Tips for the ThM – Part 4 (criticism)

Okay, one more post on writing in the ThM program and then I’ll spend a little time reflecting on the oral examinations. So, here’s my last tip on writing research papers and theses in the ThM. Be more critical.

That may sound a little surprising coming from me, since I place a very high value on fairly representing other people’s views and seeking to understand their position thoroughly before engaging critically. However, most of us are spending so much time on the first two that we really shortcut the last one. To some extent, this is related to the lack of a clear thesis statement that I discussed before. Without a clear argument, there’s no need to engage someone critically. You’re just “exploring” what they had to say. But, if you have an argument to defend, now you need to go after them a bit.

I also think there’s a level of caution that stems from an awareness of how much less you know than the person you’re critiquing, and this contributes to a certain tentativeness in your critiques. I completely understand that. But, this is supposed to be a safe learning environment for you to stretch your wings a little and see what you can do. I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind, but I would like to see everyone develop their ability to provide a good critical interaction with other writers.

Now, let’s make sure that we don’t just swing the pendulum the other way. It really is critical that we focus first on understanding the other person’s arguments and present them fairly (i.e. in a way that they would agree with) before moving into our critical interaction. Make sure you do that or I will have to write another post on that later. I am simply encouraging us all to tackle the critical step a little more aggressively.

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 9, 2010, in Th.M. Program. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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