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Theological Research and Writing: 2. Theological Information

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:

  • Gain understanding about the nature of theological information.
  • Understand the difference between popular, scholarly, and trade information.
  • Understand the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary resources.

Some Formats Unique to Theology













Peer-review is a process by which a team of credentialed scholars approves an article for publication.  In journal databases you can usually filter search results to only include articles that are peer-reviewed.  Peer-reviewed articles are therefore considered quality resources for conducting research.









Primary information is the information being studied. In history, writings from the period being studied are primary.  Primary information sources are original, raw, and uninterpreted.  In theology and Biblical studies, the Bible is the foremost example of a primary source.  Church records are a primary source.  If one is studying the fathers of the church, for example, their writings would be the primary source.

Secondary sources interpret primary sources.  A commentary on a book of the Bible is a secondary source because it represents a secondary party's interpretation of the book.  Sometimes, a source can be primary for one purpose and secondary for another.  An ancient commentary on a book of the Bible is a secondary source when studying the Bible, but a primary source when studying the church fathers.

The Nature of Theological Information

    Information functions differently across academic disciplines.  Theology has much in common with subjects in the humanities, like history. Theological information comes in various "packages." The scholarly monograph is still the most common package for theological information.  Thus, theological information "moves slower."  Old books are as useful as new ones.

   Other areas of study can be researched exclusively online, but theology is best studied in a library, with relevant scholarly monographs at hand.  Academic journals are very important for theological research, but books are absolutely essential and most often used.  Information in other forms, such as trade literature and web pages will supplement scholarly monographs and journal articles, but should never be consulted exclusively.

   Theology students need to use the resources that contain the best information.  Books - whether physical or digital - are the primary "package" for theological information, followed by journals.


Reference Resources: 
Encyclopedias, dictionaries, lexicons, concordances, bibliographies, and handbooks belong in this category.  Use them to investigate a topic or to find a good list of authoritative sources.


Monographs: A volume containing one work on a specific subject.  Usually written by one author, but not always.  Complete in itself.  Most commentaries on books of the Bible are monographs.



Serials: Also known as periodicals, serials are continuing works that are not complete in themselves.  Usually consists of works by more than one author, such as an academic journal.  Serials offer information on the cutting edge of theological scholarship.  The theological conversation moves quickly through scholarly journals.


Multi-Author books: A book on a single subject or closely related subjects with essays or chapters by multiple authors. The works are collected in order to convey scholarly communication on a topic.  Sometimes the authors come from the same school of thought, and sometimes the authors oppose one another on the topic. These resources are great for incorporating multiple points of view into one's research on a particular topic.






SCHOLARLY: These resources are the work of credentialed experts in a given field.  Scholarly monographs are easy to identify by the presence of footnoted or endnoted references. Scholarly periodicals are easy to identify by their relatively plain design and scholarly references.  Scholarly periodicals are peer-reviewed. 

POPULAR: Resources that are written for general consumption by the average reader.  These resources often lack references for cited works, and the author may not be highly credentialed to write upon the subject.  Popular periodicals are easy to identify by the abundance of pictures and sidebars, and the articles are short and easily digestible by most readers.

TRADE:  Trade resources were created by insiders for a particular industry, such as a professional association.  Articles are not scholarly, but are written for people within that industry.  Examples for this in the realm of theology would be a magazine for pastors or music ministers.



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Tertiary sources are primarily those which list, organize, recommend, and annotate primary and secondary sources.  A biography is a tertiary source.  An index of journal articles, or an online database is also a tertiary source.  Your textbook can be a tertiary source if you use it as an introduction to new information sources on a particular topic.  Handbooks and guides are tertiary when they function in this way as well.

In theological research, tertiary sources will help you find secondary sources for the study of primary sources.  For instance, you can use a commentary survey (tertiary) to help you find the best commentaries (secondary) on a book of the Bible (primary).