University of Wisconsin-La Crosse |


Expand page menu
Skip to page menu
  • Writing-in-the-major

     speakerwriting computerCommunication expectations for psychology students : Writing-in-the-major & presentations



    Psychology is a “writing-in-the-major” undergraduate program (WIMP). Every psychology course requires that students write; however, the type of writing varies by instructor and course content. By completing the psychology major, students fulfill the “writing emphasis” component of the UWL general education requirements. Strong communication skills including writing and oral presentation represent key hallmarks of a liberally educated person and comprise one of the American Psychological Associations' goals for the undergraduate major

     APA Style  -  What is required in psychology courses? 

    UWL psychology instructors will indicate the extent to which your papers must conform to APA style (6th Ed.). Some courses, notably 331 and 451, require a research paper submitted following proscribed APA research paper elements (as if you were going to submit the paper for publications). Many courses will have papers that will require APA referencing style. Some instructors may require APA referencing and a few selected other stylistic elements. Some papers will not require any APA style elements. However, if you have any questions about style elements, it is safest to assume APA 6th edition style and consult with your instructor. 

    Writing and oral expression rubrics

    UWL's Psychology Department provides feedback to students regarding communication on several key elements:

    I. Ideas                                                          II. Organization                         III. Conventions (mechanics) - WRITTEN  III. Conventions (mechanics) - ORAL 
    • Content accurate and relevant
    • Use of sources/evidence
    • Clarity
    • Transitions
    • Flow
    • Format (audience appropriate) 
    • APA (if required)
    • Spelling
    • Syntax
    • Eye contact
    • Verbal skills
    • Visual Aids

    When group projects are required, faculty may also provide feedback on the extent to which the project reflected equity and cohesion among group members.  

     Additional guidance on each of these elements is provided in the two primary documents below:  

    Types of writing - formal and informal
    Writing to communicate, which we call "formal writing," is an essential academic and professional skill. But how do students' undergraduate experiences advance them towards writing competence at the professional level? Since scholarly and professional writing are so thoroughly grounded in the discourse conventions of the disciplines, we should look to the academic disciplines to play a key role in developing writing competence, making learning to write well an integral part of the student's education. We believe that students learn to write well when they:
    1. understand the kinds of writing expected of them,
    2. internalize the criteria that define good writing,
    3. experience guided practice in which their writing is shaped through a process of revision and editing, thus internalizing an efficient and effective composing process,
    4. learn to compose with a strong awareness of disciplinary conventions and the needs, knowledge, and attitudes of their audiences, and
    5. become progressively better at self assessment. 

    Purposes of Formal Writing Assignments

    • to give students opportunities to give form to and demonstrate the knowledge and the intellectual skills they have acquired
    • to acquaint students with the discourse conventions of a particular discipline or intellectual community
    • to allow students guided opportunities to practice those conventions

    Types of Formal Writing Assignments

    • scholarly papers: research reports, review articles, critical essays
    • professional writing: reports; proposals; memos; essays, articles, and instructions for a lay audience; letters to the editor; editorials; brochures; critiques & reviews
    • academic papers: term papers, seminar papers, essay exams

    We do not have a preconceived, one-size-fits-all definition of "writing competence." Rather, individual faculty define competence as it applies to their disciplines and to their undergraduate students. To facilitate this analysis, we distinguish among three broad categories of formal writing:

    • Academic writing . Perhaps the most common type of formal writing in school is purely academic. Its major purpose is for students to demonstrate their knowledge about a specific subject. It is prompted by instructor questions to describe, explain, discuss, analyze, evaluate (and so forth) and is written for the teacher as the sole audience for the work. Many types of reports and papers fall into this category: essay exams, short answers on exams, research projects, book reports, papers that analyze or critique a specific topic, issue or problem, etc.
    • Scholarly writing . This includes all the types of writing a working scholar might do. The purpose of such writing is to communicate about the ideas, theories, inquiry methods, and research findings of the discipline. Majoring in a discipline involves entering into and becoming a member of a discourse community-learning to think and communicate like other members of the discipline. Thus, an important aspect of teaching students to write is developing their ability to participate in the discourse community: to use the well-established conventions, rules, and practices that govern scholarly communication. The obvious and most common example of scholarly writing is the article in a scholarly journal. Other types of scholarly writing include grant proposals, laboratory reports, field study reports, critical reviews (of a book, an article, software, a visual object, etc.), review essays, opinion pieces to a professional journal, scholarly response articles, and scholarly essays.
    • Professional workplace writing . This includes all the writing a working professional must engage in. Some graduates will engage directly in the scholarly discourse of their discipline after graduation; many will become professionals whose primary work is not scholarly. Academic majors, after all, are also pathways to future employment, and a university education can help prepare students for the kinds of writing common in the workplace and professional life. Of course, it is not possible to prepare students for every type of writing they will encounter, but students should have some experience with and expertise in common forms of writing used in the professional workplace. Perhaps most importantly, students should develop a facility to analyze a communicative situation and determine what kind of writing is most appropriate for specific audiences and contexts. Some examples of workplace writing include program proposals, business letters, interoffice memos, reports to co-workers, feasibility studies, program assessments and evaluations, and many different types of writing for lay audiences, such as brochures, pamphlets, guides, instruction sheets, etc.
     Informal writing-To-learn

    From the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning (CATL)

    The term "writing-to-learn" refers to writing activities intended primarily to facilitate or develop students' understanding and thinking. Writing-to-learn activities are a necessary complement to 
    formal writing  in that a major cause of poor formal writing is poor understanding of the subject matter. In terms of a student's intellectual development, writing-to-learn may be even more important than formal writing since writing-to-learn serves as a vehicle through which students build their understanding of subject matter. During the writing-to-learn process, the main focus is on making sense of the material and  not  on communicating it in a specific format to an audience.

    Purposes of Writing-to-Learn Assignments

    • to help students understand and learn
    • to promote
      • critical thinking skills (e.g., analysis, synthesis)
      • reflection
      • integration of new information with students' prior knowledge
      • affective/psychic development
      • careful reading
      • class discussion
    • to help students discover and formulate problems
    • to help students develop problem-solving strategies and skills
    • to allow and encourage students to raise questions and concerns
    • to sharpen student responses to their academic experiences
    • to help faculty monitor student progress through the course

    Examples of Writing-to-Learn Assignments

    • field or laboratory notes
    • reading notes (summaries, analyses, outlines, reactions)
    • anticipatory reading notes (preparation for reading)
    • research notes
    • reactions to a speaker or film
    • class logs
    • learning logs or journals
    • listing topics for papers, discussion, or research
    • explaining a task or assignment
    • no-grade (or no-name) quizzes
    • writing in preparation for discussion
    • exploring concepts
    • imaginary dialogue (with a theorist? between opposed theorists?)
    • process or progress reports
    • instructor/student written dialogue
    • e-mail & electronic conferences (especially, student to student dialogue)