East Carolina University
Department of Psychology
MA Thesis Problems
Chair Kathleen Row prepared, in January of 2007, this list of problems which she has frequently seen in theses. Be careful not to make such errors in your thesis.
Acronyms. Never start a sentence with an acronym. Be judicious in their use. Just because the article cited used an acronym for a questionnaire does not indicate its continued use, unless the term will be used repeatedly. Never use acronyms without having defined them. Do not define them more than once.
Anthropomorphism.1 Beware of attributing human-like attributes to theories, hypotheses, or psychological concepts. For examples, theories do not think, feel, or have relationships.
Apostrophes. Apostrophes indicate possession, not number. Make sure there is something to possess after the apostrophe. Of course, it is also used in the case of omitted letters, but that use is much less problematic.
Effect and affect. Both of these words can be either nouns or verbs. In psychological writing, most of the time they are used as nouns, which makes this easier. If there is some sort of causal possibility, then one variable might have an effect on another, or affect another, but one can generally substitute another word.
Hyphenated words. Many terms in psychology involve combinations of words that then become hyphenated. For example, the term “help-seeking behavior” would be hyphenated. Again, a good rule of thumb is to separate the term. If one cannot equally well refer to the separate combination, such as “help behavior” or “seeking behavior,” then the term may need to be hyphenated.
Oneself. The use of the word self is sometimes problematic in psychology. There are occasions when the self is used as a construct independently, but be wary of separating the traditional English words (myself, oneself, himself, herself) into one’s self, and never his self.
Personal pronouns.2 In most scientific writing, the use of personal pronouns (“my study” or “I found”) is inappropriate.
require punctuation. When sentences are 3 lines long, they probably require
at least a comma. Reading a sentence aloud is one way to determine where the
likely pausing points might be.
Learn the correct use of a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses. Learn the correct use of a colon. In American usage, punctuation comes inside quotation marks.
References3, when cited in the text, require a date.
Use of the word “believe.” Generally, belief refers to unsubstantiated ideas and would rarely be appropriate to describe the thoughts of theorists or scientists.
Footnotes added by Wuensch
1Also see section 3.09 in the APA Publication Manual, 6th edition.
2 But see "Citations in Text" in The Sixth Edition of the APA Publication Manual.
3 But see Use of the Active Voice and the First Person in APA-Style Research Manuscripts.
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This page most recently revised on the 9th of March, 2012.