PsychLog Guidelines

1.  Make sure to read the requirements listed in the syllabus, and then to address each of them as detailed below.  

A. A brief description of the event that triggered the entry (3 pts)

This should be in enough detail that I have a clear sense of your example (keep in mind I may not have seen the movie, read the book, know your friend, etc, and thus need enough detail to be able to evaluate how well this example matches the rest of the essay).  However, it does not need to describe every single detail, especially since you will likely be providing additional specifics in the "integration" section.  Keep in mind that this section is worth only 3 of your 25 points, and so it should not take up a disproportionate amount of your paper.

B. A review of the relevant psychology topics (7 pts)

This is the section that people seem to skimp on the most.  Remember that one major goal of your log should be to demonstrate that you have a THOROUGH understanding of the class material.  Therefore, this section needs to be relatively in-depth; merely writing one or two sentences about a related topic will not suffice.  Also, make very sure that you actually review the material, rather than just referring to it (i.e., "This example relates to what the book said about panic disorder," instead of actually reviewing what the book said about panic disorder).

For full credit, you need to FULLY review your chosen topic.  For Units 2-4, where you are writing about specific disorders (with the possible exception of a log on material covered in Ch 14 on Health Psychology), a full review must include a description of the full diagnostic criteria for the disorder (not just a few key features as covered in class and as you need to know for exams), a description of the major etiological factors implicated in the disorder, and a description of the major treatments for the disorder.  Both etiology and treatment review should include some information, when available, about which of these has or doesn't have good research support.  The seven points for this section are roughly broken into features of the disorder - 3 points, etiology - 2 points, and treatment - 2 points.  Thus, if you leave out etiology and treatment, no matter how thorough your discussion of the symptoms of the disorder, you will not score well for this section.

For Unit 1 logs, which are not on specific disorders, you want to make sure to review not just the basic information on your chosen topic, but to put it into context, especially including some review of why it is relevant to this class.  For example, if you are focusing on classical conditioning, you will need to include in your review not only what classical conditioning is (e.g., the four major components, how it works, what it does, etc), but also how this relates to abnormal psychology specifically.

C. An integration of the event itself and the course material related to it. (7 pts)

This section should demonstrate your ability to show how the example and the course material are related.  Again, this is a relatively detailed section, wherein you will go back and forth between your example and the material you just reviewed.  For full credit, you need to show how your example does or doesn't illustrate the full diagnostic criteria, the etiological factors, and the treatment info.  You may not have all of that information available to you, depending on your example.  So, to discuss the diagnostic criteria, you'd show which symptoms were clearly seen or ruled out in your example, and what else you'd need to know to know if the full criteria were met.  For etiology and treatment, you'd describe what you would expect to see if, say, the person in your example DID engage in treatment.  This is NOT just a rewriting of your review with "so-and-so might do xxx treatment" but rather should include the details of what that treatment would look like given what you do know of your example.  So along the lines of "because X was afraid of snakes, in exposure therapy he would be asked to look at and then hold snakes...because he said he doesn't even go outside in case he were to encounter a snake, he would be told to go outside as part of  his therapy." 

Sometimes, your example will not in fact match up with what you learned in class, and so your integration section might focus on the differences between your example and the class material (e.g., "X was diagnosed with PTSD, but that wouldn't be correct because the trauma was only a week earlier which is not long enough to meet criteria, and so the more appropriate diagnosis would seem to be ...," or "X was diagnosed with bulimia, but doesn't meet all the criteria because she does not exhibit xxx symptoms."

D. Your comments on the topic. These should NOT just recap the above, but should show original thinking on your part and put forth your own opinions. (3 pts)

The main issue in this section is to make sure that you do include an actual commentary; the biggest reason people seem to miss full credit for this section is that there’s little commentary beyond “I thought this was really interesting,” without saying why it was, or what in particular, or what you thought about the topic beyond “interesting.” The other most common problem in this section is providing no commentary at all, with the final paragraph instead just providing additional description of the original example, or a summary of what was already said. 

In addition, while it is fine, and the point of this section, to include your own opinions, it's important to distinguish between one's opinions and  facts, and you should also be able to support why you hold a particular opinion. 


2.  The importance of accuracy in review and integration 

The material you review can be from the text, from class, or best yet, from both.  One thing that will immediately reduce a PsychLog grade is being inaccurate in your review of material or the integration of that material with your example.  For example, if you are discussing conditioning processes and say that your event is an example of classical conditioning, when really it is an example of operant conditioning, your grade will suffer for several reasons.  First, you're not demonstrating a thorough understanding of the material, since if you had that understanding you presumably would have been more accurate.  Second, it will be much tougher to provide a good integration also, since the processes for operant and classical conditioning are different (e.g., if showing how your example relates to classical conditioning, you might describe which parts of the example were the UCS, CS, UCR, and CR; whereas for operant conditioning, you would need to describe what the behavior and response was, and whether the conditioning involved positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and/or punishment...).


3.  Plagiarism and quoting

Because plagiarism is such a big deal, and because there seems to be so much misunderstanding about it (I have had at least one student in almost every class get a zero for plagiarism, despite all the info I provide on this in the syllabus, in class, on the syllabus quiz, and on this website), I'm including a new page just on plagiarism, including more information on how and why to avoid it. 

As noted in the academic dishonesty section of your syllabus, plagiarism is unacceptable.  This includes copying even just one sentence without putting quotation marks around the words that are not your own.  It also includes "near-copying" where you change just a few words, or the order of the words, but what you write is clearly very very close to what the book said.*  To be clear, the ideas you are writing about in your review are not your own, and in a more formal paper with citations, you would use a citation to show where those ideas came from.  But the words must be your own, unless you have made it quite clear, via quotation marks or a block quote, that they are not.  (One way of looking at this is the difference between retweeting and copying someone else's tweet to send it out as your own.  The former is fine, while the latter is bad manners, bad tweetiquette, and a form of plagiarism.)

For more on how to avoid plagiarism, check out this great guide to Acknowledging Sources, from Univ of Wisconsin.  Note that for the psychlogs you write for this class, you do not actually need to include citations of where the info is from, as I expect the info on class material to all be from the text or lecture.  But for other writing you will usually need to use proper citations, and the rest is very useful in helping you to learn to do this and to avoid plagiarism overall.

*I see many many examples of this "near-copying," despite my mentioning it here as still counting as plagiarism.  As noted above, if it's obvious exactly which sentence of the text your sentence is paraphrased from, that's almost definitely too close to the text to count as your own writing.  If you don't believe me that this is considered plagiarism, perhaps the scandal of a Harvard student's first novel will help make that clearer (along with making clearer what near-copying looks like...): 

Crimson story with examples

NY Times story on the overall issue

Yet another reason not to plagiarize:  You could end up getting mocked by everyone in the world who reads Yahoo news stories.

For those who think I'm too strict about requiring quotation marks, or not allowing people to redo their logs if they get a 0 for plagiarism:  aren't you glad to learn this lesson now, on a 25-point paper in an undergraduate class, rather than finding out it's a big deal when you're decades into your career and it becomes a news story?



4.  How to avoid plagiarism, and also how to help ensure you understand what you write and that you actually know the material you write about.

If you are concerned that you may inadvertently copy from the book as you write, there are a few methods you might use to avoid this.  The very best way is to write your paper without having your book open.  You will probably want to go back and check your paper with the book when you’re done, to make sure that your review is complete and correct, and to make sure that you didn’t memorize the text and thus plagiarize anyway, but it is very unlikely that you will plagiarize if you are not looking at the book as you write your paper.  This has the additional benefit of actually forcing you to think about the material, so that you write what you actually know and understand, rather than just trying to rewrite the textbook into your paper, with the material never actually making its way through your brain first.  Another way is to talk your material instead of writing it, because most people are more likely to use their own words when speaking than when writing.  You can speak into a tape recorder or to a friend who will take notes, and then copy down what you’ve said aloud.  Again, it’s a good idea to then go check your paper back with the text or manual.


5.  Quoting

Quoting is definitely better than copying without using quotation marks, since this avoids the plagiarism issue.  However, when you quote material instead of putting it into your own words, that shows me nothing about what YOU actually understand; it just shows you know where to find that material.  Thus, if your review section includes material just copied from the text, even if properly quoted, without your also explaining this material in your own words, you will not receive full credit for having included that material.  Generally speaking, unless the material you are quoting is so pithy or well-written that you really need to use it word-for-word to make your point, you are much better off using your own words.  Even if you do quote in places, you should always make sure that there is enough review of material in your own words that there is no doubt about your understanding of the concepts. 


6.  Spelling, grammar, etc.

Please make sure to proofread your work before turning it in.  In addition to the five points of each PsychLog grade that focuses on the overall writing assignment that would thus be affected by typos and other errors, if your essay is full of mistakes it is much harder to understand the paper itself.  A good first step is using a spell-checker (and really, if your paper includes misspellings that would clearly have been caught by the spell-checker, that's just sloppy work), but you never want to just rely on those as they won't catch, for example, a typo that forms a different real word (such as typing "form" when you mean "from").  Also, if you are not really careful when using it, you will sometimes end up with very weird sentences, because many of the terms we use in psychology aren't in the spell-checker, and it may suggest an alternative that has nothing to do with what you're writing; automatically telling it to make changes then can lead to gibberish.  Grammatical mistakes are a little harder to catch, even with a grammar-checker, but looking at what the grammar-checker suggests is a good place to start.  If you know that you need help writing, you might want to leave enough extra time that you can have a friend proofread your work before you turn it in.  Alternatively, you can also avail yourself of a number of resources detailed in the Writing Resources section of my website; two of the options are CMU services: The "Ask the Grammar Maven" website where you can email a grammar question, and the Writing Center.

Some writing errors that seem to come up fairly often include misplaced punctuation (such as commas outside rather than inside quotation marks, apostrophes in words that are plural rather than possessive, commas that are unnecessary, etc), incorrect choice of homonyms (it’s/its, too/two/to, their/they’re/there, etc), sentence fragments, and using “bigger” or “fancier” words incorrectly (if you’re not sure about the word, or it’s not one you ordinarily use, you’re probably better off using a more common one).

A great way to check on your writing style (word choice, sentence structure) is to read your paper aloud.  Does it sound like it makes sense?  If it sounds sort of tortured, not how anyone would ordinarily speak, double-check your writing - that's a clue that something's likely off.  Read it over - does it read like something you'd see anywhere else?  Have someone else read it - does it make sense to that person?  Can your reader understand what you're trying to say without asking you to clarify anything?  (This is also a good way to check on whether you reviewed your material thoroughly enough.)  Again, one of the best ways to make sure you write clearly and in your own words is to write your paper WITHOUT looking at the textbook or your notes.  It is very difficult to write well when you are focused on paraphrasing line by line a section of the textbook, and it is MUCH more likely that in doing so,  you will change the meaning of what you are writing without even realizing it.  On the other hand, if you read the book/notes and THEN go to write your paper, you'll obviously be using your own words, and you'll be thinking about what you want to say as you write.  This is almost sure to lead to clearer and more accurate writing.  And you can still double-check your facts by comparing what you wrote with the book/notes afterwards.

Please remember that good writing is a critical life skill.  If you do not already have strong writing skills, this is a chance to help develop them.  You will be FAR more competitive in the job market or applying to graduate programs if you can write well; applications that include misspellings, grammar errors, poor sentence structure, etc are far less likely to be considered than are applications that are well written.


7.  Choice of topic

Please remember that each log must focus on a topic from the unit we are just finishing, so that you end up with one log per unit.  If you're unsure if your topic qualifies, feel free to ask me.  Also, if you choose a tangentially related topic or a very minor topic you will probably not do very well, because a) we haven't covered that material at all, b) it's not really an issue related to a unit topic per se, and/or c) there's just not enough depth in that topic to earn full credit.  In general, you’re better off choosing a broader than a narrower topic (within reason, of course!), because it gives you more material to review to show your thorough understanding, and because doing so will help you more on the exam.  Most students find they do much better on exam questions related to their psychlogs, because they’ve reviewed that material in more detail to write their logs than they do simply studying for an exam. 


Okay...I think that's about everything.  If you have questions, please get in touch, and remember that you always have the option of getting feedback on your logs before turning them in by getting them to me at least a week before they are due (and making sure to show up to class the next day to retrieve them!).  Also remember that there are lots of samples available, both here and in my office.  Finally, a very picky point:  Please make sure to staple your psychlogs!!!!  I will not accept them with paper clips, folders turned down, etc., and I do not bring a stapler to class.


Good luck, and have fun!


How are PsychLogs scored?

Each PsychLog is worth 25 points.  The first and fourth components (description of out-of-class event and original commentary) are worth three points each, and the second and third components (review of relevant class material and integration of the event and class material) are worth seven points each.  The final five points are based on the overall paper, including writing style, grammar, spelling, presentation, etc.  The reason this is part of your grade is that although this is not a class in writing per se, the ability to write well is a critical one for almost any job or graduate program you may wish to enter, and part of a college education should be to ensure you can write well. 

Here are some rough guidelines for how the sections are graded:

Description of event (3 points):

3 points:  full one or two sentences saying clearly what the event was.

1 point:  mentioning what it was without any description



Review of material (7 points):


For logs on specific disorders (e.g., those for units 2-4), review and integration must include the features of the disorder (including full diagnostic criteria), etiology, and treatment.  Scoring for this section is apportioned roughly into three segments, with three points for features of the disorder and two each for etiology and treatment; therefore, even if you fully review features of the disorder and treatment, if you leave out etiology you're starting with a maximum possible score of 5 here.  See below for more details of score breakdowns for these sections.


For logs not on a specific disorder:

7 points:  Full and clear review of relevant concepts, putting them in context that shows thorough understanding of what the concepts are, why they’re important, and how they fit in with the bigger picture, all in student’s own words (if some material is quoted, student then explains quoted parts in own words). 


5 points:  Generally good and clear review of relevant concepts, but without fully explaining implications, or putting in context fully, or leaving out some important concepts.


3 points:  Review consists mostly of defining a few concepts, without fully reviewing related concepts, or putting concepts in context.


1 point:  Review is limited to quoted material or a single brief definition.


For review section, less credit is given for material that is only quoted, without being then explained in students’ own words, and no credit is given for material that is inaccurate.


For logs on specific disorders:

Description of disorder

3 pts:  A full description of the disorder, including but not limited to description of full diagnostic criteria in your own words.

2 pts:  Enough information about the disorder that it's clear you know the key features and some other important information about it, but missing some important information as well.

1 pt:  Just mentioning a key feature or two.


Etiology (and treatment)

2 pts:  A clear and reasonably thorough description of the major etiological factors implicated in (or the major treatment approaches used for) the disorder

1 pt: A clear and thorough description of only one kind of etiological factor (or treatment approach), or a cursory description of multiple factors (or treatments)



Integration of material and example (7 points):


For logs not on a specific disorder:

7 points:  Student fully shows how all aspects of reviewed material are illustrated by example, demonstrating thorough knowledge of material itself and of how example does/doesn’t match material.  For aspects of material that example doesn’t address, student fills in what *would* be expected. 


5 points:  Sufficient integration to show student understands how example illustrates most of material, but without the depth of detail of full 7-point response, without the filled-in sections, etc.


3 points:  Student draws a few parallels between material and example, but without going into detail.


1 point:  Student simply refers to a parallel or two without explaining at all (e.g., “my training of my cat is an example of operant conditioning.”).



For logs on specific disorders:

Features of disorder

3 pts:  Describes in detail how example does or does not illustrate all aspects of the features of the disorder (criteria, relevant demographics, etc)

2 pts:  Describes how example does/doesn't illustrate some features of the disorder.

1 pt:  Describes only one or two small links between example and features of disorder.



2 pts:  Describes in detail how example illustrates at least one major etiological factor, as well as how other etiological factors may be illustrated or why other etiological factors are not relevant for this example.

1 pt:  Describes links between example and only one etiological factor, or refers to multiple factors with insufficient detail to show why they really apply.



2 pts: Describes in detail how treatment used in example illustrates treatment covered in class, including any inconsistencies between class info and example, or describes in detail what treatment *would* look like in this example.

1 pt:  Draws links between example and class material on treatment but without much detail.



For integration section, credit is either reduced or not given at all (depending on the extent of inaccuracy) for inaccurate integration (e.g., saying something is an example of classical conditioning when it’s of operant conditioning).  Also, note that simply going back to additional description is not the same as integrating that description with the class material.





Commentary (3 points):

3 points:  Student offers some original thought on the topic as a whole, things like what he/she liked about the topic, agreed or disagreed with, why it’s important, that it was never noticed before, etc.


1 point:  Commentary is limited to something like “I liked this topic.”


Note:  Simply providing additional description or integration, or summarizing what was already said, at the end of paper is not the same as commentary.



Writing (5 points):

5 points:  Writing is clear and shows good spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.  No more than one or two typos.


3 points:  Writing is clear enough to know what is being said, but sentence structure is awkward, or paper includes multiple grammatical errors and/or typos.


1 point:  Writing is so unclear it's close to impossible to figure out what you're trying to say, filled with grammar/spelling/structure errors, incorrect use of words, etc.


For writing:  spelling errors of the sort that any spellchecker would have caught are penalized more than those less likely to be noticed.  Small grammatical/punctuation/etc errors, such as putting commas outside rather than inside quotes, don’t generally lead to subtracted points but do get corrected nonetheless; bigger errors of the sort that make reading paper more difficult (e.g., failure to use reasonable punctuation, run-on sentences, etc) do lead to writing deductions. 



Overall:  I am most lenient on description and commentary sections, and most critical on review/integration.  Writing I try to correct or comment on it all, but rarely give scores of under 3 points unless paper is truly difficult to comprehend.


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This page was last updated on 08/21/14 .