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Theological Research and Writing: 1. Research

A Guide to Cutting Edge Critical Thinking; Cutting Edge Research and Writing at BMATS

What you'll learn

 Before you move on to the next page, you will:

  • Understand the purpose of research
  • Be able to identify your information need
  • Know how to select a topic for research

Becoming a Life-Long Learner

   Knowing what you need to know in order to accomplish what you intend to do is important for all of life and in ministry.  What information do you need to know in order to:

  • Write a sermon series on I Peter
  • Conduct a Funeral
  • Hire Staff
  • Negotiate a tricky ethical situation

  Information literacy means knowing where to look for information on any task that you might encounter in academic,  ministerial, or even day-to-day life.


What is Research?

Research is:

“The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions” – Oxford Dictionaries Online.

 Systematic investigation and study: Reading relevant information sources such as books, journal articles, and web pages.
Establish facts:  Learning the facts about a topic from various experts representing different points of view.
Reaching New conclusions:  Thinking critically about what you learned from the evidence.

In Seminary we read books and articles in order to learn the facts about a theological topic from various experts, and we restate the facts along with our conclusions on what we have learned by writing research papers. 

Discovering your Information Need

Your information need is what you need to know in order to accomplish what you intend to do.

For example:

  • If you intend to write a paper on the book of Romans, you will need to find technical or expository biblical commentaries from different points of view..
  • If I intend to do a Greek or Hebrew Word study, I need language tools such as lexicons and concordances.
  • If I intend to write a paper on a historical event, I will need to read primary sources from the era of the event.

Different types of information sources are needed for different tasks.

You can discover your information need for a class assignment by:

  • Analyzing the assignment: Look for context, such as date ranges, geographical areas, people groups, or books of the Bible
  • Discussing the assignment with your professor: Ask your professor if you do not know what to do.
  • Conferring with your classmates: Ask your classmates how they interpret the assignment.

Research is...

Research is more about reading and thinking than it is about writing and citing!

Research is not “getting some quotes.”

Research does not include padding your bibliography with sources you did not even read.

Research is growing in knowledge!

Selecting a Topic

1.  The most important factor in selecting a topic for research is your assignment.  Analyze the assignment to determine which topics are valid.  Look for dates, historical eras, geographical limits, or a reference to specific people or text.

2. Select an interesting topic that will help you reach new conclusions.  Don't select a topic just because it comes later in the semester and has a later due date, and don't select a topic because you have already studied it.  Submitting work that you have already completed for another professor amounts to academic dishonesty and has serious consequences.

 3.  Be willing to change your topic.  You may have to narrow a topic that offers too much information for a typical research paper.  You may have to broaden a topic that is not covered in theological literature. 

4.  Get approval from your professor to research a specific topic.