Written by Writing Assistant Jacob Starr
Scenario: you’re sitting in your 100-200 level Religion course, the Professor announces at the end of class that you have a four-five page research paper. You have no ideas, and you’re not someone who has attended private Christian school your whole life. You hardly even know who this Jesus guy is, let alone how to talk for five pages about the sacred sacrament of the Eucharist from the perspective of a Lutheran. What you have is a prompt that you don’t understand and a due date that is far too pressing. At this point, you also have two options; option 1: panic, option 2: keep reading this post and learn how to write any religion paper! I’ve broken my method down into four steps that are easy to remember through the power of alliteration: Read, Research, Write, and Re-examine. Without further ado, if you chose option 2, let’s dive in.
Reader’s note: I find the analogy of driving a car very helpful for writing a paper, so fair warning, I will be doing it often.
I have titled this step “read” because you are going to read…a lot. In just about every religion class you’ll ever take, excluding World Religions, the prompt that you receive will be related to a book called the Bible. If you are coming from a place of next to or no knowledge of the Biblical text, what you are going to want to do is ask your professor which passage(s) you should read if that has not been made apparent from being present in the classroom. Then the next part is simple, read the passage(s) the professor tells you to look at. Don’t panic if you don’t understand what the passage(s) means or how these Scholars have come up with their interpretations of it(them) because you’ve only done half of the reading you’re going to need to do in order to successfully write your paper. Writing a religion paper without doing any reading is like driving a car, except instead of an actual car, you jump inside a large cardboard box and start making “vroom, vroom” noises. Because just like writing your paper, nobody is going to consider what you’re doing is driving a car.
This next step is where the understanding comes, it also includes reading. No matter if you’re a Bible veteran or have never touched the book, you’re gonna wanna look at some biblical commentaries concerning the passage(s) you’re studying. There’s always something new to learn in the world of Biblical Studies! There are several places where you can find the sources you’ll need In order to successfully understand your passage(s) (and also make your bibliography look impressive), the Van Wylan library is an excellent place to start. Using the Hope College Library website, you can easily find a list of online articles and books. Physical commentaries can be found on the fourth floor of the library. Believe me, the trip is worth it. These authors will tell you everything you need to know about any passage of scripture your professor could hope to assign to you. Likewise, online articles and books can be just as helpful, sometimes even more so if your thesis is over a more specialized topic. Research and reading your passage are two of the most important steps in this entire process. Writing a Religion Paper without doing the proper research is like driving a car without any gas, you’re not gonna get very far!
The next step is pretty self-explanatory, you gotta actually sit down and write your paper. Before you begin to write a single word of your paper, it is extremely helpful to make an outline of what you intend to write. 4-5 page papers don’t just happen, you need to go in with a plan. Attempting to write any research paper without coming up with an outline to give it structure and a clear path is akin to getting behind the wheel of a car blindfolded. You’ll have absolutely no sense of direction, causing carnage and terror everywhere you go until the car breaks down. Once you have constructed a clear outline including an introduction, body with at least three points, and conclusion, you are ready to write. Having read your passage, done all the necessary research, and constructed a detailed helpful outline, the writing of the paper should be as simple as answering a short-answer question on an open note test. The only difficulty is finding the time to sit down and crank it out, which leads us to our final step!
After having finished the first draft of your paper, the next step is to have a friend look over your work. It is not always the best idea to check your own writing, especially if you’re coming off a three-hour writing session. This is an excellent time to make an appointment with the writing center! It is our job to give constructive feedback on papers in order to make your work as successful as possible. We can also help come up with outlines or even brainstorm possible theses for your paper. Our end goal is to help students like you become more successful in their writing for class and for future employment. I hope that this post has been educational and you now feel prepared to tackle your paper!