Writing Plan Phases
Collecting Baseline Data
First Edition Writing Plan
Second Edition Writing Plan
Third Edition Writing Plan
  • phase completed
  • phase in-progress

The Department of Psychology, in the College of Liberal Arts, offers approximately 1,400 undergraduate majors and countless non-majors a broad range of coursework in both basic and applied psychology. In teaching these courses, the Department's 44 core faculty members are joined by a large group of affiliate and adjunct instructors. With course enrollments ranging from small seminars and multi-section labs to massively-enrolled introductory courses, coordinated approaches to sequential writing instruction can be challenging.

Psychology Writing Plan

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Writing in Psychology

The Psychology faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”

  • Evidence-based, objective, explanatory and descriptive
  • Mechanically correct, using grammar, graphs, tables, sections, citations, etc. appropriately
  • Purposeful, thesis-driven, and advancing a particular point (for class assignments, on-task!)
  • Integrative or synthetic, identifying themes in literature; conclusions that distill previous points
  • Reflective, i.e., showing creativity, understanding, and an interesting perspective
  • Illustrated – using effective visual elements as appropriate
  • Contextualized; showing understanding of literature and situating present argument
  • Analytical; critical
  • Logical, coherent


Writing Abilities Expected of Psychology Majors

The Psychology faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “With which writing and thinking abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”

Minimum Requirements for Writing in the Major:

Identify work that has already been done on the topic:

  • Provide accurate descriptions of existing scholarship in the field using direct statements about what was accomplished and how.
  • Track back to original work for citations.
  • Summarize previously conducted studies so the reader can understand methods and impact of present work without referring to other texts.

Demonstrate understanding of reader’s perspective:

  • Anticipate the reader's level of understanding.
  • Anticipate the reader's concerns and expectations.
  • Motivate readers to care by telling them what is at stake.

Substantiate claims:

  • Portray previous literature accurately.
  • Provide a factual basis (previous literature or statistically significant result) for all claims.
  • Distinguish explicitly between the writer’s work (opinions, data) and that of others.

Synthesize, rather than list or re-iterate data:

  • Identify themes in related studies, rather than simply reiterating work.
  • Both compare and contrast previous work.
  • Evoke and address arguments and counterarguments.

Establish focal thesis, research question, or hypothesis early in papers:

  • State the thesis or question before discussing methods of data.
  • Address a research question of the appropriate scope (i.e., focused enough that background can be covered thoroughly within the page limit).
  • Tackle a question that is arguable or present a novel idea.

Data and facts build logically to a conclusion:

  • Connect conclusions directly (and logically) to results presented in text.
  • Include only previous work that is directly linked to the current argument.
  • Weigh evidence, acknowledging strengths and limitations of supporting evidence.

Avoid distracting the reader with low-level mistakes:

  • Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • Ahere to a standard style for citing sources (generally APA).
  • Adopt the appropriate level of formality (voice); use succinct writing style.

Use large-scale organization that supports comprehension:

  • Make explicit (and hopefully smooth) transitions between ideas (e.g., “First ... Next ...” or “On the other hand ...”).
  • Use section headings as appropriate.
  • Announce argument moves as appropriate (e.g., “In this section I will ...”).

Use visual elements as appropriate:

  • Use tables to organize comparisons between numbers or ideas.
  • Use graphs to plot data in which the reader should see trends.
  • Use visual elements to advance the argument of the paper.

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Psychology Courses

Members of the faculty identified the following menu of criteria from which colleagues can select and adapt items relevant to course-specific writing assignments:

The text...

  • Summarizes previously conducted studies so readers can understand methods and impact of present work without referring to other texts.
  • Motivates readers to care by telling them what is at stake.
  • Distinguishes explicitly between the writer’s work (opinions, data) and that of others.
  • Evokes and addresses arguments and counter-arguments.
  • Tackles a question that is arguable or presents a novel idea.
  • Weighs evidence, acknowledging strengths and limitations of supporting evidence.
  • Uses a succinct writing style.
  • Adopts the appropriate level of formality (voice).
  • Announces argumentative moves as appropriate (e.g., “In this section I will …”).
  • Uses visual elements to advance the argumentation of the paper.

Highlights from the Writing Plan

In its first-edition Writing Plan, Psychology developed online student-facing modules to help students to familiarize themselves with expected writing abilities. The department also established a small grants program to fund faculty and graduate TA requests for instructional support tools. Second-edition Writing Plan activities focused on strategies for incorporating relevant writing and writing instruction into Psychology courses. To this end, faculty members and graduate students participated in workshops and consultations supporting 5-minute writing activities and 5-minute revision workshops as well as strategies for offering actionable feedback on in-process drafts.

For its third-edition Writing Plan, the Psychology Department has laid out a three-stage plan with each stage activating increased faculty and instructor involvement.

  • In Stage 1, “Integration,” the department will host targeted discussions to scrutinize ways in which the faculty-generated list of valued writing abilities are align with course instruction at key locations in the department’s curriculum, entry-level (PSY1001), mid-level (PSY3001), and exit-level (PSY 3903W). This stage also initiates a monthly writing-oriented newsletter and involves regular and generative communication with key departmental instructors.
  • In Stage 2, “Expansion,” the department will sponsor idea-sharing dialogues in which specific groups of undergraduate writers, faculty members, instructors, and graduate TAs are invited to present and discuss writing activities and approaches. These discussions will leverage and expand an instructor-facing website developed in association with a previous-edition Writing plan. Also during this stage, the department will host a series of discussions with Psychology alumni to discuss the writing they do in their professions.
  • In Stage 3, “Assessment,” the department will analyze the impacts of its Writing Plan by administering a series of student and instructor surveys. Results of these surveys will supplement the results of the triennial WEC rating.