Luther's last will and testament, Lutheran Archives, Budapest

Writing Research Papers and Theses

John Roxborogh

Research Planner

The following will help you work from a topic of interest to a valid research question with a clear focus, set boundaries, and well-defined terms, supported by an understanding of common views of current scholarship.   


1.1.  What is your area of interest?

          This may be a person, an issue, a period of time, a place, a source of information.

1.2.  Is there a personal reason why you have this interest?

Personal motivation is vital to successfully complete any research. On the other hand if the story is very close to you emotionally it may not be easy to think critically about the issues.

1.3.  Is there something you would be trying to demonstrate by writing this paper?

Trying to prove something is not impossible. However there is a difference between trying to prove something by testing it for validity, and trying to convince others what you believe to be true without being willing to test your hypothesis.


A curiosity to find out the truth about something is one thing, a determination to use a research process as a means of adding authority to what you believe without question already is likely to invalidate the arguments used more than actually prove the point.


Prophets who already know the answers often have difficulty really testing the things they are very certain about.

1.4.  Is there something you would be trying to find out by writing this paper?

1.5.  So, altogether, what are you trying to achieve?

1.6.  How will you know if you have succeeded or not?

Make you research manageable by setting boundaries such as:

2.1.  The people whose views you will investigate

2.2.  The sources you will consult

2.3.  The time period you will consider

2.4.  The geographical area in question

2.5.  The time you have available

3.      TERMS

3.1.  What are the key terms

3.2.  What do you understand these key terms to mean

3.3.  How do you know for sure?



You should write a literature review which surveys the information available in three key areas:

  •  the case you are studying

  •  parallel cases including in other contexts

  •  the theory, or critical frameworks being used for this type of study

You should be able to identify:

4.1.  The key writers in your area of investigation and the critical framework they employ to interpret what they describe.

4.2.  The terms in which you intend to discuss your topic.

4.3.  Your intended method of research and writing.

5.      OUTLINE

5.1.  Give an outline of your thesis using only three words to describe each chapter

5.2.  Prepare an annotated bibliography with 100 word summaries of 5 scholarly books or articles relating to your project:  


Judith Bell, Doing your research project, Open University Press, 1993. 

Wayne C Booth, , Gregory G Colomb and Jospeh M Williams, The Craft of Research, University of Chicago Press, 1995

Sara Delamont, Paul Atkinson and Odette Parry, Supervising the PhD. A guide to success, Open University Press, 1997.

Chris Hart, Doing a literature review : releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage Publications, 1998.

Rowena Murray, How to write a thesis, Open University Press, 2002.

Estelle M. Phillips and D S Pugh, How to get a PhD, Open University Press.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples, London and New York: Zed Books, Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1999.

Viggo SØgaard, Research in church and mission, William Carey Library, 1996.

John Roxborogh