Step One: Choosing a Topic
The first research decisions are made before you even step into a library or log on to a computer. When choosing a topic, you are deciding where to begin your investigation, not necessarily what the title or substance of your paper will be.
In this phase, give yourself freedom to explore various ideas and potential paper topics. Some questions to help guide your thinking are
- What topics interest you?
- Is there a topic about which you have some knowledge which you would like to investigate further?
- Have your life experiences prompted interest in a particular topic or question?
- What topics would be most relevant to your calling in ministry?
- What questions or issues are especially significant to other individuals and communities with whom you have contact in the church and in the world?
- What topics seem most central to your coursework?
Once you arrive at a general topic of interest, you can start perusing relevant research material. If your assignment requires only one or two sources, or if it assigns a particular source to interact with, you can go back to the section on Crafting an Effective Thesis, and then engage in prayerful, critical interaction to arrive at your thesis.
Step Two: Narrowing Your Topic
If your paper requires in-depth research (e.g., papers for upper level apologetics classes, exegetical papers, church history papers, and term research projects across departments), you will need a way to investigate and narrow the topic in order to make it manageable.
As you read, you will learn more information about your topic. This new information will prompt questions. As you explore these questions, they will guide your continued reading. As you continue researching your questions, you will begin to formulate tentative answers (hypotheses).
In order to evaluate the soundness of a hypothesis, you will need to learn more about it – this necessity will further focus your reading. If your hypothesis stands up to critical investigation, you will argue for its validity in your paper. If you find that your hypothesis does not adequately answer your question, you will need to modify your hypothesis, your question, or both.
This cyclical process unfolds according to the diagram below.
Although this process involves the repetition of some steps, reformulating a question or hypothesis is not starting over from scratch. The cyclical process of thinking and re-thinking is necessary for all learning and careful research. Modifying one’s questions and conclusions is a sign of intellectual maturity, not incompetence.
Other "Developing Your Thesis" topics:
Moving from Topic to Thesis
Phase 1: Critical Thinking and Research
Phase 3: Formulating a Question and Thesis
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