Write Right

Dana Dunn, professor of psychology, may have created the most useful book to come out of the academic arm of his field. A Short Guide to Writing about Psychology is 228 crisp pages of straight advice about the process of writing a research paper, from the literature search to the final manuscript.

Much of the book is about the process of writing—of overcoming fear of the blank page, which afflicts everyone (at one time or another) from undergraduate students to seasoned pros. “Most students find writing difficult,” Dana says. “I’m a firm believer that the more you write, the better you are at it.”

He advocates what he calls the “trick draft.” “When I sit down to write an article that will come out to be, say, 25 pages of manuscript,” says Dana, a prolific writer of journal articles, “I create a framework. I set up all the pages, from the title page to the notes, and when I sit down to begin the text, I’ve got eight pages filled already. And usually after the second session of writing, I have a working document.”

Dana has several times taught Writing 100, the basic freshman writing course, and also leads a writing group for faculty members.

The second most important advice of the book is to write every day, if only a little. This is a point of technique that any professional writer will confirm, but faculty, busy with teaching, and students, busy with everything, often sidestep it, citing lack of time.

His book is not designed to shape the kind of academic writing that’s narrative in nature: a biographical study or a historical analysis. “It is for research-based studies,” he says. “It is not meant to be creative writing. It teaches you to be concise and direct.”

The standard format and style set by the American Psychological Association (APA) is the same one used by the related fields of sociology, business, criminology, and even some nursing and economics journals.

Dana has used examples of work by Moravian students, including a complete paper by Christine Pukszyn ’04, who recently was named a Cohen Scholar. Excerpts from work by Jaime Marks ’04 and Sarah Dougherty ’04 also are featured.

“What students need are examples,” Dana says. “Too often they get lists, how-to guides, and what he calls “insider trading” about writing. He offers hints, tricks, methods that have helped him or others. Some come from other books on writing. “There are great ideas out there,” he says. “I use them—and I cite them.”