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Thesis writing technique

  1. 1. Guide to Graduate Theological Research and Writing by Douglas E. Welch, Merle D. Strege, and John H. Aukerman
  2. 2. Anderson University School of TheologyGuide to GraduateTheological Researchand WritingBy Douglas E. Welch, Merle D. Strege, and John H. Aukerman Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  3. 3. Table of ContentsForewordIntroductionChapter 1: Philosophy of ResearchChapter 2: Gathering the DataChapter 3: Interpreting the DataChapter 4: Writing the ResultsChapter 5: The Practice of Inclusive LanguageChapter 6: Form and StyleChapter 7: Master’s ThesisAppendix A: Theological Library Resources at Anderson UniversityAppendix B: Electronic DatabasesAppendix C: The Case Study ApproachAppendix D: Historical Studies—A Valuable Tool of EnrichmentBibliographyGeneral Works for Further StudyEditors and Compilers, Douglas E. Welch and Merle D. Strege, 1991Revised and Enlarged by Douglas E. Welch, 1993Revised and Updated by John H. Aukerman, 2002, 2006Revised and Updated by David Neidert, John H. Aukerman, and Janet Brewer, 2010 1Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  4. 4. 2Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  5. 5. ForewordThis Guide is intended to provide a how-to approach to graduate theological research and writing in gen-eral. More particularly, however, it is concerned with research and writing in the context of Anderson Uni-versity School of Theology.The style of writing advocated in this Guide is, in our judgment, in keeping with that which is standard inthe field of "formal," technical writing at its best. That is, writing which passes the tests of simplicity, accu-racy, economy, and clarity. We are fully aware that much formal writing, particularly in theological circles,is overly-complicated, lacking in clarity, and full of jargon and gobbledygook. What may be good ideas getlost in thickets of semantic fuzziness and hopelessly run-on sentences and paragraphs.Good formal writing, in our view, need not be stiff, labored, or boring to read. It can be creative, direct,and vigorous — even to the point of possessing some literary merit. Research scholars need not bestuffy, unexciting writers whose only literary merit is to be found in the final period of their manuscripts.We are concerned that graduate theological students develop skills in the use of language, both in spo-ken and written form. It is often assumed in our educational theories that one may develop a high degreeof skill in verbal communication without developing any significant writing skills at all. Such a notion is notsubstantiated either by accepted linguistic theory or critical observation.Inasmuch as speaking and writing are closely related skills, it follows that those who write poorly speakthe same way, no matter how rhetorically impressive they may be. Eloquence alone is no guarantee ofaccuracy and clarity. It may, in fact, be only "sound and fury" signifying nothing of any great importance.We commend you, then, to the art of good writing. To develop good writing skills is, at the same time, todevelop a solid foundation for good public speaking skills. One does not say things well if they are notclear and easily understandable to those who listen.This Guide is concerned not just with writing, however. It is also concerned with research. In our ap-proach, the primary stress is on the second syllable, rather than the first. Thus, re-SEARCH, notRE-search. Our concern is not merely one of pronunciation, but of focus. In other words, research is con-cerned more with searching than with covering the same ground endlessly covered by others or beatingthe same bushes beaten to death by generations of re-searchers.We recognize, of course, that a great deal of information has been inadequately or wrongly interpreted.To look at the same information again from other theoretical perspectives is an important scholarly pur- 1suit. Having confirmed the relative adequacy of the data themselves, the researcher then seeks to pro-duce a better interpretation of them.But the primary function of the research scholar is to dig out information that has not been gotten at be-fore — at least, in any depth. Such information may fill in gaps in our knowledge — which are legion — ordemand that we rethink some of the things we are so confident we know. It is often that very confidencethat prevents us from entering more fully into the vast cosmos of knowledge which surrounds us and iswithin us. The researcher of high moral character will thus struggle to push back the horizons of our col-lective knowing.Research, then, is not the process by which we seek to "prove" what we already believe on other groundsto be true. Our concern, rather, is to find out what is going on and why and to come to a congruent under-standing of it. And that is risky, for it may lead us in unanticipated directions and to uncomfortable conclu- 1 “Data” is a plural noun. 3Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  6. 6. sions. But the honest researcher faces these squarely and reports them as fairly and accurately as possi-ble.Our position, then, is avowedly liberal, in the best sense of that word. Albert C. Outler refers to this as "therefreshing liberal spirit," the temper and attitude of "openness, tolerance of critical, honest inquiry, a firminsistence upon public evidence and rational argument, and . . . a sense of the immorality of uncritical 2credulity." 2 Albert C. Outler, "Toward a Postliberal Hermeneutics," Theology Today 42 (October,1985): 6. 4Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  7. 7. Introduction: The Nature of Graduate StudyAt several points, graduate study is different from the kind of education the student may have pursued asan undergraduate. Moreover, graduate theological students must consider a particular list of virtues im-portant to them as developing scholar-ministers. It will be well to review here these ideas as an introduc-tion both to this manual and to expectations made of graduate theological students.Virtues of a Graduate StudentIn late 1984, the noted historian Jaroslav Pelikan gave an address to the Lutheran Church in AmericaBoard of Publication. The title of the speech was "The Vocation of Scholarship in the Church." Theologicalstudents may be well instructed by that title. Scholarship is a vocation, a calling to a certain kind of life.This particular kind of life is one of which the church has great need. Therefore it is highly inappropriate tosuggest that theological students either leave or postpone ministry when they enroll in seminary. Theirtheological studies are ministry in the full sense.Since theological students are called to a particular ministerial lifestyle, the virtues of that character oughtto be known or, perhaps, reviewed. For these say something about the nature of the graduate student.Pelikan listed these virtues as discipline, patience, curiosity, and imagination.Discipline is the willingness to be introduced — more than casually — to the men and women of theChristian tradition. Patience is the resistance to the easy and pat solution or means to the end, the will-ingness to research and study to discover rather than merely to complete assignments. Curiosity is thewillingness to keep turning over new rocks, to resist the temptation to say, "I am finished." It is the proc-ess of learning, never finalized, always provisional and at home in that temporality. Imagination is asking 3new questions of old material, approaching it from a new angle of attack.These are some of the virtues of graduate theological students called to serve the church through schol-arship. Undoubtedly there are others, but these are offered as an introduction and challenge to those whohave come to study at Anderson University School of Theology. — Merle D. StregeCharacteristics of Graduate StudyCriticalGraduate study is critical. It seeks to apply critical techniques and methodology to the subject under con-sideration. Criticism in this sense is analytical and seeks answers to the question, "What is really going onhere?" This criticism is undertaken in the spirit of curiosity rather than reproof, for the real goal of criticismis to further understanding and to open up completely new lines of inquiry.Another dimension of criticism is a certain measure of objectivity on the part of the student. In realizingthis lies the importance of acquiring a method. Methodology assists the student in acquiring some objec-tivity, to stand over against that which is being researched or otherwise studied. Of course, total objectiv-ity is impossible; that is one of the commonplaces of modern epistemology. But to concede that point isnot to say that students have no responsibility to create a scholarly distance between themselves and thematerial under consideration. 3 Jaroslav Pelikan, "The Vocation of Scholarship in the Church," LCA Partners (February-March 1984:12. 5Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  8. 8. A third dimension of criticism is that it represents the students application of the findings of others, i.e.scholarship, to his or her own subject of study. Critical study is informed study; it does not and cannotoccur in a vacuum. Students must apply the findings of others to their own knowledge and conduct, en-gaging in discussion, as it were, with others through their recorded work about that which is of commoninterest.A final dimension of criticism is its basic attitude, one which requires reasons for accepting something astrue. Critical students always ask authors, professors, colleagues, and themselves, "Why should I believethat? What convincing reasons are given for believing this rather than something else?" In short, criticalstudy supplies questions instead of credulity, tentativeness rather than dogmatism.IndependentGraduate study takes place in the community of scholarship. But that does not mean it is not independ-ent. Independent, not arbitrary. Immanuel Kants great motto was "Dare to think for yourself." One maynot arbitrarily will to believe whatever one chooses or thinks must be believed. But graduate study doesvalue independent, i.e., creative, thought.This means that graduate study and research must proceed beyond merely collecting that which alreadyhas been considered. The graduate student must be prepared to state, with reasons, what he or shethinks or has concluded about matters, however tentative those conclusions may be. It is to be expectedthat among a students reasons will be found some of the findings of other scholars. Of particular impor-tance is the distinction between the work of others and that of the student. This distinction is the respon-sibility of the student and the failure to make it is a most serious breach of academic ethics known as pla-giarism.The work of other individuals, whether as words or ideas, which contributed to the students presentationmust be acknowledged through quotation or citation. Quotations are those instances where the exactwords of another are used. Citations are acknowledgements that ideas or conclusions of others, while notdirectly quoted, contribute to the students research (just because the work of another is not quoted ver-batim does not relieve the student of the responsibility to indicate by citation his or her indebtedness).TentativeOne of the differences between preaching and teaching is that sermons may conclude with a resounding"Thus says the Lord!" while lectures never do. They are more likely to end in the question, "What do youthink?" Graduate study is in the spirit of the teacher more than that of the preacher. It is profoundly dia-logical. One may conclude some things, and very firmly at that. But the conclusions are always open-ended. Always there exists the possibility of new discovery of better argument that will bring us to deeperinsight or clearer awareness.Thus, graduate students pursue study with a tentativeness akin to the virtue of humility. The business ofgraduate study is not polemics or propaganda; it is to get at tentative answers to important questions.Human knowledge has advanced greatly over the centuries and accelerated in more recent decades. Butit is far from perfect. Therefore, graduate students are advised to make their "sympathies . . . with thosewho are not sure that they understand themselves and the universe rather than with those who make 4hard things easy."Critical ThinkingStudents often have some initial problems with the idea that graduate study in a theological seminary is"critical" in nature. Our ministerial "calling," they say, is to affirm and confess, not criticize. It is, however,the very nature of graduate education that it demands of us that we think carefully and analytically aboutwhat it is we are affirming and confessing. Often, in the critical light of day, the content of our affirmations 4 Henry F. May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: The Oxford University Press,1976), xvii. 6Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  9. 9. demands rethinking. In addition, the whys of our affirmations and confessions often need careful scrutiny.Those, for example, who proclaim their truth as absolute and universal, to the exclusion of all others, maybe engaging in an ideological game. Thus, the personal and collective psychologies of truth-making needcareful scrutiny. The purpose of such critical thinking is to enable us to make a necessary distinction be-tween tradition and truth. Even Jesus, in his engagement with the Pharisees had to engage in this criticalstruggle. 7Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  10. 10. 8Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  11. 11. Chapter 1. Philosophy of ResearchThis essay offers a definition of research, a brief description of the two major approaches to research(quantitative and qualitative), some of the advantages of qualitative research, and argues for the appro-priateness of qualitative research in most theological study.In the 1989 Midwest Research to Practice Conference, meeting at the University of Missouri, James H.McElhinny defined research as "a systematic way of asking intelligent questions about important topics 5that yields dependable answers." The four key terms in his definition are: systematic; intelligent; impor-tant; and dependable.Systematic: Research is carefully planned and data are judiciously analyzed. Research activities areguided by a theoretical rationale which provides unity and cohesion.Intelligent: Researchers question and re-examine traditions, other related research, and their own con-ceptual framework. They discriminate between what is relevant and what is irrelevant.Important: Research contributes to what is already known about an area of inquiry, in a manner whichmakes substantial differences in the lives of people. Research is worth the effort expended.Dependable: Research yields answers which approximate truth. It also identifies areas for further inquiry.There are two general categories of research methodologies: quantitative and qualitative. Each has a dis-crete set of assumptions about reality, acceptable practices, rhetoric, and kinds of results.Quantitative Research MethodsThese methods are built on logical positivism, an epistemological stance that has been severely criticized 6for more than 45 years. The positivist philosophy "assumes that there are social facts with an objective 7reality apart from the beliefs of individuals." Therefore, quantitative methods attempt to explain socialchanges through the use of objective measures and statistical analysis.Quantitative researchers attempt to achieve objectivity by using experimental designs and correlationalstudies, thinking that these techniques will reduce or eliminate error and bias. They therefore place heavyemphasis on procedures, methodologies, and statistics.Their reports rely heavily on the rhetoric of validity, reliability, generalizability, replicability, and predictabil-ity. Validity means that an instrument actually measures what it claims to measure; reliability means thatan instrument consistently yields the same results, and is often tested by administering the instrument tothe same group of people on two separate occasions; the intent of generalizability is to estimate the ex-tent to which data will be true for similar groups in similar situations (if something was true for this groupof people, it should likewise be true for another group); replicability means the extent to which researchcan be repeated with similar results; and predictability is the estimated likelihood that research accuratelypredicts the future. 5 James H. McElhinny, "Research 101," Paper presented at the Midwest Research toPractice Conference, Oct 12-13, 1989. St. Louis MO. (John H. Aukermans possession,Anderson IN.), 1989. 6 Kenneth R. Howe, "Two Dogmas of Educational Research," Educational Researcher(October 1985): 10. 7 William A. Firestone, "Meaning in Method: The Rhetoric of Quantitative and QualitativeResearch," Educational Researcher (October 1978): 16. 9Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  12. 12. Qualitative Research MethodsThese methods are built on a post positivistic, phenomenological world view, which assumes "that reality 8is socially constructed through individual or collective definitions of the situation." The purpose of qualita-tive research is to understand the current social situation, from the point of view of the participants. There- 9fore, the researcher becomes “‘immersed’ in the phenomenon of interest.”In qualitative research, the emphasis is on collecting data that lead to dependable answers to importantquestions, reported in sufficient detail that it has meaning to the reader. "The proto-typical qualitativestudy is the ethnography which helps the reader understand the definitions of the situation of those stud- 10ied."Qualitative research reports include descriptions, judgments, and evaluations. Because of a qualitativeresearchers post-positivistic paradigm, there is little or no attention paid to statistics of validity, reliability,generalizability, replicability, and predictability, as used by quantitative researchers. Emphasis is laid ondependability, which is enhanced by the use of prolonged engagement in the field, triangulation, case 11analyses, auditing, and/or checks by stakeholders.One of the qualitative approaches is descriptive research. According to David R. Krathwohl, "Descriptiveresearch involves collecting data in order to answer questions . . . about the current status of the situation 12under study." If statistics are used, they are descriptive, not inferential, merely providing a description ofthe variables. No attempt is made to test hypotheses, control variables, measure the strength of relation-ships, or establish statistical significance. The intention of descriptive research is to develop a purposeful,systematic, intelligent, and accurate description of some particular situation. Questionnaires and surveysof people’s judgments are examples of descriptive research methods.Qualitative research has the following advantages: 1. It allows the researcher to describe existing phenomena and current situations. 2. It is useful in examining the totality of a unit. 3. It yields results that can be helpful in pioneering new ground.Qualitative methods are appropriate for theological study for the following reasons: 1. The phenomenological, post-positivistic paradigm of qualitative research is more congruent with the realities most often of interest to theological study than the logical positivism of quantitative research. In ministry, absolute objectivity is not attainable; therefore, attempts to approach objec- tivity via quantitative procedures are illusory. The subjective beliefs, judgments, experiences, and values of individuals and groups, combined, are important and valuable; therefore, they ought to be collected, studied, and learned from. 2. The research questions in much theological study do not lend themselves to experimental design or correlational study, quantitative methods. Qualitative methods are well suited for most research questions relevant to ministry. 3. Replicability, a quantitative concept, is generally not an issue in theological study. Although inter- views and surveys can be repeated, the population supplying the data cannot be replicated. This is true, first, because the research questions are developed specifically with a particular popula- 8 Firestone, 16. 9 Ibid., 17. 10 Ibid. 11 McElhinny, 4. 12 David R. Krathwohl, Social and Behavioral Science Research: A New Framework forConceptualizing, Implementing, and Evaluating Research Studies (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publish-ers, 1985), 178. 10Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  13. 13. tion in mind, at a specific time and place in history, and second, because even if the same re- search questions were used with the same individuals at a later time, their experience would be different, which could change their answers to the questions. 4. Predictability, a quantitative concept, is not usually an issue in theological study. Ministers do not generally attempt to control peoples behavior, which is the major purpose of predictability (if one does "A," people will respond with "B"). 5. Qualitative research is useful in understanding a current social situation, an interest of much theo- logical study. Therefore, qualitative research methods are appropriate. 6. Quite often, theological research intends to pioneer new ground, one of the strengths of qualita- tive methodologies. In such instances, a qualitative approach is appropriate.Students planning to undertake research at Anderson University School of Theology are advised to givecareful consideration to their purpose and goal before selecting either a quantitative or qualitative design.They are also advised to consult with faculty members before designing any research project. — John H. Aukerman 11Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  14. 14. 12Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  15. 15. Chapter 2. Gathering the DataResearch is an adventure. It continually draws us onward to new dimensions of discovery and analysis. Itleads us into exciting new fields of inquiry and learning, adding both breadth and depth to our understand-ing.But, on the other hand, research is also hard work. It is patient, persistent, painstaking "detective work,"with numerous frustrations and false leads. Good research has more to do with the shine on the seat ofones pants than the shine in ones eyes. The good researcher is the one who perseveres, who is distrust-ful of easy answers and quick solutions, and who knows that things are not always what they seem — orwhat they are popularly believed to be.The good researcher is concerned to get at the pertinent data and let those data, insofar as that is possi-ble, speak for themselves. Here is where the adventure really begins: one cannot know in advance wherethe data will lead. They may or may not support the researchers hypotheses or answer the researchersquestions. They may, indeed, point to quite different and unexpected ones, ones with which the re-searcher may be somewhat uncomfortable. But, as we have noted elsewhere, good researchers seek,above all else, to be rigorously intellectually honest. They do not ignore or cover over unwanted data anddisturbing conclusions.But neither do researchers delight in unearthing "skeletons" and publishing "facts," or interpretations ofdata, that may needlessly damage the reputations of individuals and institutions. Research is never mor-ally or ethically neutral. Intellectual honesty is morally necessary, but it is not the whole of morality.And so the researcher works critically and honestly at finding the relevant data, recognizing that even rawdata do not exist independently of contexts. Therefore, one carefully notes the full context in which thedata occur. Data are not detached propositions, floating about in some universal ether, complete and finalin themselves.All of this impinges upon the gathering of data, but is not, in itself, the substance of this chapter. Our con-cern here is with research methodology. That is, how one goes about the gathering of data. In the fol-lowing pages, we shall briefly discuss basic research techniques. This is not to suggest that good tech-niques alone make one a good researcher. Research is more an art than a science, so intuition is alsoimportant. But good techniques help. Poor techniques can certainly cancel out good intuitions.Books and ArticlesIn an academic institution, the most obvious place to begin collecting data pertinent to ones field of in-quiry is in books and articles. Even though we live in the computer age, print libraries are still the richestsource of information readily available to us. So, become familiar, even friendly, with the libraries avail-able to you, browse along the periodicals shelves, in the stacks, and in the reference areas. Experiment 13with online catalogs, microforms and microform readers, and other electronic aids. (Note Appendix A,Theological Library Resources at Anderson University.)But above all, become acquainted with the professional library staff. Not only are they paid to assist youin your research, they are quite happy to do so. Their suggestions can frequently save you hours of work.They are often our most under-utilized resource in the gathering of research data.Professional journals are one of the richest sources of information for the researcher. Many can besearched on Nicholson Library’s website: click “Find Articles” at Many times,books and articles that look most promising are not to be found in Nicholson Library. However, most items 13 Note: The correct spelling of “online” is without a hyphen, viz. “online.” 13Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  16. 16. can usually be obtained through interlibrary loan (see Appendix A, Theological Library Resources at An-derson University). See also and personal documents are of particular value to those engaged in certain kinds of historicalresearch. These are not always readily available to the researcher and often restrictions are placed ontheir use, such as selected access only under supervision.ArchivesUnlike regular library materials, archival material does not circulate. And generally it must be used on siteunder the supervision of an archivist or assistant. Further, some archival material is not available to theordinary researcher, primarily because it is "official and confidential." This can prove to be quite frustratingto the researcher, who "knows" that to which he or she is being denied access is exactly what is neededto further the research and cannot be obtained elsewhere. Little can be done about it, however.But, occasionally, even when the archival material is legally public material, rather than private, the re-searcher may still be denied ready access to it. In discussing this problem, David C. Pitt notes that theresearcher not infrequently has to deal with officials "who have a deep-seated suspicion that the aca- 14demic is an iconoclast whose main function is to discredit the establishment."Nicholson Library houses the official archives of the Church of God. These are public archives and gen-erally available to those doing research. Access is not unlimited or unrestricted, however. Archives hoursare posted at the entrance to the Archives. These are limited to a few hours each day (Monday throughFriday) during academic sessions. Further, much of the material is available only on specific request, tobe used under archival staff supervision, and none of it can be removed from the premises. Photocopymachines are available in the Archives.Even with these restrictions, archives are the best sources — and often the only sources — of certainkinds of historical data. Before undertaking a research project requiring this kind of historical data, stu-dents should acquaint themselves with the archives and what is available there.Personal DocumentsIt may be, however, that even when the archives does not have the primary documents needed for thekind of data the researcher wishes to collect, they are available elsewhere. On occasion, the researcherwill be able to uncover primary sources of data quite unknown publicly up to that point. The most likelysources of such "treasures" are individuals who have retained, or who have knowledge of, private letters,journals, or diaries of family members or friends.These are generally referred to as "personal documents." John Madge defines personal documents asdocuments in which the authors "describe events in which they participated, or [which] indicate their per-sonal beliefs and attitudes . . . In its narrow sense the personal document is a spontaneous first-person 15description by an individual of his own actions, experiences, and beliefs."Behaviorists formerly considered the use of such documents to be unacceptable, primarily because theyare not "objective." Their essential "subjectivity," so it was said, made them scientifically suspect. Social 16scientists and historians, however, now generally accept personal documents as historically valid. 14 David C. Pitt, Using Historical Sources in Anthropology and Sociology (New York: Holt,Rinehart, and Winston, 1972), 36. 15 John Madge, The Tools of Social Science (Garden City, New York: Doubleday andCompany, Anchor Books, 1965), 76f. 16 Ibid., 78ff. 14Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  17. 17. This is not to say that such documents are to be taken at face value as literal descriptions of what hap-pened. But they do indicate personal attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about what the writer believes to haveoccurred. This is historically important information, and it may, indeed, lead the researcher to questionofficial or published versions of the same events. In such cases, however, the researcher is obligated toseek independent verification of the writers information. If this cannot be done, the researcher must bevery cautious about deciding which version is true.Among the various materials known as personal documents, personal and family letters are generally themost useful. They are usually without the high degree of personal image consciousness and pose whichtend to characterize public and official letters. Particularly are private letters helpful in determining the ac-tions, attitudes, and opinions of their writers — which are not normally revealed in official or public letters.Such "official" letters are often propagandistic, promotional, designed to "sell" an idea or a program. Theycannot, therefore, be implicitly trusted.Journals and diaries are valuable sources of data, but must be used with some caution. They both selectevents and interpret them — often on the basis of "memory," or after-the-fact — occasionally days oreven weeks after-the-fact. So the researcher must seek to determine how frequently journal or diary en-tries were made. Daily? Twice-weekly? Weekly? Periodic? Under such circumstances, gaps are bound tohave occurred. Many of them may be quite critical.Further, such material is often intended for "publication," if only within a family. Thus, the material isscarcely free from pose. Particularly is this true of memoirs or other kinds of autobiographical writing.Here, the memory factor plays a crucial role. But in spite of these limitations, such personal documentscan provide a great deal of useful data, some of which cannot be obtained elsewhere.Public DocumentsA third frequently used documentary source of data is public documents. These consist of official records,minutes, reports, accounts, newspaper reports, copies of speeches, pamphlets, statistics, official histo-ries, and case history records. It must be remembered, however, that these are secondary sources, notprimary sources as we have been discussing above.Documents such as annual reports and official histories should be used with a great deal of caution. Writ-ers of them are usually concerned to put the best official or institutional foot forward. A healthy dose ofskepticism — not to be confused with cynicism — is the researchers safeguard against gullibility and, inthe end, embarrassment over having published "facts" that turn out to be misleading, if not untrue. In thecase of these public documents, a double dose of skepticism is wise.We are not saying that such reports are deliberate concoctions of truths, half-truths, and outright lies. Butthe pressures of public and institutional life seem to generate a greater degree of self-delusion than isgenerally characteristic of the rest of us. Most of us want our work and our institution to appear in the bestlight possible, particularly when funding may depend on it. This — often unwittingly — leads to omissionand over-statement.In spite of all of these handicaps, however, public documents are still potentially good sources of researchdata. The wary researcher will use these data with caution, however, unless they can be corroborated byother, less self-interested sources. It is always wise when using such information not to take it too literally,but to get "behind the scenes," as it were. In other words, check and double-check.InterviewsIn the social sciences, one of the most frequently used methods for gathering data is the interviewmethod. Sociology and psychology in particular have used this method, structured in the form of case 15Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  18. 18. studies (see Appendix C, The Case Study Approach) or life histories. This approach, as with most others, 17has its limitations — as Daniel Yankelovich, a noted user of the method, admits.In many areas of research, however, the interview method is most useful, particularly when combinedwith other methods. Frequently, when using questionnaires or other field research instruments, follow-up interviews with selected respondents can be fruitful indeed. And often they are quite necessary inclearing up ambiguous responses.Good interviewing is, of course, dependant on good listening, something most of us do not do well. Goodlistening is, in this case, intensive listening. Intensive listening is that in which we listen not only to words,but at the same time observe carefully the emotional reactions of the informant to what she or he is say-ing. What emotions and attitudes are in evidence? How does the speaker feel about what is being said?Any intensifying of emotion, any negative body language, evidence of uneasiness, embarrassment, orresistance is significant. Avoidance techniques, such as evasive or non-committal answers or changingthe subject, are important clues and should be noted carefully by the interviewer. These all form part ofthe context within which the verbal data must be interpreted, if it is to be interpreted at all fairly.Intensive listening, then, involves careful observation, a method of data gathering to be discussed later.Such observation can indirectly provide the researcher with a great deal of information that perhaps couldnot be gotten at any other way. It can suggest to the alert researcher other questions that need to beasked, other avenues that ought to be explored.Interviews should be planned well in advance and informants carefully selected. Not everyone is equallywell informed about the subject of your research. Objectives should be well-defined. Know exactly what itis you want to find out and do not be sidetracked by issues not related to your research. And clearly dif-ferentiate between questions which call for information and those which call for opinion. If this careful ad-vance planning is not done, the interview is not likely to be as useful as it could have been.It is wise to plan well in advance for yet another reason. In interviewing, the researcher is often dealingwith problems of doubt, suspicion, and defensiveness on the part of the prospective informant. If the in-terviewer catches the informant at a bad time, or is late for the appointment, the interviewer may experi-ence abruptness, impatience, or resentment. What is already a tricky situation is thus made worse. Theinformant is then not likely to be as communicative or helpful as he or she normally would.If the interview method is to be your primary method of data gathering, it would be wise to spend timelearning about it from those who specialize in its use. An excellent source is The Dynamics of Interview-ing, by Robert L. Kahn and Charles F. Cannell. The authors provide a most useful discussion of, amongother things, motivational, psychological and linguistic barriers in interviewing. James Engel also provides 18some useful "rules" for interviewing.As we have noted, interviewing is a difficult, even "tricky," process. It is doubtful that one can ever knowtoo much about it or practice it perfectly. But good preparation well ahead of time can enable the re-searcher to avoid serious problems. It is wiser to spend time in attempting to anticipate problems than inhaving to remedy them later.QuestionnairesOne of the most frequently used — and abused —methods of gathering primary data is the questionnaire.The questionnaire is now one of the facts of life in our society. Educators, market analysts, sales firms,social services, civic and federal governments, pollsters, politicians, and preachers all rely on them. And 17 Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Fulfillment in a World Turned UpsideDown (New York: Random House, 1981), 55. 18 James Engel, How Can I Get Them to Listen? A Handbook on Communication Strategyand Research (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), 121ff. 16Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  19. 19. this in spite of the fact that most of the questionnaires themselves are vague, muddled, and ambiguous.Thus, the "facts" they are purported to yield can be no less.The design, administration, and interpretation of questionnaires that yield trustworthy data is very difficult,difficult because it is so complex. Also because it is much more of an art than a science, so Engel ar- 19gues. The major difficulty in using the questionnaire, Engel asserts, is "to minimize that ever-presentproblem of bias — errors and mistakes made in the communicative process which cause the findings to 20deviate from the truth."The questionnaire must then be designed in such a way that the ever-present problem of bias is at leastminimized. Unfortunately, so Engel laments, no formulae exist by which this can be done. The question-naire is simply "structured, goal-oriented communication." And, as with all other forms of communication, 21is an art rather than a science.Engel then goes on to discuss types of questionnaires, their strengths and weaknesses, and suggestsgeneral guidelines for questionnaire construction. The researcher who plans to use the questionnairemethod of gathering data should heed Engel well here.Since the validity of the information gathered from questionnaires depends upon the respondents under-standing of the questions asked, the researcher must give very careful and detailed attention to the writ-ing of the questions. This will take much more time than most students anticipate. Here again a writersmaxim applies: "No such thing as good writing exists, only good re-writing."How does one know when questions need to be re-written? One test is to have your research directorread them. If they understand exactly what information you are requesting, then the questions are proba-bly clear — to academicians. A more certain method is to pre-test the questionnaire, using locally avail-able respondents of the same general educational and social level as those who will ultimately be fillingout the questionnaires. If a question can be misunderstood, it will be in enough instances to alert the re-searcher to the existence of ambiguity in the question itself. Questions can then be re-stated and re-tested to assure that the correction is not itself ambiguous.Ambiguous QuestionsAs the above discussion suggests, most problems in questionnaires come from inappropriately wordedquestions. Ambiguous questions are one of the chief culprits. A question such as, "Would you say that thepastors sermons are helpful?" is highly ambiguous. Helpful in what way? It is conceivable that someonecould answer, "Yes, it is the only nap I get all week." Or, "No, he keeps shouting and wakening me."The ambiguity of such questions is intensified by the fact that they most often, as in this case, call for ayes-no answer. To ask for a yes-no answer to a question that is not itself a yes-no question adds to theconfusion the respondent is already experiencing. Yet, many questionnaires do exactly this.A political opinion survey questionnaire in our possession consists of ten questions, all of which call foryes-no answers. Yet few of them are genuinely yes-no questions. In some cases, "Dont know" is a moreappropriate answer. And at least in one other, respondents may want to answer both yes and no. "Is thePresident doing a good job?" In some areas, yes; in others, no. But we have no doubt that this politicianused the results of his survey to score political points in Washington— even though the survey instrumentcould not possibly yield accurate results.Potential ambiguity lurks behind almost every word and sentence in any communication. Ferreting it out isno easy task. But avoiding it is mandatory if our questionnaire results are to be trustworthy on specificpoints. We must then be careful to avoid vague and imprecise language — often introduced by suchwords as "usually," "generally," "normally," or "often." We should also avoid "jargon" or in-house terms 19 Ibid., 71. 20 Engel, 71. 21 Ibid., 72. 17Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  20. 20. 22that may not be familiar to the respondents. Such language allows ambiguity to occur. We must re-member, if it can be misunderstood, it will be.Leading QuestionsA second major problem in the wording of questions is the leading question. A leading question is onewhich makes it easier for a respondent to give one answer than another. For example, "Wouldnt you saythat you are opposed to abortion?" The impulse of many respondents is to answer "yes," simply becausethey are suggestible persons who are sensitive to what the questioner, or interviewer, wants to hear.Indeed, the purpose of leading questions is either to find those who agree with the propositions implicitlycontained within the questions or those who can be represented as agreeing. In either case, the motive ofthe so-called "researcher" is dubious, if not downright dishonest.Loaded QuestionsA third problem question is the loaded question. Like the leading question, the loaded question is one 23which makes it easier to give one answer than another. The loaded question, however, also asks therespondent to accept an assumption or set of assumptions that may themselves be highly volatile or de-batable. For example, "If God forgives divorcees, is his forgiveness the same, in kind, as his forgivenessof other sinners?" The issue here is not whether God forgives divorcees, but whether divorcing is sinning.The unwary respondent who answers this question with a "yes" or "no" — as the questionnaire calls for —may be accepting an assumption, namely, that divorcing is sinning, with which he or she really does notagree. Wishing to affirm that God does forgive divorcees, the hapless respondent must also affirm thatdivorce is sin, presumably against God.Loaded questions are not uncommon in the survey instruments masquerading as research question-naires. But, as in the use of leading questions, loaded questions are essentially dishonest. Their real pur-pose is to assert a questionable "truth" and then to collect "reliable data" proving that a majority of "thepeople" agree with the assumption. This is nothing short of self-serving manipulation of persons and"facts."SamplingIf questionnaires are to be manageable in terms of time and cost, then it is clearly impossible in mostcases to send out many of them. This will, of course, create a serious problem for the research project ifthe population being studied is large. If the population is very large, then it is physically impossible to in-clude every potential respondent in the survey.To solve this problem, the researcher employs the technique generally known as sampling. Engel assertsthat "a sample will provide an accurate picture of the larger body within measurable error limits if the 24sample is properly chosen." To be scientifically valid, the sample must be both representative and ran-dom, so Engel continues. He then discusses in some detail how this representativeness and randomness 25is achieved and how the sample size itself is determined.Since sampling is based on probability theory and generally accessible only to mathematicians, it is ad-visable that the researcher who is not mathematically skilled consult with someone who is. It will not dosimply to "guesstimate" as to the composition and size of the sample. If it is not both genuinely represen- 22 Ibid., 81. 23 Engel, 82. 24 Ibid., 50. 25 Ibid., 51f. 18Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  21. 21. tative and random, the data gathered will not be of any value. Any results then reported as "facts" will belargely fictitious.ObservationOne final method of data gathering to be discussed briefly here is observation. This is an approach usedchiefly by the social sciences, anthropology in particular. We are not talking about just any kind of obser-vation, however. Rather, our concern is controlled, directed observation. We are all aware that casual, 26everyday observation is quite unreliable, as John Madge convincingly argues. But observation as a re-search methodology is not casual, everyday observation.Controlled, directed observation may take one of two general forms: (1) detached observation; and (2)participant observation. In detached observation, the researcher is trying to observe what is going on witha minimum of intervention. The problem is that without interruptions, the researcher cannot ask questionsor benefit from interaction. Most researchers get around this problem, however, by keeping detailednotes, often in journal form, noting questions that can be asked in follow-up conversations or interviews.The advantage of this type of observation is that it leaves the researcher free to concentrate on what isgoing on rather than on his or her participation in it.The participant observer, on the other hand, deliberately seeks to enter the life of a community and toparticipate as fully as possible in it. This helps to avoid the distortion which will inevitably result from self-conscious behavior or responses. And it often opens up avenues of inquiry and response which would notbe available to an "outsider."The difficulty with participant observation, of course, is that it takes a great deal of time — often years —to become an "insider," one with whom other insiders can be themselves. Most researchers do not havethat kind of time, unless their degree program demands it. But if it can be done, it will yield informationand insights that really cannot be gotten at any other way.To be maximally effective, however, observation as a general research methodology must, of necessity,be combined with other methodologies. The interview method is the one most commonly linked to it. Ob-servations do need to be carefully verified, however. Even the researcher engaged in control-led or di-rected observation can all too easily be misled. Observers must ask questions of actors in events in orderto confirm or correct what they think they have seen in the events observed.Beyond data gathering, observation as a research method has yet another benefit. It can be very useful indeveloping and testing research hypotheses. Many good research ideas have been born in the minds ofpatient and careful observers as they have engaged in the kind of observation we have been talkingabout. Further, many inadequate hypotheses have been abandoned or radically modified as a result ofsuch observation.ConclusionBy way of summary, we have touched briefly on a variety of ways of gathering research data: the use ofbooks and articles; the use of documents, including archival, personal, and public documents; interview-ing; the use of questionnaires; and directed or controlled observation. Generally, in any major researchproject, such as a thesis, various combinations of these methods are employed.It is important that the data we gather be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. It is for this reasonthat research topics must be carefully delimited, otherwise too much has to be left out. By narrowing theresearch topic sufficiently, however, one can limit the amount of data needed to manageable proportions.In the gathering of data, a central concern is that of accuracy, fairness, and honesty. For a researcher toeliminate from consideration data which would alter the hypothesis or thesis with which she or he has 26 Madge, 124ff. 19Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  22. 22. been working is neither fair, accurate, nor honest. Data gathering, in other words, involves moral obliga-tion on the part of the researcher. 20Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  23. 23. 21Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  24. 24. Chapter 3. Interpreting the DataHaving collected a great deal of data — in many cases, much more than the researcher will need for thetask at hand — the next question is what to do with it. Raw data do not come with interpretations at-tached. Indeed, the data themselves may be quite ambiguous, that is, capable of being understood inmore than one way. The researcher then has the obligation of making coherent sense out of this greatwelter of facts and ideas.Many uninformed researchers, however, appear to assume that having collected the desired information,all they need now to do is to arrange it in some kind of order. And so, for example, we have a plethora ofwritings purporting to be histories which, in fact, are merely chronologies. What the writers present ismerely raw data in chronological order. They fail to enter into critical engagement with it, to analyze, toquestion, to suggest what it all means and why it is important for us to pay attention to it.In one way, the data are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: they have to be put together to form a picture.But in another way, they are unlike a puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle can go together in only one way. In many, ifnot most, cases, this is not true of the masses of data we collect. It is precisely this fact that creates nu-merous problems for the researcher.James W. Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, in discussing the writing of history, assert that history is "some-thing that is done, that is constructed, rather than an inert body of data that lies scattered through the ar- 27chives." In other words, history is interpretation of events, rather than the events themselves. And histo-rians are the interpreters. Davidson and Lytle conclude, “For better or worse, historians inescapably leavean imprint as they go about their business: asking interesting questions about apparently dull facts, see-ing connections between subjects that had not seemed related before, shifting and rearranging evidence 28until it assumes a coherent pattern. This past is not history; only the raw material of it.”Interpretation is a complex and difficult task. It is that because the interpreters world inevitably intrudesinto the interpretive task. Each of us comes to that task with a different set of perspectives, presupposi-tions, and life experiences that predispose us to understand things in certain ways. For that reason, acommon set of data is variously handled by various people.This is not to say, however, that all readings of that data are equally valid. Nor is it to say that the datathemselves do not impose some categories and restraints upon us. What it is saying is that those whohandle research data have an obligation to be aware of their own biases, to the extent that anyone can dothat. And, further, that they attempt to follow the data where they themselves seem to go.And so, to the task of interpretation. Following is a discussion of several areas of concern that will, wehope, offer some guidance in this critical undertaking. The categories of discussion are not exhaustive, byany means. But what we have included are those which, in our experience, continue to trouble researchstudents.SelectionGenerally our problem is not a scarcity of data, but too much of it. The success of our data gathering itselfusually dictates that we must select from the mass of data that which will be presented and analyzed. Thevery act of selection is the beginning of interpretation. Davidson and Lytle comment, “The historians sim-ple act of selection irrevocably separates ‘history’ from ‘the past.’ The reconstruction of an event is quite 27 James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, After the Fact: the Art of Historical Detection(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), xvii. 28 Ibid., xxix. 22Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  25. 25. clearly different from the event itself. Yet selection is only one in a series of interpretive acts that histori- 29ans perform as they proceed about their business.”If selection is an interpretive act, the question then is, how do we go about it in ways that do not force thedata to speak too narrowly or in a voice not their own? Two basic criteria should guide the researchersselection of data to be presented: (1) representativeness; and (2) pertinence.The question is: Is this part of the data representative of the whole or is it, in some way, an aberration? Itis possible to select only what fits ones theories and ignore what does not. This is dishonest. The dataselected should represent the whole picture, not just that part of it which the researcher may wish to high-light for apologetic or propagandistic purposes.Second, what is selected must be pertinent to the objectives of the research project itself. The researchermay uncover a great deal of fascinating information in the course of research. But a good deal of it maylead the researcher far away from the stated intentions of the research project. So, select what enablesyou to achieve your stated objectives — and be sure that what you select is representative.Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff state: "To be successful and right, a selection must face two ways: it 30must fairly correspond to the mass of evidence, and it must offer a graspable design to the beholder."Barzun and Graff compare the researcher to a traveler who explores new country. In selecting from thedata, the researcher has no "synoptic view," with all the facts clearly laid out in plain sight. He is rather an"explorer," who "forms his opinions as he progresses, and they change with increasing knowledge." Theselective conclusions of the researcher, however, are always "conditioned" by two things, Barzun andGraff insist. First, the researcher’s "temperament," which includes "preconceptions." And, second, "the 31motive or purpose" of the research.Undoubtedly Barzun and Graff are correct in asserting that selection is greatly affected by the tempera-ment of the researcher. But what exactly do they mean by that? The temperament of the researcher hasto do with her guiding ideas, intentions, and hypotheses. In other words, Barzun and Graff conclude, theresearchers "total interest." This interest will determine discoveries, selection, pattern-making, and ex- 32position.While this apparently is the case — and we shall discuss it more fully below under the heading of bias —the fact remains that selection need not be fully subjective and arbitrary. If the criterion of representative-ness is maintained, the researchers "interest" cannot fully control selection. If it were to do so, then thedata could say only what the researcher has decided they should say. And, again, that is fundamentallydishonest.BiasThe extent, then, to which the research project and its results are determined by the researchers bias is aquestion warmly debated by scholars. A significant part of the debate centers on what is meant by theterm "bias" itself. Barzun and Graff make a distinction between "good" and "bad" interest. Bad interest isthat which is uncontrolled, heavily intrusive, and which leads to unfair or dishonest selection. It is this 33"bad" interest which Barzun and Graff designate as "bias."However, this gives the term "bias" a bad name — and a name which it may not deserve. According toBarzun and Graff, the historian Edward Gibbon was "biased in favor of pagan Rome and against Christi- 34anity." We cannot, then, trust Gibbon to give us an accurate account of early Christianity. While this is 29 Davidson and Hamilton, 3. 30 Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher, Fourth Edition (New York:Harcourt Brace Janovich, Publishers, 1985), 198. 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid., 199. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid. 23Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  26. 26. probably true of Gibbon, the pejorative use of "bias" constitutes a semantic problem. In this context it ap-pears to be closed-minded and intolerant and that mindset made it impossible for him to be fair in hisjudgments of it.Bias, however, is not prejudice. A bias is simply a slant, an angle of vision — in this case. Bias is thus aninescapable human characteristic, inasmuch as all of us see things from a perspective, i.e., a particularangle. We can no more be unbiased than we can be non-human.What is at stake here, of course, is the tired and worn Positivist view of pure objectivity. In the Positivistparadigm, "objective" and "subjective" are synonyms for "true" and "false." The notion was that one couldstand outside ones humanness, personally disinterested, and totally objective. Such a human being is afiction.We are all inescapably bound by our subjectivity, yet able to some extent to transcend it intellectually. Wecannot be unbiased, but we can fight against prejudice. That is, we can endeavor to collect all of the rele-vant evidence and to consider it fairly — even if the subject is personally distasteful. We cannot be impar- 35tial, but we can be intellectually honest, as Barzun and Graff admit. This means that we will constantlyput our subjectivities to the test.It may, indeed, be better to qualify the term "bias" and thus to redefine it, rather than limiting it to a pejora-tive use. All of us are inescapably biased, but we are not all biased in the same way. That is to say, bi-ases may be positive, or they may be negative. Better yet, they may be critical or uncritical.Critical bias is the recognition that one cannot be disinterested, or neutral, or impartial. One has "interest,"to use Barzun and Graffs term, and that "interest" colors research. But it does not control it to the pointthat honesty and fairness are impossible. The researcher of critical bias will endeavor to get at all of thepertinent data possible and be rigorously fair in the handling of it. If that means changing ones mind or re-thinking ones hypothesis, so be it.Uncritical bias is the failure to recognize or admit the distortion of perspective, the lack of self-awarenessof ones personal perspective and how that tends to force data into pre-formed boxes. The uncriticallybiased researcher is unfairly selective, projects personal views on the data, and ignores what could forcemodification of hypotheses. It is this kind of bias, it seems, which is so often in popular "thought" equatedwith prejudice.We must, then, deal with bias on at least two levels: the bias of the researcher; and the bias of the writersof books, articles, and documents. Particularly is bias a critical problem in personal and public documents.The bias of any document is determined by its character and function. What kind of document is it? Publicor private? Personal or official? What is the purpose of the document? Descriptive or promotional? Po-lemical or conciliatory? As we have pointed out, documents must not be taken at face value. The re-searcher is obligated to determine their biases and take those into account in his or her interpretation ofthem.Further, it is important to consider who wrote the document in question. Observer bias, as Pitt calls it, isalways at work as well. That is, the observer is influenced by a great many factors to write in certain ways, 36and not in others. Who is it who has done the writing? A supporter or a dissenter? A man or a woman?An elderly person or a young person? What kinds of constraints were they under? What kinds of emo-tional, physical, and psychological stresses were they experiencing?Bias is always with us: in the books and articles we read; in the documents we study; and in us ourselves.We cannot escape it. But neither can we ignore it. If we refuse to recognize and own it, its power overus is all the greater. It then functions in our research efforts as uncritical bias and all that we do is skewedand distorted by uncontrolled subjectivity. Constant self-awareness is therefore mandatory. 35 Barzun and Graff, 200. 36 Pitt, 51. 24Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  27. 27. VerificationData must be selected and biases recognized and dealt with in preliminary stages of the interpretation ofthe information we have gathered. A further preliminary step should then be taken, namely, to verify theaccuracy of the data. Barzun and Graff have stated it well when they say, “No [researcher] can hope tounravel every mystery and contradiction or uncover every untruth, half-truth, or downright deception thatlurks in the raw material with which he must deal. But his unceasing demand for accuracy must make him 37put to the test all the materials he uses. There is no substitute for well-placed skepticism.”The Confusion of Facts and IdeasA library, Barzun and Graff go on to say, is "a sort of ammunition dump of unexploded arguments." Everybook, every article, every document comes to us "dripping with ideas." They also, of course, contain agreat many facts, but facts are seldom free from interpretation and interpretations are ideas. Interpretation 38will be quite inadequate until we recognize that facts and ideas are two different things.The confusion of facts and ideas is very widespread. A newspaper in our possession speaks of a Churchof God preacher well-known to us as "one of the great preachers of modern America." That the person inquestion is a preacher is a fact; that he is one of the great preachers of modern America is an idea. It islikely that very many, if not most, church-going Americans would not agree with the writer of the article.The idea, in other words, is disputable. The fact is not.The problem here, of course, is that the idea is presented as a fact. It is not qualified in any way. It is as ifthe writer is saying, "I believe it, therefore it is true. Just trust me, folks." The writer of the article, like manywriters of other things, obviously has not learned to differentiate between facts and their interpretation.This confusion of facts and ideas, or opinions, can, however, be so subtle that it is difficult for the re-searcher to tell the two apart. An example taken from Barzun and Graff well illustrates this. Charles Dar-wins book, On the Origin of Species, so Barzun and Graff say, "did not immediately persuade mankind, 39but set off a violent controversy that lasted twenty years." It is a fact that the book occasioned a greatdeal of controversy. It is not a fact, however, but a disputable idea that it was "violent" controversy. Dar-win himself was surprised that his ideas resulted in so little furor, particularly from the church. Such anidea is easy to overlook, but it is an idea nonetheless.Ali A. Mazrui, in The African Condition, in at least one instance makes this same error. He says, "Withregard to the size of the continents, it is quite amazing how far European ethnocentrism has influenced 40cartographic projections over the centuries." His complaint is that Africa is the second largest continentin the world, yet on the map, or cartographic projection, most commonly used, Africa appears muchsmaller than it really is. Further, Europe and North America appear much larger than they actually are.Mazrui would have us believe that the reason for these massive cartographic distortions is European eth-nocentrism. The whole Southern Hemisphere, he appears to believe, is made to appear relatively smalland unimportant because those who made and standardized the maps were ethnocentric. Undoubtedly,to some extent, they were. But is that the underlying reason why maps were drawn as they were?Here the alert researcher will "smell" an idea masquerading as a fact. Can Mazruis "fact" be verified? It isno difficult matter to check it out. An hour or two in the library, browsing through materials on cartographywill soon substantiate the intuition that Mazrui has overreached himself.The Mercator Projection, to which Mazrui is referring, was developed in the 16th century by a Dutch geog-rapher and cartographer, Gerhardus Mercator. It was intended as an aid to navigation at high latitudes, 37 Barzun and Graff, 144. 38 Ibid., 145. 39 Ibid., 149. 40 Ali A. Mazrui, The African Condition: a Political Diagnosis. The Reith Lectures (London:Heinemann, 1980), 3. 25Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  28. 28. not a "picture" of the world. The resulting map distorts the size and shape of land areas closest to thepoles. Thus Greenland will appear at least as large as Africa, even though Africa is really several timeslarger than Greenland. This distortion has much less to do with European ethnocentrism than with the"primitive" state of cartography in the 16th century, and with the purpose of Mercator’s projection.The purpose of this lengthy illustration is to alert the researcher to the constant need for verification of thematerials he or she uses. One of the "red flags" is this confusion of facts and ideas. This confusion is of-ten difficult to detect, but it is so frequently present that the researcher must be constantly alert.Logical FallaciesAnother "red flag" is the occurrence of logical fallacies in our sources of data. On occasion, what are pre-sented as facts are logically flawed and cannot therefore be accepted as truthful statements. High on thislist is over-generalization. A student was overheard saying, "Missionaries are boring speakers." This isover-generalization. Most would agree that some missionaries are indeed boring speakers. Some, how-ever, are not. And thus the statement as it stands is a partial truth.Barzun and Graff point out that this "overextended generalization," as they call it, comes from two 41sources: (1) the inappropriate use of universals; and (2) failure to think of negative instances. The caseof missionary speakers is an example of the inappropriate use of universals. That is, in generalizing froma single instance, or a few instances, to a whole population. In a subsequent conversation, the studentwho believed missionary speakers to be boring admitted that he had heard only one — and that when hewas sixteen years of age.The second cause of over-generalization is failure to think of negative instances. Following is a statementtaken from a church bulletin: “History records that wherever there has been worship there has been mu-sic. Three thousand years ago the Psalmist wrote, ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song.’” Here we must ask,what history and where? And what of all those who through the ages have worshipped without music?Music is very often a part of worship, but not always. Therefore, the bulletin statement as it stands is un-true.A related logical fallacy is reductionism: "This is nothing more than that." We have heard statementssuch as, "Sexual immorality caused the fall of Rome." But the historical reality is much more complex thanthat. No single cause can account for the fall of Rome, as historians well know. Such complex reality can-not be reduced to a single level of analysis. Marxists, for example, do this when they attempt to explain allsocial, political, and psychological reality economically. Such realities are reduced to an economic base.A third logical fallacy is known as begging the question. To beg the question is to use an argument thatassumes the truthfulness of what one is attempting to prove. A common example of this is the use of bib-lical texts to "prove" that the Bible is divinely inspired. One begins with the assumption that the Bible isdivinely inspired. Therefore when the Bible says it is inspired — which is an over-generalization — that issure proof that it is.Such arguments are convincing only to those who are already convinced on other than evidentialgrounds. This is a very common fallacy, one for which the researcher must be constantly alert.A fourth fallacy is illusory correlation. David G. Myers points out that all of us are, to one degree or an- 42other, susceptible to perceiving correlation between events "where none exists." Martin Marty reports aninteresting example of this, “California evangelist Bill Bright blamed the Supreme Courts ban on schoolprayers for ‘crime, racial conflict, drug abuse, the Vietnam war, sexual promiscuity, and the demise of 41 Barzun and Graff, 156. 42 David G. Myers, The Inflated Self: Human Illusions and the Biblical Call to Hope (NewYork: the Seabury Press, 1980), 74. 26Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  29. 29. American family life.’ Bright, who says that the court took God out of the schools, contends the question 43now is, ‘are we going to bring God back to our schools?’”Marty goes on to point out that at the time of the Supreme Court decision only a small percentage of Cali-fornia schools conducted "home-room devotional services." At only 2.41 percent, God — in Bill Brightsterms — really did not have much of a foothold in California public schools in the first place. So just howthe Supreme Courts decision took God out of the schools and resulted in the moral demise of America issomething of a mystery.So convinced are we that two events which occur at relatively the same time or in close sequence mustbe related that we accept as fact that they are. We are, in Myers words, "disinclined to recognize chanceoccurrences for what they are." Myers concludes: "The difficulty we have recognizing coincidental, ran-dom events for what they are predisposes us to perceive order even when shown a purely random series 44of events." Given this possibility, researchers must then be wary of authors and their correlations.A fifth logical fallacy is false analogy. David Straker writes, “Analogy is saying A is like B and is a power-ful way of explaining one thing in terms of another. Where it falls down is when A is assumed to be like B 45in all respects and any attribute or characteristic of B can be unequivocally attributed to A.” A ministryexample of false analogy would be “The church is like a business, therefore it must be run exactly as abusiness is run.” While it may in fact be true that a church should make use of sound business principles,it is probably not true that a church should be run exactly like a business, where the bottom line (profit) isusually a main goal.The Use of StatisticsA great many pitfalls exist in this area. Even noted scholars and writers occasionally blunder in their ac-ceptance and use of statistics. Writers who are careless or uninformed in their use of statistical informa-tion may well be careless or uninformed in other areas as well. For this reason, the researcher shouldtake the time to check out the basic information on which ideological castles are built. It is particularly im-portant to seek to verify statistical information.To be sure, a researcher cannot be constantly "reinventing the wheel." Often we have to rely on oursources. We simply have no means of verifying the accuracy of their information. But too frequently, re-searchers re-convey information that has little basis in fact. This can prove embarrassing.If you do not have sufficient training in statistical analysis you should seek advice from a competent statis-tician. For example, if you plan to make extensive use of statistics in your research, you should include astatistician on your thesis committee. But if you will make only occasional use of statistics, you can simplyconsult with a knowledgeable person as needed.CausationAnother problem area for the researcher is the whole question of causation. Assigning causes to eventsis commonly done, not only in the sources we use, but in our own thinking and writing as well. We areaccustomed to saying — and believing — that A caused B. For example, a local newscaster announces,"There have been about 100 accidents since midnight. A thin layer of snow on the roads is the cause ofthe problem."But is it? If a thin layer of snow causes accidents, then theoretically anyone who drives on it should havean accident. But that is not the case. Most drivers take extra care, reduce speed, and try to avoid abrupt 43 Martin Marty, "Things Fall Apart," Christian Century (November 10-17, 1980), 863. 44 Myers, 75. 45 David Straker, “False Analogy,”, (accessed August 20, 2010). 27Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  30. 30. turns or stops. One could then say that the snow is the necessary condition for the accidents, to use 46Barzun and Graffs term. But it is not, in itself, the cause of the accidents.When events occur, a multiplicity of factors may be at work, some of them discernable, some of them in-discernible. Causes are more likely to be chains of events than any single event. So reports which informus that "the accident was caused by speeding," are really not to be believed. Speed may have been acontributing factor, but many other factors, such as poor tires, lack of driving skill, or poor visibility mayalso have played a major role.So rather than hastening to assign causes, perhaps we should talk about the "necessary conditions" forand the "precipitating factors" of events. A church newsletter states, "Due to the pastors illness, the eve-ning service was canceled." Fact: the pastor was ill. Fact: the evening service was cancelled. But is itthen a fact that the pastors illness caused the cancellation of the service? No, it is not. Perhaps the un-availability of a substitute, or the pastors unwillingness to trust lay leadership with the service, or manyother quite out of sight factors, combined to cause the cancellation. The pastors illness was merely theimmediate and precipitating factor.Barzun and Graff conclude that "what history reveals to mankind about its past does not uncover thecause (one or more indispensable antecedents) of any event, large or small, but only the conditions 47(some of the pre-requisites) attending its emergence." To argue, then, that "sexual immorality causedthe fall of Rome" is not only reductionistic, it is also "monocausalistic." The mono-causal fallacy is assign-ing a single cause to an event — something too frequently done and often by people who should knowbetter. Generally, the causes of events are analogous to a tangled ball of string.No event is an isolate. It has a time depth greater than itself. The researcher must be wary of writers whoseem not to be aware of this and who are so sure they know the single “cause" of an event. Nor shouldthe researcher fall into the same trap in interpreting the data he has collected. Events doubtless havecauses, but causes are complex indeed and cannot always be obvious and understood. The researchermust not, therefore, seek to give the impression that this is not the case.InferenceDavid Pitt notes that inference or "extended interpretation" is a method historians use to "get around 48some of the problems raised by gaps and deficiencies in the record." If A and B are true, then C mustalso be true. Or, stated differently, if we know that all Abaluyia eat obusuma and do so about noon, wecan reasonably infer that any individual in the society probably does so.To infer is to derive or accept as a consequence, conclusion, or probability. If someone were to say, "Byalertness and hard work, any American can earn a good living," what could we reasonably conclude con-cerning those who live in poverty? They must surely be lazy or stupid or both. This is an inference drawnfrom the statement.Occasionally students say something like, "The person who makes such a statement is implying that thepoor are lazy or stupid." We do not know what the speaker was implying, since we do not know his or herintentions. But the logical inference of such a statement is indeed that poor people are lazy or stupid.Thus, their poverty is their own fault; we have no responsibility for them.Pitt admits that inferential conclusions are problematic at a number of points. But they are nonethelessvery often useful in moving us to new hypotheses. For example, D.S. Warners views on sanctificationdiffer significantly from those of John Wesley and Wesleyans. We must remember that Warner attendedOberlin College in 1865 and 1866, when Charles G. Finney was president and professor of theology. Fur-ther, that Finneys views on sanctification strongly influenced Oberlin students — and even after Finney"retired," continued to do so through The Oberlin Messenger. 46 Barzun and Graff, 185ff. 47 Ibid., 187. 48 Pitt, 58. 28Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  31. 31. By inferring from these facts, we now tentatively conclude that D.S. Warners views on sanctification werequite possibly drawn more from Finney than from Wesley. This hypothesis may, in the end, prove to bequite wrong, or at least must be modified. But without the use of inference, one probably would not havecome to such a hypothesis in the first place.Inference can mislead us, since we cannot infallibly know authors intentions. The whole intentionalist ar-gument — or fallacy, according to many scholars — is a particularly vexing argument. Unless an authorspecifically states his or her intention or aim in writing, it is best to avoid language such as "The authorsintention (or aim) is . . . "Nonetheless, inference can be useful, so long as we work in terms of possibility-to-probability. Beyondthis we dare not go without falling into the trap of over-inference.Fallacious ReasoningSlippery Slope Arguments -A causes B, B causes C, and so on to X. -X is undesirable (or desirable). -Therefore A is undesirable (or desirable).Pro Hominem Arguments -X believes Y -X is knowledgeable, trustworthy, free of bias (an authority). -Therefore Y should be accepted.Ad Hominem Arguments -X says Y -X is unreliable -Therefore we should not accept Y.Appeals to Ignorance -We can find no evidence for the truth (or falsity) of X. -Therefore X is false (or true).Adapted from Fredrich Little, Leo A. Groarke, and Christopher W. Tindale, Good Reasoning Matters: AConstructive Approach to Critical Thinking (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Inc., 1989). 29Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  32. 32. 30Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  33. 33. Chapter 4. Writing the ResultsAnd now it is time to give birth. After weeks or months of careful research and critical reflection, you areready to bring your thinking to the light of day. The critical moment has come and labor pains are about tobegin. The great ideas you have gestated struggle for life beyond the womb. Whether they live or die willdepend on how skillful a midwife you are.We are, of course, talking about writing the research paper or thesis. How skillfully or unskillfully you writethe results of your research will either give it life or assure its final resting place in a recycling program. Itis a regrettable fact that many good ideas wander about in confusion or are hopelessly lost in a wilder-ness of bad writing.In this chapter, we offer suggestions that will, we hope, help you to produce a healthy and attractivebrainchild. We are under no illusions that rules make good writers. Like many other intellectual pursuits,good writing is much more an art than it is a science. But "rules" — or more correctly, principles and pro-cedures — can help us to become better writers, that is, more communicative, more readable. Good writ-ing can and does happen; but it is seldom by chance that it does so.The Mechanics of WritingAt a very early stage of the research project, the researcher should begin building structure. Clear, logicalstructure greatly facilitates good writing. Develop a preliminary outline, beginning with broad categoriesand then refining. At a later stage, a second or third revision of this outline can provide headings and sub-headings in the written text itself. In an altered form, it may even serve as the table of contents.It is advisable, generally, to use headings and sub-headings in the body of the paper or thesis. Headingsare usually centered on the page and set off from the text by three blank lines (enter, enter, enter), bothabove and below — we are referring here to single, not double, spaces. Sub-headings are similarly setoff, but are placed at the left-hand margin. They may or may not be italicized, as one wishes.Headings and sub-headings have two basic functions: (1) to make it easier to locate particular subjectmatter; and (2) to make the finished page much easier to read. Endless unbroken pages of text can beboth difficult and boring for the reader. Most of us prefer our food in bite-size pieces, not in large masses.Arguments work the same way.It is particularly important in building structure to pay careful attention to bridging and flow. Sections andchapters are not discrete essays, complete in themselves. Sentences and paragraphs that providebridges from one section or chapter to the next assure that a smooth and uninterrupted flow is main-tained. Sometimes these are in the form of summary statements; sometimes, introductory statements.Quoting and CitingMost student research papers contain far too much quoted material. Many are "copy-and-paste" jobs. Wehave occasionally been handed first-draft thesis chapters in which more than half of the material is bor-rowed, en bloc — and completely "undigested."What is the purpose of quoting? According to Barzun and Graff, it is to illustrate, not to prove. Quota- 49tions, they insist, are convincing "samples" of the evidence on which the arguments of your paper orthesis are based. Or a quotation may capture a "characteristic or felicitous utterance." 49 Note: "quotations" and NOT "QUOTES"; “quotation” is a noun, “quote” is a verb. 31Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide
  34. 34. Under no circumstance should quotations be used as "fillers" and "extensions" for papers that would oth-erwise be too short. To begin with, this practice should not be designated as quoting. It is borrowing. Thisis not the purpose of quotations.Barzun and Graff suggest two "rules of thumb" in using quotations: (1) keep them short; and (2) insofar as 50it is possible, merge them into the text. In other words, use the fewest lengthy block quotations as pos-sible. Block quotations, i.e., those that are indented and single-spaced, should be infrequent and seldomlonger than a paragraph. Probably the majority of readers simply skip over them anyway, since they tendto be dense and difficult to read.Much of the time, it is better to summarize a writers argument and restate it in your own words than toquote it at length. Or, to state a scholars position as you see it and choose a representative quotation asevidence that you are indeed correctly interpreting the scholars thought. In either case, you must cite theauthor as the source of this idea in a footnote.The amount of material quoted, however, cannot be absolutely or universally determined by rule. In someinstances, depending on the nature of the thesis or research paper, more frequent and lengthier quota-tions are not only appropriate, but necessary. Particularly when using documents not generally availableto the reader, is it important on occasion to reproduce the material being analyzed and interpreted. On thewhole, however, quotations should not be a major part of any writing of research. What is wanted is theresearchers critical analysis, conclusions, and questions. Carefully selected representative quotations areto facilitate that end.On the other hand, a research paper or thesis requires documentation. If you use another writers ideas,whether or not you actually quote her words, you must give appropriate credit. To present the ideas ofanother as your own is dishonest. Actually to "borrow" material, i.e., to reproduce material from anothersource without giving credit, or in any way quoting, is plagiarism – whether intentional or accidental. Pla-giarism is a serious ethical and legal offense. The researcher/writer must be very careful at this point.To give appropriate credit for the ideas and words of another person or writer is to cite. A citation includesthe name of the person or author and the source from which the ideas or words are drawn. The appropri-ate way to cite sources for all papers written at Anderson University School of Theology is to create afootnote.Writing StyleFormalThe writing of research papers and theses is a formal endeavor. Formal language and expression arecalled for. Chatty, folksy language, full of colloquialisms or slang is inappropriate — except when you arequoting someone else for some special reason. In a paper dealing with a passage from the book ofAmos, a student produced this "gem:" "A lot of people think that Amos was talking about socialism. But Idont think thats the case at all. I think theyre barking up the wrong tree."In the first place, all contractions are out of place in formal writing. Contractions shouldnt be used; it justisnt appropriate to do so. Of course we should have used "should not" and "is not." But we have madeour point.Second, colloquialisms such as "barking up the wrong tree" are equally out of place in formal writing. Col-loquialisms are not incorrect or sub-standard speech forms, but, as we have indicated above, chatty,folksy usages that are quite appropriate in informal settings. Research writing, however, is not akin to apersonal chat with someone, or a text message to ones spouse.Third, the first person pronoun, "I," while certainly not incorrect, should be used sparingly. It is not a "dirty"word, nor is it always inappropriate, as an earlier scholarly tradition insisted. John Clive, a professor of 50 Barzun and Graff, 339. 32Anderson University School of Theology Writing Guide