Tag Archives: research


Methodology refers to the philosophic & theoretical underpinnings of research methods. It is the systematic discussion of research methods, often the methods common in a particular field of study. Unfortunately, in common use, it slides toward use as a synonym for method. When writing up one’s methodology, one discusses WHY one chose a particular method of research. A method is what one actually does in the research process.

When researching history, researchers have to think about what sources to use, and how to handle these sources. I’m reading two books which would claim to be History in some sense. Because the authors are working with different bits of history, they use different kinds of source material, and approach these sources in different ways.

In The Bletchley Girls, Tessa Dunlop’s editor decided that it was best to tell the stories of living women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II. Dunlop’s research was carried out quite recently, more than 70 years after the beginning of the war and the conversion of Bletchley Park into a code-breaking facility. This meant she was interviewing women in their 90s. It also means that the stories of many women who worked at Bletchley Park were not accessed because those women were dead, or were suffering from memory loss. Deciding to interview living women about their war-time experiences limited the data Dunlop used in her book. Any methodological discussion of this method of gathering history (oral history, interviews of participants long after an episode of their life is concluded) must include a discussion of memory, and how memory is shaped both by later events and later understandings of the past.

In The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright discusses the meaning of “resurrection” in the ancient world, and what it might mean that Jesus was resurrected. Wright uses ancient documents, both biblical texts, and texts from times before and after the biblical accounts were written. He attempts to access and understand the different ways the concept of resurrection was understood by different groups of people, including ancient Christians. Wright accesses history primarily through documents. Any methodological discussion of Wright’s work must include reflections on which documents survive from the ancient world, and how to best understand the writings which do survive. Further, if language use shifts over time, how do current readers access ancient use of particular words and concepts?

Methodological discussions of historical research involves all kinds of complications of memory, shifts in language, social changes, and imaginative expectations of historians. How do we best gain access to the foreign country that is the past? Time travel is ruled out at the moment, so a balance of other methods with their inherent difficulties must do for now.


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XYZ, Now I know my ABCs

OK, I’ve been trying to work out how to do X, which might explain why I’ve taken so long to post. The other reason for the posting delay is the decision I made to update my operating system. That always takes way more time than you think it will, then you have to get new muscle memory on where things are and which way to swipe and all that stuff. It is a process and a half.

Enough about operating systems and on to the matter at hand: concluding the alphabet.

X – I have no authors at all in my database under X. None. Zero. Zilch. There aren’t even a whole lot of words beginning with X. The Constant Reader may here remind me of xylophones, but I’ve little to say about xylophones. Do YOU know any X-authors? Do let me know if you have encountered any. I’m curious.

Y, I’ve got no problem with Y, so on we go to Y, the problem-free letter, the letter with an embarrassment of riches, where I have to choose between two worthy women authors. Wait. I don’t have to chose, I’ll have one of the Y-authors stand in for the lack of an X author. Yes. Sometimes I’m brilliant. (Also humble. And, I hope you realize, not very serious.)

Yfloralis for Yonge, Charlotte M. Yonge, author of The Heir of Redcliffe. I read The Heir of Redcliffe because someone recommended it to me. It was the first of the nineteenth-century women writers on specifically religious subjects that I read. This was, however, before I began my research on 19th-century women who interpreted the Bible. Yonge is one of those women, but I read this book before all that really started. Also, after I read Yonge, I re-read Little Women, and behold! Jo reads The Heir of Redcliffe in Little Women! Literary referencing in the nineteenth century! Excitement! Connections! Hurrah! I like connections. You should read The Heir of Redcliffe for insight into the century. I should revisit it as I’m sure I will understand it differently now.

Y is also for Yust, Karen Marie Yust, author of Taught By God, a book that does a great job helping people think through how the history of Christian education can inform current practice. I sort of fan-girled Dr. Yust at a Large Academic Conference last November. I think she was startled to have me rush up and enthuse about TBG. Oh well. I do like it. You should read it.

And so to Z. I’ve one author, J. Peter Zane, in my database in the Z-section. J. Peter doesn’t make the cut for this blog post because he’s a guy. There are women whose surnames begin with Z, but I’ve not read them. Have you? Any recommendations?


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Contributor’s Copy!

Today my contributor’s copy of Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited by Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi came. This makes me very happy. I wrote four articles for this handbook and also have seen the at times painful collecting and editing process from a more behind-the-scenes angle than most. I’ve worked with Marion on other projects, and we’ve talked about the idea of this book a lot while researching women interpreters of the Bible. I’m very pleased to have the fruit of all these discussions and the labour of many in my hand. Just in case you thought putting a book like this together is a simple matter, let me say that the idea came out of a conversation Marion had 12 years ago. Twelve Years. I know that she and I started talking about it 10 years ago. This Is Crazy. It is also called ground-breaking research. This takes time. But it produces results.

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Writing Tips

I’ve been collecting some writing tips over the last week or so. The Olympics now being over, it is time to return to regularly scheduled work. Also, the second new year, September, is coming quickly. My fall schedule needs to include time for writing. With that in mind, here are three posts that I found interesting:

1. Advice from Mr. GenX himself, Douglas Coupland. Here Coupland gives 25 practical pointers he wished that someone told him earlier in his career. Note that this list of pointers includes setting aside regular time for writing more than once.

2. How to Read like a Writer. This is an interesting post about reading to improve writing. I’ve done some things like this, but never with the intensity proposed in the post-it note section. I kind of like it. I use post-it notes in research, why not in writing research?

3. Plot shapes and examples. There are 21 plot shapes given here. I am not sure that the shapes of the last 3-5 go anywhere much. I think possibly more can be explained in terms of basic plot shape than is credited here, but hey, it is an interesting collection of ideas.

What are you writing?

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Bibliographies/Reading Lists

When doing research do you just read randomly? Or do you make a plan?

I ask because I was teaching graduate students about making a plan for research today. They got a situation, had to list some issues arising from the situation, then had to go and find potential resources and list them. This got me thinking. I do make potential reading lists for research, but I don’t always follow the plan. I start to follow the plan, then I read a book and the plan gets modified, then re-modified, then sometimes pitched away completely. I think this is a natural part of the process, but realize it could just be me getting bored or resisting plans. That is the reason I’m asking, do any of you make a reading plan and follow it through without modification? Just curious.


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Academic Writing

Today I discussed academic writing briefly with someone writing a thesis. I’ve never heard of the authors she is writing about, but the topic sounded interesting, and she is clearly interested in it. I also am interested in the things I study and research. Both of us agreed that, even if we are really interested in our research, and enthusiastic about the things that we learned in doing the research, writing is like slitting your wrists and bleeding onto the paper. It is really hard to do.

There might be things that make writing a little easier. Mostly, though, it is being disciplined. It is a matter of butt in chair and fingers on keyboards. Having a set time to write helps. If I decide I’m going to write from time X to time Y, then I have no excuse not to do this. (Of course, I could write a blog post instead of the chapter I’m working on.) Part of having the set time is figuring out when you work best. I’ve not quite got that down yet. I’ve got friends who know they are most productive in the morning, so they get up at the crack of dawn and write. More power to them. I’ve been trying to work out when my most productive time of day is. I used to write most of my essays for classwork late in the evening and into the night. I’m a little afraid that maybe my best writing time is still deep into the night. I’ve not tried that in a while. Maybe I should.

When is your most productive writing/work time? Any tips for others on figuring out when that might be?

It is also important to take breaks from writing. I’m on a break from my other writing project right now. My problem is finishing breaks and going back to the writing. It is especially hard in the middle of a transition or natural break in the piece I’m writing. It is very hard to bridge those natural breaks and get into the next section. I read an article by a well-known author who gets over this natural break problem by stopping work in the middle of a sentence. I’d be afraid I’d forget how I meant the sentence to end! But it is something to try. I tend to break at natural breaks in my writing, but then restarting is brutal.

How do you get over natural breaks in writing? Or is this only a problem in my head?


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B is for Bibliographies

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter

B is for Bibliographies. I find new books to read in the bibliographies of other books. I also gain new friends by admitting to this level of geekiness. True story. My colleague at the bookshop, the Superhero Scholar, likes to gauge the people he works with by how big their library is. How many books do you own? is one of his standard questions. I admitted to not knowing how many books I own, but I told him I knew how many books I’d read from cover-to-cover since June of 1993. Since the Superhero Scholar is much younger than I, 1993 seems like a long time ago, so he was impressed. We wandered onto the topic of how books get put on our respective To Be Found lists. We both admitted to treating bibliographies like some people treat collectable cards: Got it, Read it, Need it. There are symbols for various states of Got It/Need It pencilled into the margins of bibliographies in books I own. I am a Geek. But so is Superhero Scholar. This is why we are friends. Plus we both like the X-Men.

Obviously, bibliographies occur primarily in non-fiction works. Serious non-fiction works. Works of Scholarly Research. I have, on occasion, looked for books mentioned in not-so-serious works of non-fiction – books mentioned in a memoir for example. The bibliography rabbit trail usually gets followed in the midst of research on a specific topic. The trick is following up works mentioned in the bibliography that are pertinent to the work at hand. Of course, true geek that I am, I also like following up works that may not quite be pertinent to the current project, but that I’m interested in for some future project. This is called being distracted. It is especially dangerous when one is writing one’s doctoral dissertation, and can lead to delays in the completion of a dissertation. I am finished that little project though, so now distractions are allowed. Right?

Superhero Scholar and I also use bibliographies to gauge which books are seminal works in fields that we are interested in. A seminal work is one that most people refer to as a standard. In my field, Religious Education, an example of a seminal work is Stages of Faith by James W. Fowler. Fowler’s work is so often assumed in the field, that one must have some kind of idea of his theory to be able to join the discussion. There are similar works in other fields.

Bibliographies might seem like a good place to stop reading, but they end up being pretty interesting. Check out the bibliography of the next non-fiction book you read. This is where the author got their ideas. These are the author’s partners in conversation. Join the discussion! Check out the books from the bibliography.

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