D.Min. 971 - Explorations: Information Research Module

This module within D.Min. 971, worth 40% of the course, is available entirely at this site.

Background to the Assignment

Academic research is by its very nature evidence-based. It also takes you from mere information-seeking (as, for example, a Google search to find when Martin Luther lived) to problem-solving. This is a major shift. Here are some examples:

 Information-Seeking (you can
look them up) - Don't do this                                                       Problem-Solving

What did Martin Luther accomplish
during his life?
Why did Martin Luther become
increasingly anti-Semitic during his life?
What are the principles of servant leadership?

How can a servant leader motivate
people in an organization without being
able to exercise power tactics?

What are the problems homeless
people face in cities?

How can a local church effectively
minister to improve the lot of 
homeless people in its

The key to academic research is that it is not a matter of finding something out. It is finding something out so that you can use the found information to solve a problem. That is a crucial step beyond information as goal to information as tool.

There’s a Difference Between Data and Information

Data constitutes the facts about a topic. Information is what you do with those facts. Let’s look at it this way: Suppose you did some research on automobiles. This was not just fact-finding. Your intent was to find out which car you should buy, given your budget and transportation needs. In other words, you began with a question you needed to answer, a question that was focused and purposeful: Which car should I buy? You may gather as much data about cars as you want, but if your data doesn’t lead ultimately to an answer to your question, it’s of limited value.  Only as you sift through the data and evaluate it does it become information that can bring you to a solution.

All too often, people assume that we do research in order to discover facts. Actually, we do research to gather facts that will help us answer a questionFacts must never be an end in themselves. Rather, they are a means to determine what we should do or believe.

Let’s consider a few examples:

  • You want to investigate the claims of the theological position, "Open Theism." You could simply find the writings of some Open Theists, determine what this theological movement is saying and then conclude with something like, "There appear to be some critics of Open Theism, so it might be a good idea for someone to investigate its claims." But that isn't really research until you actually do the investigation yourself and come up with a conclusion on Open Theism. You could ask, "To what extent does Open Theism present a biblically accurate portrayal of God?"  That question would demand analysis and problem-solving.
  • You’ve been told to write a research paper on Sigmund Freud. Your research and subsequent paper could be entitled "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Freud in Ten Pages Plus Table of Contents and Bibliography," but if you have simply gathered facts in order to regurgitate them, you have not really done research. It is when you ask a question like: "Has Freud's approach to psychotherapy demonstrated the success rate that proponents of Psychoanalysis assure us exists?" that the data becomes information.

View this presentation for more on developing research questions:

The relationship between data and information works this way:

Data = the facts about a topic.

Information = evaluated data used to answer a question.

In its most basic form then, research is the gathering of data to identify information that can answer a question, leading to a conclusion that will influence belief or action. Anything less than this is not research. It will never tell you what car to buy or what you’re supposed to do with Open Theism or with Freud’s Superego.

Read the material from Research Strategies related to this assignmentThe APPENDIX is especially helpful, because it contains lots of examples. Be sure that your research question is focused, researchable, and that it is only one question rather than several. You want to avoid gathering existing information just so that you can report on it (information as goal).  You want to use information to solve a problem or deal with an issue whose answer is not obvious (information as tool).

Create a Sermon-Free Zone

Seminary students love to preach.  They are often so eager to preach that they do only minimal investigation before launching into a huge exhortation intended to make all things right in this fallen world.

But you must remember this dictum: A research project is not a sermon, nor is it a how-to manual. 

What's the difference? 

Research Project Sermon/How-To
Investigates options Presents results of investigation
Evaluates various points of view   Promotes one point of view
Is a question leading to an answer Is an answer leading to an application
Generally asks why, looks at cause and effect, etc. Generally takes a how-to approach that leads to action

Don't preach sermons when what you need to do is investigate an issue in order to find an answer.

Assignment #2

[Click on the file link above to download a template in rich text format (works in most word processors).  It will form an outline so you can insert your answers under each heading. You can then submit the complete document to Prof. Badke by e-mail attachment].

1. Read Research Strategies, Chapter Three, and Appendix, A.1.1-A.1.8 (The appendix is especially helpful.)

2. State your research topic. Go to the library home page, click on the Research Guides tab and navigate to the subject area that covers your research topic.  Once there, go to the "Encyclopedias" tab and find an encyclopedia, dictionary, etc. that covers your topic. If your topic is based on a biblical passage, choose one of the E-Commentaries tabs. 

State the name of the reference source, and the title of the entry in it.

Summarize the main facts of the topic in 8-10 lines (do not state your own views or plans related to the topic.)

3. Do a Google search on your topic and identify three websites (can include Wikipedia) that seem reasonably credible. Assess credibility by determining who is the author/creator of each site, what their qualifications are, and whether or not you see signs of bias. If you can't find one or more of these elements, just state that. For each, give an evaluation of the reliability and value of the site.

4. State 3-5 potential research questions related to your topic.

5. Choose the potential question that you think is the best. This will become your question for your project, though you can modify it as you go. You may want to run your question by Dr. Saffold to see if it is viable for this course.

6. Create a preliminary outline of 3-5 points to guide your ongoing research. The following presentation offers advice on how to do this:  

Rubric for the Assignment

1. Use of appropriate reference source

2. Clear summary of facts about the topic

3. Wise choice and evaluation of websites

4. Clear problem-based potential research questions

5. Choice of the best of the questions

6. Logical outline drawn from the research question