Appropriate sources for Psychological Writing

Which of the following are GOOD sources of evidence for supporting arguments in a Psychology Essay/Report?

The textbook for your unit

No

No. It is only an average source. While your unit textbook may describe many experiments, you are relying on the author of the textbook to explain how the experiments were conducted. Since you only have their opinion and no direct knowledge of your own about the experiments, your critical thinking about them is hugely restricted. Your textbook however may be a good starting point, giving you an overview of an area of research to guide you in seeking better sources.

Popular science books

No

Usually a bad source. If the science behind the popular science is valid, then you will find the same information published in peer-reviewed journals. If the science is junk though (and it often is) then you will not be able to find the same research reported in a better source.

Popular magazines

No

Possibly useful for a lead, if they describe a study that was done in a proper manner, but entirely inappropriate as a source, and most likely to be worthless.

Websites

No

Generally poor. If the research is of a high enough standard it will be reported in peer reviewed journals too. If the information is on the web and nowhere else it is probably garbage. (NB: Internet sources are tempting for plagiarists, since the material can be copied and pasted straight into a text file. Unfortunately this also makes them easier to catch. In 2004 we caught 6 PSYC1001 students using this method.)

Religious and philosophical texts

No

Sometimes very useful for a catch statement to begin an essay. Such works may support logical arguments at most, but do not contain any scientific evidence.

Information from private companies

No

Poor source. Companies which pay for their own research into their own products are likely to report positive outcomes. However, if the research is good it should be reported elsewhere too.

Peer reviewed scientific journals

Yes

Correct. These are the best source of scientific evidence. 'Peer reviewed' means that the experiments reported have been scrutinized by other scientists expert in the field. This does not mean everything reported is valid, but the quality is much higher than that found anywhere else.

Your Psychology lecturer's lecture notes

No

Not appropriate. Your lecturer will certainly talk about material relevant to the essay topic, but they will be referencing work themselves. Don't rely on your lecturer's interpretation of what they have read - read it yourself! If the lecturer has not adequately referenced material so you can find it, then ask them.

Peer reviewed science books & chapters

Yes

A good source of information for essays. Good science books have chapters authored by the scientists who actually performed the experiments. Be more wary of science books which only vaguely describe or review experiments.

Review articles from peer reviewed scientific journals

Yes

Not as good as articles describing experiments directly. Review articles describe many experiments exploring a single topic. Some review articles cover so much material that the experiments are not described very well, but at the least these articles can give some great leads.

The starter references you were given with the essay question

Yes

Of course these are appropriate, but not all may be relevant to the manner in which you have approached the topic so do not feel you need to read them all. Make sure you use more than these though in order to demonstrate you actually did some research of your own.

Classic works in the history of Psychology (e.g. Freud, Skinner, James)

Yes

These are certainly useable in an essay; and depending on the question, may be your main references. However you need to be very wary of simply accepting the evidence from such works. Some did not do any experiments at all (like Freud) so their evidence (case studies) is of a very poor standard, and their work may amount to theoretical assertion. When looking at classical experiments, realize that many of the findings may be out of date or may have been discredited long ago.

Credit: Caleb Owens, 2005