Tips for the ThM – Part 15 (over-research-itis)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my Tips for the ThM. But, as I’m looking back over the papers from our recent philosophy and theology class, I’m reminded of a problem that I suffered from throughout my graduate programs: over-research-itis. This debilitating illness manifests itself in a tendency to spend almost the entire semester researching, leaving yourself with precious little time in which to actually write the paper that all of the research was supposed to be for.

If you’re not sure whether you suffer from this unfortunate syndrome, just ask yourself whether you tend to be frustrated with your papers because you don’t think they really reflect the quality of research you did for the project. If so, you probably suffer from over-research-itis.

I was finally able to defeat over-research-itis in my doctoral program by realizing two things. First, there is always more research to do. You will never have done “enough” and you’ll probably never be satisfied with what you actually have done. Get over it. Give yourself sufficient time to do good research and just get used to the feeling that you really should check out just one more book/article. Second, all that research isn’t terribly helpful if you don’t leave time to write a good paper. Research is just a bunch of interesting books and messy notes until you take the time to put it all together in a well-crafted, well-argued paper. That’s when you really take ownership of your research and make it available to other people. That’s the payoff. If you’ll remember that the paper is the goal and not just the onerous task waiting at the end of the semester, it may help you not put it off to the bitter end.

Realizing these two things, I decided to set firm deadlines for when I would (mostly) stop doing new research and begin writing my paper. And, the key here is to set that deadline far enough out to leave yourself sufficient time to write a quality paper (i.e. not the week before it’s due). Know that it’s going to take a few weeks to do a good job writing up all of that research and commit to giving yourself the time in which to do it. You’ll get less research done, but you’ll end up with a better paper, and you’ll probably learn even more from the experience.

And, by the way, be careful that you don’t swing the pendulum in the other direction and end up suffering from under-research-itis. I like well-written papers, but the best prose in the world can’t disguise the fact that you haven’t done the work.

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 December 29, 2010, in Th.M. Program and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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