University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Research Paper in a Psychology Course for Majors: Presenting Understanding of a Course Concept

Professor Rhonda Reinholtz, Psychology

You will be required to write one 2,500-word paper on a topic of your choice relevant to clinical psychology.  The paper will be worth 100 points.  The paper must be 2,250 – 2,750 words, typed and double-spaced, not including the reference list. You may not include lengthy quotations of DSM diagnostic criteria. 

You will need to submit the final draft of the paper via Dropbox and turn in a printed copy.  The paper will be completed in three stages; you will complete a first draft, turned in only through Dropbox, that I will review; a polished draft that your writing fellow will review; and a final version.  The first draft should be around 1,500 words but can be only an outline or can be full length, and the second draft (the one turned in to the writing fellows) should be full length.  Although I will read through first drafts that are turned in after the due date, I may not do so in a timely manner and you may not be able to make use of my feedback before the draft is due to the writing fellows.

The focus of the term paper assignment is for you to produce a thoughtful exploration of a topic or question relevant to clinical psychology.  Your topic may be a particular diagnosis, a research design issue, an aspect of psychotherapy such as transference or play therapy, or virtually any other topic that reflects some facet of clinical psychology.  The challenge of the assignment will be to demonstrate that you have synthesized ideas from different sources and have developed a sophisticated understanding of your topic.  Your paper must convey to the reader that you have a sound grasp of the concepts about which you are writing and the clinical and/or research implications or challenges of those concepts.

The paper is not a literature review; your focus should be on presenting an understanding of a clinical idea rather than on presenting summaries of research findings.  You will need to cite research in order to support the points you are discussing, but the main purpose of the paper is not merely to list research studies and results.  The main purpose is to use the research studies and results as a way of developing an understanding of a clinical issue and presenting that understanding to the reader.  One way to think of what you need to convey in your paper is to imagine one of your friends asking about your paper topic – you should be able to describe the idea / conflict / situation about which you are writing in a way that clearly shows you understand what it means, why it is important, and so on—you wouldn’t answer a friend’s question by reeling off statistics, demographics, and other methodology details, but might mention such information while primarily telling your friend what is important and interesting about the data and how you understand it.  Your paper won’t be written in the sort of conversational tone you would use with a friend, but if you can’t easily explain your topic and its implications to a peer, your paper probably is not accomplishing the goal of demonstrating to me that you have a sophisticated understanding of your topic.

You are required to use at least five articles from peer-reviewed journals that are not assigned class readings.  You may use as many additional sources as you wish, including books, as long as you are making substantial use of at least five journal articles.  You may use the class readings only minimally; a paper that relies on information from a required reading for the class will be penalized.  Similarly, a paper that primarily focuses on only one or two articles or only one author, with minimal incorporation of additional sources, is not acceptable.  Grading criteria for the paper include content, depth, clarity of writing, and typos/proof-reading (see Paper Grading Sheet in the Content section of the Learn@UW website).