Grades for this course will be based upon three equally weighted components (four if you choose to do #4, the journal):
(1) A first paper reviewing and evaluating a particular personality research program (13 pages).

(2) A second paper presenting your own original theory of personality (10 pages).

(3) One of the following two.

(A) Homework comprising representations of the ideas contained in the required readings on each research program.

(B) A group project comprising a network of webpages having to do with each research program.

(4) Optional: A journal documenting your own observations related to personality.

First Paper

The writing assignments for this course are part of a goal-based scenario in which students write for the benefit of a larger audience and provide constructive criticisms of each other's papers. The first paper is a traditional research paper. The goals of this paper are to show an in-depth knowledge of a particular research program, to evaluate the "greatness" of the research program, and to communicate this knowledge effectively in writing. Optimally, the research program should be chosen from among those discussed in class. If you wish to write about a theory not discussed in class, you must obtain permission of the instructor; this will require that you show that a substantial amount of scientific research has already gone into testing the theory.

During one class session your classmates will subject your manuscript to peer review; you will then have four days in which to make the recommended changes. The final paper should be approximately thirteen pages long, in APA style (including a title page, abstract page, and references page[s]), and have no spelling or grammatical errors.

Some common reasons that you might not obtain maximum credit on the first paper are the following:

  1. you fail to participate fully in the peer review process,
  2. you include incorrect statements,
  3. you omit relevant material,
  4. you include irrelevant material,
  5. you commit errors in logic, reaching unsound conclusion(s),
  6. you use another person's ideas without appropriate acknowledgement,
  7. your writing is unclear or disorganized,
  8. you deviate from APA style, or commit errors in grammar, spelling, etc.

Remember that the key to good writing is rewriting. A valuable resource, even for good writers, is Strunk's Elements of Style (Strunk and White's enlarged version--which is still short--can be found in the library). Another valuable resource is Paradigm Online Writing Assistant. Further writing advice is also available.

Second Paper

In the second writing assignment, you create your own original theory of personality. Your theory should explain some routine observations that you have made (e.g., what kind of people like to go to lively parties?), but should also be positioned within the multifaceted field of personality psychology. This will require that you generate some ideas, and then do some research to see what other people have said. While the first paper is organized by theory, the second paper is organized by topic. Some of the possible topics you might choose are the following.
  1. Personality measurement
  2. Heredity versus environment
  3. The biology of personality
  4. Personality development
  5. The person-situation debate: Do personality traits really exist?
  6. Motives
  7. The unconscious
  8. Personal efficacy
  9. Optimism/pessimism
  10. Creativity
  11. Sex and gender
  12. Control
  13. Self-awareness and self-consciousness
  14. Self-concept and identity
  15. Moral character
  16. Emotion
  17. Aggression
  18. Human sexuality
  19. Personality and relationships
  20. Stress and illness
  21. Personality, depression, and anxiety
  22. Personality disorders
Your theory should take account of existing research, make sense of your own observations, and make testable predictions. One way to make your predictions more testable would be to create a personality questionnaire that measures the constructs you describe. Your theory should be presented in a manuscript of approximately ten pages, in APA style (including a title page, abstract page, and references page[s]), that will be subjected to peer review with the possibility of publication. Grading criteria are similar to those for the first paper. In addition, your theory will be graded on (1) the extent to which it can be used to generate testable hypotheses, and (2) the extent to which it relates to existing scientific literature. This assignment is described more fully as part of the goal-based scenario.


You may choose to make weekly homework part of your final grade. This would require you to submit an alternative representation of the ideas contained in the required readings on each research program before class on the first day we talk about that research program. The goals of the homework assignments are to assure that you know the content of each theory, and to make you think about how each theory is internally organized. Your representation will be graded on how well it (1) covers all the major ideas in the required readings, and (2) integrates them into a meaningful pattern.

Group Project

You may choose to make a group project part of your final grade. This would require you and one partner to submit a hypertext document that represents the major ideas in each research program by 5:00 on the Friday after we talk about that research program. Thus, you will have the benefit of having attended the discussion on that research program before you are required to represent it. The instructor will teach you how to make web pages (two computer lab sessions are scheduled for that purpose in the basement of Swift Hall)--no prior knowledge is presupposed. What you will end up with is a network of ideas about personality.

This aspect of the class will simulate the large extent to which science is a collaborative endeavor and the importance of disseminating information. In addition to learning a practical skill, you will be manipulating ideas, which entails thinking carefully and creatively about the topics of the course.

You can choose with whom you would like to be in a group; otherwise you will be assigned a partner. One strategy for completing the group project is for each person to assume responsibility for half of the topics to be covered. Grades will be based on the final product, not individual contributions. Your document will be graded on how well it (1) covers all the major ideas in a research program, and (2) integrates them into a meaningful pattern.


You may choose to keep a journal as part of your final grade. This would require you to buy a bound journal with blank pages from the bookstore and write a total of seven pages per week on any topic(s) related to personality. (If you want to use a word processor instead, then you should use double spacing, one-inch margins, and 12 point font, and you are only required to write three and a half pages per week, which is comparable to the hand-written assignment.) You should date all of your entries.

The goals of the journal are to give you a chance to get your ideas about personality down on paper, and to give you credit for writing about issues that interest you. The observations recorded in your journal could well become the stepping stone for your own theory of personality, which you will present in the second paper.

The most important criterion for grading the journal will be that you fill the requisite number of pages. Journals will be collected at random times throughout the term, so bring your journal with you to every class meeting. The best policy is to keep up by writing at least one page per day. This is your chance to show what you have learned in class or have thought about on your own in any format you desire.

Back to Syllabus

Back to the Great Ideas in Personality Home Page