This chapter discusses personality development and its stability. It discusses how early childhood experiences can have an impact on personality development. It also discusses how environment can interact with the development of and the magnification of these personality traits.View the following brief video. (2:25 length) The video discusses how teen’s today might be overconfident and overestimate their abilities, due in part to an effort by parents and society to build self esteem in children. Why might these assertions be true? Using the information you learned in this chapter, discuss your opinion. Do you agree? use 1 or 2 in text content and cite which pageThe Personality Puzzle Seventh – David C Funder.pdf
Cover (The Personality Puzzle)
Front Matter
Chapter 1 – The Study of the Person
Part 1 – The Science of Personality: Methods and Assessment
Part II – How People Differ: The Trait Approach
Part III – The Mind and the Body: Biological Approaches to Pers…
Part IV – The Hidden World of the Mind: The Psychoanalytic Ap…
Part V – Experience and Awareness: Humanistic and Cross-Cult…
Part VI – What Personality Does: Learning, Thinking, Feeling, an…
Personality Development 235
236 Chapter 7 Personality Stability, Development, and Change
Name Index
Subject Index
also continuous; you add chapters as long as you live, and this whole, self-authored
“book” comprises your ever-evolving narrative identity.
The story that comprises a person’s narrative identity is important because
it reveals how she views her entire life, up until now, and how its trajectory
fits into her goals and dreams. And it turns out that just about everybody has
such a story. McAdams reports that in his research, people love to tell them!
The narratives have various themes, consistent with the individual’s cultural
background and personality. For some people, the story of one’s life is about
a series of lucky breaks; for others, the theme may be hard luck, success,
or tragedy
People from different cultures may tell different kinds of stories about them-
selves. One pioneering cross-cultural study found that nonimmigrant European-
Canadians, when asked to explain how they are the same person over time, refer to
stable aspects of themselves such as their values, their beliefs, their eternal souls,
or even their birthmarks! Canadians who had immigrated from Asia, in contrast,
were more likely to spin a more complex story in which events in their lives affected
their personalities, which in turn affected future events in their lives. For example,
being arrested for shoplifting might cause a person to rethink the kind of life one
wants to lead, which can lead to changes in how one acts in the future (Dunlop &
Walker, in press).
Most research on narrative identity focuses on its relations with personality.
A particular theme that appears fairly often in North American culture, a theme
that McAdams calls “agency,” organizes the life story around episodes of
challenging oneself and then accomplishing goals. Such a story might be the
hallmark of a person high in the trait of conscientiousness. Another important
theme, called “redemption,” typically includes an event that seemed terrible at
the time, but in the end turned out for the best. For example, a person might
describe how the tragic death of his father led the rest of the family to become
closer together (McAdams & McClean, 2013). Redemptive stories appear to
be a good sign. People who think of their lives in this way are able to change
their behavior for better-for example, stop problem drinking-and in general
develop healthier habits (Dunlop & Tracy, 2013).
A couple of years ago I was at a psychology conference where McAdams gave
a keynote address in which he presented some of the research just summarized.
The next speaker was the newly elected president of the society. The new presi-
dent proceeded to tell the audience a bit of his own life story, including the time
he failed to be awarded tenure at his first university job. While this can be a
devastating blow to one’s academic career, he described how instead it led him
to take a different position where he was able to finally do the kind of research
he really wanted, which led to many future successes. McAdams sat politely and
silently while this story was being related, but I’m fairly sure he was thinking
something along the lines of, “That’s what I’m talking about.”
Goals Across the Life Span
A person’s sense of identity is always important, but other goals may change over
time (Carstensen & Mikels, 2005). When a person is young, and life seems as if
it will go on forever, goals are focused on preparation for the future. On a broad
level, they may include learning new things, exploring possibilities, and gener-
ally expanding one’s horizons. More specific goals may include completing one’s
education, finding a spouse, and establishing a career. When old age approaches,
priorities change. As the end of life becomes a more salient concern, it may seem
less important to start new relationships or to make that extra dollar. Instead, goals
of older persons-defined in most research as those around age 70 and older-
focus more on what they find emotionally meaningful, especially ties with family
and long-time friends. They also-wisely, it would appear-work to regulate their
emotional experience, by thinking more about the good things in life and less
about things that trouble them. One advantage of old age is that one no longer
must associate in the workplace or social settings with people whom one does not
enjoy. Research by gerontological psychologist Laura Carstensen and her col-
leagues indicates that older persons take advantage of this freedom. If being with
someone is a hassle, they are pretty good at avoiding
him (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999). This
If being with someone is a hassle, may be the best part of the La Dolce Vita effect men-
older persons are pretty good at
tioned earlier.
avoiding him.
This shift in goals is not an effect of age per se;
nor is it just a matter of changing social roles. Rather,
it appears to result from having a broader or narrower
perspective about time. Young people with life-threatening illnesses also appear to
shift their goals from exploration to emotional well-being (Carstensen & Fredrick-
son, 1998), and when older people are asked to imagine they will have at least 20
more years of healthy life than they expected, they exhibit a style of emotional at-
tention otherwise more typical of the young (Fung & Carstensen, 2003). According
to the research of Carstensen and her colleagues, the life goals that one sets depend
on how much life one expects to have left.
Can personality change? In one respect, the answer is clearly “yes.” As we have
already seen, ample evidence shows that, overall, personality does change. Look
again at Figure 7.1, which shows personality traits moving around quite a bit, on
average, across the years from adolescence to adulthood to old age. But I think
when people ask “Can personality change?” the inevitable consequences of the
passing years are not really what they have in mind. Instead, what they are asking
The Personality Puzzle Seventh – David C Funder.pdf
Cover (The Personality Puzzle)
Front Matter
Chapter 1 – The Study of the Person
Part 1 – The Science of Personality: Methods and Assessment
Part II – How People Differ: The Trait Approach
Part III – The Mind and the Body: Biological Approaches to Pers…
Part IV – The Hidden World of the Mind: The Psychoanalytic Ap…
Part V – Experience and Awareness: Humanistic and Cross-Cult…
Part VI – What Personality Does: Learning, Thinking, Feeling, an…
Personality Change 237
238 Chapter 7 Personality Stability, Development, and Change
is: Can personality be changed? Can I change my own personality? Or can I change
the personality of my child, or my spouse?
The Desire for Change
According to one survey, almost everybody would like to change at least one of
their Big Five traits at least somewhat-the estimates range from 87 percent to
97 percent, depending on the trait. Neuroticism was the trait that the most people
wanted to change; agreeableness was the one the fewest (though still most) people
wanted to change (Hudson & Roberts, 2014; for the specific results concerning ex-
traversion, see Figure 7.3). Not surprisingly, the change people wanted was almost
always in the socially desirable direction. People would like to be a bit higher in
extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness, and lower in neu-
roticism.” Interestingly, these traits match almost exactly what most people desire
Name Index
in their romantic partners: They would prefer mates who are more conscientious,
extraverted, and agreeable, and lower in neuroticism than they are themselves
(Figuredo, Sefcek, & Jones, 2006).
One question that might arise about this study concerns its participants. They
were all undergraduate college students. Do these results just mean that the per-
sonalities of people in this age range (mostly 18–22) are still in the “design stage”
(as was noted in Chapter 4), making them more amenable to change than people
who are older and more set in their ways? Good question, but the answer appears
to be no. An even more recent study, conducted over the Internet, surveyed 594
people from the ages of 18 all the way to 74, and found an almost o correlation
(r = .024 to be exact) between age and the desire to change (Baranski, Morse, &
Dunlop, 2014)
In the college student study, the main reason for wanting to change appeared
to be the hope that having a different personality might make life better. The
people who most wanted to be more extraverted were those who were dissatisfied
with their friendships, emotions, recreational activities, or sex lives. Those who
most wanted to be more conscientious were unhappy with how things were going
at work or at school.
Maybe there is hope for these people. A small amount of research that sug-
gests personality actually can be changed has been around for decades. In just the
past few years a number of studies and theoretical models have added signifi-
cantly to this evidence. Current research suggests that there are four potential
methods to change personality: psychotherapy, general intervention programs
aimed at life outcomes, targeted intervention programs aimed at specific traits,
and life experiences.
Subject Index
Proportion per bar
Goals to change extraversion
Figure 7.3 Who Wants to Be More Extraverted? For each of eight characteristics
related to extraversion, participants rated the degree to which they wanted to become
“much more” than they currently were (2), “more” (1), the same (O), “less” (-1), or “much
less” (-2). The numbers on the left show how many people gave each rating, averaged
across the eight characteristics; the numbers on the right are the percentage of people
who gave each average rating. As you can see, most people wish they were a bit more
extraverted. But not quite everybody.
Source: Hudson & Roberts (2014), p. 72.
As long ago as 1980, a major literature review concluded that psychotherapy can
produce long-term behavior change (Smith, Glass, & Miller, 1980). And, according
the perspective used throughout this book, “long-term behavior change” means
pretty much the same thing as personality change (see Chapter 1). To an increas-
ing degree in recent years, psychotherapy is conducted in conjunction with the
prescription of psychiatric drugs, such as fluoxetine (Prozac). As will be discussed
in Chapter 8, fluoxetine and related drugs are not only useful in some cases) for
treating depression, they also have an overall effect, in many people, of making
them more extraverted and less anxious. Just one dose of the hallucinogenic drug
psilocybin (when taken in a medically controlled setting) can lead to increases in
Openness to Experience that last a year or more (MacLean, Johnson, & Griffiths,
2011). But, of course, all drugs have side effects and intensive psychotherapy is
not available to everybody. Fortunately, there appear to be several other routes to
changing personality.
To be exact, they wanted to be higher in emotional stability, which is the inverse of neuroticism.
The Personality Puzzle Seventh – David C Funder.pdf
Cover (The Personality Puzzle)
Front Matter
Chapter 1 – The Study of the Person
Part 1 – The Science of Personality: Methods and Assessment
Part II – How People Differ: The Trait Approach
Part III – The Mind and the Body: Biological Approaches to Pers…
Part IV – The Hidden World of the Mind: The Psychoanalytic Ap…
Part V – Experience and Awareness: Humanistic and Cross-Cult…
Part VI – What Personality Does: Learning, Thinking, Feeling, an…
Personality Development 233
234 Chapter 7 Personality Stability, Development, and Change
inclination to be conscientious, which is necessary to fill these roles, can increase
rather abruptly (Bleidorn, 2012).
The Social Clock
The Development of Narrative Identity
Beyond starting families and careers, which most people do at some point, another
important life task is faced by everybody. This is the task of developing a sense of
who you are. According to the psychologist Dan McAdams (2013), every individual
develops three aspects of identity one on top of the other (see Figure 7.2).
The first step is to learn to see oneself as an actor, and the mission is to develop
the social skills, traits, and roles that will allow one to begin to take a place in soci-
ety. This task begins very early, as the young child begins to take on competencies
that allow her to separate from her parents and do things independently. She learns
to read; she learns to add and subtract; she learns to drive; she learns a profession
and the skills of parenthood. This task of learning new skills required by new roles
continues throughout life.
The second task is to become an agent, a person who is guided by goals and
values. This process begins at around ages 7-9 and, again, is a lifelong endeavor.
When you begin to think of yourself as an agent, you look beyond the present mo-
ment, and start to plan for the future and align those plans toward the outcomes
that are important to you. Serious attention must be paid to the tasks of choosing
a career, choosing a life partner, and developing the values that allow you to make
these choices wisely.
The third and final task is to become the author of your own autobiography.
This process begins in late adolescence, and results in the narrative that one can
tell when asked, as McAdams often does, to “tell me your life story.” This story is
Name Index
Subject Index
Systematic changes in the demands that are made on a person over the years were
studied by the developmental psychologist Ravenna Helson, who described the pat-
tern as a social clock (Helson, Mitchell, & Moore, 1984). Just as a so-called “biolog-
ical clock” limits the time that women and to some extent, men) can have children,
Helson pointed out that a “social clock” places strong pressures on all people to ac-
complish certain things by certain ages. A person who stays “on time” receives social
approval and enjoys the feeling of being in sync with society. But someone who falls
behind receives less social approval and may feel out of step.
Helson looked at the consequences of staying in or out of sync with the so-
cial clock in a study of students at Mills College, a prestigious women’s college in
Oakland, California. Looking at students from the 1960s, she
followed up and assessed their life satisfaction 20 years later,
when they were in their early to mid-forties. She divided the
students into three groups. One group had followed what she
called the (stereotypical) Feminine Social Clock (FSC), which
prescribes that one should start a family by the time one is in
one’s early to mid-twenties. A second group had followed what
she called the Masculine Social Clock (MSC), which prescribes
that one should start a career with the potential to achieve
status by the time one is 28 or so. ally, a third group had
followed neither schedule (Neither Social Clock, NSC).
Notice that all of the participants in this research were
women. That fact alone is a big change from most prior re-
search which, you may recall from Chapter 2, sometimes
forgot to include women at all! One interesting question ad-
dressed by this study, therefore, is whether it is better for
women to follow the traditional FSC than the MSC. What
Helson found is, in retrospect, not surprising: Women who
followed either the FSC or the MSC reported being fairly con-
tent and satisfied with life 20 years after graduation. It was
only those women who did not manage to follow either agenda
who reported feeling depressed, alienated, and bitter when
they entered their forties.
Author: Life Narratives
Layer of self
Agent: Goals and Values
Actor: Traits and Roles
Age (in years)
Figure 7.2 McAdams’ View of How the Three Layers of the Self Develop Over
Time The view of oneself as an actor begins first, followed by developing a sense of
how one is an agent, and then also an author of one’s own life story. All of these aspects
of the self continue to develop throughout life.
Source: McAdams (2013). p. 280.
‘Actually, lots of findings in psychology seem unsurprising, in retrospect. But that doesn’t mean we
could have predicted them.
The Personality Puzzle Seventh – David C Funder.pdf
Cover (The Personality Puzzle)
Front Matter
Chapter 1 – The Study of the Person
Part 1 – The Science of Personality: Methods and Assessment
Part II – How People Differ: The Trait Approach
Part III – The Mind and the Body: Biological Approaches to Pers…
Part IV – The Hidden World of the Mind: The Psychoanalytic Ap…
Part V – Experience and Awareness: Humanistic and Cross-Cult…
Part VI – What Personality Does: Learning, Thinking, Feeling, an…
Personality Development 231
Chapter 7 Personality Stability, Development, and Change
A couple of comments can be made about these findings. First, the data refer
to mean levels of traits, so they do not apply to everybody-some people actually be-
come less agreeable or less conscientious as they progress through adulthood. And
surely at least a few people become more extraverted during the years between age 80
and age 98, if they live that long. But such patterns are relatively rare. Second, these
findings surprised traditional developmental psychologists, who had assumed that
personality emerges mostly during childhood and early adolescence, and is stable
thereafter. The pioneering psychologist William James (1890) is often quoted as
having claimed that personality “sets like plaster” after age 30. The available data
indicate he was wrong, in the sense that personality traits continue to change across
at least several more decades.
Name Index
Subject Index
but steadily from adolescence to about age 50 (Orth, Robins, & Widaman, 2012).
Another longitudinal study measured ego development, the ability to deal well with
the social and physical world and to think for oneself when making moral deci-
sions (Lilgendahl, Helson, & John, 2012; more will be said about ego develop-
ment in Chapter 11). This trait was found to increase noticeably between the ages
of 43 and 61. These findings, and others, illustrate what is sometimes called the
maturity principle of development, which is that the traits needed to effectively
perform adult roles increase with age (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Roberts
et al., 2008). As was mentioned earlier, these traits include, most notably, con-
scientiousness and emotional stability.
There might be a limit to the maturity principle, however. The same study that
showed an increase in self-esteem up to about age 50 showed a gradual decline
thereafter (Orth et al., 2012). And recent findings from a study in Germany sug-
gest that conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness also decline in old age
(past the mid-sixties; Lucas & Donnellan, 2011). Perhaps at that point in life, traits
associated with performing typical adult roles become less important. People are
less concerned with careers, social activity, ambition, or the need to please other
people, and become more interested in just relaxing and enjoying life-a possibility
that psychologist Herbert Marsh has dubbed the La Dolce Vita effect (cited in Lucas
& Donnellan, 2011, p. 848; see also Specht, Egloff, & Schmukle, 2011).
But not everybody does this. Some very
highly motivated, highly conscientious older
adults express their needs for achievement in
retirement by volunteering for community ser-
vice (Mike, Jackson, & Oltmanns, 2014). As one
busy retiree once said, “I work for free.” Such
an attitude seems to be conducive to a long life
(Friedman, Kern, & Reynolds, 2010; more will
be said about these findings in Chapter 17).
Late old age appears to be particularly
challenging, though the data are limited as you
might imagine. A rare study of persons between
the ages of 8o and 98 found that while neurot-
icism stayed fairly constant over this period,
extraversion became noticeably lower, espe-
cially in people who had experienced significant
hearing loss (Berg & Johansson, 2013).
“You got better looking as you got older-up to a point.”
Causes of Personality Development
Some of the causes of personality change over time involve physical devel-
opment. Intelligence (IQ) and linguistic ability increase steadily throughout
childhood and early adolescence, before levelling off at about age 20 or perhaps
slightly later. Hormone levels change as well, with dramatic and consequential
surges during adolescence, and slow, steady decreases thereafter (see Chapter 8).
Other age-related changes are surely also important, as physical strength increases
during youth and gradually—or not so gradually declines in old age. As we just
saw, hearing loss is associated with decreases in extraversion among the very old.
Another reason for systematic personality change has to do with the differ-
ent social roles people occupy at different stages of life. In a classic account, the
neo-Freudian theorist Erik Erikson described the varying challenges that a person
faces at different ages (Erikson, 1963). These include the need to develop skills in
childhood, relationships in adulthood, and an overview and assessment of one’s life
in old age. This theorizing became the foundation of the field of study later called
“life-span development” (Santrock, 2014; see Chapter 11 for more on Erikson).
More recent research has focused particularly on the trait of conscientious-
ness. In North America, Europe, and Australasia, the time period of about ages
20 to 30 is typically when an individual leaves the parental home, starts a career,
finds a spouse, and begins a family. In other areas of the world, such as Bolivia,
Brazil, and Venezuela, these transitions start much earlier. Either way, the changes
in responsibilities are associated with changes in personality (Bleidorn, Klimstra,
Denissen, Rentfrow, Potter, & Gosling, 2013). A first job requires that a person
learn to be reliable, punctual, and agreeable to customers, coworkers, and bosses.
Building a stable romantic relationship and starting a family require a person
to learn to regulate emotional ups and downs. And progression through one’s
career and as a parent requires an increased inclination to influence the behavior
of others (social dominance). Life demands different things of you when you move
from being a child or young adult to becoming a parent or the boss. As a result, the
This trend is similar among men and women, even though men generally report higher levels of
self-esteem at every age (Orth & Robins, 2014).
La Dolce Vita is Italian for “the good life.” The famous movie with this title is actually a cynical
portrayal of a man who fails in his search for love and happiness.
The Personality Puzzle Seventh – David C Funder.pdf
Cover (The Personality Puzzle)
Front Matter
Chapter 1 – The Study of the Person
Part 1 – The Science of Personality: Methods and Assessment
Part II – How People Differ: The Trait Approach
Part III – The Mind and the Body: Biological Approaches to Pers…
Part IV – The Hidden World of the Mind: The Psychoanalytic Ap…
Part V – Experience and Awareness: Humanistic and Cross-Cult…
Part VI – What Personality Does: Learning, Thinking, Feeling, an…
Personality Stability 227
Chapter 7 Personality Stability, Development, and Change
and .74 between the ages of 50 and 70 (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000). While all
three figures indicate impressive stability, it does appear that individual differ-
ences in personality become more consistent as one gets older. This conclusion
has been called the cumulative continuity principle. This principle asserts not
only that personality traits are relatively stable across the life span, but also that
consistency increases with the passing years (Roberts, Wood, & Caspi, 2008).
Indeed, traits tend to change together—when one changes, others do too (Klimstra,
Bleidorn, Asendorpf, van Aken, & Denissen, 2013). The flip side of this finding
is that when one trait stays the same, so do the others-and this observation is
especially true in older adults (specifically, older than 70). The main reason per-
sonality becomes more stable during the transition from child to adult to senior
citizen seems to be that one’s environment also gets more stable with age (Briley
& Tucker-Drob, 2014). Among other factors, older people are more likely to have
finally decided where they live, who they live with, and what they do for a living. As
the saying goes, they’ve “settled down.”
But it’s not just a matter of age-stability stems from psychological maturity.
From a psychological point of view, “maturity” generally refers to the traits that help
a person to fulfill socially important adult roles such as being a spouse, a parent,
or a worker. These traits include self-control, interpersonal sensitivity, and emo-
tional stability. Adolescents with relatively mature personalities–in these terms-
change less over the next 10 years than do others, the same age, who are less mature
(Donnellan et al., 2007).
It is possible to calculate the mean level of various personality traits at different
ages to see whether people change as they get older. This is an entirely differ-
ent issue than the stability of individual differences just summarized (Roberts,
Donnellan, & Hill, 2012). For illustration, imagine that three young children had
mean agreeableness scores of 20, 40, and 60 (on whatever test was being used),
but when they were measured again later, as young adults, their scores were 40,
60, and 80, respectively. Notice that their rank-order consistency is perfect-the
correlation between the two sets of scores is r = 1.0. But each individual’s agree-
ableness score has increased by 20 points. So, at the same time, they are showing
high rank-order consistency and a strong increase in their mean level of the trait.
This kind of increase (or, in some cases, decrease) in the mean level of a trait over
time is what is meant by personality development.
Name Index
Subject Index
Cross-Sectional Studies
THE END OF HISTORY? At what point does personality stop developing? Take a
moment and ask yourself a couple of questions. Has your personality changed over
the past few years? The answer might depend to some degree on how old you are. Most
people about to graduate from college think they changed a lot over the previous 4 or
5 years, and their perceptions are generally accurate (Robins, Noftle, Trzesniewski, &
Roberts, 2005). Fewer middle-aged people think they have changed significantly over
the previous 6 years—in one study, about 38 percent of the respondents thought they
had changed “a little” (Herbst, McCrae, Costa, Feaganes, & Siegler, 2000). But now
ask yourself another question: Will my personality be different 10 years from now?
According to some research, most people think the answer to this question is No
(Quoidbach, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2013). From the perspective of the present moment,
today looks like “the end of history” and we feel like finished products. We expect to
change less in the future than we have in the past, or even not at all. But if we really
do think this, it’s an illusion. The evidence indicates that personality continues to
develop throughout the life span. You won’t always be the way you are now-probably.
One way to chart the course of personality development is with a cross-sectional
study, which simply surveys people at different ages. One recent project gath-
ered self-reported personality tests scores (S data) from the Internet. The
results, based on more than a million respondents-perhaps the largest N in
the history of psychological research-found that people at different ages
do show different mean levels of the Big Five personality traits (Soto, John,
Gosling, & Potter, 2011). You probably will not find the findings particularly
surprising. According to one study, people in 36 different countries basically
agreed with the stereotype that adolescents tend to be relatively impulsive,
rebellious, and undisciplined, whereas older adults are less impulsive, less
active, less antagonistic, and less open (Chan et al., 2012). Do you agree as
well? I hope so, because this worldwide stereotype turns out to be largely correct
(see Figure 7.1).
Between ages 10 and 20, scores on agreeableness, openness, and conscien-
tiousness all dip during the transition from childhood to adolescence and then
recover moving toward age 20. Extraversion dips from a high level in childhood,
little kids are such extraverts!-and then levels off. Neuroticism seems a bit more
complicated, as young females increase notably toward a higher score during ado-
lescence, while males decline somewhat-perhaps adolescence is harder on girls
than on boys. After age 20, scores on conscientiousness, agreeableness, and open-
ness begin to increase among men and women, while extraversion stays fairly con-
stant. (At older ages some of these traits begin to decline again, as will be discussed
later in the chapter.) The relatively high level of neuroticism among women begins
a slow and steady decline around age 20, whereas men’s neuroticism scores stay
relatively constant (and generally lower than women’s).
Within each age range, personality was compared at two times about seven years apart.
Nine percent thought they had changed “a good deal,” and 53 percent thought they had “stayed the same.”

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