Tag Archives: research

How to write a research paper without feeling overwhelmed

by Laura Tibbetts

  1. Find a topic that interests you. Even if professors assign an overall topic for the paper, the topic will often be broad enough for you to find some aspect of it that interests you.
  1. Get sources. Use the library, I-Share, and databases to collect as many sources as you need about your topic.
  1. Research! Skim or browse through all the sources you’ve found, taking note of information that strikes you as particularly relevant to your topic or that provides an interesting opinion/perspective. Be on the lookout for short passages where an author expresses an idea clearly and concisely, because those passages may be useful to quote later in your paper. This stage of the process would also be a good time to start a bibliography so that you can keep track of your sources.
  1. Formulate a thesis. Based on the research you’ve done and the different opinions you’ve found on your topic, come up with a specific and arguable thesis—one that shows what the focus of your paper will be and illustrates your opinion about a question/perspective on your topic that came up in your research. Your thesis can always evolve as you write your paper.
  1. Outline. Now that you have a specific topic and thesis, make a basic outline with an introduction, conclusion, and the main topics supporting your thesis that you want to cover in the body of your paper. Add a few supporting points under each main topic. After making the basic outline, expand it by adding details to all of your paragraphs in the outline, and include specific quotes, paraphrases, or summaries from what you’ve found in your research (don’t forget to cite your sources!). Sandwich the research in between your own thoughts and opinions about the research. (See “A quote sandwich to remember.”)
  1. Make the outline into full sentences. You essentially already have your paper—now you just need to turn all the phrases in your outline into full sentences. You may need to add transitions so that everything flows smoothly, as well as introductory and concluding sentences to each paragraph.
  1. Revise and edit. This is arguably the most important step in the process of writing a paper, so make sure you leave enough time for as much revising as possible. It doesn’t matter if your initial paper is terrible; as long as you devote enough effort to this stage, you could still end up with a great paper.

One of the benefits of this process is that if you follow it, you entirely avoid the problem of staring at a blank page and trying to create a paper out of thin air. Breaking up the process into steps has made writing research papers much less overwhelming for me, and I hope you find it useful as well!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Conquer the exegesis process (Part II)

Here is the second half of the instructions on how to conquer the exegesis process. Created by Katie Hynd, the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern for the Religion Department in the fall of 2013, these images were taken to help as you start the exegesis process. Good luck, and have fun!

After discussing how both the various translations and the research of a word have affected your understanding of your chosen passage, it’s time to check out the dictionaries and commentaries! All the books in my arms are various dictionaries. They define words and concepts from the Bible. In contrast, a commentary is specifically about the book your passage is found within. After studying my passage, which is Luke 10.38-42, I decided I wanted to learn more about Martha and Mary. Therefore, I looked up their names in various dictionaries and analyzed them. You get to decide what interests you. The commentaries and dictionaries will help you write these sections: Literary Context, Social and Historical Context, and the Theological and Ethical Reading of the Passage. Get ready to research! Read the commentaries’ introductions and outlines. 
If you find something you want to learn more about, then it’s time to do more research. Go to the stacks! Most of the texts you will use are  on the third floor of the library (call number starts with BS) closest to the big windows looking toward the concourse.
Want even more information? Check out the online database ATLA! After entering your search terms and being specific in your search terms, make sure the text you are interested in states “PDF Full Text” at the bottom. If you can’t access the article, then you can’t access the article.
Don’t forget to think and develop your own thoughts about the passage you are researching. This is your project, and you get to write about your own connections when you write the Conclusion and Application section. Also, when you write your introduction, you get to speak to your reader about how this text impacted you. Have fun with it.
The bibliography. This is the most important section of your paper.  Don’t let it scare you. You get to tame the bibliography. We are using the SBL style, and the “Principia College Biblical Studies Citation Guide” will become your best friend. Read it before you ask for help, but also be sure to ask for help if you are confused. This style uses footnotes, like Chicago style. Remember to keep track of your sources as you write. I suggest creating the bibliographic citations for each source you use AS YOU USE IT. That way you don’t have to search for your sources the night before each section of your paper is due.
Now that you’re done, put all your sources on the shelving cart. Leave the shelving to the library workers. It doesn’t help anyone if you shelve a book in the wrong section. Also, the library likes to know how often books are used, and when they shelve the books you have used, they check them “in.” That being said, if you can’t find a book, ask the circulation desk about it. They may not have processed the book you want. Last note: do not leave reference materials in your study carrel. Even if you are going to dinner and plan on being back in half an hour, reference materials are for everyone, and there may be someone who only has that half our of time to work on their exegesis. You will probably be writing your paper with lots of others doing the same assignment.

Now you’re done! (At least with learning about the research process.)

Conquer the exegesis process (Part I)

The following images and text were created by Katie Hynd, the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern for the Religion Department in the fall of 2013. Use them as a starting point and a reference when you begin writing your exegesis paper. Good luck, and have fun!

Welcome to the Library! Come prepared. Bring a mug and sweater, along with your computer and notebook.
This section of the library, the Reference Room, is going to become your new home. The first step in the process of writing an exegesis is to become very familiar with your passage. Read it in the NRSV along with all its footnotes, the chapter’s introduction, and the book’s introduction. This will help you question the passage and become familiar with your passage’s controversies and/or significant points. In terms of writing, don’t worry about the introduction right now. Move straight into the section “Translations and Word Study.”
Now it’s time to compare various translations of the Bible. Since we are reading the passage in English, and not the original Hebrew or Greek, the translation of any one Bible is not necessarily the closest to the source text. It is significant to look at how different translators interpret the Bible. We can gain a different understanding of the text if we read how different people translated it. It also helps you with the next task which is…
…to compare words! It will help if you also make a chart of different translations of your text
Now it’s time to understand why different translators interpreted a word differently. Start by looking up a word from your passage in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This concordance only corresponds to the KJV. The word you look up will list the different passages in which your word is referenced. Look for your passage and then the number to the right of that passage. Then, in the back of the book (in the Hebrew section if your passage is in the Old Testament, or in the Greek section if your passage is in the New Testament), your word’s number will correspond to a Hebrew or Greek term and its definition.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Seven Bible style tips

by Katie Hynd

Learning about Bible grammar threw me for a loop. Even though I am a trained writing tutor, I had no idea how many tricks of the trade there were for religion classes until I served as a writing tutor for an Old Testament class. The more questions students asked, the deeper I delved into the SBL* Handbook of Style.

Here are a few key tips that will help you toward a good grade in your Bible class.

  1. The word “Bible” is always capitalized.
  2. The word “biblical” is not capitalized (except when it begins a sentence…).
  3. Capitalization is a bit more complicated when it comes to eras and events. Ask your professor if you are unsure whether something you will reference frequently needs to be capitalized, such as Babylonian Exile. (Note: you may find each professor has a different preference.)
  4. Abbreviations are important!
    1. Books of the Bible should be abbreviated, but don’t guess how to abbreviate the book title! On the last page of the Biblical Studies Citation Guide, Barry Huff, one of the Principia religion professors, has listed how each book should be abbreviated.
    2. WARNING: Exceptions to the rule! If the book of the Bible is the first word in the sentence, or if you don’t include a chapter number, write out the whole book title.
  5. The words “chapter” and “verse” should not appear in your paper unless one of these rules applies.
    1. If you are referencing a chapter, first write the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter number (use the Arabic numeral system). Examples: Exod 4:5, Luke 3.
    2. If you are referencing a verse, include the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter you are referencing. Examples: Gen 1:1, Matt 4:2.
  6. The word “God” is capitalized if you are discussing the Hebrew deity. If you want to use the Hebrew word for God, it is also capitalized and can be spelled as either Yahweh or YHWH.
  7. Use quotation marks to emphasize words you are researching, such as “angel” or “temple.” Quotation marks will bring attention to the word and explain to your reader why you are repeating one word in your paper. Conversely, use italics when you are analyzing a word in a foreign language, such as mal’ak (Hebrew for angel) or heykal (Hebrew for temple). This helps the flow of your paper and your reader.

And if you have further questions, please ask a writing tutor (or your professor) for help!

*SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.

A quote sandwich to remember

by Shamus Jarvis

When writing any research paper, there is a common temptation to incorporate numerous quotations into the paper with the expectation that a lot of external quotes, lacking interpretation, will lend authority to your argument. Unfortunately, an overabundance of quotes actually detracts from a writer’s thesis because the writer’s own voice becomes overshadowed by the various scholars that he or she is quoting in the paper. Although there is no specific rule regarding a maximum or minimum number of quotations a writer should include in each paragraph of a research paper, writers should endeavor to include original thought as much as possible and use quotations sparingly and judiciously.

In order to use quotations effectively to support your thesis, ensure that the following three elements accompany every source that you cite in your paper:

  1. a signal phrase to introduce the quote,
  2. the actual quotation, and
  3. explication that describes the significance of the quote.

Signal phrases allow you to transition smoothly from your own words to those of the person being quoted. These phrases set up the reader for the quotation by indicating who is being quoted and including any needed context for the quote. For example, if a writer wanted to include a quote from a particular speech, he or she might use the following signal phrase: In his 2014 State of the Union Address, United States President Barack Obama stated, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Immediately following the quotation, the writer must include careful explication that illustrates the significance of the quote. Explication goes beyond mere summary and instead helps the reader understand how the quote relates to the writer’s thesis. Depending upon how important a quote is in the context of a paper, writers should devote at least one sentence to explication so that the reader understands how the quotation relates to the writer’s argument.

It might be helpful to think of integrated quotations as a sandwich, with the quotation nestled between a signal phrase and explication. The following is an example of an effective integrated quotation “sandwich”:  As Caryl Phillips acknowledges in his introduction to Heart of Darkness[Signal Phrase] “One of the great paradoxes of the novel is that while Marlow dislikes Kurtz for having abandoned all decent standards, he also admires this ivory trader for having had the courage to fearlessly explore his ‘dark’ side” (xiii). [Quote] Through the paradoxical nature of Marlow’s feelings toward Kurtz, Joseph Conrad effectively establishes Kurtz as an enigmatic figure whose ultimate submission to the forces of darkness accentuates the moral conflict between barbarism and civilization throughout the novella. [Explication]

Remember, all quotations should relate to the writer’s central claim and must be followed with explication so as not to distract from a writer’s own words. Signal phrase + Quotation + Explication = an effective integrated quotation.


Shamus is in his third year studying Theatre and English at Principia and looks forward to studying abroad in England for the fall semester. He will appear in the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale upon returning to campus in October.

Capstone conquest

by EliSabeth Bancroft Wessel Meindl


We’ve all heard it, a lot of us know it as an old friend, or sordid enemy. And regardless of your relationship with it—whether you’re just getting to know it, talking about it, or already heavily involved with it, it’s a big deal. The secret that I want to let you in on is that (come closer)—it’s not. That final capstone product is made up of a dozen (okay, or more) little things that are completely in your grasp, even through blurred vision of sleepless nights.

Here are ten tips to help the process!

  1. Stay focused, go back to that contract and your advisor as many times as you need to make sure you’re not veering off the path of intent. You will find many tangents that could easily become their own capstones, so remember to keep your topic and purpose in focus. When I was first attending Principia I was in a class where there was a huge assignment due at the end of the term. We had been working on it the entire semester, and about three weeks out I was still unable to pull this thing to a manageable paper. So I met with my professor, who was kind enough to be blunt and tell me that I was ignoring the assignment. That’s why I was struggling. It happens, we get side tracked, so be aware of this pitfall and don’t waste your time.
  2. Be honest—with yourself and with your advisor. There is no person out there who is looking for you to fail, especially your capstone guide, so be willing to let go of the fear that you haven’t done all he or she has asked and keep recognizing that you are doing God’s work just as much as your own work. It’s our job to be obedient to the one Mind, and part of that is humility. If you’re struggling, talk to your advisor!
  3. Write what you know. That can’t be said enough! Write down all the things you know, and when you get stuck, sit down and write what you know again.  This will help you break writer’s block and give a fresh perspective or tone to your own “voice” in the writing, because there on the paper will be all those facts you’ve picked up during this project in your own words.
  4. Outline. The same five-paragraph paper outline they taught me in high school was where I started my 60-page capstone, and you know what? It totally helped. It gave me a simple starting place, and kept me focused in a logical direction. Point, sub-point, sub-point, repeat. There will be more than five paragraphs, and more than two sub-points, but creating a simple “form” to plug your information into it will help you organize your thoughts and all those factoids you’ve learned.
  5. Don’t pre-edit; it doesn’t help anyone. If you’re so distracted by the sentence you just typed that you’re not paying attention to the next one you’re putting down, you are pulling focus from every good idea you’re reflecting.  Just put the words down and let them sit together. Stay attentive to the ones you are writing and get through the whole idea before returning to check your commas or seeing if there’s a different adjective you would prefer to use. These are all important things, but they come later.
  6. Save multiple drafts. Label them any way you want, but don’t limit yourself to just one draft that you change again and again, because tomorrow you may realize that the silly idea you typed today was actually brilliant, but you can’t quite remember it. I went through 20+ drafts of my capstone. No, you don’t need 20 versions, but for me it was helpful to just “Save As” every time I went in to make changes or continue writing.
  7. You do have enough information. Don’t over-research. Write! So what if you have some holes—get the paper down and see what kind of Swiss cheese you’ve made and then go back and look for specific answers. But what if you don’t have enough information? Go back to your main sources: who are their sources? Go find them. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t already been there, but get it all down on paper first to find out
  8. Take breaks. Writing for 16 hours is impressive but highly unproductive. Set timers, use other homework as the balance, and tell yourself, “I’ll do 30 minutes of capstone, then 30 minutes of [blank].” After a 45-minute session with your capstone, stand up, walk around, and stare at something farther away than your computer screen. It will help you stay focused, and you won’t feel like your trapped under the never-ending project.
  9. Use technology for good. Install a blocker on your search engine that gives you five minutes to surf the Web in-between 25-minute blocks of Internet lockdown.
  10. Breathe. You’re going to do this.

Elisabeth Meindl resides in Bellville, Texas, and is a current MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts student at Goddard College. Last semester she completed and turned in her religion major capstone at Principia College.

Citation starters

by Shannon Naylor

Let’s meet Annie, a freshman at Imaginary University. She has just been assigned her first college paper and has listened to the list of all the possible punishments for plagiarism, intentional or not. She learned one citation style in high school, but now she’s expected to know three different ones for three different classes and she has started to panic. What on earth is she supposed to do?

If, like Annie, you are panicking over citations, stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Here are some easy steps towards citing sources with confidence.

Which way do I cite? Find out what writing style you need for the paper in question. Most college papers will be written in MLA, APA, or Chicago styles, but sometimes you’ll need something different. Consult the assignment or ask your professor.

How do I cite? Check with the library for the proper style manual or ask a TA or writing tutor how to format the citations properly. The library website is helpful too: http://library.principiacollege.edu/citation-help. These will give you the specifics for whatever style you are required to use.

When and what do I cite? You cite whenever you include specific data, exact quotes or paraphrases. You will most likely use in-text citations, although the style will determine whether you use parenthetical citations, footnotes, or endnotes. All of your sources should be collected in a works cited, bibliography, or references page.

What makes something “common knowledge”? Sometimes it’s easy to tell. Let’s visit Annie again. Say she is writing a paper on the geology of Hawaii. So far, she knows that Hawaii is an island in the Pacific Ocean. This is common knowledge—she knew this before starting her research. In her research, she learns that there are three kinds of lava: pillow, aa, and pahoehoe. She never knew this before, but all of the articles in which she has encountered this fact treat it like common knowledge. It is. This is an example of field-specific common knowledge: the average Joe (or Annie) might not be familiar with it, but it is old news to geologists. Annie continues her research and finds measurements for how far lava has spread on Hawaii per annum. This data is not common knowledge and should be cited.

Why do I cite? At first, citing sources may seem like a chore, but it’s really just a written form of politeness. One day in class, Annie has a group discussion and shares an original, insightful thought about the readings. When their group shares with the class, Bob shares her idea without mentioning that Annie came up with it. She is frustrated. Published articles, essays, and studies are all part of a larger academic conversation and, like Annie, the authors deserve to be credited for their ideas. This is why we cite our sources.

Shannon Naylor is a junior studying creative writing and theatre. She is currently enjoying a break from school—but not from writing!