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Researching and Writing
Research Papers

Richard Ascough

of New
and Greek


of Religious

Theological Hall
Kingston, ON
Canada, K7L 3N6

(613) 533-6000

fax: (613) 533-6879



Here are some suggestions to get you started on the process of research and writing a research paper. They are meant only as suggestions and need not be followed slavishly.

1. Pick a topic

  • interesting, relevant
  • narrowly defined

2. Preliminary thinking and research

  • read primary materials (Bible; historians; theologians)

3. Compile a bibliography

  • decide what subject areas need to be treated
  • look them up in the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) database, available online through Queen's Library webpage or Packman
  • do various types of internet searches (e.g., Google; Alta Vista)
  • check encyclopedia articles, dictionary entries
  • look at library shelves
  • as you find books look at their bibliography
  • look at the footnotes in articles
  • skim books and articles briefly - get a feel for them
  • ask others (experts)
  • know when to stop - 5 page paper does not need 10 page biblio
  • prepare a semi-annotated bibliography by subject
  • make sure your choices reflect different thinking on the topic

4. Research primary material

  • reflect on the topic
  • what do you think about it?

5. Start writing the body of the essay

  • formulate your thesis -- what are you arguing or attempting to show
  • note: this is not yet your thesis statement
  • outline how you will show it
  • begin in the middle, with the body
  • using the primary evidence, argue your case
  • do not just summarize a bunch of books -- this is your section
  • construction and creation, not summary and siphoning
  • when you are not sure, write something and "flag" it

6. Write the summary of scholarship / problems created by evidence

  • read books, articles, and commentaries carefully
  • categorize, summarize, critique
  • do proper footnotes
  • this is where book reviews are helpful (your own or others')

7. Now write in the footnotes for the body of your paper

  • back to the library; check books and articles again
  • research problem areas (flags); add details
  • if scholars agree with you, footnote your ideas with a reference to them
  • if scholars disagree with you, summarize their ideas in a footnote and then show why you think they are wrong. Play off scholars against each other.

8. Rewrite the summary of scholarship and the main sections

  • edit --- clean it up, make it clear and precise and well written

9. Write your conclusion

  • what have you shown?
    • e.g., "Despite the opinion of many scholars, a review of the primary documents has shown that ...."

10. Write your introduction

  • state why the problem needs your attention (cf. scholars review)
  • formulate a clear, precise, and concise thesis statement
  • give a brief outline of how you will tackle the problem
  • be bold in asserting your thesis; others will almost certainly disagree, but that's the nature of scholarship!

11. Re-edit the entire paper

  • do this at least twice, leaving a day or two between each edit

Remember: you will be marked/judged not on whether you are "right" or "wrong" but on how you present your case, both the strength of the evidence and the clarity of the writing style. Never sacrifice one aspect for another.

Revised August 25, 2000