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Research Process: The Research and Writing Process

The Research and Writing Process

We encourage students to think of time spent in the research and writing process in terms of percentages. Students should spend 50 - 60 percent of their time in the research process and 40 - 50 percent of their time in the writing process. Time management is essential in this process (on this see the Time Management page in this Research Guide). This Research Guide will focus on the Research side of the process with resources on writing and contact information for the Writing Center at SEBTS.

The Research Process

Consult Tertiary Sources > Evaluate Primary Source(s) > Engage Secondary Sources

We explain the research process as both a linear and recursive movement from tertiary to secondary sources. 

1. Tertiary Sources

     i. Tertiary sources are dictionaries and encyclopedias. These resources give students an introduction to their subject, various subtopics within a larger topic if they are trying to narrow their topic, and (often) a bibliography with helpful secondary sources. Students should not spend a significant amount of time evaluating tertiary sources. 

2. Primary Sources

     i. A primary source is whatever serves as the primary object of research. If a student is writing a biblical exegesis paper, then the biblical passage is the primary source. If a student is writing on Martin Luther's doctrine of justification, then Luther's commentary on Galatians and sermons are the primary sources. If a student is writing a theology paper, the primary source depends on the angle they take in the paper. If they are attempting to define a doctrine according to the Bible then the Bible is the primary source. However, if they are engaging Karl Barth's doctrine of the church, then Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics will serve as the primary source. Students should evaluate the primary source(s) on their own before reading secondary sources. They should develop their own, original thoughts on the topic. Moreover, they should spend a significant portion of time on this step in the research process. 

3. Secondary Sources 

     i. Secondary sources are conversation partners with the primary source(s). Examples of secondary sources are books, scholarly monographs, journal articles, and Ph.D. dissertations. These sources help the student engage the primary source and to dialogue with their own primary source research.