Types of Academic Papers

Source: Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderland, L., & Brizee, A. (2010). Types of APA papers. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University: Purdue Online Writing Lab. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/13/

Psychology students are required to submit a variety of written assignments, the most common being general format and research (empirical and literature review) papers. All psychology papers must follow APA standards, unless otherwise specified. Athabasca University courses usually provide a detailed description of the purpose, format, marking guidelines, etc., for writing assignments, and students can query the tutor if they require clarification.

Empirical research and literature review papers may be most confusing to students.

Empirical research is original research in which the student or author derives the data by means of direct observation or original experiment. This data is used to answer a research question or test a research hypothesis. The results are based upon actual evidence as opposed to theory or conjecture and, as such, it should be possible to replicate the results in follow-up studies or experiments. Empirical research is most often used in graduate courses at the Ph.D. level. However, some undergraduate assignments involve students conducting “mini-projects” in which they conduct observations.


Writing an Empirical Paper in APA Style. (2010). Seattle, WA: University of Washington, Psychology Writing Center.

A literature review, on the other hand, is a comprehensive report based on a topic or research question and the existing literature available regarding that topic or question. When presenting a literature review, it is necessary to clearly outline both the procedures undertaken in relevant studies (i.e., primary sources) and the findings. The student critically analyzes the method, results, discussion, and/or conclusions of a number of research articles (sometimes a specified number) and writes a paper based on the articles’ findings. For example, the paper may address the following kinds of questions: Does the literature support the research query? Does the literature conflict with the query? Is there a combination of supporting and conflicting evidence? This type of paper is used at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.


Mongan-Rallis, H. (2006). Guidelines for writing a literature review. Duluth, MN: University of Minnesota Duluth: Department of Education.

General format papers are those that do not fit either the empirical or literature review categories, e.g., essays, case study reports, and personal reflection papers. They do not require extensive research but do require APA formatting, i.e., title and reference pages and primary/secondary in-text citations. These types of papers are used at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.


Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., & Brizee, A. (2010). General format. Purdue, IN: Purdue University Online Writing Lab.