One of the roles of The Center for Theological Writing is to provide assistance with the formal written components of your coursework. For some of you, writing is a practice with which you are comfortable—you write with ease in either a personal or professional setting. But writing for a combined academic and theological audience may be something with which you are less familiar. This is why we are here to help.

How to Get Help

The first point of contact is Judith Heyhoe, director of the center:

Once I receive your request—and, ideally, a sentence or two outlining any specific concerns (“I can’t seem to put together a coherent argument,” “I don’t know how to write an exegesis,” etc.)—I will either reply myself or pass your information on to one of our tutors, who will then directly contact and assist you.

You may want to talk through a paper on the phone or email back and forth. Generally, if we are working with you via email, we like to use the “review” functions for a Microsoft Word document—these allow us to “track changes” and make marginal comments on what you have written. (If you are not familiar with these functions in a Word document, we can assist you.)

If you feel you work well with your tutor and want to continue the relationship for future assignments, feel free to contact your tutor directly. If you would like to be referred to a different tutor, contact me.

The Center also offers general advice on its Writing Resources page. Of especial use are the documents “How to Write a Paper,” “Close Reading,” and “Grammar Basics,” as well as links to external cites offering advice on grammar and instructions for citing sources.

Tips for Writing a Formal Paper

  • Time Management: Give yourself enough time to do a good piece of work. Probably the biggest challenge for most writers is overcoming procrastination. Writing, as well as completing the reading and research necessary in order to write, is a time-intensive process, so it is important that you budget your time. This is especially true if you are going to use a tutor from the Writing Center, as you will need to factor in a few days for getting feedback and making changes.
  • Content: In order to generate content: Read. Think. Brainstorm. Discuss. Writing a good paper takes thought and effort. If you are a distance learner, finding someone to act as a sounding board can be difficult, but discussing your ideas—with a partner, a friend, or a colleague—is a good way of clarifying what you think.
  • Organization: Some writers like structure and are good at organizing what they write. Other writers struggle to order their ideas. Remember that paragraphs usually have a focus (main idea) and present support for that focus (analysis, examples, quotations, etc.). Also, essays usually have a thesis and/or a road map (an explanation of what you will be doing in your paper) at the outset. Using an outline can be helpful, although it may be difficult to come up with an outline until you have generated a good bit of content. Another sort of outline—reverse outlining (pdf)—is useful, but this can only be used after you have finished a solid draft. It allows you to check whether the order in which you have presented your points is clear.
  • Coherence: Coherence refers not only to whether your essay makes sense, but to whether the relationship between the points you make in any one section of your paper makes sense. If you simply lay out facts, quotations, ideas, etc., and don’t connect them, your essay will be disconnected, hard to follow, and less than ideal. It is often in the process of making ideas coherent that writers develop their best insights.
  • Quotations: The primary purpose of using quotations is to support what you say. However, if you use quotations simply to reiterate points that you make (or, conversely, you reiterate your points in the quotations), this becomes tiresome. Ideally, quotations should be interesting and illuminating. Engage them. That is, enter into a discussion with them in order to develop your own analyses. Also, remember to: 1. integrate your quotes smoothly into your own writing—presenting every quotation as a separate sentence is clumsy, so try to make quotations part of your own thoughts/sentences; and 2. neither overuse or underuse quotation. Overuse is especially problematic. If, say, two-thirds of your paper is made up of quotes, then your paper is hardly yours. Underuse is probably less problematic, and in some papers (personal reflection essays, for example), quoting may not be called for at all. If you use quotations, always remember to include proper documentation (to avoid charges of plagiarism). See Citing Sources for style guides for documentation.
  • Revising: Allow time to “resee” your paper. By the time you get to the end of what you write, you may find you have shifted your perspective significantly. This means that you will need to go back to the start of your paper and modify what you have written in light of your (new and perhaps unexpected) conclusions.
  • Editing: Finally, read through with an editor’s eye and look for those pesky typos, misspellings, misplaced commas, etc.