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4 Helpful Research Paper Writing Tips For Seminary Students & Researchers— An Excerpt from "Quality Research Papers"

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What makes a quality religion/theology research paper?

9780310514022If you're a religion or theology student, at seminary or other graduate school, this is an important question! It's also an important question if you're an interested Christian who does intentional research work.

Thankfully it's a question Nancy Vyhmeister and Terry Robertson address in their foundational guide, Quality Research Papers (3rd Edition)

This updated book has quickly become a standard guide for writing research papers in religious and theological academic work. The new edition improves and adds material for such things as doing church-related research in a professional manner. It also explores ways to do research on the internet, including how to document such research.

To help you write quality, compelling research papers we've excerpted a passage from their book to provide 4 helpful tips to make your papers strong, including:

  1. Understanding what research is in order to do it well
  2. How to do research using a process that avoids pitfalls
  3. Understanding what research is not in order to do it well
  4. Learning to value research so that what you produce is quality writing

I wish I had these tips and this books seven years ago when I started my seminary graduate journey. Fortunate for you, you've got them here! And you can receive more helpful advice and guidance by ordering and using this helpful guide.

So here's to your papers: May they be of greater quality than mine own, thanks to Vyhmeister and Robertson!

-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)


1) Definition of Research

Research 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…. You learn to ask good questions in order to find good answers. You seek knowledge about how to gather information, to understand, to find evidence…

Research is the search for truth — for God is truth — whether it be historical, scientific, or theological. It is all God’s truth, as Frank E. Gaebelein points out.  This makes research an appropriate activity for believers. Yet, because God is ultimate truth and human beings are limited and finite, our arrival at truth must not be considered final. We may never be able to see the whole picture. Furthermore, what is “truth” today may be changed tomorrow by a new discovery. For this reason, even a careful researcher must be humble.

2) The Research Process

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. When a cherished idea is being defended, for example, it is extremely difficult to be objective, to take into account adverse evidence, to break out of a limited thinking pattern. The prejudices (meaning here “prejudged results”) taken into a research project set the tone and often determine the answer to a question. People usually see what they want to see. It is impossible to do research without presuppositions. One must, then, recognize what these presuppositions are, state them in the introduction to the research, and proceed from there. 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 problems in children will reflect that basic understanding. 

Other errors are those of hurriedness, inaccuracy, or carelessness. It is easy to come to premature conclusions without having finished the research because of lack of time or lack of a sufficiently broad bibliography. It is also easy to miss an important detail or to write down an erroneous fact…Research demands extreme caution and care — and much time...

3) What research is Not

Research is not a defense of or apology for my own convictions. This type of writing too often ignores unfavorable evidence and tends to look at one’s position through rose-colored glasses. Research seeks truth; it does not hide — for any reason — what may disagree with esteemed ideas. If the position being maintained is tenable, research can defend it; if the position is not based on truth, it is defended in vain. We cannot allow ourselves to use unsound arguments, even for a good cause.

Likewise, research is not polemical. Its objective is to clearly present truth, not to fight others’ positions, even if those may be erroneous. In good research, truth is presented in such a logical and convincing way that there is no need for harsh language.

Research is not merely the presentation of one’s own opinions. Research demands showing facts, data, information. Naturally, the conclusions we reach are somewhat modified by our personal opinions, but whoever reads the research report must be able to follow the logic and the evidence to see how we reached our conclusions...

4) The value of research

No one doubts the importance of the research that made vaccinations against polio or smallpox available. Neither do most people worry about why some erudites sit at their desks and read, study, and write day after day. But some students question the importance of doing research papers since they are not researchers and do not plan to become researchers. They should realize that going through the discipline of research is valuable beyond the information obtained in the course of preparing the paper.

Learning to do research teaches you how to recognize a problem and how to go about solving it. Evidently, even educated people will not know all the answers; they should, however, know where to find answers. Doing a research paper helps you learn how to find answers — on the internet, in a library, or even through surveys and interviews. Then, of course, you will have to interpret the answers and draw conclusions regarding their meaning….

Preparing a quality research paper teaches skills of observation, analysis, synthesis, and judgment. You will learn to think differently when you think research. The ability to think critically — and that does not mean criticizing others or their ideas, but weighing carefully all the evidences — is enhanced by learning the research process.


Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition

Quality Research Papers

By Nancy Jean Vyhmeister and Terry Dwain Robertson

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