Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ten Steps For Writing A Paper In Seminary

If you are in seminary, writing a paper is inevitable. Here are ten steps that I hope will help you on those writing endeavors.

1. Determine what your topic is. This is important. Maybe you are in a class where it is left up to you to decide. That can be a blessing and it can also be a hurdle. If the topic is determined for you, use as much of the information your professor has given you in order to determine your thesis and your structure. If it has not been determined by your professor, then ask yourself, "What interests you about this subject?" Is there a question you have been trying to find the answer to in this particular field of study? Is there something that has a greater impact on your present, or future, field of ministry which this class affords you an opportunity to dive in sooner than later?

2. Gather your research. Open up a blank MS Word document or grab a notepad and pen(cil). Assemble your arsenal of literature. Get all of the books together from your own library that you know will have something to contribute. Get all the resources you can from your library. Go to another library if you need to. Scan the table of contents and index portions of those books that you are hesitant about; you never know where you find some valuable research. Work through all of these resources. Make note of any pertinent data by either putting it the Word document or by using post-it notes throughout the book as your scan/read. I prefer to go ahead and insert the quotes in my Word document along with citation information. *Go ahead and do your bibliographic info somewhere in the Word document also. Saves time later, especially if it gets near to crunch time. *Also, be sure to check out some journals, and expand your research possibilities by utilizing Google books. For a "How-To" tutorial on how this can increase your investigation, see my resources page.

3. Write out your official thesis. This is critical. You have to be able to sum everything up in a few sentences, max. "This paper attempts to . . . ."

4. Organize your research. The outline of your paper usually stems from the plethora of research that is gathered. You can see where the issue really is and formulate a plan based on where all the data is. The best way to reorganize is to open up a new Word document and use the Roman numerals to make your official outline: I. Intro, II. Body, III. Conclusion. Then, fill in the body section with appropriate subheadings. Having done so, just copy and paste (the only time copy and paste is okay) the information from the first Word document under the appropriate headings in your new Word document. *Think of your paper as a Lego set. You're putting something together piece-by-piece. I'll never forget seeing the life-size Star Wars figure at the Lego store in Raleigh, NC. When I was a kid, I played with Legos and never knew you could do something like that. Writing is very much the same. We are only limited by the number of pieces we have and the vision and skill to see it to completion. *Think outside your own theological circles.

5. Start writing the body portion of the paper. Remember, everything you write should clearly contribute to your thesis statement. Every opening paragraph for a major heading/subheading should have its own mini-thesis statement. Only use quotations that say something better than you could say it or something that you intend on unpacking or explaining in the paper. For example, if you are dealing with the theology of a particular person, it helps to quote that person directly. Allow each section to inter-relate. *Imagine you are presenting this paper to a court. Make it convincing! What if you had to convince a jury of your peers? Are you writing to convince? Are you writing to teach? Are you using sources that influence? *Make sure you are citing everything that you quote; and if there is something that was extremely helpful to your study but it is not necessarily cited, inform the reader by inserting a footnote; they will be extremely grateful!

6. Reread and rewrite the body portion of the paper. *Don't forget to include weaknesses that you yourself recognize with the position. Better for you to acknowledge and deal with them than to come off oblivious to them.

7. Write the introduction. Be upfront. Communicate to your reader what you are about to discuss, how you are going to develop the paper, and what the conclusion is (which should be part of your thesis statement). No surprises.

8. Read your paper aloud. Listening to something allows you to see some things that your eyes can't hear. Adjust it as necessary. *You don't want to write how you talk, per se; but, you don't want to write in such a way that no one would want to hear it.

9. Check your professor's instructions one more time. Did you do what he or she asked?

10. Write your conclusion. Sum everything up. You want to say what you did in your introduction perhaps with the exception of the flow of your paper. What did you demonstrate through your evidence? What was the strongest? What impact does this have on the field of study?

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