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Writing for Psychology Today

8 Rules for Writing Killer Articles

plos one/open accessThe association of article features on citations. The authors measured whether a certain feature (e.g., having fewer words than the typical abstract published in the same journal [Row 1a]) led to a significant increase (blue) or decrease (red) in total citations. Weconsidered an effect positive or negative only if the associated probability of being zero was smaller than 0.01/15.

Source: plos one/open access

Rule 1: Write with Sufficient Length to Tell the Full Story

You can see in the Figure above, that in psychology, a shorter abstract with fewer sentences led to fewer citations. Reconsider the adage that briefer is better. What is more important? Adding enough content and context for a reader to understand why they should care.

Rule 2: Nuance Rocks

In psychology, easy, simple words led to fewer citations. Journalists might want simple stories. But when the world is complicated, there is nothing wrong with describing this complexity. Sometimes positive emotions are healthy, in some situations they lead to suboptimal outcomes; sometimes negative emotions are unhealthy, in some situations they lead to optimal outcomes. Thus, it is erroneous to claim that positive emotions are the panacea for better physical health, social relationships, productivity, and creativity. Same goes for grit. Sames goes for kindness. Same goes for curiosity.Political Brains © Oleg Atbashian @ The People’s Cube. Same goes for nearly every attribute imaginable. Learn to love complexity because it is needed to tell the full story.

Rule 3: Use the Present Tense

My writing skills declined in graduate school. My professors forced me to write in the third, fourth, or fifth person, because supposedly this is what hardcore scientists do. The assumption is that an objective voice makes your scientific findings seem objective (on the surface, your intelligence appears vast and impenetrable). To be in good standing, I had to ditch the lessons learned from creative writing classes in college. Let's end this practice. Human first, scientist second. Write in the present tense. If you are writing about what you did, insert yourself into the storyline. Some journal reviewers will disagree. Remember that nobody becomes a reviewer because of their mastery of writing. Reviewers are chosen because of their content knowledge. Write well. Scientific research should have a narrative arc, like any good story.

Rule 4: Use Adjectives and Adverbs as Needed

Less is more. This is one of the most important rules in communication, whether arguing with a spouse, giving a workshop to a Fortune 100 company, or writing a book. In psychology, sometimes you need the appropriate language to retain the story narrative. We are talking about the science of human behavior and not all points are equal. Adjectives and adverbs can help guide the reader. But still, "omit needless words".

Related facts

  • Satoshi Kanazawa PhD (born November 16, 1962) is a Reader in Management at the London School of Economics. His work uses evolutionary psychology to analyze social sciences such as sociology, economics, and anthropology. Some of his work dealing with race and gender...
  • Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his...

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