Writing a Research Paper
I have taught New Testament at Emmanuel Bible College and Tyndale University College and every year, one of the assignments is a research paper. That means that every year I need to explain how to do a research paper. So I finally got smart and decided to write down what I want so that I can just send people to this post.
While this may be helpful for students outside my classes, please note that your instructor has the final say. They may have expectations different than mine, so please check with them. However, you should find these principles helpful no matter what school you attend.
1. Title Page
Most students do not put much thought into their title page but I have seen some major mistakes. You must include the course title or code (many of us teach more than one course), the name of the assignment (I have had to guess what assignment was being handed in), the name of the instructor (make sure you spell the name correct, don’t put your instructor in a bad mood) and the name of the student (yes, I have had people leave that out).
2. How to Do Research
In a Bible assignment (Old or New Testament), you must start with the actual passage before looking at commentaries or other resources. Pick a passage that is not too short and not too long. Look for a thought section, often under a title in many modern Bibles.
Read the passage over a number of times, making note of what stands out. Then look at the section before it and after it. How does your passage fit with its surrounding area? Then look at how the passage fits within the book which it is contained. If the passage is from Luke or Paul, you may want to include Luke-Acts or all of Paul’s letters as the larger context.
Once you have notes about the passage, including how it relates to its context, it is time to research other sources. There are different types of sources you can use for a New Testament research paper. I would suggest commentaries, Bible dictionaries, New Testament introductions and journal articles. The more of these different groups that you include, the happier your instructor will be. Since journal articles are so easy to find online, there is no excuse not to use them.
What kind of commentaries should you use? You need to realize that there are basically two different types of commentaries (there are more but for a Bible college context, all you need to know is two) and they are academic and devotional. Academic commentaries deal with scholarly issues, while devotional commentaries are just explanations for Christians to understand the Bible for their own devotional life (Matthew Henry is an example of this). For a research paper, you need to use academic commentaries. If you are not sure, ask your instructor.
It is also better to use more recent commentaries. While there are a few classic commentaries that are quite old, these must be balanced with more recent commentaries. Try to use commentaries that are within the last twenty-five years.
The use of these sources is not a replacement for your own opinion. Commentaries and other books are meant as conversation partners. Share what they have to say but make sure to say what you believe.
3. Organize Your Paper
Don’t just type stuff. Have a plan for what you want to write. Organize it in a logical manner. Have an introduction, body and conclusion. You can even use titles and sub-titles to show the reader where they are at in your thought process.
You need to cite the works that you interacting with. I am flexible with citation methods (not every instructor is) but it is important that you be consistent. The instructor needs to have the information to track down the quote if necessary.
5. Read Your Paper
I have read many papers where it has been obvious that the student has not read it over. It is always best to read the paper out loud rather than silently. I understand that there are people who struggle with spelling and grammar, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. There is still no excuse for bad spelling or grammar. In a Bible college setting, students should be willing to read each other’s papers. Be a community and set each other up for success.
6. Be On Time
Hand your paper in on time. Nothing makes an instructor grumpy like having to track down a paper.
Hopefully this will help students as they seek to do their first research paper. There is nothing complicated here. Unfortunately some students miss out on the basics and learn the hard way. Follow this method (for my classes anyway) and you should be on the right track.