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Department Programs

Psychology Department Writing Program

Success in the field of psychology requires many skills in written, oral, and visual rhetoric. Because our students pursue many different vocational paths, it is important that they are prepared to communicate effectively to many different audiences. They must be able to communicate both empirical and theoretical findings to a variety of groups, in written, oral and visual formats.
We have three goals in our departmental rhetoric program. The first goal is to have graduates able to present psychological research and theories accurately and persuasively to multiple audiences. Our second goal is to provide students with opportunities to master scientific writing and presentation, including literature reviews, critical evaluation and application of psychological theories, and discussion of empirical results. For students who plan to attend graduate school in psychology, we have courses designed to give additional preparation for scientific presentations in both oral and written formats, as these are the most common methods for distribution of findings to wider audiences. Finally, we provide opportunities for integration of psychology with the Christian faith.

Our department requires a high degree of written work and oral presentation, in multiple formats: essay tests, group project presentations and papers, literature reviews, lab reports, and case study interviews and reports, all with an emphasis on learning APA style. Our departmental policy is that all formal writing and oral presentations (except in Psychology 151) are graded on writing style as well as substantive content.
This document summarizes current priorities within the Psychology Department, and outlines assessment strategies for refining and improving our Program. First, we discuss our compliance with the goals of the College Academic Rhetoric Program. Next, we outline the types of rhetorical assignments given to both majors and non-majors. Finally, goals for faculty development and assessment of our Rhetoric Program are discussed.

I. Compliance with the goals of the College Academic Writing Program

Because writing fluency is often based on frequent attempts of writing, rather than length of each assignment (Bean, 2001), the Psychology department requires multiple writing assignments in each course, and uses many different formats. Essay tests are part of almost every course, and all courses require some form of written and/or oral assignment as well. There are five courses required of all majors: Introductory Psychology (Psych. 151), Statistics and Research (Psych. 255 and 256), Capstone course, and a 300 level lab course. Since most Introductory psychology students have not had English 101 or are taking it concurrently, we have not focused attention on formal writing at that level. Nevertheless, the majority of the introductory sections have some sort of written work. The remaining three courses have specific writing requirements. The specifics are outlined below:

    • Psych. 151: several writing assignments are assigned, including research reports, reaction papers, essay tests, and book reports.
    • Psychology 255 and 256, Statistics and Research: introduction to APA style of writing, including format, section headings, developing themes, transition, citations, and references. Students are also given training in research literacy specific to our discipline. Students turn in multiple drafts of their research paper so that feedback is given throughout the semester.
    • Psychology 33X: Several lab reports are written in APA style.
    • Psychology 399, Capstone Course:
    • Other examples from elective courses:
      • Psychology 201, 213, and 322: Case study interview paper
      • Psychology 207: review of ethnic minority coming of age novel, group presentation, review and methodological critique of an evaluation program
      • Psychology 220: group oral and visual presentation, presenting both sides of a controversial issue, based on empirical sources in Psychology
      • Psychology 211: case studies, and reaction papers
      • Psychology 280: social history interview report
      • Psychology 356: major research report in APA style is completed – this involves multiple drafts that include 2 drafts of a proposal and 2 drafts of a final paper.  Students are also required to give an oral presentation at a state, regional or national professional meeting. 
      • Psychology 380: reflective paper and oral and visual report

Giving students detailed feedback and opportunities to improve their writing skills is essential to our students, particularly in scientific writing. Several professors give students the opportunity to turn in first drafts up to a week before the final draft is due, in order to improve both stylistic and substantive weaknesses in their papers. We do not have such a program in place for all of our oral reports, although feedback is given to presentation outline and sources, and in Psychology 356 extensive feedback is given for oral presentations. Feedback is required in several classes (i.e., 256, 356, 399), where multiple drafts are required. This is essential for learning to write lab reports and report scientific findings.

A variety of written assignments are required, including lab reports, literature reviews, case study interviews, reaction papers, reflective essays, and intervention plans. These assignments reflect skills utilized by professional psychologists. Oral and visual assignments are also part of many classes, including individual and group presentations, web documents, and PowerPoint Presentations. Research fluency is expected in many 200 level courses, and all 300 level courses. In Psychology 255 and 256, students are taught research literacy skills, including the use of data bases to find research, how to choose appropriate research, and fundamentals of APA style.

Students in Psychology are given multiple opportunities to perfect both written and oral presentation skills, with the goal being to move students into more complex and professional skills. Papers and presentations increase in complexity throughout the program. Presented are three examples describing the progression expected in written and oral presentation skills, each example relating to a major goal:

  1. Translate psychological research and theory general audiences. Students are required to discuss psychological research and theory in every course in our program. Beginning with Psychology 151, students write reaction papers to different research findings and psychology theories. These papers tend to be quite brief and focus on a single finding or theory. As students progress through the major, they are required, both through essay tests and written assignments, to discuss multiple findings simultaneously, compare several theories, and present these discussions in more scientific manner. In many of our 200 300 level courses, research papers are required, where students must synthesize a body of empirical research, and resolve how studies might produce contradictory findings.

    Students also progress in oral presentation. In Psychology 204 and 220, students are required, while in a small group, to research both sides of a controversial topic in either child development or marriage and family issues, and present this debate to the class. Students are given a fair amount of assistance in finding relevant research and theory, as well as several chances for feedback before they make their presentations. In our Internship 380, students also present a challenging issue to the class, and are required to work more independently. They must present research and theory, as well as integrate Christian perspectives in their discussion of this issue.
  1. Master scientific writing and presentation, including literature reviews and discussion of empirical results, or translating psychological theory and research to expert audiences. Many students find scientific writing quite challenging, and need multiple opportunities to master this skill. Beginning in Psychology 256, students write short lab reports and results sections. In lab courses which all students are required to take, students must complete a more formal report, a lengthier literature review and results section is required. In our advanced research methods, which 20% of students take, students create their own research project, and complete a complete literature review, as well as a results and discussion section, following the standard format of empirically peer-reviewed publication in our discipline. These reports are reviewed multiple times by both faculty and peers, and are presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association meeting every spring. This experience provides an outstanding opportunity to understand how research is collected and disseminated within the field of Psychology.

    • five page essays integrating developmental research with Biblical perspectives
    •  writing case studies addressing spiritual dimensions of disorders
    • writing a reflection paper on the experience of attending a minority church
    • critically reflecting on a reading on integration of psychology research with theology, and issues such as mind/body/soul
    • comprehensive review and methodological critique of evaluation programs of a specific type (i.e., DARE, abstinence vs. comprehensive sex education, etc.).

This integration culminates in our capstone course, where students develop a thesis paper, written in APA style (non-majors can choose another style if clearly stated). Their thesis statement, outline and source-list are all given feedback throughout the semester. Students must stake out a position and employ evidence to sustain their argument, using an appropriate variety of evidence. Students are graded on the progression of the argument, use of empirical, theoretical, Biblical, theological, and/or philosophical evidence. During Psychology 399, students also interview a professional, Christian psychologist (often from a non-reformed tradition). They must conduct a professional interview with this psychologist, and identify his or her integration framework, as critically interact with this position. They also present an overview of their findings to the class.

Because writing is an important tool to increase both learning and critical thinking, we use writing exercises in our Psychology 151 as chances to learn and master key psychological concepts. Reflection papers, journal articles, and in-class essays are frequently used. Several professors require a summary and reflection paper of several models of integration, based on an article by Jones (1986), summarize each perspective,  and select the perspective in which they were raised.

During Psychology 399, students are given a multiple opportunities for feedback as they develop a professional-level paper and formal interview procedure.

The department faculty is well-prepared and well-motivated to teach courses with writing components. Five members of the department have already taught four different writing-enriched courses and will continue to incorporate the writing-enriched pedagogy into these courses. At least four members have attended the summer faculty seminars on writing.

Information regarding the Departmental Rhetoric Program will be given to new and continuing faculty. This document will be provided to new faculty, and posted on the departmental website and the Rhetoric Program website. New faculty will be introduced to the Writing Program by the Rhetoric Program Liaison, who will discuss expectations regarding the provision of faculty feedback on rhetorical assignments and encourage the use of grading rubrics.

Students will also be provided with information about the Departmental Rhetoric Program. Students are also given an APA guide, and we plan to develop a guideline for scientific writing as well.

The Rhetoric Program Liaison is responsible for reminding faculty of their responsibilities regarding the program and its assessment, and will schedule a review of the program every three years.

Faculty are responsible to provide assessment data as needed, and are encouraged to take part in writing workshops and conferences, which will be announced by the Rhetoric Program Liaison at department meetings.

Our department will assess both oral and written rhetoric at several points during our curriculum. Our goal is to implement one assessment measurement each year, beginning in 2008.

200-level courses

  • Assess the oral presentations made during 220 (Marriage and Family) and 209 (Developmental II). A common rubric will be developed that will be used to assess both sets of presentations. (2009)
    • Goal assessed: present psychological theory and research accurately
  • Assess the final research report written in 256 (Research Methods). This is a required course, where all students are required to develop a full psychological report in APA style. (2008)
    • Goals assessed: present psychological theory and research accurately, and master scientific writing and presentation, including literature reviews, critical evaluation, and application of theory, and discussion of empirical results

300-level courses

  • Assess the final research report in 356 (Advanced Research Methods). This course is not required, and is taken by 15% of our students. Students complete a full psychological report using APA style. We will use the same rubric that was developed for 256, in order to assess progress. (2008)
    • Goals assessed: present psychological theory and research accurately, and master scientific writing and presentation, including literature reviews, application of theory, and discussion of empirical results
  • Assess the final paper for 399 (Capstone class). This will allow us to assess a comprehensive literature review and reflective essay completed by all of our majors. (2010).
    • Goals assessed: present psychological theory and research accurately; master scientific writing and presentation, including literature reviews, application of theory, and discussion of empirical results, and demonstrate integration of the Christian faith
  • Assess the oral presentations made during 380 (Internship practicum). This course is not required, but is taken by 35% of our students. The rubric will be similar to the one used in our 200-level assessment. (2009)
    • Goals assessed: present psychological theory and research accurately, and demonstrate integration of the Christian faith


Bean, J.C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professors guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active
learning in the classroom
. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, S. L. (1986). Relating the Christian faith to psychology.  In S.L. Jones (Ed.) Psychology and the Christian faith: An introductory reader (pp. 15-33). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.