Writing Guidelines

General Guidelines

Professional Psychology ® (PP) is devoted to providing its readers with practical and usable information. The primary readership of PP is the typical practicing professional psychologist or graduate student in training to become a psychological practitioner, with a smaller secondary readership of trainers of practitioners.

PP seeks manuscripts that either describe current scientific and clinical/theoretical knowledge or present new empirical data and draw out the practice implications and concrete applications of that information. PP expects manuscripts to be written in a manner such that the introduction makes clear the potential relevance of the article to the reader practitioner and the closing section of the article provides concrete and practical suggestions, guidance, and advice.

In order to get the best sense of the type of articles PP is seeking and the style of writing that is the most effective in communicating useful and practical information to the typical PP reader, it is important that you read the articles appearing in several recent issues of PP. The material that appears on the following pages also provides further information on how best to craft a manuscript for PP.


PP prefers abstracts that open with a "reader-oriented sentence" that anchors the topic of the article in the experiential world of the reader's everyday professional practice. In creating this sentence, one might ask, What would the average practicing professional psychologist have experienced in professional practice yesterday that led him or her to PP for information and advice today? The opening sentence then is written from the perspective of what the reader just experienced or the knowledge that he or she seeks (and not "the issue," "the literature," or "previous research").

PP also prefers abstracts that end with a reader-oriented sentence that explicitly names practical and usable implications and applications of the information presented in the article, and it gives the abstract reader a rich sense of "the news I can use" for reading the article.

The middle portion of the abstract should provide whatever description of the material in the article that the author believes will be most useful to the potential user in deciding whether to get and read the article. PP prefers to limit abstracts to 250 words.

Here are some examples of effective PP abstracts:

  • The confidentiality of the client–therapist relationship has been seriously challenged by managed care oversight and reporting requirements. The impact of such requirements on psychotherapy clients' willingness to disclose was explored. Three descriptions of confidentiality limits were presented: standard limits of therapeutic confidentiality, a rationale for client acceptance of limited confidentiality, and the typical informational requirements of managed care. Clients and potential clients showed less willingness to self-disclose under managed care conditions than standard confidentiality limits. Psychologists must increase awareness of confidentiality issues and advocate strongly for changes in managed care requirements that inhibit disclosure and interfere with psychotherapy.

  • Professional psychologists often have a need for information on the patterns of service accessing and service use by ethnic groups. Demographic characteristics and psychotherapy use of 229 Chinese American clients, seen in a Southern California private practice between 1989 and 1996, are described. Diagnostic evaluations of 27 assessment requests, 77 consultations, and 125 psychotherapy cases indicated that depressive disorders, adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, and relational problems were the most frequently presented problems. For the 125 treated cases, length of treatment ranged from 1-38 sessions with a median of 4 and mean of 5.98 sessions.

  • Therapist accessibility by pagers raises many questions regarding between-session and within-session calls. What are the main purposes of pagers in clinical settings, and what are the rationales for their use? The authors explored the parameters established by clinicians regarding pagers and how these expectations were communicated to patients. The degree of interference the clinician allows in the therapy session when paged is pivotal because of the potentially distancing, distracting, and enervating effect this may have on the relationship. The implications for the therapist's private life and his or her significance in the patient's life are considered.

  • If you are a psychologist who conducts child custody or personal injury evaluations, how confident are you that the traditional Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory—2nd ed. (MMPI–2) validity scales and other potential MMPI–2 validity indicators are in fact useful for addressing the issue of response bias? This investigation contributes to the scientific database on the use of MMPI–2 validity indicators to detect response distortion. As the investigation represents empirical rather than analog data, it is of particular value to psychologists who engage in forensic assessment.

  • If a patient adheres to religious values and practices, should the treating psychologist get input from a clergyperson? How frequent is clergy–psychologist collaboration? What obstacles impede such collaboration? An exploratory survey questionnaire was sent to 200 clergy, 200 psychologists interested in religious issues, and 200 psychologists selected without regard to religious interests or values. Four themes were assessed: types of collaborative activities, frequency of collaboration, obstacles to collaboration, and ways to enhance collaboration. Strategies for promoting clergy–psychologist collaboration include challenging unidirectional referral assumptions, building trust through proximity and familiarity, and considering the importance of shared values and beliefs.

Opening Paragraphs

The first paragraph of a potential manuscript should also be written from the perspective of the average reader. This opening paragraph should not repeat the opening sentence of the abstract, as PP tries to avoid redundant presentation of statements and information. This opening paragraph should provide the experiential hook for the reader that interests them enough to read the article. This opening paragraph should also relate to or foreshadow the implications and applications that will be discussed at the end of the manuscript.

Some recent examples of opening paragraphs include the following:

  • "Just how long does it take to do a psychoeducational evaluation?" This question, when asked by cost-conscious administrators, tends to evoke uneasy and evasive responses from school psychologists—and with good reason. The school psychologist who provides a seemingly high figure is likely to elicit a surprised or dubious response (e.g., "What could possibly take all that time?"). A low figure, on the other hand, may serve as justification for increasing assessment caseloads. Even a reasonable figure can be cause for concern if it becomes a parameter in a cost–benefit equation on the feasibility of contracting out evaluation services—an equation that, in all probability, regards an evaluation as a fixed commodity with a fixed value that is unrelated to time invested. Thus, it is not surprising that school psychologists shy away from the loaded question of how long a psychoeducational evaluation takes, perhaps responding in noncommittal fashion (as befits a psychologist) with, "It depends."

  • Clinical practitioners sometimes wonder what keeps them going. On any given day, they try to serve client needs, maintain an ethical practice, manage increasing paperwork and bureaucracy, stay informed about new interventions and specialties, foresee how emerging changes in the health care environment will affect them, market their services, and defend the efficacy of their interventions (Coster & Schwebel, 1997). Juggling the ups and downs of these responsibilities can be likened to rafting the rapids; sometimes it's exhilarating, other times it's frightening—with survival linked to appropriate responses to and knowledge of the river. Clinicians muse, Can I cope with the increasing demands of my job? How well am I coping? Do I still look forward to going to work most days? What should I do differently to feel better about my job?

  • A former client, who is a real estate salesperson, happens to attend the same small reception for a state legislator as you. The former client approaches a small group of people with whom you happen to be speaking to discuss the possibility of becoming an owner with other individuals of an office building that is on the market. You know your former client is excellent at assessing property values, and the former client claims that this building is worth 30% more than the asking price. After the other person expresses interest in partial ownership, your former client turns to you and asks whether or not you would like to join the ownership group. What would you do? How would you decide? Would your decision be the same or different if the client had dropped out of treatment 3 months ago after four sessions or had completed a 20-session therapy process 3 years ago?

  • Are internships getting harder to find? The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) regularly monitor the supply of internship slots. APPIC data (Lopez, Oehlert, & Wettersten, 1997) indicate that the number of internship sites has grown steadily through the years, yet Aronson (1996) suggested that there has been a decrease in the number of internship slots available. Murray (1995b) reported no growth in internships at academic medical centers for the first time in 5 years. Reliable data on the demand side of the equation are unavailable (Clay, 1997; Martin, 1997; Pederson, 1996; Reich, 1996; Turk, 1996).

Introduction Section

The introduction for PP articles should establish the relevance of the topic of the article to the average practicing professional psychologist. The total length of the introduction might be as short as one or two paragraphs or as long as three to four manuscript pages. However, the focus should be on relevance to practice, and the introductory presentation should be limited to presenting usable information from previously published material (but only in those cases in which the background is not well known or easily accessible).

It is not necessary (or desired by PP) that an introduction build a case or justify the need for the research project or the literature review being presented.

Notes on Empirical Manuscripts

PP is primarily interested in empirically informed articles, which draw out practical implications. PP is not a research journal per se.

PP articles may draw on and summarize empirical work or present new empirical findings. When new data are presented, the focus of the discussion section should be on implications and applications. One difference between a traditional research report and an implications-oriented article is that a research report often focuses its discussion section on the results themselves (often comparing and contrasting them with the findings of other research reports and then focusing on needed future research), whereas an implications-oriented article often focuses its discussion section on "what to do when" or "six factors to consider when …and how to assess them."

The discussion section of an implications article does not discuss the research per se or the research findings themselves; rather, it discusses the implications and applications of everything that is known about the topic and how it informs general practice and suggests specific professional practices. For example, articles on ethics or training should focus on the implications of the findings, not how many people do what.

PP rarely uses the standard "method, results, discussion of results" format for empirical articles. Rather, when a survey or research project is presented, this may be done in a middle section labeled "The Survey" or "The Exploration" or "The Evaluation." Brief presentations of the most critical aspects of method and the major or unexpected findings are made, along with discussion of the findings that actually warrant discussion. This is done with relevant side headings (e.g., "Method" or "Discussion" would rarely be needed as a side heading). For survey reports, the representation of the sample to the population under study should be concisely but clearly noted. Surveys with small response rates (e.g., below 50%) on a clearly biased sample will rarely be published.

Likewise, the introduction should establish, generally in the opening paragraph, the relevance of the topic of the article (and research) to the average practicing professional psychologist. This is in contrast to a research report that often reviews previously published articles in order to establish that the reported research needed to be done. The introduction might be as short as one or two paragraphs or as long as three or four pages. However, the focus should be on relevance to practice and the presentation of practical, usable information.

The following are some section names from previous empirical articles in PP:

  • A Needs-Based Planning Project
  • The EAP Survey
  • The Confidentiality and Disclosure Exploratory Project
  • The Exploratory Study of Psychologists and Clergy
  • Tennessee Psychological Association's Colleague Assistance Program
  • The Nature of the Report Evaluation Study
  • The Los Angeles Asian Adolescent Stress Exploratory Project
  • Utilization and Outcome: The Lutheran Hospital Experience