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Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in Theology Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

1.  What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in Theology classes?

  • Short, frequent papers: Assignments of short summaries of core points in readings, or written answers to analytic-evaluative questions on class material
  • Research papers: Assignments of shorter (6-8 pages) term papers in THEO 001 and second level classes; longer (10-15 pages) term papers in third-level courses.

For recommended Research Starting Points for papers in Theology classes, check out the library’s list of recommended paper and electronic resources.


2.  What qualities of writing are especially valued in Theology classes?

  • Clearly defined and limited topic or question
  • A bibliography of works employed that is appropriate to the paper
  • Evidence of serious personal reflection and well-reasoned response
  • Clarity of English prose style for formal, academic papers
  • Grammatical correctness
  • Factual accuracy
  • Accurate spelling, proper use of vocabulary and grammar, correct term paper form, and overall presentability
  • Inclusive language

3.  What kinds of evidence are recognized as valid in Theology papers?

  • Definitive faith teachings of the religion or church being studied
  • The sacred scriptures of the religion or church being studied
  • Worship texts and practices of the religion or church being studied, including continuing non-liturgical practices such as care for the poor
  • Officially approved faith witness of heroic religious lives (e.g. “saints”)
  • Writings of theological experts, especially in consensus
  • Commonly accepted wisdom of humanity across the ages, especially as enshrined in aphorisms, great art, literature, and science
  • Other documents and events interpreted in light of their historical contexts
  • The student's personal experience when corroborating any or all of the above-mentioned sources  

4.  What citation conventions will I be expected to use in Theology?

     Either the Modern Language Association (MLA) format or the Chicago Manual of Style format (also known as Turabian), depending on the preference of individual faculty. Check with your instructor.

Note: For Biblical citations, good advice about standardized formats and abbreviations can be found in the SBL [Society of Biblical Literature] Handbook of Style for Ancient, Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), which is available for library use only in the reference section of Raynor library. For more information about the book itself, consult the SBL Web site.

5.  Special considerations when writing papers for Theology classes:

  • Re-write until the argument is clear to the reader.
  • Reason from the evidence and not from purely subjective feelings.
  • Avoid stream-of-consciousness writing.
  • Use section headings when appropriate.
  • End all papers with a clear statement of your conclusions.

For Further Reading

Murphy, Nancey C. Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion. Valley Forge, PA.: Trinity Press, 1994. (Available for checkout at Raynor Memorial Libraries.)

     See especially the first six chapters, which are about argument structure and academic papers.

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Page Last Modified: October 18, 2018

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
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P.O. Box 1881 · Milwaukee, Wis. USA · 53201-1881