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Religious Studies Department, SCU
Bible Research Writing Style Sheet Bible Tools Exegesis
Table of Contents

  1. Develop a Thesis
  2. Outline Your Argument
  3. Write the First Draft
  4. Solicit Feedback, Incorporate Corrections

1. Develop a Thesis
1.1. Work from Your Sources
Read through your sources and take notes. Be sure to write down the full bibliographic record for every source you use, along with the page numbers of helpful quotes you might eventually cite in your paper. As you become familiar with your general topic, notice what aspects of it interest you the most. Let those aspects play in your imagination as you continue to read; it is out of these that your thesis will emerge.
1.2. Develop Your Thesis
Unless your paper is simply descriptive, it should be driven by a thesis statement. A thesis is literally something you "put out there," a one-sentence statement that claims something to be true. It is like a conclusion, but it is a preliminary one; you state it at the outset of your paper and then see if you can marshal the evidence to support it throughout your paper. After doing all of the research you have done, what is it that you want the readers to know?
1.3. A Helpful Resource
Chuck Guilford has developed an online aid to paper writing at Paradigm: Online Writing Assistant. Since he takes you through the steps of writing various kinds of essays, his site is a helpful supplement to this one.

2. Outline Your Argument
2.1. Establish Major Points
Now that you have a thesis, your goal is to demonstrate it in the body of your paper. What evidence can you bring to bear from your reading and research? Once you have listed the things you might say, organize them. The organization might be:
  • from strongest to weakest argument
  • chronological
  • based on the characteristic features or outlines discussed in class (e.g., apocalyptic features when examining a contemporary apocalyptic group)
2.2. Integrate "Proofs"
The paper should be entirely governed by your thesis. Select quotations from sources only if they illustrate the point you are making in the paragraph. Introduce the citation in your own words, indicating its relevance for your own paragraph. After the citation, be sure to suggest what is significant about it for your argument. The format for quoting sources in your paper is offered at the Style Sheet.
In a scripture and tradition course, it is expected that you will quote from the Bible or the Qur'an frequently. Since these references occur so often, they (alone) do not need to be footnoted, but can be abbreviated and placed in parentheses at the end of the relevant phrase. For further instructions about citing scripture, see the Style Sheet.
2.3. Avoiding Plagiarism
The following definition of plagiarism is taken from the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (New York: MLA, 1977) 4-5:
Plagiarism may take the form of repeating another's sentences as your own, adopting a particularly apt phrase as your own, paraphrasing someone else's argument as your own, or even presenting someone else's line of thinking in the development of a thesis as though it were your own. In short, to plagiarise is to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from another. Although a writer may use other person's words and thoughts, they must be acknowledged as such. The following passage appears in Volume 1 of the Literary History of the United States:
The major concerns of Dickinson's poetry early and late, her "Flood subjects" may be defined as the seasons and nature, death and a problematic afterlife, the kinds and phases of love, and poetry as the divine art.
The following, given without documentation, constitutes plagiarism:
The chief subjects of Emily Dickinson's poetry include nature and the season, death and the afterlife, the various types and stages of love and poetry itself as a divine art.
But one may write the following with an accompanying note: It has been suggested that the chief subjects of Emily Dickinson's poetry include nature, death, love, and poetry as a divine art.1

1 William M. Gibson and Stanley T. Williams, "Experiments in Poetry: Emily Dickinson and Sidney Lanier," in Literary History of the United States, 4th ed. (ed. Robert E. Spiller et al.; New York: Macmillan, 1974) 1,906.
If you are in any doubt concerning plagiarism, you should always cite the source or sources you are following.
The above description was adapted from "Avoiding Plagiarism," Teaching & Learning Unit, English Department, Leicester University (27 September 1999), Online, Available, 16 November 2002. Further resources are available at the Winthrop University Writing Center.

3. Write the First Draft
Develop the points of your outline into independent paragraphs. There are two stages, essentially, to the writing process: the "macro level" and the "micro level."
3.1. The Macro Level
This is the broad, structural level of your paper. As you draft your paper, you want to be sure that you write:
  • an introductory paragraph that introduces your subject and the thesis or idea you will develop, with some indication of how you will develop it

  • paragraphs in the body of the paper that
    1. begin with a sentence that transitions from the prior paragraph smoothly and introduces the topic of the paragraph,
    2. contain subject matter and examples that all relate to and develop that topic, and
    3. conclude with a sentence that summarizes the evidence or information in that paragraph.

  • a concluding paragraph that summarizes your thesis, your findings, and a sense of whether your thesis has changed in the process of researching your topic.
3.2. The Micro Level
This is the level of word choice (diction) and sentence structure (grammar and syntax). There are some tips available at the Style Sheet link above to help you avoid the most common errors (see Language, Grammar & Style). You can also ask others to read your paper to see if they understand what you are saying. Be sure to take advantage of the Drop-in Writing Program offered through the Drahmann Center (Academic Advising and Learning Resources) if writing is difficult for you.
3.3. Proper Format
Each professor or employer will have their own directions for formatting the paper properly (margins, type-face, pagination, notes, bibliography). For this class, follow the formatting directions at the Style Sheet link above in this web site.
3.4. Back-Up!
If you are working with a word processor, do not rely on your hard drive. Back your work up frequently on a (good) disk in case your computer crashes on you.

4. Solicit Feedback & Incorporate Corrections
Use your word-processor to perform a spell-check on your paper. Finish your draft in time to ask a friend, a tutor or the professor to read it and provide feedback. Ask them particularly for help with your style (diction, grammar, syntax) and argument (does the paper do what it says it will, or prove what it says it will prove?).
Add your corrections to your paper. Back it up frequently. Upload a copy to the Camino drop box by the due date.

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