Tips for the ThM – Part 1 (Journal Articles)

Here’s my fist post on suggestions that I have as your (mostly) faithful Th.M. Director.

Use journal articles more.

There, I’m done.

Okay, not really. But, seriously, as I look at the research that is done for many of the Th.M. papers and presentations, I am startled at times by what looks like an apparent neglect of journal articles. There seems to be a widespread sense that books are the best (and, at times, only) source for research data. That usually is not the case. When you are preparing a paper or presentation, journal articles are often your best friend.

Let me list below just a few reason that journal articles should be a prominent (often primary) research source:

  • They are shorter. It takes far less time to process the argument of a journal article than that of an entire book. This means that it’s usually easier to understand and respond to the overall argument. It also means that you can engage more journal articles – and, thus, more perspectives – than you can if you are trying to process entire books.
  • They usually have good and up-to-date footnotes. The most recent books will also have this, but journal articles are often better. Even if a journal article is not precisely on the topic that you need, it’s footnotes will often lead you in the right direction if it’s at least in the same general area.
  • They’re often easier to find. The information that you really need from a book is usually buried in one of the chapters somewhere. So, instead of being able to go directly to what you need, you have to get a book on the general area of your topic and then sift through lots of extraneous information to get what you want. A well crafted query on a research database, though, can take you directly to a journal article that is relevant to your needs. And, many of those articles can now be accessed directly online.

There are more, but these should help you understand why journal articles are critical to quality research. I would strongly encourage you to prioritize finding at least a couple of relevant journal articles early in your research process for any paper you want to write. Do not rely entire on book-length manuscripts.

Please don’t think I’m saying that you should ignore books either. Those are obviously better for more comprehensive treatment, and you will need to engage the longer works as necessary. That becomes even more important when you are working on your thesis or guided research project . But, even then, make journal articles a key part of your research process.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on April 2, 2010, in Th.M. Program. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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