Now that part of my thesis is going to serve as the skeletal structure to my forthcoming book (I signed my contract last week) I have been thinking about what I might have done different if I were to have written it again.
First, I would have chosen something that was either macro-themed or micro-themed, but not both! I wrote on Romans 8.18-25, but some of my supporting chapters covered topics like Paul’s use of Scripture and Paul’s use of Genesis in Romans. Obviously these two chapters will bear more fruit than the focus of my thesis so I don’t regret writing them, but I have to admit, my chapter where I did exegesis of Romans 8 may have been the most poorly written. I had a hard time fluctuating between big picture and small picture. So if you want to write a thesis either do big themes or cover a small topic really well. Avoid doing both!
Second, I would have kept better record of my reading. My program director Dr. Marc Cortez emphasized that we ought to maintain a working annotated bibliography. I didn’t do a good job of this and there were times when I knew I had read something and I didn’t have a quick note to remind me where to find it. I wasted a lot of time searching for things I had already found.
Third, I may have focused on one chapter at a time better than I did. When a thought came to mind that I felt would fit well in another chapter I often made the mistake of skipping over to the chapter and writing part of it. That ruined the flow for the present chapter. It would have been better to have kept a document with notes for future chapters that I could use when I got there rather than writing several chapters in various pieces at the same time.
Fourth, I may have written my chapter without worrying about interacting with other authors as a first draft then I could have gone back and rewritten it interacting with other authors. It broke my rhythm to write my thought, flip through my sources to find an excerpt or quote, and then return to insert it. Again, maintaining good notes on what I had read could have solved this problem. I could have written my thoughts, checked my notes to see if anything I read was relevant to what I had written, and then edited and inserted quotes and footnotes accordingly.
Fifth, I would not have chosen my thesis subject based on what I saw as erroneous thinking in popular culture. I felt that too many evangelicals have a negative eschatology for creation. When I began studying Romans 8 several years ago I realized Paul was far more optimistic. I decided to write my thesis to respond to this. When I submitted my thesis proposal I mentioned that I hoped to correct popular thinking on this topic. Marc returned it with a note reminding me that this kind of academic work doesn’t correct popular thinking on anything! Touche! Then as I did my research I realized that everyone from Irenaeus to John Chrysostom to James D.G. Dunn seemed to hold to an interpretation similar to my own. In fact, my reading of Romans 8.18-25 was not novel, it was essentially the majority opinion on the passage. The “Left Behind” eschatology that bothered me was a hiccup in the history of Christian thought, not a dominant idea.
So there you have it. I hope those who plan on writing a graduate thesis in the near future can benefit from this!
Thanks, Brian for this. Sage advice indeed. I have to admit that I struggle with all of the points you raised, especially 1 and 4.
Good food for thought! I will definitely keep this in mind in the coming years as I begin to write academic papers again (and hopefully a thesis).
This is good advice for writing papers in general. Thanks for sharing.
The “Left Behind” eschatology is based upon biblical ignorance and an exaggerated inflation of a hasty generalization (in otherwords – fallacious thinking). Thanks you John Nelson Darby and Tim LaHaye (for an unfounded view of [1 Thessalonians 4:17]). It is a cancer in the history of Christian thought.
Brian, if you had done all of the things you mention in this post above the first time, you might have done it accidentally, and not gleaned the wisdom you so evidentially have obtained by NOT doing it that way.
We learn far more from our mistakes than our successes.
Y’ all (practicing for my move to Texas) are welcome!
Your point about keeping a good biography is well noted. Can you post up a post on how to do this.
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