Getting Started

Attitude is Everything!

Don't worry! Accept your fate and get on with it. If you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the assignment, think of it as a series of small, manageable steps. For example, a 1500 word essay might include:

  • Introduction: 200 words
  • Main body: 1000 words (4-5 core ideas at 200-250 words each)
  • Conclusion: 300 words

Devote time and energy to your essay and you are well on your way to a good mark! Some day you will know this was all worthwhile. "The exercise of writing an essay provides the student with the best and most prolonged opportunity to think deeply and precisely into a subject; it also provides the professor with evidence of the student's ability to think". [Source:  Avery, Heather, ed. Thinking It Through: A Practical Guide to Academic Essay Writing. 2nd edition. Peterborough, Ont.: Academic Skills Centre, 1995. p3.]

Get the Facts Straight.

Double-check your assignment to make sure you understand the requirements: How long is the term paper supposed to be? When is it due? How much analysis is required? How much personal commentary? Does the assignment require a literature review?

The depth of research often depends on how long the paper needs to be. Because research is a lengthy process, give yourself lots of time. Students who leave too little time find that they cannot complete enough research, or that the materials they need for the assignment are not available. The night before is much too late!

Choose Your Topic.

Do you have the option of choosing your own topic? Has the professor assigned a broad subject that you must convert into an essay? Choose a topic that interests you, that is challenging, that has enough scope to meet the required size of the paper, and for which you think there is adequate information available in the library.

Know Your Topic.

Gain at least a basic familiarity with your topic before beginning in-depth research. The right reference book, or even your course text-book, may provide you with a well-written overview of a topic to guide your research process and give you confidence in your ability to handle the assignment. The library's Reference Collection has specific encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks and other materials on wide variety of theological thought, historical, cultural and current issues, as well as many secular works.

Example:
You have to write a paper on the role of the Holy Spirit in creation and salvation. You may have only a basic understanding of the Holy Spirit (or not), and would really like (or need) a more comprehensive exploration of the topic. The Anchor Bible Dictionary in the Reference Section in the library has an excellent 20-page entry on the Holy Spirit. You're on your way and from this article you may access further works from the extensive bibliography at the end of the article.

Narrow Your Topic.

Narrow the topic if it is too broad. For example, if your subject is the history of women in Christian Mysticism (too broad), and your paper length is only 1000 words, you might narrow the topic to an analysis of Hildegaard von Bingen as Mystic.

One way to narrow a subject is to check the Library of Congress Subject Headings, which is located at the Library Reference Section (Big Red Books). Subject headings will lead you to related and narrower ideas relating to your topic.

Browse the broad subject in the Novanet catalogue or in a library database. Look at the titles of books (Novanet) and articles (database) on your topic, and identify a narrower focus that interests you.

Still stuck? Consult your professor! If you are floundering with the subject before doing research and writing, your paper will never shape up and you could waste a lot of time.

Analyze Your Topic.

Think about your assignment. Analyze your thoughts before starting to research. What is your personal view of the topic, as you understand it now? What points do you expect to discuss? What information do you need to find?

Think of different words, phrases and synonyms that describe your topic, so that you have a variety of words to use when conducting research. By making lists of these related ideas, your library research will progress more smoothly.

A critical essay incorporates research and personal opinion; the research offers evidence that supports opinions. A research paper is heavily focused on documentation, but it should include a thoughtful evaluation of available evidence (Barnett 344).

The Thesis Statement.

A thesis statement identifies the purpose, scope and focus of the essay; it expresses the controlling idea and your point of view. It should be an assertion or positive statement that covers the topic. Some professors may suggest you phrase your thesis as a question. The thesis statement is the hook that snags your reader/professor and makes him/her want to read the whole essay. Be aware that the thesis statement will probably change as you research and write your paper!

Examples of thesis statements:

Assignment: Write a paper on a contribution of Martin Luther to Lutheran Theology.
Thesis Statement: Martin Luther’s view of the Eucharist had a profound affect on the future of Lutheran Theology.

Assignment: Discuss one aspect of the theology of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
Thesis Statement: The Holy Spirit’s role was pivotal in the Creation myth of the Hebrews.

Assignment: Write a paper on women’s role in the church.
Thesis Statement: The non-admission of women to Orders in the Roman Catholic Church seriously limits the contribution women can make to ministry within that Church.

Assignment: Write on an aspect of congregational ministry which interests you.
Thesis Statement: A new model of congregational ministry with drug and alcohol addicts is needed to revitalize inner-city parish life.

Next: Gathering Information >>