Theological Writing Resources
Austin Seminary is here to help you improve your writing and researching skills. In the tabs below you will find resources to help you with both general and specific writing concerns.
- Writing Help
- Exegetical Papers
- Research Papers
- Reflection Papers
- Book Reviews
- Introductions & Conclusions
- Citations & Style
- Proofreading & Editing
- Grammar & Mechanics
- Research Help
If you wish to meet with someone to discuss writing or other academic matters, please make an appointment with Alan Constant, the Seminary's Writing and Study Skills Coach. His office is in the former computer lab on the second floor of McCord, Room 207. He will also have online availability.
Click here to visit the Writing and Academic Resources Course on MyLearning, where you can book an in-person or Zoom appointment with Alan, view a variety of beneficial study resources, and much more!
Alan can assist students with the following:
Getting started on a paper with pre-writing techniques.
Developing your thesis and effective research methods.
Working through writing or test anxiety.
Prioritizing your tasks, balancing your work and social life, and managing your time.
Honing your notetaking, reading, and test preparation skills.
All books listed in the recommended resources for each paper type can be found on the Writing Shelf located in the Wright Center's historic reading room. Look for the books with call numbers that begin with WRIT and that have red stickers on their spines. Books on the writing shelf can help you by providing more examples or greater detail on specific aspects of writing. These books are for in-library use only, however some duplicate copies may be available for check out in the stacks.
At Austin Seminary an exegetical paper is someone’s interpretation of a biblical text. An exegetical paper is considered better or worse depending on how it conforms to our standards for scholarship. Those standards include using historical-critical methods and other methods as indicated by your professor.
Historical-critical methods try to answer questions like: What is the best version of the Hebrew or Greek text? How did the text come into being? How would the original audience for the text have understood its message or messages?
Notice that these questions are very different from questions like: What is my first reaction to this text? How does this text help me to make an important decision in my life? How could I preach a sermon from this text?
At Austin Seminary, an exegetical paper typically includes:
- A translation of the passage from its original language, including translation notes and comments on textual variants.
- An analysis of the literary structure of the passage. (Is it poetry? A parable? Does it make an argument?)
- Comments about the text that take seriously both its literary structure and the historical context in which the text was written. We call these comments a reading of the text. Here, reading means interpretation. While different writers may produce different readings of the same passage, all of the readings that are valuable will have honored the historical and literary dimensions of the text.
Your instructor may ask you to employ other interpretive methods as well. The assignment will detail these. By the time you are asked to write an exegetical paper, you will have spent hours of class time discussing biblical texts and have had practice in engaging the three steps summarized above.
Croy, N. Clayton. Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation. Baker Academic, 2011. Available on the reserves shelf behind the library services desk: BS2331 .C76 2011; also available as an e-book
Fee, G. D. New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002. Call number: BS 2331 .F44 2002 and WRIT BS 2331 .F44 2002
Hayes, J. H., and C. R. Holladay. Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007. Call number: BS 476 .H35 2007 and WRIT BS 476 .H35 2007
Stuart, D. Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. 4th ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009. Call number: BS 476 .S83 2009 and WRIT BS 476 .S83 2009
A research paper can take a variety of forms, so it is best to always follow the directions given to you by your instructor. Many research papers will contain the following:
- Use of sources beyond assigned texts for the course. These sources will be the evidence of your research. You want to find a variety of scholarly sources– this includes journal articles, books, and reference works. Avoid popular periodicals or websites, unless you are using them for a specific purpose and reading them through a critical lens. Be sure to cite all of your sources correctly in the format designated by your instructor.
- A literature review, which is a summary of the scholarly conversation that you are entering. This is a place to demonstrate the research you have done. After you provide this initial summary, you can build your own argument in light of what others have written. Make sure to integrate your own thoughts into this academic conversation.
- Close reading of texts. As you work your way through your sources, provide a close reading of the texts. This means critically analyzing the sources you have selected. Make sure not to over-quote from a single source, and try to avoid block quotations (over four lines) when possible. Make use of paraphrasing (be sure to still cite). Your instructor is most interested in your analysis and application of material from scholarly sources.
- Generally, your topic should be related to the course topic and readings that you have discussing all semester.
- The application of a critical method of theory to an idea or argument.
Organization / Structure:
- A thesis. Your thesis is the main argument of your paper. A thesis is a statement that needs to be proven and supported with evidence and analysis. It is more than a simple truism or fact. Generally a thesis is a contentious statement that is unique and is narrow or specific in its focus. The thesis statement can be the answer or hypothesis to your research question. Your thesis should be clear, concise and near the beginning of your paper. Generally, it is at the end of your introduction and before your literature review.
- Organize your ideas so they are clearly explained to your reader. Your paper should have a logical flow of ideas and a clear chain of reasoning. You will want to explain the organization of your paper early on for your reader so they can follow you. A good place to do this is after you have stated your thesis and before you provide your literature review. Make sure to summarize or recap your ideas at the end of your paper to remind your reader how you proved your thesis.
- Remember to properly introduce and explain all quotations that you use. Never assume that a quotation can stand on its own, or that your paper should be just a string of quotations from other sources. Always introduce each quotation with where it comes from and then follow it up with your own analysis and explanation of how it relates to your thesis.
- The use of a particular style or format. Typically Seminary instructors ask for papers to be formatted as per the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style. Be sure to ask your instructor about the inclusion of things like a title page, section headers, etc.
- Your paper should have a scholarly or formal tone to it. Look to other journal articles to get a sense of what this tone is like.
“Research Paper,” University of Minnesota, accessed July 6, 2022
“Seven Steps to a Great Research Paper,” Trinity College in the University of Toronto, accessed July 6, 2022
Kibbe, Michael. From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research. InterVarsity Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central (accessed July 6, 2022)
Murray, Neil, and Geraldine Hughes. Writing up Your University Assignments and Research Projects: A Practical Handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed July 6, 2022)
Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. 8th edition. ed. Chicago, Ill.: University Of Chicago Press, 2013. Call Number: REF LB2369 .T8 2013
Badke, William. Research strategies : finding your way through the information fog. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse, Inc., 2014. Call Number: WRIT Z710 .B23 2014
Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: a Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. New York: Owl Books, 1998. Call Number: LB2369 .B57 1998 and WRIT LB2369 .B57 1998
Chodorow, Stanley. Writing a Successful Research Paper: a Simple Approach. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2011. Call Number: WRIT PE1408 .C4727 2011 (or SSW Library Call Number PE1408 .C4727 2011)
Reflective writing provides the author the opportunity to think about an experience or text in light of his or her own life and experiences. Reflective writing often promotes self-awareness as well as self-assessment in order to expand the author’s thinking and practice. While often less formal than an academic research paper, reflective writing still requires analysis, critical thinking, and the ability of the author to connect his or her reactions to the text or artifact.
Different types of theological reflective writing emphasize the dialog between reflection and the Christian tradition. For some (O’Connell Killen and DeBeer), theological reflection is the intersection between experience and tradition. For others (Kinast), correlating one’s lived experience with the sources of Christian tradition helps to draw out practical implications. Many authors link the development of theological reflection with the history of social justice and liberation theology (Hug and Kinast).
Criteria for reflective writing assignments will vary depending on the goals of your instructor. Even though the nature of reflective writing asks for you to expound upon your own thoughts and experiences, you will still need to relate those thoughts and experiences to the ideas and texts that you have discussed in class. In most types of reflective writing you will be required to use academic evidence to back up your assertions.
You will find in the sources listed below that there are many different approaches to writing a theological reflection. In general expect to:
- Select an experience to reflect upon.
- Describe that experience.
- Analyze the experience in light of the Christian tradition or your course’s content.
- Make connections between your experience and the Christian tradition or your course’s content.
- Discuss how this experience and reflection will impact your future actions.
Questions to ask your instructor might include:
- Do I need to integrate outside sources in my reflection? If so, how would you like for them to be cited?
- In this assignment, am I simply reflecting on an experience or would you also like for me to include a discussion of what actions I will take as a result of this reflection?
- What should the tone of this paper be? Academic? Informal? Is it okay to use first person pronouns?
Walton, Heather. Writing Methods in Theological Reflection. Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central (accessed July 6, 2022).
Yaghjian, Lucretia B. "Teaching Theological Reflection Well, Reflecting on Writing as a Theological Practice." Teaching Theology & Religion 7, no. 2 (April 2004): 83-94. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed July 6, 2022).
Hug, James E., S.J. Tracing the spirit: communities, social action, and theological reflection. New York: Paulist Press, 1983. Call Number: BV 4405 .T73 1983 and BX2347.7 .T7 1983
Kinast, Robert L. Let ministry teach: a guide to theological reflection. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996. Call Number: BV 4164.5 .K56 1996 and WRIT BV 4164.5 .K56 1996
Kinast, Robert L. What they are saying about theological reflection. New York: Paulist Press, 2000. Call Number: BR 118 .K617 2000 and WRITBR 118 .K617 2000
O’Connell Killen, Patricia & John DeBeer. The art of theological reflection. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994. Call Number: BR 118 .K615 1994
Whitehead, James D. & Evelyn Eaton Whitehead. Method in ministry: theological reflection and Christian ministry. Lanham, MD: Sheed & Ward 1995. Call Number: BV 660.2 .W46 1995 and WRIT BV 660.2 .W46 1995
Book Reviews will depend on the professors’ choices; however most book reviews include some of the following:
- An introduction to the author and his/her background and history of writing.
- How this particular book compares to his/her previous books.
- What books by other authors fall into this category and how does this book compare?
- What is the thesis of this book? What are the supporting theses?
- Does the author support his/her thesis? How?
- Is there anything you disagree with? What? Why?
- Is there anything that particularly touches you and your life?
- Will this book be useful to you in your life as a pastor?
- Would you recommend this book to others? To whom? Why?
Always remember to follow the guidelines for an assignment that are provided by your instructor.
"Writing Theological Book Reviews," Trinity College at the University of Toronto, accessed July 12, 2022
"Book Reviews," The Writing Center at University of North Carolina, accessed July 12, 2022
A clear, strong introduction is important to any type of writing you may be assigned. Your introduction is your opportunity to set the stage for your reader. This means you should introduce your topic (lead-in), describe what you will be arguing or attempting to show your reader (thesis), and provide your reader with a brief overview of what your paper will discuss (essay map). Depending on the length and nature of your paper, some introductions may be just one paragraph, some may be several paragraphs. A good introduction will enable your reader to know what the point of your paper is and what he or she can expect in the following pages.
A solid conclusion enables your reader to digest the main points of your paper. It is your opportunity to synthesize your main points in order to demonstrate how you have proved your thesis statement. Conclusions may vary in length depending on the nature of the assignment. Below you will find some suggestion of what to include in your conclusion.
Something to catch the reader’s attention and make them want to read your paper. Among the many lead-in choices are quotations, questions (that must be ultimately answered), and startling statements.
2. Thesis Sentence
This must be a declarative sentence that includes the following: your subject and your attitude toward the subject.
3. Essay Map
This is a sentence that tells the reader what topics you will cover and in what order.
A transitional phrase or subheading will help your reader to identify that you are concluding your paper.
2. Restate Your Thesis
Make sure to reiterate your thesis for your reader so they are reminded of your main argument.
3. Synthesize/Summarize Main Points
You can either review your main arguments for your reader, or combine points to demonstrate how they upload your thesis statement.
4. Final Thoughts
Depending on your assignment's requirements, the contents of your final thoughts will vary. Some possible things to include: implications for further research; a call to action; or the significance of your findings.
Correctly using citations is an important part of using the information you have found in scholarly research. Austin Seminary faculty have approved the Chicago Manual of Style as the official style guide for student work. In addition, some theological writing utilizes the Society of Biblical Literature style for citations and paper formatting. Please check with your professor if you have questions about the style to use for a specific assignment.
Additional tutorials, tools, and other information on citations can be found on the Research Help: Citations page.
Chicago Manual of Style
Chicago Manual of Style Online: Chapter 14 -- Notes and Bibliography (login required off campus)
Chapter 14 is where the full "how do I cite this" material is. A quick guide of common citations is also available.
A print version of the Chicago Manual of Style is available in the historic reading room in the Wright Center (Call number: REF PE1478 .U69 2017).
Society of Biblical Literature Handbook of Style
The following online resources will help you to cite correctly using the Society of Biblical Literature Handbook of style.
- Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style
- SBL Handbook of Style Resources from Baylor University
- SBL Citation Builder from Pitts Theology Library at Emory University
Print copies of the SBL Handbook of Style are also available at the Wright Center:
- Call number: REF PN 147 .S26 2014
- Call number: REF PE 1478 .S26 1999
- Call number: PE 1478.S26 1999
General tip: It is much easier to proofread if you double or triple space your draft.
Editing: Making changes in content, organization, and flow
- Grab a colored pen.
- Read your paper slowly out loud.
- Read what you actually wrote not what you meant to write.
- If you read something that doesn’t add to your paper, simply cross it out.
- If you see missing information your reader needs, simply write it on the paper.
- If you see something (word, phrase, sentence, paragraph) that is misplaced, draw a circle around it and draw an arrow pointing to where you want it moved.
Proofreading: Making changes in spelling, word choice, punctuation, and grammar.
- Grab a colored pen.
- Read your paper slowly out loud.
- Read what you actually wrote not what you meant to write.
- If you see a word that you think might be misspelled or a wrong word choice, put a rectangle around it. (At the end, check all the words at once. Put a check on top of the rectangle if the word is correct; if it is not correct, write the correct choice on top of the rectangle.)
- Check each sentence for correct end punctuation. Correct all errors on the paper. At this point, check to see if you have used a variety of sentences (simple, compound, complex.)
- Check for comma errors, and make corrections where needed.
- Make certain your grammar is correct. Check a college grammar book like Strunk and White (Call number: PE 1408 .S772 2000)
and Turabian’s Part III (Call Number: REF LB2369 .T8 2013).
You can either use the hyperlinks below to jump to a section, or just scroll down through the list.
- Basic English Syntax Lesson - Independent vs. Dependent Clauses
- Sentence Errors to Avoid
- Comma rules based on independent and dependent clauses
- Other places to go for grammar help
Independent Clause (IC): An independent clause is a clause which can stand alone.
- Subject + Verb = Independent Clause
- Example: John runs fast.
Dependent Clause (DC): A dependent clause is a clause which cannot stand alone.
- Subordinating Word + Subject + Verb = Dependent Clause
- Example: Since John runs fast,
Example: I danced all night, I was tired.
Error corrected by:
- Making a dependent clause of the first clause by adding a subordinating word (since is appropriate here) before the first clause. Example: Since I danced all night, I was tired.
- Making two sentences by placing a period between the clauses and capitalizing the first letter of the second independent clause. Example: I danced all night. I was tired.
- Using a semicolon between the clauses. Example: I danced all night; I was tired.
- Using a comma and one of the following connectors between the clauses: and, but, or, for, nor, so , yet. Example: I danced all night, so I was tired.
Example: Because John runs fast.
Error corrected by:
- Dropping because, making the clause independent. Example: John runs fast.
- Adding a comma and an independent clause: , he won. Example: Because John runs fast, he won.
- a) I danced all night I was tired.
- b) John runs fast he won the race.
Error corrected by:
- Using a period between the independent clauses and capitalizing the first letter of the second independent clause, making two sentences. Examples: a) I danced all night. I was tired. b) John runs fast. He won the race.
- Using a semicolon between the two independent clauses. Examples: a) I danced all night; I was tired. b) John runs fast; he won the race.
- Using a comma and a coordinating conjunction between the two independent clauses. Examples: a) I danced all night, so I was tired. b) John runs fast, and he won the race.
- Adding a subordinating word to one of the clauses, making it dependent (and placing a comma after the dependent clause if it is used to introduce the sentence). Examples: a) Since I danced all night, I was tired. b) Because John runs fast, he won the race.
These are the comma rules based on Independent and Dependent Clauses:
1) IC, (and) (or) (but) I
Rule: When you have two independent clauses joined by and, or, but put a comma before the conjunction.
Example: John went to town, and he saw a movie.
2) DC, IC
Rule: If the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, put a comma between them.
Example: When John went to town, he saw a movie.
3) IC X DC
Rule: If the independent clause comes before the dependent clause, don’t put a comma between them.
Example: John saw a movie when he went to town.
4) Introductory Prepositional Phrase
Rule: Put a comma after an introductory prepositional phrase.
Example: In his backpack, John carried six textbooks.
5) Introductory verb phrase
Rule: Put a comma after an introductory verb phrase.
Example: Carrying too many textbooks in his backpack, John hurt his lower back.
6) Item, item, item, and item
Rule: Put commas between items in a series.
Example: John carried pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, and textbooks.
7) , appositive,
Rule: Put commas around an appositive.
Example: John, my good friend, will visit us Saturday.
Light German, Director of Writing and Reading Skills Development. Mondays from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 512-478-4743.
"Part III - Style" in A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate Turabian. Call Number: REF LB2369 .T8 2013.
Additional information regarding how to research can be found on the library Research Help page.
If you have questions regarding research or citation, please ask at the Library Services Desk in the Wright Center or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Both walk-in visits and appointments are welcome.