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Theological Research and Writing: 3. Developing a Topic

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:

  • Learn how to investigate a topic
  • Learn how to narrow or broaden a topic
  • Learn how to develop a research question
  • ‚ÄčLearn how to write a thesis statement

Use Your Study Bible!

Analyzing The Assignment

Example: “The student is required to write a 10-12 page research paper on a topic of his or her choice.  The student’s choice is limited to the intertestamental period, background information on Jewish society in the first century, the four Gospels, and Acts….”

Resources for Further Study

Developing a topic

   Developing your topic will shape your research experience and your research will shape your topic in ways you could not have foreseen before opening the books.  The more you read scholarly writings throughout your academic career, the easier it will be to see topics emerge.  The more you read and take notes on your topic area, the easier it will be to zero in on a topic which is neither too broad, nor too narrow.  This section will help you develop a topic, taking it from a general concept to a specific discussion.

Investigating a topic

Investigate your topic by looking up general information you can use to help you in your search.  Your goal is to familiarize yourself with the key terms you will need to search for further information.

Why:  Investigating a topic is like creating a sketch.  When you understand the context of your topic and possesses the language required to search for information about it, you are empowered to find relevant information sources. 

What you are looking for: Let's say you intend to research the Metropolitan Tabernacle, an English Baptist church pastored by both John Gill and Charles Spurgeon.  You would look for various key terms related to the topic, as well as general information to help you locate the topic within its various spheres.

Key Terms-
Dates: 1650 (founded).  1688 (first chapel built), 1854 (Spurgeon became pastor).
Names: William Rider. Benjamin Keach.  John Gill.  John Rippon. Charles Spurgeon.  Thomas Spurgeon. (Pastors)
Places: London, England.  Park Street.  Surrey Gardens Music Hall.  Elephant and Castle.
Ideas: Non-conformist.   English Baptist.

Where to look: You might gain a lot of this information from a reference in your text book or a class lecture.  However, you should continue your investigation by consulting general reference resources:

Your textbook
Web pages

Important:  General Reference Resources are not good sources for use in writing a research paper.  The information is too general and far removed from primary sources.


Narrowing a Topic

Read the assignment prompt in the box to the left and consider the following topic:

The Messiah  -    Too Broad!  You could study this topic in Old Testament too!

How to narrow a topic:
1. Ask questions regarding what you would like to know about a topic:

What does the New Testament say about the Messiah?
What were first-century Jews looking for in the Messiah?

2. Specify the context:

Choose a particular book, in this case, a gospel.
Choose a time period.  First Century, inter-testimental period, etc.

Taking these steps, you might decide upon one of the following topics:

“Jesus’ fulfillment of Messianic Prophecies according to the Gospel of Matthew”  or
"Jewish expectations regarding the coming Messiah during the inter-testimental period"


Broadening a Topic

Consider this topic

Syrophoenecian women of the Gospels  -    Too Narrow!  There's only one in the Gospels.

How to broaden a topic:

1. Replace specifics with more general language.

"Syrophoenecian women" becomes "gentiles" because there's too little content.  

2. Trade specific issues for their larger context.

The issue here is not Jesus treatment of "Syrophoenecian women," but Jesus treatment of gentiles altogether.  You could also consider Jesus' treatment of women.

3. Avoid jargon.

Use of phrases like "once saved, always saved" make for very narrow topics.

With these things in mind, you might broaden your topic to:

“Jesus’ treatment of Gentiles in the Gospels.” or
"The role of women in Jesus' ministry."


Subject Guide

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Phillip Waddell
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Reference resources for topic investigation