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Psychology Thesis & Project Guidance


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Psychology Thesis Guidance Notes

Psychology Project Help

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Doing a research project, thesis or dissertation is an integral and extremely important component of a psychology course, program or degree. It should be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pieces of work that a psychology student undertakes. More often than not, however; planning, executing and writing up a research project becomes a source of great stress and worry for many students.

With this very much in mind, I have put together the following psychology project guidance notes.

Getting Started

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In many cases the first thing you will have to do is to submit, or at the very least think about putting together a psychology thesis proposal. At this stage, any general ideas you have will probably be too broad or too vague. Don't worry, you belong to the 99.9% of psychology students who find themselves in the same position.

The good thing about putting together a project proposal so soon into the process is that it will force you to refine your ideas sooner rather than later. What follows, is designed to get you thinking about the early key stages in the research process.

Establishing A Focus

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This preliminary stage of the psychology thesis process assumes that you have a general research idea in mind. Whether you consider this idea to be somewhat vague or well developed (the former being the most likely) you must establish and maintain a clearly defined focus throughout your investigation.

Unless you intend to conduct exploratory or emergent psychology research, where theoretically/philosophically you do not envisage issues and questions arising until the investigation is underway, it is extremely important that you establish your focus at the beginning of the research process.

I can't emphasize this point enough because not only will it make the whole research process much more manageable but it will also make it more likely that you receive a very good grade when your psychology thesis is assessed.

The main reason for this is that it will provide the foundation for what is known as the golden thread i.e., the major concept within your research that influences every stage of the research process; and as such, can be seen developing within each section of your psychology thesis write-up.

To give you some idea of the thought processes involved in establishing a focus, the following example relates to a Masters thesis I supervised a couple of years ago.

The student I was supervising wanted to look at whether any of the techniques used in criminal profiling could be adopted or adapted to investigate financial fraud. In order to develop a focus within this general area of interest, between us we explored the following questions and issues:

The profiling techniques the student was particularly interested in.

Eliciting the profiling perspectives that these techniques reside within e.g. classic psychodynamic FBI type profiling and the more ‘scientific’ approaches e.g. statistical modelling.

Could a theoretical link be established between profiling and employee/financial fraud, the most obvious link might be that it may tell us something about the personality of the offender.

Approaching the research from the employers’ perspective, as contacting individuals who have committed fraud would be fraught with a host of practical and ethical difficulties.

Leaving profiling aside, what about researching occupational crime prevention strategies in general? For instance, the use of cognitive interviews to detect false insurance claims. What prevention strategies do banks employ? Are these effective?

NB: In developing your focus of inquiry remember that practicality and ethics must be taken into account.

The Literature Review

Another benefit of narrowing your focus is that you will have a structured search strategy in place when conducting your literature review.

It may sound obvious but having a clear idea of what to look for will save you valuable time and energy.

Unless you are researching something unique, most topic areas will have an established body of research from which to draw upon. In such cases you should endeavor to familiarize yourself with both the traditional/classic studies in the field, as well as the most up-to-date research.

Developing Research Questions

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The main way to demonstrate and maintain your focus is to develop appropriate research questions or hypotheses. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes an ideal research question/hypothesis. Nevertheless, a sensible rule of thumb is that you are able to provide a clear rationale for the question/prediction being posed.

Essentially you have to take each research question/hypothesis in turn and justify its inclusion. More often than not, this justification will have emerged from your literature review e.g. this research question approaches a particular topic from a new angle, it taps into current debate etc (NB: You should be able to provide a similar rationale for your research as a whole). Also, again don’t forget ‘practicality.’ Is the question over ambitious given your ‘time-scale’, ‘word limit’, ‘resources’ etc?

Developing simple and straightforward research questions does not mean you cannot undertake sophisticated research.

You will know if you are on the right track if you ask yourself and can confidently answer the following questions.

  • What am I hoping to explore in the course of my research?
  • What is the thinking behind my study's research questions/hypotheses?
  • Can I access a wide range of background material?
  • Will it be relatively straightforward to access my target population?
  • Ethically, am I on safe ground?

  • The best advice I can give you in the early stages of your psychology thesis is to keep it simple and be pragmatic. Remember research is a process, and you will be assessed on how well you undertake that process.

    Recommended Reading

    Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide by Jennifer Evans

    Book Description

    Anxious about your final year Psychology Project? Having trouble getting started? Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide clearly maps out all the requirements of a project in psychology. Acting as a definitive survival manual it guides students through every aspect of a psychology project from conception of an idea, to writing up the final draft.

    It will help students think through the whole research process by bridging the relationship between the research question, the design, and the use of statistical and qualitative analyses. By using clear practical examples this book provides an invaluable insight into applying theory to practice and will equip students with the knowledge, skills and ability to carry out and write up their thesis project.

    Written in a clear and engaging manner Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide for Success should be essential reading for all students undertaking a psychology research project.

    See following link for more details:

    Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide

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