Guidelines for Writing Research and Study Paper

Researching a topic, putting your thoughts together to reach a conclusion and communicating that information within the limits required will deepen your ability to think and write. It will also firmly fix the material in your mind, and demonstrate your grasp of the subject.

When doing an assignment, it is important to clearly understand the purpose and expectations of the assignment. A research paper is intended to expose the student to a number of information sources (books, audio sources, videos, articles, websites, etc.). Researched information on a given topic is collected and interpreted. The student must select and reduce that information into an organized paper that adequately addresses the topic or issue being researched.

The study paper does not depend as much on researching a number of sources. Its intent is to draw the student into a specific area of study that is limited in scope. It may require a study from a certain Bible passage or letter, a personal view or study regarding a selected issue, or a written response to a question, article, theory, etc.

In a research paper the student must develop and present a thesis or controlling idea. However, in a study paper the student may simply do a study on the given topic and may structure the paper as a report of his/her findings. Generally the study paper is shorter than the research paper. Both follow the form and guidelines for research papers as given in this guide, though the research and documentation requirements are not as rigorous for study papers.


1. Remember the Reason for Writing a Research Paper

2. Review the Assignment

Make sure you understand what you are to research and write about. Re-read the syllabus carefully several times. If you still do not understand the assignment, see your instructor.

One of the most common problems is failure to follow instructions carefully!

3. Gather Information

Research your topic from material as given in the assignment. Make rough notes. Be sure to include information about outside sources if you are going to quote, paraphrase, or include ideas from them in your paper (Author, Title, Publisher, Year, Page number).

4. Plan Your Writing

It saves time if you take time to schedule each step of the writing process. Allow yourself at least one hour per page of actual writing time. For example, a three-page paper will take at least three hours of actual writing time. Break that time into segments. Most of it will be required for the first five items.

*Determine the scope and direction of your topic.
*Generate a thesis statement (see sample below).
*Develop reasons or evidences that support your thesis. Ask what? when? where? why? who? how? Test your thesis by clearly answering, “my thesis is true because...”
*Consider possible rebuttals to your thesis and answer them.
*Organize your arguments into a logical sequence, theme groups.
*Add illustrations, explanations.
*Make a first draft (usually longer than final).
*Test all of it against the thesis.
*Read aloud, if possible to an objective listener.
*Edit for variety in language, strong word usage, etc.
*Re-read for spelling, grammar errors.
*Make the final copy.

Follow your plan! Some things will take longer than you expect, others less time. Knowing what you want to do and say before you start to write will save time in the long run.

5. Develop a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is one or two complete sentences that define the paper’s main intention or argument. It is the main component of the introduction and usually consists of a fact and a statement about the fact that is debatable. A thesis statement is what you intend to prove through your paper. Note the following examples:

Thesis: This paper will discuss Noah’s flood: whether it was a local or worldwide, the latter I think being the right view.

This gives the content of the paper but not a clear statement of what will be proved.

Thesis: While the language of Scripture alludes to a local flood in Noah’s day, archaeology, geology and the correct interpretation of Scripture clearly point to a worldwide flood.

This clear thesis statement declares that evidence will be gathered to show that the flood was worldwide.

Note the omission of the terms: “This paper will...” and “I think...”

Other common phrases to be avoided: “I hope to prove...” and “I will show...” First person pronouns (I, me, my, we, etc.) should be avoided (These are “assumed” since it is your paper.).

Upon completion of your research you may very likely revise your thesis statement. An original view may be changed as you work through the research!

You must use a thesis statement on any major research paper of four pages or more, and when specified in the syllabus assignment, although the paper may not be research oriented.

The thesis statement must appear in your introduction and in your Table of Contents before the outline. (See the sample paper or available as template at

6. Develop an Outline

Next to a strong thesis statement, a clear, logical outline is the most important aspect of a paper. Learning to develop an outline is vital to presenting your research effectively.

When do I need an outline?

Outlines are required on any major research or study paper four pages or more.

Outlines are incorporated into these papers in the table of contents. While your outline for your paper may be extremely detailed, the Table of Contents will only contain the details that are being used as titles in the paper.

Outlines are optional on personal thought papers, but do help the reader follow the direction of the paper.

What is a good outline?

A good outline shows the paper’s direction at a glance. The most commonly used outline is the Topical Outline. An alphanumeric outline uses Roman numerals, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters, in that order.

Each numeral or letter is followed by a period, and each item is capitalized. The following examples demonstrate good and poor outlines:

Be sure your outline titles are clear and helpful. Avoid vague or general terms that will not help the reader. Your outline is to appear on a separate page with the thesis statement at the top.

How do I make an outline?

First, sketch all the points out on rough paper, moving your main points around first (Roman numerals). Leave the sub-points for later. Next, organize your main headings into a systematic sequence that shows a logical progression.

Finally, sketch in your subheadings making sure that they are relevant to your thesis and the flow of your paper. Remember, a good outline takes thought and effort, and will need to be revised several times.

7. Develop Effective Writing Skills

Use precise, descriptive words, and active verbs when possible. Avoid the overuse of “is”, “are”, “was” and “were” (passive verbs).

Be very deliberate in avoiding clichés and slang.

Include specific, concrete examples rather than general and abstract examples.

A paragraph should deal with one central thought. Every paragraph should have a theme sentence that introduces the paragraph. Arguments should be written in the form of paragraphs, stating your approval or disapproval in a concluding sentence.

Maintain proper sentence structure and use good grammar. Sentences should vary in length but short is better than long. Very long sentences drag out the thought unnecessarily and too many very short sentences make the paper choppy.

Punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure are not “minor details” and need to be carefully considered by the writer. A paper with excellent content will be of little value if the words are not correctly spelled or sentences are not properly constructed.

Documentation is required when using actual words—a “quote,” or when using the author’s ideas or concepts!

8. Document Sources Used

A good paper will use a variety of sources for researching the assigned topic. Sources are documented through the use of quotations and footnotes.

Every opinion, fact, or conclusion quoted literally or closely paraphrased must be properly documented.

You do not need to document facts that are “common knowledge.”

Documenting the sources used in a paper is very important, as it accomplishes several things. First, it is an indication of the amount of research you have done. Second, it indicates where you found your material, thus telling the reader the types of sources you used. Third, it credits the authors for their work, and in the process more clearly shows which were your words and ideas.

Failure to indicate the use of someone else’s work is a form of plagiarism. Plagiarism is unlawfully taking credit for what someone else has said or thought by presenting it as your own idea.

9. Evaluate Before Your Instructor Does

Re-reading the paper after it is done is a good method of checking neatness, grammar, format, etc. In fact, you should make proofreading a habit! Make sure the paper is neatly written or typed as required. Smudges and ragged edges draw the reader’s attention away from the content to focus on the appearance. Finally, ask yourself the following questions before submitting a paper:

*Have I fulfilled the assignment instructions/requirements?
*Is the information factual and logical?
*Have I documented all sources of quotes and ideas?
*Is the paper well organized into introduction, body, and conclusion?
*Have I checked the grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.?
*Is it presentable and in the right format?

10. Grading of Research Papers

Instructors generally use the following values and criteria in grading major research papers. Being aware of the grading criteria will further help you understand how a paper should be developed, and what things to evaluate before submitting your paper.

  1. Format  – 10%

General: Title Page, Neatness, Introduction, Conclusion, Table of Contents, Page Numbering, Margins, Double Spacing, Indentation, Form of Quotes
Footnotes: placement, numbering, abbreviations, form, punctuation, number.
Bibliography: Form

2. Composition – 15%: grammar, spelling, paragraphs, clarity

3. Content – 75%: breadth, accuracy, adequate bibliography & footnotes, length, etc.

Grading Abbreviation key  (faculty use of this key is optional):

Awk – awkward or wordy
NC – not clear
NP or  ¶ – new paragraph needed
Doc – documentation / reference needed
Cap – error in capitalization
^ – space needed between words
spelling errors are circled

The following sections represent the proper form to use for research papers. A significant part of the grade for the paper is assessed on the basis of adherence to these guidelines.

In institutes of higher learning it is required that the individual present a paper with the proper format. Aside from consistency and ease of reading, this should be one more reason for any Christian institution to guide students in this area.

All study and research papers must be typed. All work submitted must be on 8½ × 11 inch, unlined white paper, and must not be hole-punched.

Order of Pages

The page order should be as follows: title page, table of contents, introduction, body, conclusion, appendix and bibliography. 

Note: If the title is longer than 4½ inches (twelve centimeters), use two or more lines as needed, with the longest line first, to form an inverted pyramid.


All margins must be one inch (2½ centimeters).

Table of Contents, introduction, conclusion, and bibliography headings should be two inches (five centimeters) down from the top of the page and centered between the margins.

Main headings (Roman numerals) in the body of the paper should also be centered between the margins, but it is not necessary to begin a new page for these headings.


Paragraph indentation should be a ½ inch. Direct quotations of four or more lines are indented ¼ inch from both margins, and are single-spaced with no quotation marks.

Line Spacing and Text Alignment

The text of a paper is always double-spaced (except for longer quotes).

Carefully note the spacing between lines for the title page, table of contents and bibliography in the sample paper.

Align text only on the left side of the page. Left and right text alignment (justified margins) makes the paper more difficult to read and should be avoided.

New paragraphs are noted by indentation only! Do not add extra spaces between paragraphs.

Page Numbering

Page numbers are always centered between the margins. The title page, table of contents and any preface or blank ages are numbered i, ii, iii, etc., though the page number never appears on the title page. Number all pages of the paper beginning with “1” on the Introduction.

Place all page numbers a ¾ inch from the bottom of the page.

Documentation of Sources

As noted earlier, quotations or ideas from other sources must be documented properly. This is done in the form of footnote references at the bottom of the page on which they appear.

Footnotes use the format as in the examples in Appendix F. Footnotes are numbered consecutively through the paper. The first occurrence of a source must include all of the bibliographic information as in the format shown in the sample paper.

When a source is used more than once, it may be abbreviated by providing the author’s last name followed by the page number (e.g. Erickson, 52.) If the sources used have authors by the same last name, indicate last name, shortened title, and page number (e.g. Erickson, Apologetics, 97.) Note that in footnotes the title is always italicized, but not underlined.

The footnote may also be used to make added comments on the discussion that are considered worthwhile but otherwise disrupt the flow of thought if placed in the text.

Using Scripture

There are two ways to cite Scripture:

(1) in the body of the text.

Example: In Matthew 5:8 Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

(2) within parentheses prior to the final period.

Example: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).

If study Bible notes are consulted, the study Bible must appear in the bibliography. Otherwise, do not include the Bible in your bibliography.

Indicate which version of the Bible you are using in your paper. Use either of the following methods: 

(1) A footnote should indicate which version is used.

Example: 1All Scripture citations are from the New Revised Standard Version (unless otherwise indicated).

(2) The first citation of Scripture should indicate the version in parentheses.

Example: “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35 NIV).

Subsequent references need not note the version unless other versions are cited.

Table of Contents

The table of contents presents the outline for all papers two pages or longer, with corresponding page numbers. This outline must also be used in the body of the paper.


A research paper must have a clear introduction that accomplishes two main purposes. Of first importance is the thesis statement (see Thesis Statement section above). The reader needs to know what the writer intends to prove and why. In addition, the introduction should present the reason for the study, explaining why the paper is necessary.

The introduction should be structured to catch the interest and attention of the reader. The introduction should not contain “fill-in” material that is empty of meaning, but rather be constructed with well-chosen words. For most papers a length of one page or less is sufficient.


This is the main part of the paper in which the outline and topic are developed. The body comes immediately after the introduction, and is followed by the conclusion.

The outline developed must be included in the body of the paper as well. It provides the framework for your research paper and greatly helps guide the reader so as to better understand the content and ideas being presented.


This part of the paper must also reflect well-chosen words. Do not introduce new concepts in the conclusion, nor use clichés. The purpose of the conclusion is to summarize the logical outcome of the research reflected in the paper. 


The appendix (or appendices) includes supplementary material that is not central to the argument of the paper, but may be useful to the reader. There are several appendices in this guide located in their proper place—after the conclusion, but before the bibliography of the paper.


Every work cited in your paper, with the exception of Scripture and common reference works (dictionaries, thesauruses, etc.), should be included on a separate page entitled Bibliography. List them alphabetically according to the authors’ last name and chronologically for works by the same author. Format for various types of bibliographic entries is in Appendix F and demonstrated in the sample paper (Available as template at

Types of Papers


This is an opportunity for you to exercise the hermeneutical principles and processes that you have gleaned from your reading, interpretive assignments and classroom instruction.

Typically, an exegetical assignment will consist of explaining a portion(s) of Scripture. You will want to read the passage(s) in other versions; that should give you a broader insight into what the phrase or word might mean. You will also want to consult theological wordbooks and dictionaries.  And, you will want to familiarize yourself with what other biblical scholars have said by looking in exegetical commentaries.

Your paper must include:

  • A title page;
  • A sufficient introduction that summarizes the main idea of your text as well as the actual biblical verse in which your word or phrase appears;
  • An adequate discussion of the context in two parts. Part one is a discussion of the historical-cultural context in which you explain what your reader needs to know about the original audience and their world in order to grasp the meaning of the text. Part two is a discussion of the literary context in which you describe the biblical author’s flow of thought and how your word, or phrase relates to the whole chapter in which it is found;
  • Explain what your word/phrase means in its context. Be sure to synthesize significant discoveries from your research and your own suggestions as to why these explanations are/are not reasonable;
  • Point out how your word, or phrase applies to you and the church today;
  • Appropriate documentation and pagination should include necessary footnotes and thorough bibliography.

A reflection paper is intended to cite your reactions to a subject, article, or movie, in a personal way instead of writing a more formal research or analytical essay. A reflection paper focuses on your reactions, feelings and analysis of a piece or experience in a personal way more than a formal research or analytical essay would require. Check with your instructor for verification, but in general first person writing (using personal pronouns like I, me, my, our) is appropriate for this type of assignment.

Include your thoughts and reactions to the reading or experience. You can present your feelings upon reading what you read and why. You can also use a reflection paper to analyze what you have read. Maintain proper organization of your thoughts and cite specific passages, if appropriate. Personal experiences can be included but do not rely solely on your experiences.

Do not use a reflection paper to simply summarize what you have read or done. It is not simply a free flow of ideas/thoughts. The idea of a reflection paper is to write an essay describing your reactions and analysis to a reading or other experience; it is more formal than a journal and less formal than a research essay.

Organize it like any other essay (consider jotting down an informal outline and working from it). Include:

  1. An introduction – great place to present the expectations you had for the article based on the title, before you read it.
  2. Body - explain the conclusions you arrived at and your rationale. Base your conclusions on concrete details from your reading and experience. Separate paragraphs for each conclusion (you should have more than one).
  3. Conclusion/Summary - end the paper by summing up what you got from the reading. Put your critical thinking skills to the test here.

A synthesis essay draws on multiple sources and multiple topics combining ideas into a unified and coherent whole.

Writing a successful synthesis essay will require you to do four things:

*read accurately and objectively.
*see relations among different viewpoints and topics.
*define a thesis based on these relations.
*support the thesis effectively.

You will not discuss all the points in every essay; but you should use every essay assigned, and you should use points from each that are appropriate for the thesis of your own essay.

A synthesis essay may be developed in several ways, including the following:

Thesis supported by examples. Develop a thesis based on common points among the works, and support the thesis with appropriate examples from each work. This strategy works well with essays that approach a subject from highly diverse viewpoints.

Comparison and contrast. Discuss the similarities and differences in the writers' viewpoints and draw whatever conclusions are possible from your comparison.

Argument. If you have a clearly defined opinion about the subject, support that opinion by incorporating the valid viewpoints of the writers of the essays you have selected, and show the weaknesses of those ideas which you feel are not valid.

  1. Read carefully. First, skimming through the readings and look for similar issues in each essay. Reflect on those issues, and jot down your ideas. Re-read and decide on one topic that will unify your essay. Note each essay's thesis and main points. Finally, take notes.
  2. Next, determine your thesis. A thesis is a direct statement of a main issue or idea that you have developed from studying the essays. If you are writing a comparison/contrast essay, your thesis may explain the main points of agreement and disagreement among the writers you are dealing with. If you are writing a thesis-with-examples essay, your thesis may state the main idea you have developed from your readings, which will be supported with examples from the readings in the body of your essay. If you are writing an argument, your thesis will state your opinion about the subject and will indicate that you will be supporting your views through an analysis of the essays.
  3. Then, organize your essay with your thesis in mind. The type of organization you use depends on your thesis, but in general you should be able to use either block-by-block or point-by-point organization with any of the essay types.
  4. Write a rough draft after you have decided on the organization you will be using. Here are some pointers: Early in your paper, mention the titles and authors of the sources you will be discussing. Quote or paraphrase brief passages from the essays to show how the essays illustrate, agree with, or disagree with each point you make.

1.  Take advantage of the handbook.

The NBC Student Handbook includes a template that will give you some clear formatting guidelines. Students can have a good topic and solid information but it can get lost when it is communicated poorly. Careful attention to format is critical to a successful research paper.

2.  Choose your topic wisely.

When choosing a topic, ask yourself the following questions: Am I genuinely interested in this topic? Are sources about the topic readily available? Can I cut the topic down to manageable size?

3.  Use sources well.

You must be painstaking about your accuracy in quoting from outside sources. In using sources, you can either quote directly, paraphrase, or summarize. In all these cases, the original author must be acknowledged, and your writing should make it absolutely clear if you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing. Also, use direct quotations sparingly—only if the author's exact wording is essential or especially eloquent and enlightening. A research paper is more than a bunch of quotations strung together; you must comment on sources, show relationships between them, etc.

4.  Avoid plagiarism.

Plagiarism is using a source in any way without acknowledging it. You plagiarize when you borrow someone's words without using quotation marks and giving the author's name—but you also plagiarize when you simply borrow an idea or a train of thought without citing the author. When in doubt, always cite the author. Plagiarism is a very serious offense.

5.  Write a good thesis statement.

Your thesis statement is a concise statement of EXACTLY what your paper is showing, arguing, enlightening, exposing, etc. Make sure some form of this statement appears in both your introductory and concluding paragraphs. If you cannot state your paper's purpose in one or two sentences, you lack direction and need to give it some more thought!

Be aware that this critique is not about the authors’ style, whether you liked, or do not like the material, or decided it was a “good read”. Rather, you are being asked to assess the value of what you read as a source of understanding the specific topic at hand. An excellent critique will include the following components:

  1. A title page.
  2. Begin by providing the basic bibliographic data (in proper format) along with the total number of pages read.
  3. Your first paragraph should identify the author(s) and give their credentials for writing the book.
  4. Then, state the subject of the book as well as the intended audience.
  5. Provide a brief (but adequate) summary of the material covered in your reading.
  6. Carefully evaluate the clarity and organization of the material. In doing so, consider such questions as:
  • Does the author write in such a way as to explain concepts, principles, or facts clearly?
  • Is the material well organized, balanced and comprehensive?
  • Does the author provide insightful analysis?
  • How have your presuppositions been affirmed or challenged?
  • How has the material shaped your worldview?
  • What is one significant aspect of this subject that the author has helped you understand which you did not previously grasp?
  • And would you recommend this book as a serious resource on the subject? Why or why not?

A good summary deals less with critique and more with content summary. A good academic summary succeeds when it does the following:

  1. It identifies the author and the source (book or article). A summary contains this information in the first sentence. Expressions you can use to introduce this information include: “According to [the author]. . . .”; “In his/her book [title], [the author] states that . . .”
  2. It gives credit to the author throughout. To make it clear that the ideas presented are the author’s and not your own, you should frequently use signals like “[The author] also states that . . .”
  3. It begins by offering a broad overview of the material (one or two sentences), which is then developed in more detail in the body of the summary.
  4. It uses quotation marks and page references whenever a phrase, a part of a sentence, or a complete sentence is taken directly from the source text. But it also quotes selectively and sparingly.
  5. It is brief, but thorough enough to accomplish its purposes.
  6. It is an accurate reflection of the author’s viewpoint throughout. Therefore, careful reading of the source is essential.