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PSYC 216: Behavioral Neuroscience

For Prof. Lawrence Wichlinski

Writing Up Research

Writing a research paper means entering into a conversation that is already occurring in the field. Your paper will explain the current state of the topic (what others are saying), your addition to the topic (what you say about the topic), and what it all means. The following tips and techniques for writing academic papers are taken from the book They Say, I Say by Berkenstein and Graff. The link to the book is at the bottom of this page.

They Say...

Before you can add your input to the conversation around a topic or issue, you must understand the state of the issue and what is already being said about the topic. You do this in the literature review section of the article. Literature reviews contain both summary and synthesis of information. 

Summary: a recap or restatement of the information about the topic from relevant sources

Synthesis: a re-shuffling of the information to draw out and highlight new interpretations, intellectual progression, and major debates

In this part of your literature review, you state what others are saying by summarizing and quoting others who have published relevant research on your topic. 

I Say...

How to Respond

Now that you have described the current state of the argument or issue, you then get to add your contribution to the field. In this part of the literature review, you respond to the arguments being made by disagreeing with the argument, agreeing—but with a difference, or agreeing and disagreeing with it simultaneously. 

Disagreeing: if you disagree, state why and provide persuasive evidence.

"By focusing on ____, X overlooks the deeper problem of ____."
X claims that ____ rests upon the questionable assumption that ____."
"I disagree with X's view that ____ because, as recent research as shown, ____."

Agreeing with a difference

"I agree that ____ because my experience ____ confirms it."
"X's theory of ____ is extremely useful because it sheds insight on the difficult problem of ____."
"I agree that ____, a point that needs emphasizing since so many people believe ____."

Agreeing and disagreeing

"Although I agree with X up to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that ____."
"Although I disagree with much of what X says, I fully endorse their final conclusion that ____."
"While X is right that ____, they seem to be on more dubious ground with they claim that ____."
"My feelings on the issue are mixed. I do support X's position that ____, but I find Y's argument about ____ and Z's research on ____ to be equally persuasive."

Distinguishing Your Input from Theirs

To make it clear what your input is and what their input is, make sure that at every point in your argument your readers know who is saying what. You can do that by identifying exactly who is saying something, believes something, or whose position you're referring to.

"X argues ____."
"According to both X and Y, ____."
"X believes ____, but my own view is ____."
"X overlooks what I consider an important point about ____."
"These conclusions, which X discusses in ____, add weight to the argument that ____."

Why Does it Matter?

Once you've expressed what others are saying and added your point of view or additional research, you have to answer the questions, "So what?" and "Who cares?". 

Who cares?

"This interpretation challenges the work of those critics who have long assumed that ____."
"These findings challenge the work of earlier researchers who assumed that ____."
"These findings challenge dieters' common assumptions that ____."
"At first glance, parents might say ____, but on closer inspection, ____."

So what?

"____ matters/is important because____."
"Ultimately, what is at stake here is ____."
"These conclusions/This discovery will have significant applications in ____ as well as in ____."
"Although ____ may seem of concern to only a small group of researchers, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about ____."

Tying it All Together

Connecting the Parts

To help your readers understand the connections you are trying to make, not only do you need to connect sentences and paragraphs together in logical fashion, but you also need to tell them what kind of connection you're making. Types of connections include additionexampleelaboration, comparison, contrast, cause and effect, concession, and conclusion. Examples of how to makes these kinds of connections follow:

Addition: also, and, besides, furthermore, in addition, indeed, in fact, moreover, so too

Example: after all, as an illustration, for example, for instance, specifically, case in point

Elaboration: actually, by extension, in short, that is, in other words, to put it another way, to put it succinctly, utlimately

Comparison: along the same lines, in the same way, likewise, similarly

Contrast: although, but, by contrast, conversely, despite the fact that, even though, however, in contrast, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, regardless, whereas, while yet

Cause and effect: accordingly, as a result, consequently, hence, since, so then, therefore, thus

Concession: admittedly, although it is true, granted, naturally, of course, to be sure

Conclusion: as a result, consequently, hence, in conclusion, in short, in sum, therefore, thus, to summarize, to sum up

Finding Your Voice

In They Say, I Say, authors Birkenstein and Graff make the case that writing academic papers doesn't mean you must stop using everyday language. Academic papers can be relaxed, easy to follow, and fun. Knowing when to use the sophisticated words in your discipline and when to use simpler, easier-to-understand words, and even slang (sparingly!) is a function of knowing your audience and purpose. 


Metacommentary occurs when you make a point of explaining something you've written. It happens in academic writing when you need to clarify or provide extra information about what you've written.

"Essentially, I am arguing that ____."
"What ____ really means is ____."
"In other words, ____."
"Consider ____, for example."
"My conclusion then, is that ____."