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Writing a Research Paper

Why Write a Research Paper Now?

  • Internationals’ visa status depends on your student status.  Many courses will not require you to turn in a research paper until the end of the semester.  If anything happened before then and a government wanted to know about your student status, PTS will have this paper as evidence of your work written and submitted here.  After PTS has this paper, no one could make a claim that you are unable to write at the graduate level in English (for example, in case someone claimed that your previous writing sample is not enough proof of your ability, since someone else might possibly have edited it before you submitted it).
  • PTS is very strict about plagiarism.  Plagiarism is not only intentionally pretending someone else’s writing is yours, but it also includes when you use someone else’s idea in your paper without citing it correctly. It does not matter if it was an unintentional mistake. If the format of your citation, reference, or grammatical markers (such as quotation marks) is incorrect, you are probably plagiarizing. If the professor or preceptor notices your plagiarism, you will receive a failing grade, an academic alert, probation, suspension, or termination of enrollment at the seminary according to the decision of the appropriate committee. This assignment is a good chance to practice citation and to find out from the feedback that you did it correctly.

There are many styles of academic papers.  You will be required to learn how to write various types of papers while you are here. The American-style research paper is the most important to master because it earns the largest % of your grade in a class.  Trying it now will help you later, rather than having to learn during the busy semester along with the other types of American papers you will also learn.

  • The American style has grammar, writing style, citation requirements, and cultural differences that are different from papers accepted in other cultures.  PTS professors and preceptors will not usually be understanding just because you are international.  They will grade your papers with the same expectation and standards they have for native English speakers, American academic culture, and American church culture.
  • Types of American Papers:
    • Reflection paper (1-2 pages*)
      • your reaction to assigned reading
      • a thesis statement might not be necessary – check with your professor
    • Case Study response paper (5-10 pages)
      • your answer of how to respond to a practical theology situation
    • Essay (5-12 pages)
    • Exegesis paper (10-25 pages)
      • interpretation of a Bible passage
      • some require use of Hebrew or Greek, others do not
      • How to Write an Exegesis Paper by John Drury:

    • Church History paper (15-30 pages)
      • this is the only long paper which might not need a thesis – check with your professor
    • Research paper (15-30 pages)
    • Thesis (60+ pages)
      • serious scholarly contribution

* These page numbers are estimates.

  • This paper will not be graded.  It is so you can receive free feedback about what is and is not acceptable in the American style before you write a paper that will be graded and affect your GPA.
  • Other new students have not arrived yet so you can easily learn how to use the library resources and get help now while it is not busy.
  • You can learn new technologies for conducting research and citations now.  Since other students have not arrived yet, if you have questions or difficulties with the technology, IT Services can quickly help you while they are less busy.
  • You can pick a topic that you are already interested in researching for one of your fall courses.  This is a chance to make yourself get a head-start, and you can use the research findings you do now in your upcoming class.  Or, you can write a paper that you would like to turn into a future conference presentation or journal article.
  • If you are interested in the topic “God, Death, and the Afterlife: Reflections on Time and Eternity,” and write on a topic such as the next life, the significance of Christ's death, Christ’s descent into hell, or who will be saved, you can submit your paper as an article to be published in the next issue of PTS’ student-run journal The Princeton Theological Review.  The rules to submit the paper are on their website.  The submission deadline is September 30th.

Types of Assistance Available

  • Be prepared for the Writing Sessions so you can get your questions answered and receive advice on your work during the sessions.
  • EOP staff are available during Office Hours (schedules in your itinerary).  Feel free to ask us for advice, proofreading, and assisting you in the library or with using online databases during these times. We are native English speakers and have experienced grading by PTS professors. Being available to help you with this research paper assignment is part of our job, so get your money’s worth!
  • Ask friends to check your paper after you finish writing it, before you submit it. In American culture, it is perfectly fine to do this. We call it peer editing.
  • Use either Zotero or EndNote computer application to collect and make citations easily. Zotero is always free. EndNote is free for PTS students to use on campus (you must uninstall EndNote or purchase your own license directly from EndNote when you are no longer a current student). The IT department provides support, including assistance with installation and training.
  • Use The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. This thin book explains composition style, and common grammar and spelling mistakes. It is so famous that people call it “Strunk and White” as a nickname.
  • Use the official Turabian website:
  • Use the Chicago Manual of Style. It is almost exactly the same style as Turabian. The whole book is online:
  • Log in to PTS Community at and download the Writing Center Style Guide PDF file from
  • Use A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press.
  • Read some of John Drury’s sample papers: research papers, exegetical papers, short essays, and sermons.

What Is Not Allowed

  • You cannot modify a past paper.
  • A friend cannot write your paper for you.
  • At PTS, due dates are strict. Extensions are given only in exceptional circumstances, most of which require a note from a doctor or other professional. We want you to practice budgeting your time to meet a deadline so you will never miss an assignment due date for one of your classes.

Selecting a Topic

In America, a paper topic must be very narrow.

You can start by thinking of a broad topic and then make it continually more specific until the topic is narrow.

Topics can be narrowed by:

  • Geography – A paper about missions in China is too big, but a paper about how missions impacted people in a specific village is good.
  • Time Period – A paper about sacred objects is too big, but a paper about changes in church décor during the English Reformation is good.
  • Source – A paper about the History of Biblical Interpretation is too big, but a paper about Rabbi Ishmael’s interpretation in Bereshit Rabba (Genesis midrash) is good.
  • Comparison/Relationship – A paper about women in the Old Testament is too big, but a paper about the relationship between Samson’s mother and an angel in contrast to that of Samson’s father and the angel is good.
  • Specific Application – A paper about the doctrine of adoption is too big, but a paper about how John Wesley’s understanding of the doctrine of adoption applies to orphanage ministry is good.

Here is an example:

  • theology
  • narrow by subject—theology of baptism
  • then narrow by time period—theology of baptism during the Reformation
  • then narrow by person—John Calvin’s understanding of baptism
  • then narrow by source—Calvin’s understanding of baptism in chapter 15 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion
  • then narrow by relationship — Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between baptism and the church in chapter 15 of the Institutes

Thesis Statement

A paper must justify its own existence.  The first paragraph must explain why you wrote it and why someone should read it.

  • American style means you must sell your idea to the reader. You cannot assume the reader will agree with your idea, even if you know your professor might like it. Your professor might have the same opinion as you, but your preceptor who is grading your paper, may not. You need to argue using evidence to convince the reader that you are right.
  • American style is straight to the point. You can use creativity in the first paragraph to catch the reader’s attention if you want, but the most important thing in the first paragraph is the thesis statement. This is what your professor will look for first. Your professor will think about your thesis statement while reading your paper to see if you justify its claims and if you go off-topic.
  • Do not worry that you are giving away the punchline ending of the paper. The professor wants to know from the beginning what your claim is so he/she does not have to guess where you are going with your arguments. At the end of the paper, you will re-word your thesis statement and perhaps add in a few additional facts as your summarizing final paragraph.

What is a Thesis Statement?

  • A thesis statement is a brief promise to the reader of what he/she can expect from your paper.
  • It explains briefly the narrow topic of your paper.
  • It states your conclusion or gives a hint of your conclusion.
  • It can be one sentence or more than one sentence, but it should be as brief as possible.

When to Write a Thesis Statement?

  • Before Research – if you can guess the answer to the question you will research, write that hypothesis as a thesis statement to guide your research. This will help you avoid spending time reading parts of a text that are not pertinent to your topic. At this point, you do not need to be sure or commit to the thesis statement.
  • During Research – look for facts that match or do not match your statement and revise it as you learn more. Keep an open mind. At this point, the thesis statement is still to help you keep your topic narrow and look for only pertinent information. As you learn more, you will realize if your thesis statement should adapt to your findings.
  • After Research – when you are mostly finished with research, revise the thesis statement to reflect what you now know about the topic, or if you decided to switch your focus or narrow the topic further.
  • After Writing – after you finish writing your paper, look at the thesis statement again and check if all the arguments in your paper apply to the thesis statement. If there is a claim in the thesis statement that you did not prove in your argument, add that argument. If you made an important argument in the paper that was not mentioned in the thesis statement, add mention of it in the thesis statement. If you ran out of time to include an argument that you had promised in the thesis statement, remove it from the thesis statement.

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