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Psychology Can Make Sense and Be Fun to Read

SarahStierch/Wikimedia CommonsWritng about psychological topics for a general audience can be tricky. As a college professor and popular psychology book editor, I have to tell some writers, "You don't have enough psychology in that paper." I also have to tell people (sometimes the same people), "You're not writing a journal article."

"You don't have enough psychology in that paper."
vs.
"You're not writing a journal article."

It's not really a case of "versus, " though. Students, teachers, bloggers, magazine writers, chapter authors, and anyone else trying to tell the masses about psychological topics could make both mistakes at the same time. Formal, stilted writing can, just as easily as a personal blog, say very much or very little without ever saying anything distinctly psychological.

Source: SarahStierch/Wikimedia Commons

Consider who your readers are. At one extreme, writers can forget (or fail to realize in the first place) what a general audience is. They're readers. Most, though, are neither psychology professionals nor psych students. You probably want the pros and students to appreciate what you're saying, too, but remember they make up only a small portion of your readership.

Most readers are unaccustomed to reading APA style. If you often write in APA (or other) style, think back to how daunting the first APA style article you ever opened looked at the time.

For example, relatively few general readers are familiar with the way we write journal articles. Our parenthetical citations (Smith & Wesson, 1852) look weird and intrusive, and they act as speed bumps that interupt the reading momentum. Consider using unobtrusive endnotes instead.

Get to the point. Let readers know your topic quickly. Make your key points quickly. Even though you need to jazz things up with interesting anecdotes, remarks, asides, and other dressings, I see more writers err by dressing things up too much. Most stories can be told in half as many words. Most students' opening sentences (and often entire paragraphs) can be removed without losing anything important. Don't bury your Thanksgiving turkey under a pile of dressing.

Don't be redundant. Reminders have their place, of course, but notice when two sentences in a row convey the same basic notion through different sets of words. Don't be redundant. Don't repeat yourself too much, either (and remember that ironic remarks may not look as obviously facetious in plain text as they seem inside your head).

Remember your point. Meandering is too easy to do. Somewhere along the way, ask yourself how each sentence helps you to make your immediate point (whatever you're saying in that section or paragraph) and your ultimate point (the main thing you're trying to say overall). Remember which tree you're working on and which forest you're in.

Do not bore the readers. They won't like it.

Don't be too formal. Excessively formal writing style can even bore the psych pros who read your work. Use everyday language (up to a point - see below). Contractions can be okay.



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Book (Harper Paperbacks)
  • Great product!


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