Building a Foundation for Church History Writing
Step 1: Establish a Timeline
Because of the volume of primary and secondary material available, you will not be able to read everything before you write your paper. It is therefore helpful to give yourself a deadline for finishing your research.
Establishing a date after which you will stop gathering and reading material will allow you ample time to synthesize your research and write the paper. For further help, see the sample organizational timeline.
Step 2: Clearly Identify a Question or Topic
You will have the least difficulty synthesizing your research into a paper outline if your research is narrowly focused upon a specific historical question.
Here are some suggestions for narrowing your topic:
Step 3: Gather Primary and Secondary Material
Once you have clarified your topic, begin gathering your research material. If you will be studying a particular author, read as much of his or her writing as possible, focusing on material that is relevant to your topic.
Because you will be seeking to understand the world in which your author wrote (or in which your event took place), you should also seek out primary sources that tell you something about that world directly.
For example, if you are studying J. Gresham Machen’s doctrine of the church, you would
Because you will inevitably be unable to answer every question by appealing to primary sources, gather secondary sources that discuss your topic. This material will supplement your study of the primary sources by familiarizing you with various scholarly interpretations of your topic.
The easiest way to begin this secondary research is to search for your topic in the catalog of Westminster’s Montgomery Library. Access to an extensive database of journal articles is available to Westminster students through the library website.
Read Research Material Selectively
Not every piece of research you gather will be useful to you. Carefully study sources that deal directly with your topic, but skim sources that are less directly related for useful information. If a source looks to be only tangentially related to your topic, do not waste too much valuable time reading it. When reading a book, utilize the table of contents and index to locate the specific information you need. For more help on how to read strategically for research, see Becoming a More Demanding Reader.
Critically Analyze Your Sources
As you read through your sources, ask these questions of the material you are reading:
These and other related questions will prompt your critical thinking and lead to a well-researched thesis. For more help on using research to construct a thesis, see formulating a thesis.
Other "Writing for Church History" topics: