment strategy.")
  14. The first time you cite a multiple author reference with 6 or less authors, you must list all the authors.. Thereafter, you should use the et al. formulation.
  15. If you use a quote, cite the author, date, and page number.
  16. If you have a quote of more than 40 words, it must be blocked. The rules of quotations marks, periods, and other punctuation change with a blocked quote. 
  17. . If you have a list, there are 2 ways of handling lists--one for listing things in the body of the narrative and one for listing things down in a list-like column. 
  18. If you are referencing in a parenthesis (Grange & Samuel, 1978), use an ampersand (&) instead of writing the word "and." If you are referring to several authors in the body of the paper, "Grange and Samuel (1978) commented..." use the word "and" and not an ampersand (&).
  19. For specific guidelines on referencing, check the manual.
  20. Do not use contractions (e.g., can't, won't etc.) in the paper.
  21. When you have a quote, put the end punctuation inside the quotation marks-- for example: Samuals (1990) said, "Watch out for those punctuation marks. They can trip you up." Notice that the period is inside the quotation marks. The same is true if you have commas or any other kind of end punctuation mark!!!!! 
  22. Avoid 1 sentence paragraphs--every paragraph should have at least 2 sentences.
  23. Avoid linking sentences with semicolons--this makes for a complicated, convoluted sentence. The simpler your sentences, the easier it is for the reader to follow what you are trying to say, so keep it simple--the purpose of writing is to communicate to the reader, not confuse him or her.
  24. Make sure you have singular/plural agreement. If you use "the children," you must use "they" because these words are both plural. If you use "the child," you must use "him or her" because these are both singular. Do not use him/her--use him or her OR her or him.
  25. Use commas correctly. 
  26. If you use material from outside sources, you must reference your sources. You must cite the sources in the body of the paper (for example: Use the Baffling Butterflies handout (Jones, 1993) for this activity.). You must also give the complete APA style reference on the actual handout/outside material AND in the references at the end of the paper.
  27. If you do not know the author of a piece, use the Anonymous reference for the author.
  28. If you do not know the date of the piece, use the "no date" reference for the date.
  29. If you are citing something that an author got from another author, use the "cited in James, 1992" style. The APA manual is a bit vague about this, so discuss it with your professor.
  30. Make sure the subject of your sentence can actually DO the verb. For example, society CANNOT view, research CANNOT suggest, etc.-- inanimate objects or ideas cannot do active verbs. Members of society can view, researchers can suggest based on their finding, etc.
  31. Report research in past tense: Jones (1998) stated that all women in the study were high achievers.
  32. You MUST put everything in your own words. If you use material directly from another source, word for word, you have to use quotations, author, year, and page number. Example: Vernon (2004) cited the importance of assessing for depression. She stated “ one way to do this is to note frequency, intensity, and duration of the feeling” (p.18). However, do not overuse direct quotes.
  33. Even if you don’t use the exact words, but you use an author’s general ideas, you MUST document. Example: Parenting programs can be highly effective and can be delivered in a variety of formats (Smith, 2000).
  34. DO NOT plagiarize (use someone’s exact words or general idea without citing the source). The department participates in plagiarism protection through This resource allows instructors to submit your paper to plagiarism detection software. Visit the website listed above for more information on how this software works, or speak with your instructor if you have further questions.