The perennial problem of the seminary student: what does it mean to write a good theology paper and how do you go about doing it?
Although there really is no definitive answer to such questions, here’s an older article that John Frame wrote describing How to Write a Theology Paper. He explains the 11 steps that he goes through in writing the paper and offers some good thoughts for any seminary student looking for tips on how to write a good paper.
At one point, he explains the importance of offering your own argument and not just re-stating the opinions and ideas of other people:
Furthermore, every paper should contain something of the theologian himself. It is rarely sufficient simply to tell the reader what someone else says (an “expository paper,” as I call it). Nor, in seminary level papers, is it adequate to write down a series of “standard” arguments on an issue—arguments that have been used time and time again. I describe papers of that sort as “party lines.” Party lines are often useful; it is good to have at your fingertips the standard arguments for infant baptism, for example. I myself use this kind of argument frequently in talking with inquirers. But generally, party-line arguments do not belong in theological papers. Expositions, summaries, surveys, party lines—all of these are essentially regurgitations of ideas obtained from other sources. They involve little analytical or critical thinking. But such thinking is precisely what is needed, if the paper is to represent an advance in the church’s knowledge.
You’ll need to read his paper to see his whole process, but here are the 11 steps that he suggests.
- Choose a topic with care.
- Understand your sources.
- Write down what you find interesting.
- Ask questions about your sources.
- Formulate a critical perspective on your sources.
- Organize your notes according to topics of interest.
- Ask, then, What do I want to tell my audience on the basis of my research?
- Be self-critical.
- Decide on an audience.
- Decide on a format and style.
- Produce your formulation.