Quality Research Papers
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Quality Research Papers

For Students of Religion and Theology

Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Terry Dwain Robertson

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eBook - ePub

Quality Research Papers

For Students of Religion and Theology

Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Terry Dwain Robertson

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About This Book

This will be the fourth edition of a time-tested resource for students writing papers in the fields of religion and theology. It provides essential guidance for writing assignments typical in graduate programs in religion and has served as a standard textbook for seminary research courses. The fourth edition is updated to include information on Turabian 9th edition, SBL Handbook 2nd edition, new resource lists, and additional help with online resources and formatting issues.

Most importantly, this new edition is revised from the perspective of information abundance rather than information scarcity. Today's research mindset has shifted from "find anything" and "be satisfied with anything" to "choose intentionally" reliable and credible sources. Quality Research Papers will guide students through an overabundance of online and library resources and help them craft excellent essays.

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chapter one


The term research is used as a verb, a noun, and even as an adjective. Research as an action can be defined as a method of study that, through careful investigation of all evidence bearing on a definable problem, arrives at a solution. To research a topic is to collect, organize, evaluate, and present data. This process cannot take place without analysis and synthesis, for research is more than a compilation of information. The results of research must be presented in a clear and concise way so that anyone can follow the process, without having to repeat any of the steps, to see how you, the researcher, arrived at your conclusions. The end product is “research” as a noun. How many times have you heard the claim, “Research proves that . . .”? As an adjective, the term research modifies a larger category, as in the case of papers. Of all the different types of papers you may write throughout your education and career, the “research” paper has a special status. Hence the title of this book, Quality Research Papers.
Research as an action is a complex system of inquiry. You learn to ask good questions to find good answers. You seek knowledge about how to gather information, to understand, to find evidence. We will use the following definition of research as an action: Doing research is the grounded, intentional, and savvy analysis of an object in conversation with peers/experts for the purpose of creating knowledge. Each element of this definition deserves further explanation.

1. Grounded: Objective research begins with prior knowledge, both yours and the collective knowledge of the discipline. To this prior knowledge you will add facts, not suppositions or possibilities. Research is done with the head and not the heart. Research looks at facts, not conjectures or even possibilities, much less long-cherished pet ideas. Thus the first phase of research is connecting with what is already known. As Bryan Gaensler, astronomer at the Dunlap Institute, University of Toronto, tweeted, “Research is spending 6 hours reading 35 papers, so you can write one sentence containing 2 references.”1
2. Intentional: Research requires effort. It does not just happen. A researcher must develop and use a clear method and a logical system. Research is not easy; it requires time, energy, thought, and effort.
3. Savvy: Research does not look for someone’s ideas about matters somehow related to the problem; it seeks precise answers to the specific question being asked. The information presented must be from authoritative sources, speak to the problem, and be duly documented. The challenge is that with the proliferation of sources, discerning veridical information from misinformation, disinformation, or incomplete information requires heightened alertness to all facets of information literacy.
4. Analysis of an object: The object may be a natural object, such as an archaeological artifact; it may be an idea, such as theodicy; or it may be a text, such as a parable of Jesus. It might even be a mission procedure or church activity. The nature of the object determines what methods will be needed. A research topic asks a question or solves a problem about the object. It is impractical to do adequate research on a large topic. The research paper is not an encyclopedia. A specific, clearly delineated problem is the only one that can be solved.
5. Conversation: All writing assumes a reader. An author is sharing thoughts using the medium of writing to communicate something to someone. Research writing assumes readers who are also competent on the topic. Connecting your interpretation of the findings with other related writings brings you into the conversation.
6. Create knowledge: The reward for doing research is the joy of discovery that enriches your life and ministry. Documenting that discovery so that readers can benefit with you should be exciting.

Research as an action may produce a ten-page paper on Nazareth in the time of Christ. Research is what the writer of an MA thesis does for weeks. Persistent research—over long months—goes into producing a dissertation. As used in this book, the term research applies to all scholarly studies at undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. Some teachers may call it a research essay; others may label it a term paper. When a student, starting with a research question, carefully examines the evidence and brings together a coherent argument, thus answering the question, and then creates a document, the result is research as a noun.
Research is the quest for truth, for reality—for God is the Creator of reality—whether it be scientific, historical, or religious. Growing in knowledge is a biblical requirement, as elaborated on by New Testament scholar Andreas Köstenberger.2 This makes doing research a worshipful activity for believers. Yet, because God is the ultimate reality, and human beings are limited and finite, our journey toward truth and our discoveries along the way must not be considered as having arrived. We are unable to see the whole picture. What we may perceive as “truth” today may be corrected tomorrow by a new discovery. For this reason, even a careful researcher must be humble. The attitude must be one of learning it all, not knowing it all.3
After interviewing many researchers, Angela Brew was able to categorize the responses into four variations on how research is experienced.4

1. The domino variation: finding the answer to each distinct research question inspires, points to, or helps with a new research question. One solution always leads to a new question.
2. The trading variation: research is creating a product for others to use. It assumes being a part of community that learns from one another.
3. The layer variation: research is looking beneath the surface, ever digging deeper.
4. The journey variation: research is transformative, leading to growth in knowledge and understanding.

After reflecting on how you experience research, one or more of these variations may appeal to you. It is also possible that as you write papers for different courses, you may feel each project fits one or another of the metaphors better.
What Ellen White wrote in 1892 is true today: “Truth is eternal. . . . We must study the truth for ourselves. No living man should be relied upon to think for us.”5

The Research Process

Although the research process will be studied carefully in the following chapters, at this point a brief synthesis of this endeavor is useful. In addition, we will consider some of the hindrances to the successful completion of research.
In its simplest form, the research process involves identification, collection, evaluation, and presentation. Once you have selected a topic, you must identify the problem or issue to be tackled. The issue must be specific, often expressed as a research question, not something vague and general. Once you know exactly what the problem to be solved is, you can begin collecting data. Gather information carefully from many sources. Organize your data in a way that is clear and logical to you and others. After you have gathered all the information, you will need to analyze and evaluate it. Not all sources are equally valuable; not all opinions are of the same weight. Finally, after you have gathered the evidence, you must draw conclusions regarding the solution of the problem. You will then write a research report that gives a clear view of the problem, of the information gathered, and of the solution reached.
Some of the most dangerous pitfalls for researchers are those related to a previous mindset. Throughout history, thoughtful humans have attempted to make sense out of the world in which they live. People see what is happening around them and draw conclusions as to the causes and effects. These conclusions find expression in language, and because of the limitations of language, it is often necessary to express the realities beyond full comprehension using imagery and metaphors. Since birth, all researchers have been immersed in a social context and have shared in the sense-making experience of their families and communities. This provides them a unique personal mindset for making sense of the world. Expressions of this mindset are often known as presuppositions.
The danger for researchers is that they assume their readers share their worldview. But when the reader disagrees with or misunderstands the worldview, the reader perceives the research as “biased.” When the reader shares the values, the writing is considered “objective.” When the reader disagrees with the values as expressed, the ideas are labeled as “prejudice.” When sources are rejected or not taken seriously for reasons other than the content or argument, the omission is labeled “epistemic injustice.” Thus researchers benefit from being transparent about their interpretive framework and making a good-faith effort to minimize the potential for misunderstanding. One must, then, recognize what these presuppositions are and state them in the introduction to the research. For example, if you accept the Genesis 1:26 statement that human beings have been made in the image of God, whatever conclusions you reach on the treatment of psychological issues in children will reflect that basic understanding.
Other research errors are those of hurriedness, inaccuracy, and carelessness. It is easy to come to premature conclusions without having finished the research because of lack of time or an insufficiently broad bibliography. It is also easy to miss an important detail or to write down an erroneous fact. Researchers do not mean to make this kind of mistake. But these errors do happen, especially to students who are scrambling to survive the term. Research demands extreme caution and care—and much time.

Kinds of Academic Writing

Many different types of papers are written as part of theological education. Here is a list of eleven different ones. Your school may have additional types of papers. Pay attention to your professor’s instructions.

1. Essay: a short paper (1-10 pages) that explores a topic from a personal point of view, without the rigor of a research paper. The opinions of the writer may be prominent, but referenced footnotes are required for all quotations, citations, and allusions.
2. Report: a short paper (1-10 pages) that summarizes findings on an assigned topic. All quotations must be referenced.
3. Sermon: a paper written as the basis for a later oral presentation. While research may be needed, it is not reported in the same way as in other papers. However, quotations should be referenced in the written version turned in to the professor.
4. Term paper or research paper: a major paper (15-30 pages) that investigates a specific issue. Such a paper needs a clear introduction as well as a summary and conclusions. All quotations, citations, and allusions are referenced.
5. Book review: a short (1-4 pages) paper that describes and evaluates a book or article. The professor sets the parameters for this paper.
6. Project: a paper, either for a class or a degree, that emphasizes planning, doing extensive reading and writing, and executing a project on the basis of that careful reading. Projects are common in applied theology, from undergraduate through graduate courses, but especially in the Doctor of Ministry program.
7. Pastoral theology paper: a paper (20-30 pages) that applies the findings of research to a pastoral situation (see chapter 8).
8. Case study: a paper (20-30 pages) that presents a case, analyzes factors affecting it, interprets what has happened theologically, and proposes pastoral action to explain or resolve the situation. The case study is used in practical theology (see chapter 5).
9. Thesis: a major paper required for the completion of a master’s degree. Its length is usually around 100-120 pages. A written proposal must be approved before the task is undertaken. Theses may have to be defended before an examination committee (see chapter 7).
10. DMin dissertation: a paper that completes the Doctor of Ministry program. It tends to be practical, as is the degree. Its length is at least 150 pages and may be longer (see chapter 8).
11. PhD/ThD dissertation: a major study, similar to a thesis, but longer and more complex, often 250-300 pages long. It must be writ...

Table of contents