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From Topic to Thesis, A Review

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research

I love writing papers. Really. I’m not even kidding. Primarily, I enjoy the finished product–being able to hold a completed paper in my hands (or look at the PDF on my computer) and know that I put a significant amount of time and effort into it. Of course, I’m a weirdo, and not everyone is as enthusiastic about research papers as I am. And, for some reading this, you may not even feel comfortable approaching a research paper. You may ask, how do I narrow a general topic down to a manageable thesis? Or, even if you don’t have a problem narrowing your topic to a manageable size, you may ask, how do I even go about researching? This new book from IVP Academic, From Topic to Thesis, will be a helpful resource!

In From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research, Michael Kibbe (PhD, Wheaton College) guides students through the process of theological research, from topic to thesis–no surprise here. He does this by discussing five stages of theological research.

  1. from topic to thesisFinding Direction. Research isn’t something that happens overnight. Get to know your broad topic, but don’t decide what you will argue too soon.
  2. Gathering Sources. Use scholarly sources. Not only that, but use scholarly sources that both agree and disagree with your argument.
  3. Understanding Issues. Understand the arguments your sources are making. Don’t simply grab some good quotes and insert them into your paper.
  4. Entering Discussion. Interact with your sources, and contribute something to the overall discussion.
  5. Establishing Position. Write your paper, but not too soon (make sure you understand what you’re talking about, and that you have done enough research). And, stick to your thesis, which is, as Kibbe puts it, “the heart and soul of your paper” (p. 89).

In a relatively lengthy introduction, Kibbe discusses some important matters. At the heart of the introduction is a discussion on how theological research is like any other type of research, but also how theological research is not like any other type of research. That is, the most foundational difference is that “that which we study speaks to us and shapes us; it does not merely lie passively on the desk while we examine it” (p. 26, n. 5). Kibbe also defines some key terms in the introduction (such as, “primary sources,” “secondary sources,” and “tertiary sources”), which can certainly be of assistance to someone who is not well-acquainted with writing research papers.

This size of this book is its biggest strength. It is not an overwhelming resource, and is a quick and helpful read. Thus, it fulfills its goal of being “an affordable and accessible tool that walks students through the process” (back cover). However, given its size and scope, I think it would best be used in conjunction with a volume such as The Craft of Research (Booth, Colomb, and Williams, 3rd. ed., Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008).

The six appendices are also a key strength to this book. They include, “Ten Things You Should Never Do in a Theological Research Paper,” bibliographic information for various scholarly resources for biblical and theological studies, and, my favorite, an appendix on downloading and installing Zotero, a bibliography software. (Zotero is fantastic, and I definitely recommend it, as does Kibbe).

From Topic to Thesis will best serve those new to biblical and/or theological research. Perhaps that means undergraduate students, but it may also include seminary students who do not have a related undergraduate degree. Nonetheless, it is a valuable resource if you consider yourself new to biblical and/or theological research. I wish I would have had this book a few years ago!

Now, go get this book, do some research, and write a paper.

Official Product Description

While courses in Bible and theology typically require research papers, particularly at the graduate level, very few include training in research. Professors have two options: use valuable class time to teach students as much as they can, or lower their standards with the understanding that students cannot be expected to complete tasks for which they have never been prepared.

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research offers a third option. This affordable and accessible tool walks students through the process, focusing on five steps: finding direction, gathering sources, understanding issues, entering discussion and establishing a position. Its goal is to take students directly from a research assignment to a research argument—in other words, from topic to thesis.

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