The following is instruction for my theological students in composing weekly research papers. I offer it as a guide and a resource to students and faculty in graduate schools and trust it is of some help in preparing the weekly research paper in theology and religious studies using Turabian-Chicago Manual of Style.
As your professor, I wanted to remind you all of the importance of designing the graduate-level “theology and religious studies” research paper. My reminder is not intended to be given because I see any crisis emerging, but merely as a helpful resource for those who might benefit.
To begin with, make sure that you understand the question/issue/problem that you are called to address in the research paper. This matter will, ordinarily, be supplied to you by your course instructions for that week’s work. Make sure you can state the issue clearly in your introduction. But, use a “literary device” to introduce it. For instance, you can use a question to introduce the problem you are going to address. Or, perhaps, you can use a quotation or a personal reflection on the issue. Whatever your approach, the introduction should lead the reader into experiencing the question. From there you move down the “introductory chain” from the opening lines to literature about the issue (e.g., your reading for that week) to your premise. The literature review for a social science research model is quite extensive. The literature section of the introduction to a brief three to five-page weekly research paper is necessarily brief. This section usually just mentions the textbook or reading for the week that might have raised the issue you are assigned. There will be little to no interaction at this point. You merely raise the reading as the authoritative source for further understanding the issue, problem, or concern in your paper. Following this, you will write out your premise (also called the proposition, or thesis). This should be a simple sentence, though it may be placed within the context of a paragraph that introduces it and briefly supports its. It is its own paragraph and is, most certainly, its own “movement” in the research paper. Following this premise, there is a need for an interrogative statement. This interrogative may be stated or unstated. The purpose of the interrogative is a very necessary one. The interrogative will introduce the transition statement with keyword. Thus, you might posit a premise such as, “Effective missional congregations have strong ministries of spiritual formation in place.” The premise, as is, needs a seed of a question to grow the “stalk” of a transition. Thus, an interrogatory sentence, stated or unstated, could be, “How has this been demonstrated in current data in a major Christian denomination in North America?” The transitional statement is, “Missional churches benefit from spiritual formation ministries in the local church and this has been substantiated in two significant faith communities.” The phrase, “faith communities” becomes the “keywords” for the argument. Each line of argument (or “point” in the body of the paper, if you prefer) will be tethered by the transitional sentences with keyword. And this, in turn, will cause the lines of argument to be connected to the premise. The premise will be constantly advancing the case for addressing the problem. Now. Turn your attention to the lines of argument themselves. Each line of argument will be (1) explained; (2) defended, if necessary; and (3) supported by reputable, scholarly authorities. In the taxonomy of reputable authorities for research papers the peer-reviewed journal article ranks the highest, followed by books by authors who are noted leaders in the field, usually academics. After that, the ranking is arguable, but popular works are at the lower end of the spectrum. That may be fair or unfair, but it is the standard.
As you move to the conclusion, consolidate your thoughts by recapitulating the problem, the premise, and your lines of argument. Then, make what may well be the single most important part of the paper: the closing argument. Very much like a prosecutor making his closing argument to the jury, you are making your final compelling case for your premise to the readership (in this case, part of that readership is, of course, your instructor and grader, or, perhaps, later, an examination committee). How do you do it? Avoid anything too “over the top.” This is an academic paper. Yet, the section in the paper does permit you some room for creativity that previous sections would not allow. For instance, personal stories or biographical material (as long as it is documented) will fit perfectly here and could be the perfect device to “make the case.”
In the end, however, the paper should leave the reader with an impression. The impression—regardless of the reader’s personal position with your premise—should be one that is characterized by respect for your scholarship, your attention to the line of argument, the logical flow of your argument, and the authoritative resources that you marshaled forward to support your conclusions—an uncontested affirmation of your due diligence to good honest scholarship.
Rather than give you a narrative, let me give you an outline:
A good graduate level research paper will include the following seven steps:
- State the problem or issue (e.g., There is significant church membership decline in the Reformed churches of Jackson County, Missouri.)
- Refer to the relevant literature on the subject (in the weekly research paper, one need only refer to a textbook, or the assignment).
- Make the proposition or premise (e.g., Missional churches benefit from inculcating an ethos of strong spiritual formation with the life of the congregation. Therefore, if so, such missional strategies need to be applied to the Reformed churches in Jackson County.).
- Transition into the Argument with a keyword (e.g., “There are two [or three or four] conclusive instances of this principle in both Scripture and Church history”) “Instances” is the key word that will bind the headings together.
- Divide the Argument into clear, cogent lines (making them complete sentences), using the keyword to tether each line of argument into the whole (e.g., “The first instance of the role of spiritual formation and missional churches is found in Acts 2:42.” After arguing that point, with appropriate authorities, and your own critical interaction, you move to the next point via the tethering device: the key word. Thus, “There is a second instance of spiritual formation and missional churches to consider: the success of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, in the 1960s and ’70s, and the percentage of new members in the same period who were new converts.” Again, you would follow with your discussion of the point, citing authorities, including relevant materials, and even pulling in peer-reviewed journal articles to deepen the scholarship).
- Support your argument with authoritative citations (to Turabian standards). I would like to see each of you citing, at least, one peer-reviewed journal article for each weekly paper and three peer-reviewed journal articles in your final 5-7 page papers (12-15 page papers in you are in the Doctor of Ministry program and taking an MDIV offering). Naturally, the bibliography should reflect the research into that week’s study on the issue. A limited bibliography reflects a limited study and will be graded accordingly. Even a brief, but widely consulted, bibliography, during the week, will promote a higher score and will, no doubt, actuate a greater learning experience, which is, after all, the greater goal of the course (and wise use of your time).
- There is some debate about the value of recapitulation in the close. I believe that it depends upon diverse and decisive literary variables that build towards the conclusion. Ordinarily, though, include a recap of, at least, the argument heads. Then, formulate a memorable “closing argument” supported by an illustrative quotation or other authoritative device that “moves” the reader to consider your point (e.g., This paper has provided two instances of the relationship of spiritual formation and its impact on the missional church: first, in Scripture, Acts 2:42; secondly, in the case of a particular church in a place and time. Yet, there is one final message that I have: it is how that Scripture and a church, like that one I mentioned, actually reached me and my family.”)
I trust that this is of some aid to you in the study and preparation of your papers. Each of you can write well. Yet, I think each of you could grow in your design and arrangement of material so that your study for a given week is articulated in a way that demonstrates (1) your own critical thinking; (2) your ability to research and cite authoritative resources; (3) the actual time you spent in meaningful research of the week’s topic; and how you can (4) arrange this material a logical, clear, and cogent pattern that communicates convincingly and authoritatively.
Note: My new favorite research writing center is Excelsior College (State College at Albany, NY). It is updated with rhetorical styles for writing. Excellent resource for all, but very helpful for our ThM, DMin, and PhD students. The link is here: Excelsior College. OWL Writing Lab. Accessed June 1, 2017. http://owl.excelsior.edu
Runner-up award: The JSTOR site on Theology and Religious Studies: “JSTOR Theology and Religious Studies Resources.” JSTOR.org/Librarians. Accessed May 31, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/librarians/products/journals/discipline-specific#relitheo.
Honorable Mention: Duke Divinity School Writing Resources: http://divinity.duke.edu/academics/center-theological-writing/writing-resources. I especially appreciate the article on “Reverse Outlining” (http://divinity.duke.edu/sites/divinity.duke.edu/files/documents/writing-center/Reverse%20Outlining.pdf). By the way, preachers or seminarians in homiletics class can benefit from using “reserve outlining” on their sermons.
“Advantages of Peer Reviews.” Accessed September 19, 2016. https://explorable.com/advantages-of-peer-reviews.
Albert, Mathieu. “Criteria for Assessing Quality in Academic Research: The Views of Biomedical Scientists, Clinical Scientists and Social Scientists.” Higher Education 64, no. 5 (2012): 661-76. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/23275719?ref=search-gateway:2fc3dbffbab26cb61aae8b5a24abd3d2.
Casarett, David J. “A Taxonomy of Value in Clinical Research.” IRB: Ethics & Human Research 24, no. 6 (2002): 1-6. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3564132?ref=search-gateway:cfdf2c7b327b85119a8904408fc72a7a.
“Citation Machine™ Automatically Generates Citations in MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian, and Thousands More!” Citation Machine: Format & Generate Citations – APA, MLA, & Chicago. Accessed May 31, 2017. http://www.citationmachine.net/.
“Columbia College.” Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.college.columbia.edu/academics/integrity-sourcecredibility.
Cosser, Michael. “Towards the Design of a System of Peer Review of Teaching for the Advancement of the Individual within the University.” Higher Education 35, no. 2 (1998): 143-62. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3448321?ref=search-gateway:ad21934db10d44bd696dd92ff5c18dba.
Deal, Robert L. “Role of Online Journals and Peer-reviewed Research.” Northwest Science 88, no. 3 (2014): 264-65. doi:10.3955/046.088.0310.
Earl, Michael. “Knowledge Management Strategies: Toward a Taxonomy.” Journal of Management Information Systems 18, no. 1, Knowledge Management (2001): 215-33. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/40398522?ref=search-gateway:b9d1f52f744e65c1c08bdc95abe9b72d.
Erskine College Library. Accessed May 31, 2017. http://www.erskine.edu/library/find-information/.
Excelsior College. OWL Writing Lab. Accessed June 1, 2017. http://owl.excelsior.edu
Foley, Jennifer. “Peer Review, Citation Ratings and Other Fetishes.” Springer Science Reviews AG (2013). Accessed September 19, 2016. doi:10.1007/s40362-013-0003-x.
Houghton, Peggy M., Timothy J. Houghton, Michele M. Pratt, and Kate L. Turabian. Turabian: The Easy Way! Flint, MI: Baker College, 2014.
“JSTOR Theology and Religious Studies Resources.” JSTOR.org/Librarians. Accessed May 31, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/librarians/products/journals/discipline-specific#relitheo.
Keith, Jasper N. Peer Review: A Theological Perspective. Dacatur, GA: Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, 1990.
Kostoff, Ronald N. “Research Impact Assessment.” Business Economics 28, no. 1 (1993): 44-46. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/23485818?ref=search-gateway:75b2d3bbc544ea3045dd95969297ebd9.
Moed, H. F. Citation Analysis in Research Evaluation. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005.
“Rethinking Peer Review: How the Internet Is Changing Science Journals.” The New Atlantis No. 13 (2006): 106-10. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/43152271?ref=search-gateway:6960c6d0ec432deb79b6a70dec89309b.
Shatz, David. “Is Peer Review Overrated?” The Monist 79, no. 4, Academic Ethics (1996): 536-63. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/27903502?ref=search-gateway:81ab77c403dddd714a3de533dbcfe06a.
Swartz, Katherine. “Peer-Reviewed Journals and Quality.” Inquiry 36, no. 2 (1999): 119-21. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/29772816?ref=search-gateway:95cad61ce4cf4cd093cbea471e3296c1.
“Theology Guide.” TheologyGuide.com. Accessed May 31, 2017. https://theologyguide.com/.
Topic, By. “Study on Your Schedule with Our Online library.” Accessed September 19, 2016. https://www.questia.com/.
Turabian, Kate L., Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Vyhmeister, Nancy J. Your Indispensable Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2001.
Weidenborner, Stephen, Domenick Caruso, and Gary Parks. Writing Research Papers: A Guide to the Process. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.
“Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL. Accessed May 31, 2017. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.
“Writing Center.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed May 31, 2017. http://www.unc.edu/departments/writing-center/.