Guide for Graduate Student Research Papers Revised, November 27, 2007

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Guide for Graduate Student Research Papers

Revised, November 27, 2007

The paper should be a serious research project in which you (1) survey the available information on a subject, (2) read older and recent research on it, and (3) study certain problems or questions within it. The paper should be based principally on primary sources in the Bible and other ancient texts (or artifacts), and these should be cited to back up whatever statements you make about a subject. It should revolve around evidence within the Bible and other pertinent primary sources and questions which the evidence prompts. Use secondary sources to help you find the primary sources as well as to see how scholars interpret the primary sources, what additional information they bring to bear on the subject, and how they deal with the issues you are studying.
Begin the paper by citing the primary sources with which it deals and showing what questions those sources prompt. Clearly define the question or problem you are studying, the factual information available about it, and present an introductory survey of scholarly work on it. Then proceed to describe the issues involved and, if possible, to answer the question that interests you. Compare different views on the subject. Evaluate authors' assumptions, their selection of evidence, and the coherence of their arguments.
Remember that a research paper is not simply a collection of quotations (attributed or unattributed) from others. Nor is it an encyclopedia-style narrative of information. It is a combination of facts, questions, and reasoned interpretation. A large mass of information is not very meaningful until you begin to ask questions about it. Information organized as answers to questions is meaningful.
The introductory paragraph or paragraphs of your paper should give readers a clear idea of your thesis and the arguments you will be making, so that they will know where you are leading them and can follow your argument. It is not enough to say which topics you will be discussing; you must also say specifically what your argument about those topics is going to be. But keep in mind that you cannot begin your research with a thesis; the thesis can only emerge after you examine the evidence.
When moving from one topic to another, be sure to establish clear links between the ideas.
The conclusion is one of the most important parts of a paper.  Concluding paragraphs consisting of only one or two sentences are ineffective.  After having developed the ideas that were introduced in your thesis, you ought to be able to state the main idea of your thesis in a deeper and more convincing way than was possible at the beginning of the paper. Do not bring up totally new material in your conclusion.
For further suggestions see "Guide to Biblical Research" on my website,
1. If you have never done so before, start by reading a manual on writing term papers. The Van Pelt Reference Room has several, of which the following are recommended: R. H. Markman and M. L. Waddell, 10 STEPS IN WRITING THE RESEARCH PAPER; D. J. Mulkerne and G. Kahn, THE TERM PAPER: STEP BY STEP; K. L. Turabian, STUDENTS' GUIDE FOR WRITING COLLEGE PAPERS. Two very helpful and fuller manuals on research methodology are J. Barzun and H.F. Graff, THE MODERN RESEARCHER (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1957; 1962) and H.C. Hockett, THE CRITICAL METHOD IN HISTORICAL RESEARCH AND WRITING (New York: Macmillan, 1955).
2. Make an appointment to see me no later than the third week of the semester to discuss possible topics and bibliography. Start work on the paper early in case library books and articles have to be recalled, searched for, or ordered through interlibrary loan.
3. Within three weeks of the appointment, submit a typed prospectus of your paper, before you begin to write it. It should be no longer than two pages, plus a page of bibliography. It should state briefly the general subject and the specific problem or question you plan to deal with and indicate how you plan to go about solving the problem or answering the question. The bibliography should a list of the most important literature on the subject that you have found to date. . The prospectus is not an initial proposal but a statement of work in progress. You will have to do a considerable amount of reading and thinking before you see the subject clearly enough to write the prospectus. I will sign the prospectus and return it to you with my comments and suggestions; save it and return it to me when you hand in the paper. If you later change the topic significantly, you should submit a new prospectus.
4. For introductory material on many subjects use the following works.
ANCHOR BIBLE DICTIONARY(ABD). 6 vols. (Ref. BS440.A54 1992)
ENCYCLOPAEDIA JUDAICA (EJ). 16 vols.; in JANES and Ref: DS/102.8/E52 and E53
CIVILIZATIONS OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST (CANE). 4 vols.; in JANES; VPL Ref; University Museum Library Ref; and CAJS: DS57.C55 1995
ELENCHUS BIBLIOGRAPHICUS BIBLICUS (vols. 1-48 [1920-1967] bound with BIBLICA 1-48; in RS: BS/410/B7; since vol. 49 [1968] bound separately; in RS: Z/7770/E44 [RS])
Paul-Emile Langevin, BIBLIOTHEQUE BIBLIQUE (in JANES: BS/410/L35)
CATALOGUE DE LA BIBLIOTHEQUE DE L'ECOLE BIBLIQUE DE JERUSALEM (topical and Biblical [by book and verse] indexes; in JANES: BS/417/E3/1983). A more up-to-date version is commercially available on CD-ROM.
As a courtesy to other readers, please do not remove these or any other books from seminar rooms. If you must do so for xeroxing, please return them personally as soon as you are finished. Otherwise it may take several days before the book is returned to the room by the library staff.
On-line databases:
Bibliographic assistance can be found in several on-line data-bases and other resources on the library’s website which list periodical articles pertinent to Biblical studies and related fields. Some of them not only list the articles but also provide links to the articles themselves. These data-bases are not completely up to date -- there is sometimes a lag of a few years before an issue of a periodical is listed in them -- but you may be able to find more recent issues if you go to the periodical's own website. Among the most important are:
ATLA (American Theological Library Association)

JSTOR (Journal Storage: The Scholarly Journal Archive)

RAMBI (Index of Articles on Jewish Studies, Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem)

BiBIL (Biblical Bibliography of Lausanne)

Biblical Archaeology Society (includes the journals Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review).
You can also try the list of on-line journals at, though I can’t vouch for it and several links seem to be defunct or lead to dead-ends.
5. Translations of Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Choosing reliable translations of ancient Near Eastern texts is not as simple as doing the same for Greek and Latin texts. Most ancient Near Eastern texts are written in languages that were only rediscovered in the last two centuries and have only gradually come to be well understood. The texts themselves were usually discovered in fragmentary form and had to be reconstructed from fragments found at different sites; it can take decades (if ever) before the entire text is discovered. As a result, older translations are frequently less complete than newer ones and are based on a less advanced understanding of the languages in which the texts are written. The more recent a translation, the more likely it is to be correct, but what makes a translation sufficiently recent to be considered reliable varies from language to language. For example, translations of Egyptian texts from the early 20th century are generally considered reliable, but translations of Akkadian texts from prior to the 1950’s are less so. For a bibliography of recent translations, see:
6. As you gather books and articles to read for your research, evaluate them by asking yourself the following questions: Who wrote this, what can you learn about the author (what are his/her/their credentials -- education, institutional affiliation, publications, etc.), is the material up to date, where was the work published and by whom, is the publication subject to review, etc.? What is the subject matter discussed, what are the perspectives or biases of the author(s), can the information be checked for accuracy by comparing it with other examples or data, etc.? N.B. The speed with which books and articles go out of date varies from field to field and subject to subject. Some publications from the late 19th and early 20th century, such as the Bible commentaries of S.R. Driver (1846-1914) or G. Dalman’s Arbeit und Sitte in Palastina (1928-37), are still extremely useful except for those parts of their work that may have been affected by subsequent discoveries. Others -- especially in areas of Near Eastern studies directly dependent on ongoing archaeological discoveries, such as Assyriology -- are too out of date to be reliable. Before relying on works older than ca. 1950, check with me (especially if you add such works to your bibliography after I have reviewed your prospectus). And beware of the following: when books that are old enough to have lost their copyright are reprinted, publishers sometimes indicate only the date of the reprint and disguise the actual age of the book. Check carefully (ask the reference librarians how to do so).
7. Be very cautious in using websites. Some contain reliable information while others do not. The problems with Wikipedia are notorious, but problems are vastly more widespread. Websites can be created by anybody and, unlike books and articles, they usually do not undergo peer review or even editorial review. They can sometimes be useful to lead you to bibliography and other information that you can verify from more reliable sources; do not rely on them for matters of fact or interpretation unless the author and contents are verifiably competent and reliable. To verify competence and reliability, ask questions such as the following: Does the person who wrote what appears on the website have an advanced degree (and in the pertinent field!) from a reputable academic institution? Is the website based at a reputable institution -- academic, governmental or professional? Does the author publish regularly in the field, and do his/her publications undergo peer review? Does the author have a scholarly or other type of bias that is sufficiently strong or uncontrolled that it skews his/her presentation or evaluation of the evidence? Has the web document that interests you also been published in a venue that undergoes peer review – e.g. a university press, a scholarly journal, or in a book published by a commercial publisher with a record of high-quality work? Is the source of the document up to date?1 Finally, before relying on, or citing, a website, consult me for permission to do so and be prepared to justify it to me by having answers ready to questions such as those listed above. And keep in mind that if I recommend or approve a specific website, that does not mean that I’m also approving other websites to which that one leads you.
For further advice about evaluating information, see the guidelines for evaluating information on the library’s website:

  1. Papers are due by the end of classes (no extensions).

9. To ensure that the effort you invest in the content of your paper is matched by an accurate and presentable physical format, follow the guidelines about format, footnotes, etc. in any of the manuals listed above, or better yet, in the Student Supplement for the SBL Handbook of Style.

Check to be sure that you do the following (credit will be deducted for omissions and carelessness in any of these areas, or else papers will be returned unread and a grade of INC assigned until the paper is corrected):

  • Subdivide the paper into separate sections, each with its own heading (this is very important because it helps you focus and organize your thoughts and helps the reader follow the development of your argument)

  • Double space

  • Include endnotes or footnotes, and a bibliography

  • Number the pages (with some word processors this is not automatic and requires an extra step)

  • In citing Biblical verses, chapter and verse are separated by a colon, e.g.: Gen. 1:1. When citing multiple passages, list the abbreviated title of each new biblical book followed by the chapter number and colon, with all verses in that chapter separated by a comma and space. A semicolon should separate references to subsequent chapters or books. List passages in numerical order, and different books of the Bible in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Thus: Gen. 2:3; 3:4-6; 4:3,7; Lev. 3:6,8; 12:2,5; Isa. 15:1-5; Ps. 18:8-12

  • Proofread CAREFULLY for spelling and grammar (do not rely exclusively on your word-processor's spell checker and grammar checker for this).

  • Indicate, before the first footnote, which manual you have followed for format

  • Be sure to quote the Hebrew text and translation of any passages from which you draw conclusions; do not simply cite the chapter and verse numbers and expect readers to go look them up – that is an imposition on readers' time, and they are not likely to take the time to do it and become persuaded by your evidence. However, if you cite numerous verses in support of the same point ("the same can be seen in several other passages…"), it is not necessary to quote them all.

  • Cite (in parentheses) the chapter and verse number(s) in which each Biblical phenomenon to which you refer appears

  • Double check all references and page numbers you cite

  • After the paper is completed, write an abstract of no more than one page (double spaced) describing the problem or subject you have addressed, the evidence you used as the basis of your work, your method of analysis, and your conclusions. Place the abstract at the beginning of the paper, after the title page.

  • Staple the paper together or place it in a heavy paper binder (no plastic binders).

  • Take precautions to prevent loss of what you have written. SAVE frequently as you type; at the end of every typing session print out and save what you have typed, and then copy everything onto a back-up disk.

  • Print and keep an extra copy at the same time you print the copy you hand in; originals sometimes get lost.

  • It will often be the case that, at least with regard to a subject you are writing about, many of your readers, both your instructors and scholars elsewhere, will not be specialists. This is especially the case when a subject is interdisciplinary. Therefore, without going to the extreme of sounding patronizing, write as if your audience includes nonspecialists. Note the observation of Rodney Stark, explaining why he did so: "An additional reason for my doing so is that I believe writing for the general reader results in better scholarship. Jargon mainly deludes its users into thinking that they have said something – if I can't say something in clear prose, I assume it's because I don't understand it." (Stark, One True God [2001], p. 3)

  • Clear, articulate writing and proper usage are essential. Anything less suggests, and probably reflects, sloppy thinking, and in addition thoughtlessly forces the reader to grope for the writer's meaning – it transfers the burden of clarity from the writer to the reader. Apart from the discourtesy involved, it may dissuade readers from investing the time required to decipher your meaning and become persuaded by your argument. It's a good idea to have at least one other person read your paper and comment on its style, clarity, and cogency before you hand it in. You might ask a friend or consult with the Writing Center at 215-573-2729 (see their website at It's also valuable, in addition to reading a manual on writing term papers, to read guides to English usage. Good guides range from Strunk & White's brief Elements of Style to such weighty tomes as Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage or The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, which are a joy to read.

Here are some examples of the kinds of poor and careless usage I have encountered:

Misplaced possessive apostrophes, that is, using ---'s instead of s' for plurals (e.g. saying "the Israelite's" when you mean "the Israelites' "). Even worse is simply using apostrophes when no possessive is intended, e.g. "the Israelite's" when you mean "the Israelites." These errors are, sadly, becoming increasingly common -- and they won't be caught by your spellchecker.
Using "may" when "might" is required, when you are referring to a hypothetical consequence that actually did not take place. For example, it is wrong to say "had John not been killed, he may have survived the war," or "had Deborah studied for the exam she may have passed the course." "Might" is the past tense of "may." In the past it was possible that John might have survived, or that Deborah might have passed, but once we know that they did not, it can no longer be said that they "may" have, only that had things been otherwise, they "might" have.
Turning two-word phrases into compound words (e.g. saying "anytime" for "any time," or using "breakdown" as a verb, instead of "break down")
And vice-versa, making a single word into two, such as "in tact" (for "intact")
Failing to capitalize God or G-d, or Bible.
Confusing similar words, e.g. affect/effect
Using "prophesize" as the verb for uttering a prophecy; the verb is "prophesy" (with an s)
Using "that" for "who," e.g. "the man that came for dinner." Use "who" for people.
Using “thusly” instead of “thus” (“thus” is already an adverb, so adding the adverbial suffix would be superfluous, redundant overkill ;) )
Using "however" (in the sense "nevertheless") as a substitute for, and with the same punctuation as, "but." When used at the beginning or middle of a sentence, "however" is always followed by a comma; in the middle of a sentence it is usually preceded by a semicolon, less often by a comma. Hence do not write: "He loves sweets however he avoids them to keep his weight down," or even "He loves sweets, however he avoids them to keep his weight down," but rather: (a) He loves sweets; however he avoids them to keep his weight down," (b) He loves sweets. However he avoids them to keep his weight down," or (c) "He loves sweets but he avoids them to keep his weight down."
Using plurals as singulars, e.g. "criteria," "media," "graffiti." (The singulars are "criterion," "medium," and "graffito." FYI: "media" is short for the "mass media," the media or vehicles of mass communication, such as radio, television, newspapers, etc. Each of these is a medium of communication; together they are "the media"). Hence one says: "by that criterion (not "criteria"), it was a good paper;" "the media report (not "reports") that the President said...;" "somebody wrote a graffito (not "graffiti") on the wall that says..." Similarly, "data" is plural (the singular is "datum"); hence: "the data are" (not "is"), "the date indicate" ("not "indicates").
Using "infer" when you mean "imply". "Infer" means "to derive by reasoning or implication, to conclude from facts or premises, e.g. "we see smoke and infer fire;" "from your smile I infer that you're pleased." "Imply" means to indicate indirectly or by allusion, suggest, intimate, e.g. "your yawn implies (not: infers) that you are bored;" "the candidate's remarks implied (not: inferred) that his opponent is a crook." In short, the writer or speaker implies, the reader or listener infers.
Incorrect word combinations, such as: “overeating has negative implications on one’s health” (it should be “implications for”), or “Michelangelo’s endowment of horns to Moses” (it should be “endowment of Moses with horns”), or “in (or: with) regards to” (say either “in/with regard to” or “as regards”). For guidance in correct word combinations see The BBI dictionary of English word combinations, compiled by M. Benson et al. (1986). Van Pelt Library Reference Stacks: PE1689 .B46 1997
Saying "I feel badly" when you mean that you feel sorry, regret. The proper form is "I feel bad." "Feel badly" is correct only if you mean to say that your emotions or sense of touch are impaired.
Saying "could care less," meaning "don't care." The proper expression is "couldn't care less" (that is, "I care so little that I couldn't possibly care any less than I already do").
Using “Beg the question” when you mean “raise the question” or "to evade the question.” “Beg the question” means to make a statement that presupposes the truth of the proposition that you are trying to prove; in other words, more or less, circular reasoning.

The term Old Testament is not poor usage, but there are appropriate and inappropriate usages. The phrase is the Christian term for the Hebrew Bible, short for "the Books of the Old Testament." “Testament” means “covenant,” and the term “Old Testament” characterizes the covenant between God and the Jewish people as obsolete and replaced by a new one mediated through Jesus (hence the term “New Testament;” see 2 Corinthians 3:14). Because it represents a theological judgment it should generally not be used in an academic paper as the name of the Hebrew Bible – unless one is intentionally using it to represent a Christian viewpoint, as in referring to New Testament citations of the Old Testament, or to citations by Christian theologians, or when referring to it as a part of the Christian Bible (that is, the Old Testament plus the New Testament). More neutral terms are “the Hebrew Bible,” “the Hebrew S/scriptures,” “the Jewish S/scriptures,” or the Hebrew term “Tanakh.”

Be sure to follow William Safire's rules for editing:
* Don't use no double negatives.

* Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

* Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.

* If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.

* "Avoid over use of 'quotation "marks."'"

* Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

* If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be

avoided by rereading and editing.

* Avoid clichés like the plague.

* Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

* Avoid colloquial stuff.
Finally, avoid generalizations such as "throughout history" and "all over the world."
For abbreviations, transliteration, and other conventions of the field, follow The SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies, ed. Patrick H. Alexander et al. (1999). PN147.S26 1999 (copies in JANES, Ref, and CAJS) and the Student Supplement for the SBL Handbook of Style. The latter is available online at; the latter, for SBL members only, at A copy of the JBL transliteration guide is also available at
Alternative transliteration systems can be found on my website (
Transliterations of Semitic and other ancient languages should be italicized. When you cite words in transliteration or in foreign characters, do not place the words in quotation marks.

1 Some websites simply reproduce material that is so old that its copyright has expired; it may once have been up to date, but it is now unaware of things that have been discovered in recent decades. Often the original publication and date are not identified. You can get a rough idea of the date by checking the dates of the scholarly works that it cites. Look, for example, at the encyclopedia article at,%20Golden. Even though it contains a 2005 copyright, all the citations are from the early 1900’s, suggesting that it is an old article that somebody just re-copyrighted. Checking the author’s name in Franklin quickly leads to the information that he died in 1920. That doesn’t make everything he says invalid – far from it – but it does mean that he wrote without the benefit of knowing what has been discovered about the subject in the past 80 years or so, which may have changed the picture in significant ways.

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